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Feedback File - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 5 / 2 / 2016

Feedback File - Interview


Malcolm Carter takes the opportunity to find out a little more about the Feedback File from John Almond who wrote and produced ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’, which was one of the most eclectic and inspiring albums of 2015

The opening weeks of a new year are usually, musically, quite barren. Which is good as it gives us a chance to look back on the year that has just passed. To rediscover those little gems that shone for a few weeks before something bigger and brighter took control but there are those albums which were never far from reach, those that didn’t just define a particular place and time but made such an impression that you knew instantly that they were going to soundtrack your life for years to come. When an album landed on the desk from The Feedback File there was little to indicate what treasures it contained. Digging around a little revealed that John Almond was the main man behind ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’, a name that will never be forgotten by this writer as ‘Johnny’ Almond’s sax and flute playing (not to mention his mouth percussion) blew my young mind when he was part of John Mayall’s band, the very first gig I attended way back then. Knowing that Johnny sadly passed away some years ago had me wondering and intrigued, could there be two musicians with the same name, capable enough to infiltrate any musical barriers that might still surround me? Even early plays of ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’ revealed that John Almond, along with a generous list of musicians, had hit a warm, inviting yet eclectic groove with the eight original songs on the album. Although titles such as ‘Back In The Canyon’ give some indication of the sound the band create, other song titles like ‘Vera Lynn’ and ‘Hey, Didn’t You Used To Be Bill Fay?’ gave notice that maybe here was a band that was going to be hard to pin down to any one genre. While a mellow, laid-back vibe informs most of the album it’s obvious even from those early listens that Almond and his chosen bunch of musicians have pulled in elements of jazz, country, folk and even funk to create what really is an album that is constantly throwing up new surprises with each listen, while never losing that feeling of familiarity. Such was the impact of ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’ that we felt it was just too good to be left in the pile of great albums of 2015. This is a collection of real songs that will stand the test of time, one of those albums that you return to time and again to let the magic of music get you through. There didn’t appear to be too much information about The Feedback File or John Almond out there so when the opportunity arose to put a few questions to John Almond to fill in the spaces we eagerly accepted. PB: How and when did The Feedback File come together as a band? ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’ isn’t the first album to come out under the band name is it? JA: I've been writing songs for most of my life but started taking it more seriously in the mid 90’s when I got a little 4-track recorder. The first couple of albums came out under my own name but I decided that, because of the input from the rest of the guys and in particular with Tom (Linneen) being the lead singer on a large number of the songs, I wanted to create a more collective name. In effect all of the four albums I’ve made over the last 18 years are by The Feedback File. PB: There are a number of musicians involved in the latest album, is this a settled line-up or just a loose collection of musicians you picked to bring your songs to life? JA: Bit of both really – there are few ‘lifers’ including my sister-in-law Sarah Vallance, Richard Bell and Jonathan Roberts. I’m always on the look-out for new people but try to keep it to friends or friends of friends. In reality, many of these people have never been in the same room at the same time and don’t even live on the same continent. It works because of the wonders of digital recording but also I know I can trust them to understand what I’m looking for. The sax player, Neil Fryer was a real find this time round – if you tried to paint a picture in your mind of someone who’s played with every British jazz legend from the 50’s onwards he would probably look just like Neil – a real dapper gent and a pleasure to work with. PB: The vocals on ‘The Earth Beneath’ are simply gorgeous throughout. Your vocals, combined with those of Sarah Vallance, sound like you were born to sing together. For those yet to check out your earlier albums, does Sarah feature on those as well? JA: Well at this point I would like to give Tom Linneen a special mention even though he’s missing from this latest release. Tom took the lead vocals on many of the songs on the previous two albums (‘Under Your Door’ and ‘Still Revolving’) and when he decided he was going to sit this one out it was quite a challenge as I wasn’t sure if I could hold a whole album together. I knew Sarah could step up to the mark and didn’t she just! We’ve been singing together for a long time now and she instinctively finds the right harmonies that work with my voice. I needed something a bit different for John O’Day and local singer/songwriter Pip Hodge did a great job on that one. Because I had to write songs to better suit my voice rather than Tom’s, it helped give ‘Earth’ a different feel to what’s gone before. Thanks for the compliment though and I’m very happy with how it turned out. PB: There’s a warm, mellow sound surrounding the album, then on the title track, more than a little funkiness creeps in and takes over while still holding onto that jazzy, mellow vibe. Just when the listener thinks they know where The Feedback File is coming from you throw in unexpected curves, so who are your influences/inspirations? JA: I know this sounds like a cliché but I am very catholic in my listening. I seriously started getting into music in the early 70’s and singer songwriters of the time like Nick Drake and John Martyn had and continue to have, a big influence on me as do classic songwriters like Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach – I love a good tune but I also like jazz, folk, world music and increasingly, some of the more interesting ambient stuff that’s around. I don’t deliberately try to copy anything but I guess it all seeps through. When I’m putting an album together I consciously look to ensure there is some variety in the musical styles – I think that’s because when I’m listening to music often it’s my own playlists and compilations which contain a mixture of all kinds of stuff and I guess consciously or sub-consciously that reflects in the songs and arrangements. PB: Name checking Bill Fay was another surprise, how did that song come about? JA: I remember reading MOJO a few years ago and seeing a full page advert for a new Bill Fay album. I was amazed as I’d heard nothing about him for decades, so I was both intrigued and also quite touched by the fact that he was coming back into our lives as if he had risen from the dead. The song evolved from that idea and I tried to make it darkly humorous but also, hopefully, as a touching tribute. I would love for him to hear it – but have no idea how to contact him and I know he keeps himself very much out of the limelight. Anyway, that one’s for you Bill wherever you are. PB: Were the songs on ‘The Earth Beneath’ all written during the same period of time? They gel so well together on the album, there’s a feeling that they all came out during the same phase of your life. JA: Well if you are any good at maths you will have worked out that 4 albums over a period of 18 years means I ain’t exactly prolific. I do work slowly and in spates. I’m not a professional musician and have a full time job and family so sometimes my music doesn’t get much of a look-in. The songs on 'Earth' were written over a period of circa 6 years – really starting with Vera Lynn, which I think came about shortly after the release of ‘Still Revolving’ back in 2008. I can’t write to order and have to wait for inspiration to hit - as the song 'Back in the Canyon' says "These days the muse don’t come by very often she just visits now and then like distant kin" – I don’t think I’ve ever written a truer word! PB: Did you have the songs written and arranged before you went into the studio, or did you just have sketches that you worked on once there? JA: The songs are all written but I’m very open to ideas and in fact encourage people to try different things when they are working on the songs, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and I am then quite ruthless with what I prune and discard. With 'Back in the Canyon' I had several people, including me, try solo vocal parts and different harmonies and combinations of voices until I felt it had the right feel and I didn’t even make the cut myself on that one. I’m quite happy not to be involved in the recording if I think someone else can sing or play it better, my focus is always on trying to make the song sound as good as it can. PB: The overall flow and feel of the album would indicate that some time has been spent perfecting your sound, how long did the whole recording process take? JA: The recording happened over a shorter time-frame than the writing but still staggered over a couple of years. Richard Bell was really responsible for kick starting it for me as he was over here from his home in Australia for a few months and with time on his hands. He is wonderful musician and crucially, totally in tune with what I do, so he was able to help me get most of the basic arrangements in place. This provided the cohesion between the songs and gave me a solid framework to build from. Apart from the actual playing side, I’ve always looked to have someone on-board who helps me actually put it all together as I’m rubbish at mixing and all that technical stuff. This time my friend Simon Plent drew the short straw, he worked like a Trojan and with endless patience to get it right – I think he’s still in recovery! PB: Touring the album, considering the number of musicians involved, would maybe be prohibitive, but have you considered playing gigs to support the album, maybe even solo or with a small band? JA: Playing live and doing it well is really difficult – the logistics of getting people together to play these arrangements and the time it would take to rehearse really makes it nigh on impossible. I may do a few solo or small group things but the time I have for music will always be mainly focused on the writing and recording because that’s what I love. I fully appreciate that approach restricts any exposure I can get. PB: It appears to be easier in these digital times to get music out there but how much of a struggle has it been to get The Feedback File heard? What are the biggest hurdles? JA: Quite simply, because of the increasing sophistication and affordability of home recording equipment, there is so much good music out there(and dare I say an awful lot of not so good music but beautifully recorded), it’s hard to get your head above the parapet. I found a marked difference in promoting ‘Earth’ to when I was pushing ‘Still Revolving’. It's very difficult to get noticed and more often that not it’s just luck - and also, like most things in life, using any connections that you can. The reviews I have had though have been great – and a really big thank you to Pennyblackmusic for both the lovely review and the opportunity to do this interview. PB: Is ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’ available in other formats than a download? JA: Yes there is an actual cd – available at a ridiculously cheap price via the Feedback File Bandcamp site https://thefeedbackfile.bandcamp.com/. There are also a limited number of copies of ‘Still Revolving’ available on there. PB: The production of the album was totally in your own hands, did you produce the other Feedback File albums and have you produced any other artists? It’s such a varied album and the production has captured the beauty in each song perfectly, were you trained as a producer? JA: I wish! I do have a clear vision and a good ear for what sounds right but am totally reliant in technical support to actually achieve that sound. In answer to your question though, yes I have been heavily involved in the production of all the albums. I would love to do some independent production work and there are (very) tentative plans to get some of Tom Linneen’s new songs off the ground but don’t hold your breath folks. PB: Given the wide range offered by the eight songs on ‘The Earth Beneath’ there’s the feeling that your musical tastes must be eclectic, what music are you currently listening to for your own pleasure? JA: I recently posted my top 10 albums of 2015 in an online music blog (The Afterword) and that gives you an idea of what has been rocking my boat of late – by no means comprehensive ! 1. Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness 2. Steve Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase 3. Andy Kim – Its Decided 4. Nils Frahm – Solo 5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell 6. Weather Station – Loyalty 7. The Unthanks – Mount The Air 8. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green 9. China Crisis – Autumn in the Neighbourhood 10. Ryan Adams – 1989 PB: What are the future plans for The Feedback File? JA: To remember where I put my guitar after finishing ‘The Earth Beneath Our Feet’ and start writing some new songs. There are a few ideas I’ve been working on including an ambitious instrumental piece that didn’t make the cut for this project. I will continue to push this album as far as I can and I’m also on the lookout for any new additions to the FF family so if there is anyone out there who likes the music and would like to get involved please give me a shout (contact is via the Bandcamp site). I would also be very happy for anyone who may be interested to use the songs – at the end of the day that’s what they are there for and I’d love to hear some new interpretations. PB: Thank you.

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Feedback File - Interview

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