- Tue, 2010-07-13 15:23
Despite only starting to write music at the age of nineteen, Alan Pownall proved himself a born natural in no time at all. His first tour was as Adele's support, and he regularly hung out with and played alongside the new folk crowd that included Laura Marling and members of Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale. The prestigious Mercury Records quickly snapped him up, and he is now readying himself for the ride following the release of his debut album, True Love Stories.
I Like Music spoke to Alan about how he came to music, the genesis of his debut album, his ambitions, and why rock and roll is inherently flawed.
“I Like Music because…I can never explain what I like about it.” Alan Pownall
ILM: When did you first realise that music was what you wanted to do?
Alan: There’s an in-depth answer and a quick answer, so I’ll try and find a medium! I’ve always loved music in the same way that most people do. Growing up I was always quite inspired by the individuals, the characters. I didn’t really understand what music was; I liked it but I didn’t know why. I was always quite taken by the characters behind the music. When I was a kid one thing couldn’t really hold my attention for too long, unless it was football or throwing stuff at things! A lot later I ended up working for a fashion designer and going to art school. In that whole process I developed a desire to be creative. There was something pure about the idea of making something out of nothing. I tried numerous different things, but it wasn’t until I picked up a guitar everything made more sense.
ILM: What’s your song-writing process like?
Alan: There’s no real formula. I try to be as spontaneous as possible. I don’t really like the idea of revising something too much. It’s got to be a reflection of your life. It’s got to be something based on experience. If you’re in the lab trying to conjure up the perfect song or the perfect lyric it doesn’t really work. For me, writing a song is something in which you almost act as a medium. You just let the song write itself.
ILM: Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Alan: The first time I wrote a song I was nineteen. I only really started playing the guitar when I was nineteen. I was never really into music growing up. I mean, I was, but I didn’t play it.
ILM: How did your album True Love Stories take shape?
Alan: Well, as I said, I started writing songs when I was nineteen. Some of them weren’t very good, some of them were okay. The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. It wasn’t until a bit later, when I was invited on tour with Adele when I thought, “this might be something I want to do properly.” Then I got signed, and got given the opportunity to make a record. About four or five months later I went into the studio and I probably had about 500 songs at that point...
ILM: That’s loads! How did you choose?
Alan: Well there was a lot of crap in there! And a lot of the songs that I’ve written up until now are songs that I haven’t quite figured out. This album, I hope, is very much an introduction. It’s the first body of work, the first time I ever went into the studio. What I identify as being unique in me is that I’m still learning. I haven’t been playing in bands during my time at school. A lot of people I know who are in bands now, for them that represents the culmination of something. To give you a classic example, The Kaiser Chiefs were in numerous bands that were signed then were dropped, then they reinvented themselves as The Kaiser Chiefs. I didn’t have any of that starting and stopping. This was the first time that I’ve been in the studio, or played live. It’s all happened in the last couple of years.
ILM: What would you say were the main themes of the album?
Alan: The primary theme is something that I’ve very much acknowledged in retrospect. The album’s called True Love Stories, and the title is kind of ironic, because a lot of the album is about unrequited love. It’s also about being loved by somebody who you don’t love. Those two stories are very prominent in this album.
ILM: You’ve been busy touring, how do you like to bring your music to the stage?
Alan: Again, that’s something where I’m still trying to find my feet. I hope that’s something that people get from the live show as well as the album; this is something that is still taking shape. It isn’t the finished article.
ILM: What have been some of your best live moments so far?
Alan: The one that stands out for me is playing with Paloma Faith in Shepherds Bush Empire. We played a lot of gigs, anywhere from 20 capacity places to a couple of hundred. Then to suddenly walk out on stage on your own with a guitar and play to 3000 people was quite breathtaking. It was quite a lot to take in. That’s definitely a memory that I won’t forget for some time!
ILM: What are your plans beyond the release of the album?
Alan: Obviously there is a bigger picture, but I’ve tried to focus on the next link in the chain. In many ways the big picture is not necessarily that big. I want to be in a position to play to handfuls of people who enjoy the music that I make in numerous cities. If I can tour this country and get a few people who like it in each city then I’d be pretty happy. Or maybe more than a few! Then if I could take that to Europe…that’s the dream really. I don’t want to be famous or anything like that. I just want to write songs and enjoy playing them. A relationship of mutual benefit!
ILM: Where do you find your inspiration?
Alan: There are a lot of musicians that I’ve grown up loving to the point of obsession. Tom Petty is one.
ILM: He's just released some new music...
Alan: I know, I’m really nervous! Just because I’ve always loved what they do. I hope it’s the same as what it was. But in terms of the other things that inspire me, I’d say that it was ever-changing. I definitely haven’t got it figured out. But that’s what really inspires me; pursuing life. That’s going to sound quite corny! I think one’s music should be a reflection of the life that one lives. To try and inspire myself by living in a certain way, having a respect for myself and others… Rock and roll is a flawed ideology in my opinion. I don’t really want to promote that.
ILM: The rock and roll lifestyle isn't for you?
Alan: I was a rebel at school and I’ve got that out of my system. Nothing good comes of it. People who care for their friends, their family and themselves, that’s something that really inspires me. The simplest things in life. The world that we live in is so complex and fast, and one of the reasons I became a musician in the first place is that I was quite unhappy, and I wanted to find out why. I think that one of the things people tend to forget is their responsibility towards themselves.
ILM: Do you think that's something that needs to change about the music industry?
Alan: I’m not trying to preach to anyone, or tell them how to live their lives. I guess when I started in music I saw a lot of people who put on a bit of an act, and it was almost like if you want to be creative and an artist you have to be self-destructive and unreliable. I can really see all of those things in my character anyway. It’s an easy option. I feel like a lot of creative people try to exploit that, and then neglect a lot of what is positive in their lives. The classic example is people who rebel against their parents when all their parents want for them is the best. It’s almost like they have it, so they don’t want it. Going with traditional values is one of the most rebellious things you can do in this time.
ILM: Who have you seen live that has made a lasting impression on you?
Alan: For me it’s almost like you have two hats on; one is a music fan and the other is a musician. As the music fan the list is endless. But whether something has influenced me…that’s all subconscious. I haven’t gone, “that’s someone I like, that’s what I want to sound like.” There are people who I’ve come across who I’ve really liked and can see in my sound, or who I wish I’d been more like, but my relationship in terms of being influenced by particular artists…I could name one, but I could name a million. Roy Orbison was very much in my mind when I was writing the album, but it was more about his attitude than his sound. I wouldn’t want to emulate his sound. The more I have that attitude, the more I think perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe I should revise the artists of yesteryear, or be inspired by my contemporaries a little bit more.
ILM: Well there’s no one correct way, is there? Ultimately, as long as you’re happy and still writing songs then perhaps there’s no need to revise your approach...
Alan: Yeah. I heard a saying not that long ago: ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making plans’. It’s so true! I don’t think I’ve ever gone, “right this is what I want the song to sound like, and there it is; it sounds like that.” A lot of music that I’ve made has come out all wrong! I didn’t want it to sound like that, but there’s something right about that. It’s exactly the same as how I live my life. I might say “tomorrow I’m going to wake up at seven o’clock,” and I don’t! I wake up two hours later or two hours earlier. I’m just that way inclined. I’m terribly disorganised and terribly bad at doing things that I’m supposed to do!