Creaturemag regular Lauren Archer talks to Manchester based folk-artist Joel Nicholson a.k.a Butcher the Bar about his influences and experiences ahead of the release of his new album For each a Future Tethered on indie label Morr Music June 2011. He fills us in on his dream collaborations, tour plans and his song writing process…
Noted for his minimalist arrangements and earnest vocals Butcher the Bar is a serious candidate for the ‘one-to-watch’ title. Akin to twee-poppers The Boy Least Likely To, Joel’s strength as a performer comes from his ability to convey emotions with sense of integrity through his guitar driven melodies, producing some of the most charming Americana folk-based independent music on the UK folk scene.
Hey Joel! We were really excited to feature your track ‘Bobby’ on our Mix Tape last month. How long have you been on the music scene?
JOEL: Well I started writing songs for what would eventually appear on the first album in 2007, so since then really. I’d been in a couple of bands before then with friends at school and at university but nothing that had ever gotten really serious. Even when I was in bands I always wrote songs on my own so (maybe) you could argue that I’ve been developing this solo project for years, just VERY gradually finding a style I feel comfortable with.
You’ve definitely nailed your ‘style’; we really like the confessional vocal arrangements and the simplistic instrumental layering. Tell us, where are you hoping to take this project? Any exciting plans for 2011?
I don’t have a specific direction [in mind], I’d just like to keep writing. As
I develop and grow as a musician maybe the music will take a different direction. I cant see myself ever making a considered decision to purposefully ‘change’ direction, I’d prefer for that to happen naturally. As for 2011, the new record will be released in June, then we’re planning to play shows throughout the UK and Europe in Autumn/Winter.
The whole thing has been great. Just being able to write music and release it is enough, and heading overseas to play shows out of England is lovely. The tours in Portugal, Italy and Germany were a definite highlight and having Seasick Steve play on the new record (and the way in which we found him) was another.
What about the new album For Each a Future Tethered? What’s your favourite track off the new album?
That’s hard. I think Bobby might be my favourite from this record, it’s a relatively simple song and the lyrical topic isn’t very pleasant (one of my room mates at uni was wrongly accused of a sexual assault) but I like the dynamics [of the track] and over the recording process it really evolved.
Speaking of recording, whose been an influence on you in terms of your sound?
Mark Kozelek is big hero of mine and the way he plays guitar really opened my eyes to new ways of writing. Paul Westerberg is quite a recent influence, but maybe not for this project really… When I listen to The Replacements it just makes me want to form a loud scratchy rock band!
My friends and family have been great. Their support and encouragement is incredibly helpful when writing songs especially as I don’t have other band members to bounce ideas off or stop me from going down the wrong path. Any genuine enthusiasm for something you’ve created, or are proud of, is usually infectious and motivating, Barney was really helpful with that.
What about the lyrical process; where do you take your inspiration from?
It really depends… some lyrics come before the music, in which case the tone or topic would be more specific, but if the melody comes first or guitar parts, the lyrics as a whole can feel more like a collage of thoughts or ideas. But generally speaking I take most inspiration from people around me and situations that I’ve been in, whether they’re trivial or life-altering experiences. All is open to be scrutinised or exposed artistically.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
The making of the new record was a challenging experience, as it involved a lot of patience. I live in Manchester and we did all the recording at Barney’s (producer) place in Richmond, London, meaning we could only work on average one weekend a month. In hindsight the time in between sessions was actually very beneficial as we could utilise the time apart to pick apart the material we’d recorded or songs we’d yet to record, allowing us time to change any details we weren’t entirely happy with, or fix parts that didn’t work. It would have been awful to release a record with tiny faults that we didn’t give ourselves time to consider, so for that reason im glad it took a year. It was just hard earlier on in the process as it was often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel [but ultimately beneficial].
If we were to say “Who’d be your dream collaboration”, what would you say? Who’s the ultimate artist you’d love to record with?
Ha! We’re Prince fans too (as a side note, it’s really interesting just how many folk-musicians out there really bow down to Prince an artist who you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the genre!) But from a musician’s perspective, you do play quite a few instruments, many of which are bought second-hand from flea-markets and the like… Were you encouraged to take up music as a kid or was it something you came to later in life?
I started listening to music form a relatively young age through my older brother, then in my early/mid teens I started listening to bands like Weezer, Smashing Pumkins, Idlewild etc which encouraged me to want to learn to play guitar. My older brother Adam taught me my first few chords , so I’d say he was the first person to get me interested in playing. Since then I have picked up a couple of other instruments, mainly stringed, and I’m currently learning the piano. (I just recently moved into a house with one in the spare room, so I have no excuses now!)[Professionally speaking]I actually studied Media Production at University which involved a lot of script writing and film making, which at the time was all I wanted to do. After Uni I went down to London and worked for a bunch of post-production companies, but it didn’t really work out. I think I felt obligated to at least try and pursue it. I often get ideas for film projects and scripts, and SOMETIMES I’ll spend time developing the ideas but making music is certainly the main creative outlet in my life, and most comfortable with.
Joel’s new album For Each a Future Tethered will be released in June on Morr Music and the band are are currently planning a European tour for Autumn this year.
A HUGE thank you to our illustrators Kathryn Corlett, Emma Jardine, Kerri-Ann Hulme and Alexandra Rolfe for their amazing illustrations. Please please take the time to visit their websites and check out more of their wonderful and whimsical artwork!