DATE OF INTERVIEW:
22nd May 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: How was the last gig with Heather at the beginning of April - was it a happy and sad occasion?
BRYAN JOSH: Yeah, it was both. It was the 2nd April, and the whole gig was kind of like larger than life really. Well, me and Heather have been working together for thirteen years so it was very emotional actually; almost over emotional. You had to focus on the gig itself, you know, because it was very, very sad. It was a hell of a night, a great venue, it was rammed out and it was amazing. The atmosphere and the crowd were fantastic. But you’re right, it was happy and sad at the same time.
(Bryan Josh on writing music in the Lake District)
"When I go up there now it kind of empties your head out and puts things in perspective. As a writer you’re like a radio receiver and you seem to pick things up when you’re in a certain frame of mind. That place is very good for that, being close to nature I think, and why I love it."
Bryan backstage at the Drill Hall, Lincoln, 22nd May 2010
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
2010 began with the unexpected announcement that, after thirteen years, long-time frontwoman of Mostly Autumn, Heather Findlay, was leaving to embark on her own creative 'journey', one reason among others for her departure which she laid bare in a lengthy statement on the band's official website mid-January. It was simultaneously announced by founding member Bryan Josh that Olivia Sparnenn, backing vocalist in the band for the past five years, would be her replacement. Vowing to "embrace a new future", and with a forthcoming new album, 'Go Well Diamond Heart', set for release this summer, the threshold of a new decade marks the start of the next chapter in Mostly Autumn's career. And it has already been an illustrious career thus far that has seen this talented band produce music of a consistent high quality over the course of eight studio albums through some masterful songwriting as well as bestowed with high praise from the late, great Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, and handpicked by Bryan Adams to support him at Murrayfield Stadium three years ago. In Lincoln for a gig towards the end of May, I arranged to meet up with Bryan (Josh that is, not Adams!) to chat about the past, present and future of Mostly Autumn, commencing discussions by enquiring about Heather's final gig with the band in April...
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
MD: Maybe if it was the 1st April people would be thinking - “ah, April Fools, Heather’s not really leaving”!
BJ: Yeah! [laughs] We recorded it so it’s gonna come out as a DVD.
MD: Would there ever be the chance of guest vocal appearances from Heather in the future or is it a complete split?
BJ: Well, it wouldn’t be fair at the minute to do that because obviously Livvy’s taken the job on and she’s the singer, and Heather voluntarily left…for good reasons, to do her own thing…but it’s certainly not something I would think about at the minute, no. It would just be irrelevant really.
MD: Of course, yeah, because you’re moving on and progressing, and so forth. Being widely regarded as a progressive band, do you view Heather’s departure as part of the band’s progression and an opportunity to explore different musical avenues with Livvy’s vocals because she seems to have a wider range?
BJ: Well, yeah, she’s a different singer is Livvy. I mean, it is a chance in a way to move away but it’ll be business as usual to an extent because I put the band together and a lot of the songs and the sound comes from myself, and obviously working with Iain and Heather in the past. It kind of gives it a starting moment - the start of a new decade; the start of a new lineup. It does kind of open itself up so we could try a few different things and I think that’s exciting in a way. So I think it will sound like Mostly Autumn but with a bit of an edge in a different way. Maybe a bit heavier as well because Livvy’s suited to that as well.
MD: She’s into the heavier stuff?
BJ: Oh, she grew up with heavy music; she loves heavy music. But we won’t change the songs because of that…
MD: So you’re not going to become a thrash band overnight!
BJ: No, no! Generally a bit heavier but, you know, that doesn’t mean to say that Heather didn’t like heavy stuff because she did as well.
MD: So are you into heavier stuff?
BJ: Yeah, always have been. I’ve been into all sorts.
MD: So I’m presuming she was the first choice to replace Heather?
BJ: Yes, well, she was a natural choice in so much as she’d already done it a few times. When we were in Europe and Heather had to fly back for various reasons Livvy stepped in there and it really worked. So it was an obvious choice really.
MD: It’s kind of like a promotion of sorts for Livvy!
BJ: It is, yeah! [laughs]
MD: Are you looking to recruit a new backing vocalist or are you going to work with what you’ve got?
BJ: No, we’ll work with what we’ve got at the minute now, I think.
MD: You have a new album about to be released, ‘Go Well Diamond Heart’, and obviously the first without Heather. How was the writing and recording process this time round without her?
BJ: Well, it was strange and different because Heather’s been there all the time and we’ve worked together and stuff, so going into the studio was different. You have to just completely sort of take a fresh look on everything. It was a bit lonely in some ways but it was exciting in another way….different, but exciting at the same time. We’ve got something to prove; we’ve got to crack on. We don’t know how people are gonna take it…I don’t know really, but we’ll find out.
MD: Livvy’s got to make her mark as well…
BJ: Yes, exactly.
MD: So it’s quite a pivotal album for her too, I guess.
BJ: It is. It’s a very pivotal album.
MD: And for the band as well.
BJ: Totally, absolutely. As is Heather’s album as well.
MD: What can fans expect musically from the new album? Is there any kind of progression in the sound from ‘Glass Shadows’?
BJ: As I mentioned earlier, it’s definitely, generally, a bit heavier than the last album.
MD: When you say heavier, do you mean more riff-based?
BJ: Yeah, a lot of it’s sort of riff-based. It’s just generally a bit…there’s still gentle moments on it; we haven’t finished it yet. The special edition is a double album of original material so we’ve still got quite a bit to work on. But, generally speaking, a bit heavier and a bit different. Heavier as in not as light, in a way….[laughs] A bit more rock if you like, in a certain way.
MD: You’ve always been a band about light and shade so it sounds like you’ve just accentuated those elements maybe.
BJ: Yes, that’s exactly probably what it is.
MD: What’s the significance behind the title ‘Go Well Diamond Heart’?
BJ: I can’t give too much away because there are people who still don’t know but it’s more of a hats off really; a hats off to various situations, things we feel about. We’ve always written songs about things we feel about personally so it’s a bit of a hats off to a few areas of things that happen in the world, people who have gone and people who are still around. A little bit to do with Heather and a little bit to do with other things as well. I don’t want to give too much away because it’s not out yet but there’s a little bit about Ben Parkinson who came on stage with us, the soldier who had his legs blown off and stuff like that and he’s still carrying on. There’s a little tribute to the determination of the guys, the troops over there; there’s a bit to do with that, but not getting political.
MD: I gather you have an affinity with the Lake District in the sense that you go there to write music as it provides you with a creative impetus. What exactly is your relationship with the Lakes and is that a place where you always go to write music?
BJ: Since I was a kid, about three or four years old, I’ve been going camping up there, all over the Lakes with my father. I just fell in love with the place from day one and we used to do a lot of rock climbing and walking, and my older brother would always be playing great music when we were up there like Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Queen, Genesis, and I just kind of grew up in that scene. I fell in love with the place and I’ve been going ever since. When I go up there now it kind of empties your head out and puts things in perspective. As a writer you’re like a radio receiver and you seem to pick things up when you’re in a certain frame of mind. That place is very good for that, being close to nature I think, and why I love it. It’s a stunning place. I’m definitely more into camping than staying in hotels or anything like that. Fires by the rivers, you know, under the stars, that scene.
MD: Sounds nice. So you have the album available for pre-order at the moment on the website as the limited edition double CD - just out of interest, it’s limited to 2,333 copies which seems like a really random number! Why that amount?
BJ: There’s something to do with threes…it would take me hours to explain but I don’t know if it’s a spiritual thing or what…
MD: Some sort of numerology thing maybe…
BJ: Yeah, there’s been something going on with the threes for a long time. The ‘Passengers’ album we did about seven years ago, it was all about that and it’s just almost like messages or something, but it’s been going on and it really does go on. It’s kind of something that’s stuck with us so we thought, ah, it’s a nice number really, and it’s relevant…
MD: So, why not!
BJ: Yeah, why not, yeah! [laughs]
MD: If you were a full-on metal band you’d have to have 2,666 copies for sale!
BJ: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: Your debut album, ‘Through These Eyes’, was released at the end of 2008 - what motivated you to make a record independent of Mostly Autumn at that point in your career?
BJ: It was more to do with I had a chance to do it. Heather was pregnant and having a baby so we had to take a certain amount of time off from the studio and everything, and it’s something I just fancied doing; something a little bit different outside of the box from what Mostly Autumn is although it probably still sounds a bit like that. It was just basically I fancied doing something different for a bit because, again, why not…where you can do things and you’re not being judged in the same way.
MD: Did that sell well?
BJ: It did sell well….about four or five thousand.
MD: Were the songs written specifically for a solo release or did you have some ideas knocking around for a while that you hadn’t used in Mostly Autumn?
BJ: Most of it was specifically for it and it just happened at the time but there were a couple of songs that were meant for a Mostly Autumn album but it didn’t happen because they weren’t quite relevant. ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Black Stone’ were two ideas that I’d had previously; the rest of it was completely new.
MD: You formed your own label in 2006, Mostly Autumn Records - what have been the advantages and disadvantages of being completely autonomous in that way and independent of a contract with another label?
BJ: It was fantastic. The owner of Classic Rock Legends who had us before, kindly, he felt so much about the band that he just felt it belonged to us mainly, because it was our band. He just passed it on and he termed it as handing the ring on from ‘Lord of the Rings’! [laughs] That’s what he said! It’s fantastic because it’s your own business and, obviously, you’re selling your own stuff and you’re in control of the material. Selling through the website is, in monetary terms, a lot better. The thing is, we still had all the infrastructure laid out there…we were being distributed properly, worldwide and stuff, so we’re doing that but we were just manufacturing and in charge of it all. So it was the same as a record deal but you’re always in charge yourself. In a lot of ways, it’s your own business so you have to invest a lot because it costs a lot of money as well…you don’t have someone putting half a million quid into advertising, and promotion, and stuff like that. So you’ve got to look at whatever you can do from that front, and the VAT and taxman are after you personally! So it’s good. It’s very, very good. It’s worked out very well.
MD: So artistically you’d say there’s no difference at all - you had complete independence before as well in that sense?
BJ: We did, generally speaking. The guy did have a little bit of an input but, generally speaking, we’ve always been pretty rigid on that. We’re a bit stubborn about that.