George Simpson – Interview

Saturday 20th January 2018

Following the success of his first 2 albums, George Simpson decided to take a break for a couple of years, to spend some time deciding what direction he wanted to take his music.  Having already been picked up by the likes of Jeremy Vine and Graham Norton, and with his single “Open Door” finding success on the TV show Hollyoakes, George wondered what his next step would be.  Now, due for release on the 23rd February, “Finding Myself” is the upcoming single, which will be followed by a 3rd album release from George in the coming months. The single also features the harmonious vocals from UK Country songstress, Kezia.  My interview with George has been very enjoyable, as he gives me a detailed background in to the early days, his music career so far, and his songwriting process.

Hi George! Please could you tell me about yourself, how it all started and at what point you decided to make a career out of music?

I’ve always seen myself as a regular guy. One of the lads who grew up playing sport and not music. Music came very late to me picking a guitar up at 17 and not being able to perform solo until I was 27. I’ve only been performing solo on the piano for 3 years so as a performer, my background is very different from that guy, who has been learning an instrument and having lessons since they were at primary school, and had small friend circles and spent hours practicing. That was definitely not me.

I had a hopeful career as a footballer at one point, playing for my county (Leicestershire) and having trials for Leicester City when I was 16, and apparently I used to sing a lot in the changing rooms before football matches… so it’s something I enjoyed and something my friends obviously picked up on.

The football thing never materialised and I went backpacking for 2 years after leaving school and my A Levels half way through. I was never a keen academic… but when I went backpacking, I purchased a guitar and spent a year or so learning and playing and singing around camp sites etc, so when I came home I really got the music bug.

I joined a band called Shine, who were a cover band in my home town. One of my mates dad was the bass player and they let me get up and sing at his wedding. A few months went by and they needed a singer and they remembered me and I joined the band and thats where it all began!

The more I played the guitar and sang, the more I experimented with writing so I started writing from the word go.

I then joined a original music band called Lux Mundi to really put my writing to the test. They created the music which was prog rock, and I wrote the lyrics and melodies. Not the way I would have liked to write in hind sight but some great stuff came out of it. We never really got anywhere. We spent hours rehearsing and no time gigging. We were young, and there were personality clashes and we went our own ways, but it was a valuable experience, and at that point I was writing all of the time.

There was a pivotal moment where I left both both Shine and Lux Mundi at the same time in 2000. I focused on performing solo and writing as a solo artist and two year later I released my first single ‘Never Leave You Out in the Rain” and it went from there.

By this time my reputation as a performer helped me make the jump from full time employment into being a full time musician performing around the UK and Europe every week. It’s been nearly 4 years as a full timer and I am loving it! I have more writing time than ever, and see my two young boys (Zak-5 and Savvi -2) all the time which is great!

What is it about Country music that you enjoy, and who or what has drawn you to this genre?

I actually really got into Country music around 2 years ago when my wife drew my attention to the series Nashville. I don’t watch much TV but as soon as I heard that the series was about the Nashville music scene I thought I would give it a go… then…. these stunning duets and the beautiful melodic songs they played each week just grabbed me and it went from there! As a writer I am always analysing writing styles and looking for ways to be more diverse myself, so I wanted to test myself and try and write a country song, and within 30 mins, ‘Finding Myself’ was born! I found it came really easily to me and my style is quite emotive anyway, and being an acoustic guitarist it seemed to really suit me. I really really adore male and female duets too!

Following on from 2 successful albums you decided to take a break. What was it at that moment that made you feel you needed the respite, and how has it helped you going forward?

Yes, after my second album my second son was born and I was also still trying to cement my career in being a professional entertainer/musician, so it felt like a natural break. But… also, I simply wanted to just focus on new material and thinking about what direction to go in to next. I didn’t want any pressure on myself to write, so I went with the flow and tried to build up a collection of songs that could potentially be on album number 3! The previous 2/3 years were really full on. I hadn’t released a song before 2012 and most people I knew didn’t even know that I write songs, so there was a lot of hype at the time, and I tried to keep the ball rolling, and get a second album out and new singles and videos out there, but after that I was mentally exhausted from it all. Especially being an independent artist and doing everything myself.

Your new single ‘Finding Myself’ is due to be released in February. How are you feeling about getting your new music out there?

I really can’t wait! It’s been a few years of writing, recording and planning and I’m ready now for another push. I’m excited about people hearing my new music, and the new direction. The industry has actually changed a lot since I’ve been ‘hibernating’, ha! Spotify is a real big player now where it wasn’t so much with my first single and album, so planning releases is very different this time around!  

Who did you work with for the accompanying video for the single, and where did the shoot take place?

I worked with a friend called Jay Hillyer who is a really talented videographer. He started out when I started releasing music and I have always used him so we have grown together in a way! He has a really big profile now in certain scenes and we work together really well!  I always plan my own videos and try and create the scenes and shots. I wake up some mornings and go…. ahhh yeah that would be cool, or that would work well for that part of the song… my head is always on it!

The location was in Derby. An old derelict site… which was perfect. Kezia is from Derby and she pointed it out and said her brother had a photo shoot there a while back. We checked it out… and it was great… it reflected the song… and the relationship between two people where the relationship has gone from good to bad… just like that site. The graffiti added colour and you can see wildlife trying to grow again… and that almost told the story of the song. Accidentally clever I’d say! Ha. 

How did you find the process of putting the song together, and how does it feel listening back to a song that reflects on personal experiences?

I found it quite easy actually. I just started strumming some chords on the guitar, in a country style, and just let the first melodies that came in to my head, spill out… I knew what I wanted to write about at that time and it went from there. Some songs come easy, others you can spend months of tweaking and improving certain parts. ‘Finding Myself’ is about a personal experience, my first relationship actually… where things went bad, and I needed time away to reflect and see what I wanted. I moved home as I was living a few hours away in Leeds at the time. There is a line in the song ‘I see fire through your window, but it’s cold in my heart’… and I can vividly remember walking in one day, and seeing the fire on in the house through the lounge window, but feeling like I didn’t really want to be going back to that house anymore… anyway…! I’m please how the song came out. I feel most people could relate to it too and thats always something I strive to include in my writing!

Could you tell me about your writing process, and how you know when a song is ready? Being a solo artist do you have anyone to bounce ideas from?

In terms of writing I have always done everything on my own. I may sit down on a piano or the guitar, and both offer something very different in terms of writing and what comes out of my head! Sometimes I don’t know what to write about, but I play music first and see how it feels emotionally and then build the content of the song around that. Melodies come to me really easily… and then I work on lyrics to fit the melodies. Thats a very typical way in which I would write a song. Sometimes I write lyrics first.

When it comes to production of the tracks, I work with my producer Ben Haynes and he is brilliant to bounce ideas off. Between us, the song can take all sorts of twists and turns, but in the end, I’m always really happy with it. We’ve worked together on three albums now so we are really comfortable and familiar with how each other work, so this third album has been a pleasure with clear focus on what we want to achieve!  

How did the opportunity come about to work with Kezia, and how was the experience?

My producer, Ben Haynes, showed me a few years ago, Kezia’s work, as she worked with Ben too, so I always knew of her and really admired her style and voice. So when we started to look at female singers to make up to the duet, Kezia flew to the top of the list! Kezia is a pleasure to work with. She came in, used our ideas and harmony lines as a guidance, but then just improvised and did her thing, and I was like, yeah… that is great!!! I had another song recorded called ‘Love You Again’ which is almost like the part 2 of ‘Finding Myself’ and she also sang on that. Kezia is a lovely girl, really easy to get on with and really down to earth. I hope she goes far!

Are you looking to release another album in the near future?

Yes, certainly! I have the album ready to go! I have a release date set for April 19th 2018 and I am buzzing about it! I’ll be releasing another single just before then too in the run up to the album launch and hopefully a small tour to go with it all!  

Finally, if you were invited to perform on the BBC Live Lounge, which song would you cover and why?

Mmmmmm, actually I recently recorded a cover of ‘Freedom’ by George Michael/Wham. I love turning upbeat pop songs into emotive ballads and really show the true core of the song. I would love to get in the Live Lounge and do that with a small string section and some backing singers! I just love the song and love performing it and it would be great to show the world how George Michael probably wrote it originally before all of the production!

Connect with George Simpson via his Website, Facebook and Twitter.

Natalie Alexander – Interview

Tuesday 8th August 2017

Natalie Alexander is a Country songstress hailing from the beautiful Santa Cruz in California.  She has just arrived on the music scene with her debut single ‘Cruel’ and her self-titled EP, which brings us the promise of powerful music that evokes a range of emotion.  Armed with her guitar, Natalie is inspired by the likes of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift and hopes to continually evolve as an artist.

Speaking about her debut EP, Natalie says that “There are countless talented people in the world but what sets apart the best from the rest is artistry. I don’t know that I’m there yet but it’s going to be in the front of my mind as I continue to grow artistically. There’s a song on my EP for every kind of 2017 country fan.“

Listening to ‘Cruel’ it’s great to hear Natalie making something of her talents, and I hope this is the start of something glorious to come.  So as she steps out, I grab a moment with Natalie to discuss how it started and how it’s all going so far.

Photo Credit: Brandon Showers

You’ve recently found your love for song writing and playing guitar. Has there been anyone in particular that has inspired you to take the step in to music, and at what point did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?

Music was always a huge part of my life, but I think it came to a point where I realized it was what I wanted pursue, not just a hobby. That moment came my junior year of college. I had been taking voice lessons for fun and recorded myself singing over a karaoke track, just to track my progress. The producer of my EP ended up hearing it and called me saying he wanted to meet, and that’s really where it all began.

Your debut single ‘Cruel’ has just been released. How are you finding the response to your music so far?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, it’s unbelievable. I’ve been contacted by so many people who love my music and are asking for things like signed photographs. When that happened the first time I was shocked! I’m so glad people are responding so well to “Cruel” and the other songs on my EP. It’s definitely motivation to keep creating music they want to listen to. 

Will there be a video release for the single?

We’ve been talking about a video for “Cruel.” While no formal plans have been made as of yet, it’s definitely a possibility here in the near future. That would be such a fun video to make.

Could you tell me about your writing process? Being a solo artist do you have anyone to bounce ideas from, or do you just know when a song is ready?

I’m still very new in the writing department, but it thus far has been a very private process. I like to keep a note on my phone of little things I hear or come up with, whether that be a short phrase or sometimes I’ll come up with a whole verse or chorus. I’ll then sing it into a voice memo on my phone and I can build off of it from there. I’m really looking forward to working with other writers on my own songs. The collaborative nature of music was something that drew me to it in the first place, so I’m looking forward to that next step.

What can we expect from your new EP, and how did you find the process of putting it together?

This EP happened very naturally. I knew almost from the second I heard those 4 songs that they were the ones I wanted on my EP. I think the songs I recorded are each unique and collectively they provide a taste of the different things I’m capable of. I hope there is a song on there for each type of country music fan and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an artist and experiment more with my sound and what I like to sing.  

Who are your biggest musical influences, and how have they encouraged and helped you to develop your sound?

Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are at the top of that list. I’ve always admired them both, my voice and style of singing has definitely been influenced heavily by Carrie, and Taylor Swift’s writing is next to none. Having people in the industry that I idolize gives me something to reach for which is crucial, I think, in my growth and development as an artist, so I thank them for that.

Being in the early stages of your music career how are you finding the whole process, and have you been given any lasting advice?

I’m loving it! It’s really fun and getting to create something for people to enjoy is incredibly rewarding. Probably the best advice I’ve received is to make music that I like, not what I think will sell. Being genuine is incredibly important to me and I think that’s really rule number one to being genuine as an artist.

What other instruments do you play? It sounds as though you have quite a musical family, and your love for music started at a young age, so I’m guessing you know how to play more than just the guitar.

I actually started playing the piano when I was 8, that was my first instrument. Guitar is something I’ve picked up more recently for songwriting and performing. My first music love was definitely the piano – it’s a beautiful instrument with such a rich sound and it’s so fun to play.

You’re passionate about protecting women, children and animals.  Are there any charities in particular that you advocate, and what has drawn you to these causes? 

When I was in high school I saw a number of my friends raising service dogs with Canine Companions for Independence. I think that is such an amazing cause. I love my two dogs and the joy they bring me, so what a beautiful gift you’re giving someone in need of a service dog!

Connect with Natalie Alexander via her Website, Instagram and iTunes.