I found quite little information on Laish, outside it being a biblical tribe (or town). Can you tell us about the choice of such a name?
Yes it is a strange one. I moved to Brighton in 2008 to start a songwriting project. What this was going to be, I wasn't sure, but of course I needed a name. I had already ruled out my own name. I couldn't bear the idea of dragging people out to a Daniel Green concert. I also felt that it would be more difficult to recruit people to play with if they were joining some kind of vain 'solo project'. I guess this shows a distinct lack of confidence in my abilities at this point! My girlfriend told me this word Laish means the tribe of Dan, and also means lion. An old Hebrew word. Not particularly in usage these days. What can I say, I liked it. People never really know how to pronounce it. I prefer it capitalised and spread out. L A I S H. If you google it, you'll also find a novel and a Saudi Arabian Hip Hop radio show.
Let's talk a bit about your peculiar, self-taught fingerpicking technique. How did you develop it?
Music for me has always been an instinctive thing. I got an electric guitar and a drum kit aged 13. I felt that if I was going to be a memorable guitarist, it would be because of my style, not my technical ability. I never had lessons, just played a lot and worked things out by listening. While I sometimes despair at my own limitations, I can usually rely on my band mates to compensate for the gaps in my knowledge. I think hearing Jim O'Rourke's "Bad Timing" album helped get me to where I am with the acoustic fingerpicking.
The same applies to my singing. While I definitely sang as a young teenager it all stopped when my voice broke and I hit those cruel teenage anxieties head on. It cast a pretty long shadow over my confidence. I didn't really sing again until I was in my twenties. I took heart in early Palace Music/Will Oldham because his voice and the musical production is so far away from technically brilliant, and yet the songs are so evocative and rich in emotion. As a listener you revel in the mistakes.
You have been the drummer for a number of bands and I think, especially in “Obituaries”, there is quite a distinct rhythmic identity of your songs. Does drumming play a part in the composition of your music and how?
My songs are often written late at night when I'm quietly piecing together some fingerpicking guitar and vocal melody. Again, this approach is intuitive – I don't usually consider whether a song is in a simple 4/4 time signature. Often I later realise I've written something quite rhythmically awkward, but that is where I find the beauty. I find the combination of words and music is not usually so linear.
Laying down early recordings of these ideas gives me a chance to experiment with rhythm and percussion. I have always enjoyed putting rhythmical touches in that keep the listener guessing - that despite the apparent simplicity, we are not going to chug away predictably for a whole song. An extra beat in a bar, a little silence, things like that.
Since our new drummer Dan joined, I have definitely handed over a lot more of this responsibility to him, although I admit I can be very demanding in this area, because I am still a drummer at heart. I am always the first to admit how much playing drums with Sons of Noel and Adrian has influenced my approach to songwriting and arranging.
You sing about different themes, mostly about life, death and love. Of course your songs sound quite personal, but there is always a literary flavor, a taste for the romantic and the fabled that you share with, say, Nick Hemming of Leisure Society. What inspires your lyrics?
I rarely approach a song with a clear intention. The intention is simply to write, to get to my desk, to offload the swirl of ideas. The good stuff comes only when a phrase is suggestive of something. Perhaps I will find a line deliciously open to interpretation. Then I'm excited. And what inspires a man to write? Frustration! Sexual, political, philosophical and personal frustration. Some of my favourite songs have been written to someone. Like a present or a love letter. Some are born from a literary curiosity – could I write a song like that? Like I said of music, I never studied lyrics or lyric writing though I did complete an English Literature degree, and I think finally I begin to see why I did that - it wasn't just to escape the philistine drudgery of a small town in the North of England. It was about aesthetics and exploring the joy of words and stories. About the eternal. To end each day in song seems to me the most profound thing to do.
I suppose it is not surprising you mention Nick Hemming. I can see the similarity in our approach. We are aiming to make timeless music and our lyrics reflect the conditions that it takes to do so. Nick's own uncertainty and depression is there within his lyrics, and yet the melodies are so sweet, the arrangements so full of joy!
How do you link together your two records? I found in “Obituaries” a new, more distinct dynamism, which in your debut often came out more subtly.
The first record was pieced together in a way that meant the focus was on the acousticness of it. Perhaps this shows Brighton's influence on my approach. My fascination with folk music really exploded after moving to Brighton and actually meeting the people who make this music. Shoreline, The Miserable Rich, early Sons of Noel and Adrian, Moonshine Moonshine, The Leisure Society, Rowan Coupland – all these people were already up and running. By the time it came around to making the Obituaries album, so much had happened.
Mostly, I had played a lot of gigs and I had a brand new band. As a rhythm section, Dan and Patrick are unique – they each approach music from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum of rock music and somehow find agreement. Emma and Martha are also amazing to work with as they have their own intuitive partnership in creating melody and arrangement. Sometimes we can try a song in so many different styles and come back to the first thing we tried. It is exciting.
You are definitely a central figure of the Willkommen Collective. Can you tell us a bit how it all happened?
The Wilkommen Collective was started by the bands Shoreline, Miserable Rich and Sons of Noel and Adrian. I suppose the reason was that the line ups of these bands featured almost all the same people, and yet there was a very different sound and feel to each band which of course still felt connected. It's tricky to explain, but there was obviously a feeling that there was a community, a collective at work so why not make it official – add a name and a logo, and later a record label. I wonder how much it confuses people who come to it cold, but I suppose it's worth mentioning that all the musicians involved since the collective's beginnings (in 2007) are still active musicians, even if some of the bands are no longer together. That in itself I think is an achievement. I think we are all inspired by the activity of each other. Say one band gets on a cool festival, you can be sure the rest of the collective will be asking around for the contact details and so on. Each band pushes forward in what is possible for a band to achieve. There is a healthy competitive spirit.
How does it influence your songwriting and your musicianship?
My love affair with folk music definitely started in Brighton with the realisation that genuinely great albums could be made in a bedroom with two mics, a bunch of instruments and a bit of hard work on Cubase or Logic. I now want to explore what can be done in a live show. We like to play unplugged songs in our set as much as we like to turn it up loud.
Do you see yourself as a solo songwriter?
Yes and no. Yes in that almost every song I have written has been done by myself with a notebook and a guitar. For some I have recorded the entire band arrangement myself (see Visions) but nowadays I tend to arrive to a band rehearsal with a new song and we go from there. It may start out as a ballad and end up as a rock song. It happens when you have four other people who want to get involved. But this is the exciting thing for me. A song can be guitar and voice or it can be a whole orchestra.
As a band, you have been through several line-up changes. Is it because of the collective nature of the Brighton folk scene?
Yes that would be fair. Brighton is quite a transitory place by nature. It is by the sea, people drift here and drift on. It is amazing the Willkommen Collective has lasted so long really. But then I think if it wasn't for my two bands, I would have left Brighton by now.
You make “collective” music, still sounding quite sparse, even though the music palette has probably widened in “Obituaries”. Do you see this as the evolution of Laish in the future?
I think our live sound will be louder and more expansive but I think when it comes to records, I am keen to retain what is the essence of a song. I am still as much interested in quiet textures, found sounds and whispered lyrics as I am in rocking out.
You also host a show on Simple Folk Radio. What artists and bands do you generally air? New talents or old classics? What are you currently listening to?
When I was first invited as a guest on the show, I felt it my duty to make people aware of the Wilkommen Collective and all the various gems I have encountered along the way. I was later offered my own monthly show which is great as it forces me (even when I am very busy with band things) to search out new great music which somehow fits the show. The focus of the show is music which would fall into the categories of folk, country, indie, outsider, amateur, experimental, pop and all manners of rock. There is a massive archive of original and exclusive sessions recorded by bands and singers over the years. This includes the likes of LAISH, Sons of Noel and Adrian, Phosphorescent, James Yorkston, Jeffrey Lewis, David Thomas Broughton, Akron Family, Birdengine, Charlie Parr, Richard Dawson and Rozi Plain.
One easier way to find out, I've just archived all my shows here so you can listen in your own time. http://laishmusic.com/radio/
You seem to be pretty busy on the Internet and on social networks. Does it help you to spread your music and get a wider audience?
Yes I know, it is the great double bind of our generation! A creative person longs for the time, space and mental freedom to create inspiring works of art. And yet this time often gets swallowed into the administration of the work. Booking shows, inviting people to events, updating websites, tweeting, writing responses to interviews...What is more clear than ever is that these elements cannot be ignored, not if one is serious about the pursuit. Of course I could just write my songs and record them and upload them to Bandcamp. But if I want to play a gig, or I want a person to come to my Bandcamp, web presence is important. I feel I must undertake each element with the same creative approach. Writing an email to a booking agent can be a creative act, if I make it so.
Twitter and Facebook are currently allowing me the opportunity to book a tour in Italy. Which I think is a direct result of being album of the month on your website. How did you hear about us?