Siobhan Wilson is a Scottish singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, film and TV composer. A trained cellist from St Mary’s Music School, pianist, guitarist, and composer – she has 10 years of live touring and studio production and after a 5 year stay in Paris, France, has returned to the UK where she has become one of Scotland’s most exciting artists, where she is completing a masters in composition at Edinburgh University and open study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

 

Her 2017 album ‘There Are No Saints’ was shortlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year and drew attention from the likes of Rolling Stone and BBC6 Radio Lauren Laverne who listed it as her ‘album of the day. Wilson is a regular live performer at BBC Scotland and BBC6 radio stations and was also shortlisted for “Best Musician” in The Sunday Herald Culture Awards in the same year. She has toured the UK, USA and Canada supporting the likes of Suzanne Vega and The Proclaimers and as well as her own sold out headline tour.

 

Siobhan kindly spoke to us here at the Positive Songs Project about some of her songwriting processes and her latest release ‘Plastic Grave’ 

 

1. What’s the first piece of music or song you remember hearing?

Our house inherited an old upright piano when I was 7 and I was instantly attached to it. The piano seemed really gigantic and sitting there right in front of it and being a small person was like sitting in front of a whole wall disappearing into a world of sound. Upright pianos are cool like a piece of furniture you can go and sit on to relax. I mostly remember how it felt. I loved touching the wood of the piano and the ivory keys and I remember looking at all the different parts of it and thinking how can something this large and weird looking be the music and the singer. When I was little I was always personifying instruments like this.

 

2. Can we talk a bit about the latest mini-album/giant EP you released, ‘Plastic Grave’… Was there a specific intention when you sat down to write it?
The song ‘Plastic Grave’ on my latest mini-album/giant EP was written with the intention of being timeless. I wrote the song ‘Plastic Grave’ in a couple hours with Luciano Rossi, who is a composer/engineer/writer/performer, and we recorded it there on the spot and it was done. My favourite songs are the ones that are so instinctive and the inspiration and creativity zone is really flowing and you instinctively make the song like, the longer I make music for the more and more I really value that process.

 

3. As a follow up, is that your usual process and if not how does it differ?
I have a whole load of different processes. I throw a lot out. I really make loads and loads of demos. It takes guts to go into a studio and be like whatever happens happens. That’s why I recorded most of my new album with Steve Albini. He is famous for having guts and going with what’s going. People who obsessively try and package and change everything are conforming to a commercial presentation of a product, but Steve is just recording what’s happening and it’s his attitude that makes the experience valuable. ‘Your Moon Has Come’ is on my giant EP and it was recorded in Steve Albini’s studio. It’s my hope that you hear that song and it sounds like a live performance. I like to record in one take or two (where I can – it’s not always possible).

 

4. Is there a specific experience that you can bring to mind that has encouraged you to write music you wouldn’t have written otherwise?
Yes all the time. Every song is totally unique and relevant to the very specific context of your life in that moment. Everything impacts it from what you’ve eaten for breakfast that morning to who has died that year (they did not die as a result of being eaten for breakfast haha I realise that I am typing this too fast). I’m recently obsessed with silence. I’ve introduced a lot of sound to my ears over the years and they need to get a rest. I love the sound of the ocean and all the different white noises that a tide makes on a beach, especially a cold and rainy beach with Scottish weather. That kind of experience of listening to the sea recently made me go home and play with white noises and filters and listen to ocean sounds. I’m kind of glad that nobody will ever actually hear those kinds of things I do for fun because they sound terrible.

 

5. You co-wrote the wonderful song, It Must Have Been The Moon with Stuart Nisbet. We heartily encourage co-writing as part of this project but as we all write in different ways it can be an interesting challenge to figure out how that will work. Can you talk to us a bit about the process you engaged in with this song? For example, did you work face to face? Did one of you have the initial idea to build upon?
Stuart Nisbet is an excellent guitarist and songwriter who I know in Scotland. For this song He sent me the words and I set them to verses and music. I sent him the demo to make sure he liked it and he did so, that was it! The powers of the internet.

 

As a solo artist I like to invite other people into my process cause it gets boring being alone. If you’re in a band you’ve always got that combination of minds . I like collaboration but I’m a solo artist so that’s always been a bit of a contradiction in the fundamental mechanism of my whole career that I simultaneously enjoy and struggle with.

 

I work really fast and that scares a lot of people. When I have a lot of blind faith and trust in a concept I just really go for it so I’ve learned over the years it’s more chilled and comfortable to collaborate with some musicians by email and then there are only a couple who are on the same wavelength to do so in person. I’ve never been a particularly jealous person in the sense that when somebody possesses a skill I don’t have, I want to collaborate and learn about it and mix it with me and see what happens. I never look at artists and think “I wish I could do that” I’ve always regarded my favourite musicians with absolute admiration and respect for their craft. I realise my own limitations and there are many, and I’m attracted to working with people who can do things that I can not.
 
In this sense, I’ve never been jealous and intimidated and I have always hated “scenes” with rules and hierarchies driven by commercial success as opposed to content and musical approach. I exist in loads of different genres for that reason because I’ve never been confined to existing within a scene and a genre that I want to belong to, I’m more interested in learning about things I don’t know about yet. 

 

6. Give us a Siobhan Wilson Oblique Strategy… Are there any special techniques you employ to get a new song started?
Songwriting is a kind of meditative extreme concentration and it’s hard to think of it as a design with a purpose, for me. So I mostly never force myself to write, I only write when I “need” to which is probably when the creative muscles of my brain need exercise, or already in good flow, or when an emotional event has happened in my life which I need to process and vocalise somehow.
 
I used to write in a shower room at high school cause it had a lovely natural reverb. I think the biggest question you ask yourself is “why” before how. If you know why you’re writing a song, then the process should be led by instinct. It’s a kind of problem solving of emotional reflection. I have no idea really why I talk about it and do podcasts regularly about it on my fanspace 
 

www.patreon.com/fanspace

 where I ask other musicians about it like Rachel Seramnni and Karine Polwart cause I still don’t know. 

 

7. Take us through your gear list. When you demo new songs or ideas, what is your home recording setup for writing? For example, your favoured instrument? Any favoured FX pedals or plug ins? Which DAW(s) do you use? Which interface?
So I recently changed this up a lot. I don’t like recording but I benefit greatly from being able to record from home in what is the live music apocalypse. I record and produce music but also a monthly podcast. I live stream with OBS which is a nightmare, but seems to get the best sound. This year I use little Genelec speakers for hi sounds and MAudios for low and some Sennheiser baby headphones. I put my guitar amp in between them up high so that everything is coming out from in front of me as much as possible. I have a starter baby soundcard, and a focusrite with 2 inputs. I put my vocal through a NT1 – which I am happy with but very frustratingly limited by but I will invest in more microphones when I can one day afford it – through a valve pre-amp that I use to monitor input levels in what I’ve convinced myself adds to the “warmth” of the sound. I use Logic cause it came free with my computer and I play cello and piano and guitar.
 
I like some of the sounds on my Nord, and I use Spitfire BBC free orchestra rarely however I prefer real sounds to samples. I like the plug-in Culture Vulture although I don’t own it right now and am saving up to buy it. I have an addiction to adding a Valhalla reverb to every single track on every single demo which I’m actively trying to get rid of and is an old habit I’ve always had. I don’t necessarily think liking a plug-in results in a good sound or is synonymous with the plug in being good for the musical product. I certainly am intrigued by homing into specific aesthetics which create my musical identity and palette however I’m rarely inspired by a plug-in when writing.
 
My collaborator Lucci Rossi is however very well versed in this world, and when I collaborate with him I believe it’s something he is inspired by in a very “musical” and “human” way, so that produces some really interesting sounds when we combine our influences together such as on the song ‘Plastic Grave’ or ‘Echo Location’. He’d be a great person to ask about plug-ins. 
 
What I find interesting is talking about production, because everybody interprets the word differently. I work best with people who collaborate without ego and with an interest in creating original music. It’s really a very happy consequence of the song’s existence if it can be accepted commercially. Even though I have a really strong tight-knit fanbase who I know personally and communicate with very often, even more so now in 2020, and I also check that they like the music and want to know what their thoughts are on not just my music but music that’s happening that they’re excited by, I’m forever surprised that anybody wants to actually buy my music, not because I think it’s terrible, just because I have no idea how to predict what anybody wants, and I never will. Even though I know my listeners more every year it never gets clearer how to write music “for” a group of people, and every album is a tsunami of anxiety of blindly and bravely presenting new work in the hope that it will be well received.

 

Follow Siobhan Wilson’s music at Patreon:

 

Check out her next live stream on 11th October.

 
 

 

 

Is it really Phase III of this project?! Hard to believe. A half-dreamed idea from an idle conversation between fresh friends has become a burgeoning community of songwriters! Phase I was an adventure, the possibilities seemed limitless as we barrelled through our improbable challenge. Phase II introduced the Badges which inspired trepidation and creative breakthroughs in equal measure. Writing a new song every week, from week to week, is no easy thing so well done to everyone who has taken part in this project so far.

 

Our group tally is currently 326 songs between us since March! For Phase III, Lobelia and myself discussed an approach that allowed a change in the frantic pace of the project up until this point. Instead of a weekly deadline there will be one deadline 10 weeks from now. Your goal will be to contribute at least one song to one of the specialist Anthologies that the Positive Songs Project is curating. One of the primary missions of this phase is to give you all a chance to explore and write music that can create alternate revenue streams for artists as well as giving you all a chance to try your hand at something new. We are curating five Anthologies, each one with a specialist or genre-based niche. The five we’ve come up are:

 

1. A Children’s Album – Nice and simple. A place for your stranger-than-fiction ideas.

2. Video Game Music


3. Library Music – this is the kind of music that features as the backing of

commercial/corporate videos

4.  Folk Country Bluegrass – Acoustic guitars, lapsteels, banjos and fiddles. This would be the natural home for a lot of songwriters.  

5.  Spoken Word – probably the least defined of the anthologies. The music involved canbe anything you wish. The only requirement is that something spoken word occurs…poetry? A short story? The only limit is your imagination.
Example 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCZ-RAoy1jY

 

Example 2:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi1XPmFH6H8

 

You can contribute as many or as few songs as you like. Or maybe you don’t want to write a full song… maybe you’d like to write something with another PSP Member or contribute lyrics or your instrumental skills to someone else’s work? With Phase III, we can post our progress amongst the group (we’re thinking via private Soundcloud links) so we can all see the tracks take shape from bare bones, demos, and
ideas to the finished product. The group would become a place to discuss ideas and how to
move the completion of your track forward with the help of the other members. And at the end of the 10 weeks our Anthologies will go live to the world. Hosted on Bandcamp (still our preferred artist friendly music platform), the artists who wrote each song will be free to post the songs themselves wherever they wish and charge what they like for them but after discussion here at PSP we felt it would be easiest for these Anthologies if any money made from their sales through the PSP Bandcamp went to the charity Shelter.
We’re still making it up as we go along so if none of these Anthologies grab you, feel free to
suggest more. If we get enough interest in it, we’ll integrate it. If you want to contribute more than one song to an Anthology or numerous songs to numerous Anthologies, we say: The
More the Merrier. The only hard and fast rule we have to stay unmoveable on will be the deadline date and file format.

 

Your final track must be submitted to dropbox by 9th December and must be a .WAV file (or .AIFF) in order to be included in our Bandcamp Anthologies. Lobelia is hosting the dropbox folder, so email her @ lobelia@lobelia.net to be added before you upload your songs.This project is such a large one to stage-manage we won’t be able to keep track of anything that doesn’t stay within these two simple rules. So it goes. Excelsior. Happy writing!

 

Lizeth Ruvalcaba creating music on stage.


Lizeth Ruvalcaba is an artist based in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico. She is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who specialises in live looping. Her main instrument is her voice, which she employs to create stunningly ethereal and atmospheric pieces of music. Lizeth has been contributing to the Positive Songs Project since it began.
 

We chatted to her about her recent song ‘Made of Light’ for the project, a collaboration with fellow PSP songwriter Maya McCourt.

 

 


1. Have you recorded any collaborations before?
Yes, I am fortunate to have been able to collaborate with many local and not so local musicians … but precisely this one with Maya is my first distance collaboration.

Listen to Lizeth’s collaboration, Respiro by

Kako y Los No Humanos

 


 

2. Who approached who?
I remember we were talking about that week’s playlist right at the end of PSP phase one. And we were sharing the mutual fascination for each other’s music and some experiences about recording and mixing, and I think it only popped up in the conversation like, ‘We should do a collaboration one day …’ Then the next phase came and as soon as I saw the collaboration station badge, I thought we could take the opportunity.
3. Did you discuss your process much beforehand or did you just dive into the recording?
Yes, we talked about it a little but not structurally, I think we basically focused on how much
freedom each of us would have with our part, and we agreed total freedom and once we put the main ideas together go with the flow of the song. At first it was just like ‘I’ll send you some piano tracks, a basic structure, and if the lyrics or maybe a Solo part require changes, we can do it…’ and after I sent my idea to Maya she sent me back three Cello tracks, lyrics, melody and some backing vocals … almost immediately … wow! then I just added more backing vocals.
4. About the song itself… was there a specific intention when you sat down to write it or did you stumble across the idea through experimenting?
I think it was mostly through experimentation. I had a couple of chords in my head and once I started recording them and decided to keep it simple and repetitive the entire song came out and I liked the idea of giving space to what could be generated with vocals and cello or maybe some effects. Then I had a conversation with Maya just before uploading the song and she told me that she just had a vague idea for the melody and started singing and recording it, doing some improvisation on the lyrics as well. I was surprised because I had thought of doing something similar and did the same thing with the vocals at the end of the song, so, I think most takes on this one are ‘first takes’.
5. In what ways did the collaboration change your usual process?
I usually think first about the song’s subject and try to imagine about what story I want to tell with my song, whether it’s instrumental or not; and I use that as my creative guide.
This time I didn’t think about it, I just recorded music without thinking about being in control of the end result. I have never done that for a recording. And the process and the result were beautiful!
6. What was your recording setup for this (DAW, interface, mics)?
Logic, Tascam US-144 interface, Akai MPK Mini Midi Controller, M-Audio Nova LDC Microphone.
7. Are you more or less likely to undertake more collaborations based on this experience?
Definitely more! Learning to collaborate musically with someone new is an invaluable experience.

Listen to and download ‘Made of Light’ by Lizeth Ruvalcaba and Maya McCourt on Bandcamp: 
https://lizruvalcaba.bandcamp.com/track/made-of-light

Listen to Lizeth’s Positive Songs album:
Follow her on Youtube (highly recommended):
Check out her next live stream on 7th August:

Interview with Maya McCourt coming soon

Tales From The Songwriting Frontline

 

Three weeks ago I heard a rumour from a neighbour, of a Japanese Garden a bicycle ride away from me. Knowing that I had some songs to write (and thus some subject matter or at least a pleasing environment to find) I filed the rumour in my back pocket.

 

In a phone call the following evening I mentioned the idea to my friend Jimmy and he suggested I take my passport, I then talked to my friend Sonja the following morning and she suggested a ziplock bag with toothpaste and deodorant, a plan began to form…

 

To write this week’s song I would take a pretend holiday. All these little accoutrements: the passport, the ziplock bag with toothpaste and deodorant would help ease my mind into a vacation state. I made the boarding pass for myself with a strict departure time of 10:45am and by 11 I was on my bike and on a bon voyage.

 

The idea of a holiday in my mind ended up forming both the subject matter and the environment for the song A Holiday From Nothing. I landed at about 11.20am and wandered round the gardens ‘til I found a nice spot to pitch up, in a clearing in front of a huge tree. I had my guitar, pen, paper, coffee (of course), and a drum sample that I’d been wanting to use. I played the loop on repeat and played around with chord sequences to it. The (capo’d) C to Bb to Dm was originally something I played around for the chorus which seemed like a good place to start seeing as I already had the title of the song.

 

Various holiday based phrases found their way onto the page postcards and souvenirs… wish you were heres, ways of saying goodbye. I toyed with the idea of alliteration between farewells and various things I wanted to escape – ta ta to tension, goodbye to grief, but the advice of a (very wise) new friend warned me that this might be too negative a path to take for postive nature of what this song what supposed to be. I kept some of that (postcards to panic and pain) but started to focus more on what I wanted to head towards rather than what I wanted to escape from.

 

The tree’s size meant that the sunlight was dappled and only fell on the circular spot I’d chosen to sit. The sun moving across the sky meant that this spot moved around the tree rather like the hours of a clockface. I moved with the sun, dragging my setup with me each time. This action made it into the third verse of the song.

 

After writing and re-writing across three pages I had the draft of the song before me. The chorus chords became the verse chords, forcing me to follow where the melody wanted to go as the verse jumped into the chorus. The lyrics were edited and it was taking shape. I was ready to record the song as a demo on my phone to take home and begin recording properly in my studio. I’m still over the moon with the demo… there’s a moment between the last verse and last chorus when I am interrupted by an elderly couple lost in the park asking me for directions. It’s a perfect moment captured on the demo that feels so natural and lovely… I manage not to miss a beat from playing to conversing, back to playing again… and with the birdsong and the atmosphere of it, I wish I’d not had to change the key so I could have it transition in and out of the middle of the song (I often have to change key between writing and recording… my writing singing voice is different from my recording one). I’ve settled on leaving the conversation in its entirety on the end of the studio version and the original demo recording is also available for all to hear. 

 

Demo: 

https://granfalloonmusic.bandcamp.com/track/a-holiday-from-nothing-demo

Final track:

https://granfalloonmusic.bandcamp.com/track/a-holiday-from-nothing

 

Enjoy the song. Treat yourself to a holiday in your brain. So it goes…

 

Be positive.

 

RLx

(AKA Granfalloon)

 

 

 

First things first, why should you care what I have to say on the subject? It’s a fair question, one I’m asking myself right now…

Some backstory: In 2014, before I began my current project Granfalloon, I challenged myself to write a song-a-week every week of that year. It was exciting and it was maddening, it was frustrating and also deeply gratifying. I learned a lot about myself and my creative process. And, on New Year’s Eve 2014 I finished my 52nd song and I was definitely a better writer at the end of it than I was at the start.

This version of the challenge, The Positive Songs Project, arose from a conversation between myself and PSP’s co-founder Lobelia Lawson, when we were speculating the amount of anxious or sad songs about isolation we might end up writing during the Coronavirus Lockdown this year (2020 for anyone reading in the future… how are ya? Are you enjoying earning money and being able to hug another human being? You lucky thing you!) and in response we suggested attempting a song-a-week challenge with a spin: To write a positive song every week.

So as we’re starting this wonderful and insane journey once again I thought I might jot down some thoughts about what I remember from 2014, and some lessons I learned the hard way, to share with anyone embarking on this Odyssey for the first time.

1. The page doesn’t need to be empty when you start – I’m no purist about writing a new song every week. For me, the page doesn’t need to begin blank. If you have a chord progression that you’ve enjoyed playing for 4 years, or a single lyric that you love but just cannot find a song to put it in, this project is PERFECT for it. If you have a subject matter you’ve been telling yourself you’d write about for ages, that’s a great starting point for a ‘fresh’ piece of work.

2. The creative muscle is just that, a muscle, and you’re exercising it to strengthen it, not to create something perfect straight away. So pencils down when the bell rings! The deadline nature of the project is to strip away the unenjoyable aspects of the creative process (the overthinking, the perfectionism). Imperfection is the best we can aim for in a week. No over-mixing, no worrying if that line is good enough… when the week is done step away from the song. And that Submission Box offers you a wonderful closure so that you can begin the next song. But that’s not to say you can NEVER return to it. Just before Lockdown I was, in fact, engaged in recording my favourite songs from 2014’s set of 52. This of course entailed rewrites, arrangements, orchestration, rehearsals with other musicians, all after 5 years away from those songs. But the reason I was able to build that body of work to pick from, is because when the time was up, I moved on straight away. You’re working on the big picture and coming back for the details later.

3. The only failure is not sitting down to try. I did attempt another song-a-week challenge in 2017. This time I asked a bunch of artists from different mediums to join me (I remember two other musicians, and a stand-up comedian… I might have forgotten someone). From the beginning as each deadline rolled around, excuses would appear rather than music (or jokes…) “I didn’t have time to do it”… “What I came up with wasn’t good enough…” “I didn’t finish it…” Suffice to say this version of the challenge only lasted a few weeks before petering out. I became disheartened with the others’ approach and in the end gave up myself.

But it taught me two things.

Firstly that I shouldn’t have worried what the others were doing, and secondly (and it’s probably my inability to have properly communicated this to them that was the root cause of my frustration), that this isn’t something that you have to come up with excuses for. This challenge is the tool that you’re using to give yourself time and permission to sit down and work your creative muscles. If you sat down and tried to write for 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes that week, you have succeeded! And whatever happened in that time is something you can submit that week!

4. Anything can constitute a piece of music, anything can be a song. Over 2014, I submitted 52 pieces of music. Some of those were conventional songs, some were grand studio productions, some were co-writes with others, one was a joke song written on my birthday about my housemate nearly cutting her finger off, one was a 29 second instrumental, one was a techno remix of the previous week’s song, one was a prospective soundtrack piece to an unwritten film, one was a scary story delivered as a monologue by an actor. The scope of this can be a wonderfully freeing thing. I got to try out a lot of different styles and techniques as a result.

5. Rules are only there to give you permission to get over yourself. I love working to a brief. When you can create ANYTHING, you can become frozen by choice paralysis and end up creating nothing. I became fascinated with the Oulipo during 2014. They were a group of French poets who used constrained writing techniques. For example, Perec’s La disparition is a 300-page book which totally avoids using the letter ‘E’ even once! What I enjoy about these rules is the freedom they give me from my own judgement. For example, if I pick up a guitar to write a song and the chord I play is a G major, my kneejerk response is usually one of disgust or self doubt, “A G, Richard? Really? How original…” However, if the rule has been imposed externally, all of sudden I have freedom from that judgement of myself. I can enjoy that G major and blissfully move on to the next chord, thus removing a roadblock to creativity.

6. And finally, the disclaimer… the negation of all which came before… Creativity is and should be, the rule to overrule all other rules! – I think creativity is the Prime Directive of a song-a-week challenge. I undertake this challenge in order to create. The rules of it are self-imposed and only to offer structure when I feel like I’m falling. So whatever rules you are working within for this, disregard them (and this) the minute they get in your way.

Hopefully you found something helpful in these scribblings. Best of luck to you with your song this week!

Excelsior…

So it goes…

Be positive,

Richard Lomax (AKA Granfalloon)