Q: You have had such a difficult year, from halting your income from COVID-19, to losing a friend so tragically. This song embodies quite a different message. Instead of leading yourself down a deep hole, you wrote this song and here at Rising Artists we think it sends a beautiful message. Tell our audience a little bit more about the creation of this song.
AZA BROWN: Thanks for that – I really appreciate you taking the time to understand the message I was conveying. The music actually started off a few years ago with a friend I used to live with, Micky. He’s disappeared now, and I’ve tried to get back in touch with him – especially now the song’s come to light, but to no avail.
I could hear elements of The Verve straight away when he started playing guitar, and you can really hear on the demo version on GarageBand what I was trying to do, starting off with just a sparse, exposed picking acoustic and vocals, with the bass and strings coming in on the second half of the verse, before lifting the dynamics even more for the chorus. I changed the chords around to make it a bit more melodic, and the bass line too. The song was originally about his cousin, but as I couldn’t get hold of him, I rewrote the lyrics – especially in the light of losing my dear friend Darren to suicide, and it really came from the heart.
It was such a dark time, and I had to urge myself on and convince myself not to give up daily. I woke up every day thinking I was in an alternate reality and people were telling me black was white, up was down, a pink emu had parachuted out of a plane playing “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Stones on a piano, and I had to believe it all! When your income is cut off overnight, and people seem to be feeding you nonsense, you instinctively ask questions. This is now a song about being true to yourself, and when you do, everything becomes so transparently clear – as Pure Water. This has been a constant theme in human history – from The Buddha to Shakespeare. “Above all else, to thine own self be true”.
It’s also about keeping going when you’re in a dark place, being kind to yourself and giving yourself a pat on the back, keeping motivated when you can’t see any point in carrying on. It’s been so hard to do exactly this when the Government puts out adverts out to say the Music Industry is no longer a viable career, and you should retrain – when you’ve dedicated your whole life to it. Additionally, it looks like they’re bringing medical apartheid into the gigging scene with vaccine passports. I don’t know how any musician who is true to themselves can be a part of that?
Another part of the song refers to letting people in, and how you need to trust people. That’s been a very tough thing to do lately too – especially as the Government narrative and Social Media’s exploits have been so divisive, and ultimately if you let people in too much, they have the power to destroy you. Without letting anyone in, though (artistically, too), you will never experience the beautiful potential of living life to it’s richest fullness, so it’s about taking that leap of faith…and when you do, for the most part, “you’ll come crashing into love”.
Q: You have been in the music industry quite a while, from gigging for years to having a degree in Music Industry Management. What is one thing that has changed drastically since you started doing music?
AZA BROWN: Most obviously, The Internet. When I was a student I remember one of our Music Technology assignments was concerning this brand new file type called an “MP3”, which was set to change the World of Music dramatically! We had to write a few thousand words predicting the impact of MP3’s on the future of music. When we had so many different formats around in the 90’s, from CD’s to DVD’s and Minidisk etc, it was hard to predict which would emerge victorious – a bit like the battle of VHS v’s Betamax! I should have known that this new easy way of file-sharing would have transformed the music industry, and, coupled with the boom of The Internet from thenceforth it would have been an easy essay to write, but I actually remember at the time thinking it was just yet another format, and yet another phase! How wrong I was!! Hindsight’s an amazing thing, but the Industry is now such an incredibly different place, and The Internet was still in it’s infancy, so I can forgive myself for my mistake! I remember the first email I sent. I was amazed! Then the first video call, and so on, and so forth. In fact, my forthcoming album is all about exactly that sort of thing – it’s called “Exennial” – with regard to my generation’s astonishment with the leap of technology (A mash up of “Generation X” and “Millennial”. We’ve got a foot in each camp – the before-and-after of The Internet, and as such, have a unique perspective in history. There will never be another generation like ours!
Q: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
AZA BROWN: Musicians have never been respected or valued enough. Historically, this has always been the case, but a root and branch reform in every aspect of the Music Industry needs to be undertaken for this to change. On a local scale, the majority of venues have always paid a pittance, which makes it so hard for professional musicians – hobbyist bands will always come in and take your spot AND your money – doing it for cheaper when they’ve been working full-time all week anyway – furthermore driving down the quality. (“Yeah, yeah, but what’s your REAL job??).
More recently, this lack of respect and value comes in the form of the pitifully disproportionate remuneration for independent artists with regards to the streaming platforms. I heard a MILLION streams equates to about £150 a few months back. Gobsmacked doesn’t quite cut it.
Then the monopoly of the ticketing organisations really gets my goat too. It seems like everyone except those with the talent (unless you reach the higher echelons)is making a living! I remember my 3rd Year at Uni, and the lecturer – who was one of the Rolling Stones lawyers coming in at the start of term saying “The Music Industry is essentially one person (or a group) with a good idea surrounded by a bunch of leeches”!! Harsh but fair…
Q: You have missed tons of gigs the last year due to COVID-19. What do you miss most about playing live shows?
AZA BROWN: You miss that real sense of human connection and the energy associated with it. To anyone who doesn’t perform, there is absolutely NOTHING like it, and this is perhaps the reason for the lack of empathy from any non-performer (as well as the complete lack of empathy for any EXCEPT cvd!). We played our first gig since early last year at a Birthday Party outside in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago (my function band – The WonderWhys), and as well as the whole audience going crazy and saying stuff like “now THAT’s what we’ve missed about life!” Etc, I actually felt like myself for the first time since this debacle started. We’ve been denied the very thing that makes us musicians human. Denied the very thing that makes us tick. We’ve not been allowed to express ourselves. We’ve had our wings clipped, and it’s been an absolute travesty. It’s been killing people, spiritually.
Q: What are your ambitions as a songwriter and musician from here?
AZA BROWN: Festivals, tours, playing live to as many people as possible – getting to a point where I can actually earn a living from this too. Different albums – I’ve got another album in me with a bit more of an edge – there were lots of different songs that didn’t make “Exennial”, but it would have lost it’s coherence as an album if they’d been included. It’d also be interesting to see what else happens writing with producer Danny Burton. We seem to bounce off each other, and, because we couldn’t get together to record initially last year – that’s Danny that you can hear playing EVERYTHING – so HIS interpretation of my demo’s. He’s an incredible talent, and I think we could form quite a formidable songwriting force if we put our minds to it. Very excited about that prospect!
Q: What are your musical plans for the next 12 months or so?
AZA BROWN: They’ve really changed now, and only recently too. From originally wanting to play the album in it’s entirety early August, I now want to keep building what I’m doing, and release a new single every 6 weeks to 2 months (maybe 6-7 in total). I’m rescheduling playing the whole of “Exennial” with a launch party in Chesterfield at Realtime Live next Spring (2022) at the earliest. We just haven’t been able to get together to rehearse properly, and I really wanted to push the boat out and make it a spectacle of sorts. Giving it time will help it become the accomplishment I wanted it to be – for example, the album is awash with strings and harmonies, and I was going to hire a string quartet for that, and a local music group to really nail the harmonies. It’s gonna be epic!
I’m also trying to get 6Music Airplay in September for “Pure Water”, and hopefully shoot a video in Mexico or Andalusia (Spaghetti Western Film Studios) for my single “Afterthought”, which has a distinctively Spanish flavour, and those locations will complement the song perfectly. Logistically, this might be harder than it used to be, but I’ll give it my best shot!
Interviewed by Stephanie Pankewich
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