Mostly Autumn Interview 14 Aug 2001
This first appeared in a cut down form in Fireworks Magazine Issue 6
Mostly Autumn are a York based 7 piece band. They have released 3 albums, are about to release a DVD of a recent London Showcase gig and have just signed a 3-album deal with Classic Rock Legends who have done wonders recently for Uriah Heep. Jon Hinchliffe took a trip to York to have a chat with Bryan Josh (Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar and Writer) and Heather Findlay (Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Whistles, and Writer)
INT - How would you describe your music?
HEATHER - It is very earthy and is very 70's influenced. We are particularly influenced by Pink Floyd. People also liken us to Fleetwood Mac, Fairport Convention and Deep Purple, but like Bryan has said in previous interviews, Pink Floyd seem to be in his blood. It is something that has influenced him since his childhood whether he likes it or not. It is certainly not contrived. It is something that happens very naturally and it is about real issues.
BRYAN - Yes, it is about life really. You know, the things people get up to and strong emotions.
INT - Where would you say your main market is?
BRYAN - I think the market for us is people that enjoy the kind of music that isn't forced and artificial. It is kind of ‘real music’ that isn't in fashion. We are more of a cult thing. I think anyone that is into rock music, really. There is a Celtic element too, but it is not as strong as the actual music itself. It is just another angle on it. I think it is just for people that like music from the heart.
INT - Which countries do you have your best sales in?
BRYAN - We do well in Europe. We do quite well in America. We have done some in Scandinavia and of course England. I think we do best in England and Europe really.
HEATHER - We tend to have a big following in Holland and Belgium. We are just starting to get a hold in Germany too. Everything we have done there so far has gone down very well. From a fan base point of view, it is still very much in the UK but we are very well received abroad.
BRYAN - It is hard to know where you are selling to really. You know you have sold so many albums but not necessarily where they go.
INT - Do you think the Internet has helped your sales?
BRYAN - It has definitely helped us in terms of contacts for concerts and stuff like that. But also it is very good because it allows people to communicate with you and let you know how they feel about what they hear.
HEATHER - It makes the world a lot smaller place
BRYAN - Definitely. It's a very positive angle.
INT - How did the name Mostly Autumn come about?
BRYAN - I have always loved the autumn. There is something very romantic and reminiscent about it. I think I just love that time of year. The smells and everything. It is quite melancholy. So I always wanted to create this project as something to do with autumn. About ten years ago when I first wrote "The Night Sky" from the first album I was in a pub in a mountainous part of the Lake District. I was with Liam our other guitarist and we saw this sign. It just said “Mostly Sheep” but we couldn't see the ‘Sheep’ bit. So we read ‘Mostly’ and I just thought "autumn, Mostly Autumn. Yes that's it." That is the way it happened. I was just looking for something around that whole sense of autumn really.
INT - What is the average age of the band?
HEATHER - The youngest is the band is Jonny the drummer and he is 20 and the oldest is Andy the Bass player at 41. The rest of us are 24-33.
INT - At the DVD recording it struck me that your audience were probably older than you.
HEATHER - Yes I think that comes down to the nature of the music. I think it is quite reminiscent of the 70's and people are latching on to something they feel is familiar. The response from younger people is very positive too. Although, at the moment, I don't really think we are marketing at a younger audience. If younger people do hear it though they still seem to be quite impressed.
INT - What previous bands have you been in?
BRYAN - Well I started a band when I was in my early teens called Expressions. It was just a rock band really and it did quite well really. That's it really. I have been playing since I was 11. I guess I played in that band from the age of 14 until I was 19 or so. Then after that I was working on this stuff really and I played in a couple of Pink Floyd type cover bands. They were just a laugh really. The band Expressions got on TV a couple of times and we have a video and stuff. We also played the old Marquee club in London. But basically nothing as serious as Mostly Autumn is now. Certainly nothing as heartfelt.
HEATHER - Mostly Autumn is the first band I have sung for. I have done acoustic acts with friends just to get something together. I have also done various bits of studio work and theatre work. So nothing with any prestige I have just generally been finding my way.
INT - Are you a full time band or a semi-professional one?
BRYAN - Somewhere approaching fully professional now. There are members of the band still holding on to their careers but they have great flexibility within their work. We are doing more of this than anything else now and it is building nicely.
INT - What is your method of writing?
BRYAN - Actually, writing the songs is almost a contradiction in a way. It is almost like I don't write the songs. When I feel strongly emotional about something they just appear and flow through me almost like I am a radio receiver. When it happens something clicks and it just pours out of me. I still have to craft it afterwards. There is certainly an element of crafting that has to go on. When you are writing songs everything has to move in the right direction with the right colours etc. But basically I feel the songs write themselves.
INT - So when it is pouring out of you, is it going into your guitar?
BRYAN - Yeah, into the guitar, but sometimes I have got to the stage where I can put it all together in my head. I have been playing so long that I generally understand the way music is written. I can put it together in my head because I know where the chords should be going and what should happen. In fact "The Night Sky" from "For All We Shared" was done in my head really. I was in the Lake District 10 years ago and I was marvelling at the mountains, the snow and the stars and the whole thing just happened. It is a very hard thing to explain how it happens really. I certainly don't just sit down with a guitar and try and write something. That has never ever worked for me.
INT - So you aren't ever walking down the street and you suddenly get an idea?
BRYAN - No. I will sometimes go in the mountains backpacking with a guitar or a Dictaphone and then I will be inspired. But it is still the same thing. You can't logically reconstruct where it comes from. But it will flow and it will happen.
HEATHER - We don't just sit down and think "Ah, it is time we sat down and wrote another song." and then write one. It doesn't happen like that. The strongest songs that I have written are the ones that have kind of just hit me like a bolt of lightening. I have had to sit down in a panic and grab a tape and a guitar and get it down. It then almost emerges as a full piece. "Shrinking Violet" on the last album came out like that. The whole thing was written in half an hour except for the end section, which was a collaboration with Bryan. Sometimes you feel inspired and somehow the music just comes through. You play with chords and you have no idea why you are choosing them. Obviously some chords make you feel a certain way and you go to them first but I never really pick up a guitar unless I have a certain concept in mind.
INT - So you write on guitar as well?
HEATHER - Yes.
BRYAN - We are a very ‘minor chord’ band.
HEATHER - It is always A minor, E Minor, D Minor.
BRYAN - The darker emotions are always the stronger I think.
HEATHER - It's true.
INT - So what about the lyrics then?
BRYAN - It's the same thing really. It all seems to pour out together. It does vary. Sometimes the music will appear first and sometimes you will have to leave it for a while.
HEATHER - Other times you will get a pattern or a structure where the lyrics just fall into it. It is like the path is already laid for them and you have a basic idea of where the lyrics are going to fall but you haven't really crafted the words yet. You have the concept of what you want to say but you might only have a few of the words. Or you have the words but they aren't crafted. You want them to be poetic and written in good language and that doesn't always happen when you are writing so fast. Then again sometimes it does.
INT - So what, generally, are the inspirations for your lyrics?
BRYAN - Well the first album was inspired by losing my father. I had all this emotion inside and it manifested itself in this song called "Heroes". I had a big need to unload all of the emotion I felt and that is how Mostly Autumn started. That album was really just a tribute to my father. It was never meant to be anything else really but it got a good response and people were very interested in it and things just developed from their really.
INT - So presumably for the next album you have already had ideas for the songs? They are kind of dripping through all the time rather than you saying, "It is time for a new album" and you having to turn the tap on?
BRYAN - Yes that is exactly how it is. That is how it works for most of us in the group.
INT - So what would happen if you were scheduled for another album and you didn't have the songs?
BRYAN - I would just hope that putting ourselves into inspirational situations would pull us out of it. The songs are always about life really. And that’s the thing, there is always plenty of life to talk about and try to put over.
HEATHER - As much as everyday life is inspiring it is certainly necessary to put yourself in an inspiring situation. It is very easy to get blocked because certain things such as work and money get you down. It is therefore a good idea to take yourself off to somewhere quiet and peaceful like Scotland or the Lake District and relax and just let it happen.
BRYAN - But fortunately as far as the record company is concerned at the moment we don't have any pressure. Obviously they want another album but they have also said they don't want it rushed. They just want us to do things the way we have done them before. We have never gone into the studio before, unless we have enough material. It has never been a problem that we have hit a dry patch before so hopefully it won't happen in the future.
INT - Why does your music have the Celtic influence?
BRYAN - That is something I grew up with again. It is like listening to ‘the Floyd’ as a kid. We would go camping and stuff in the mountains and in the evenings we would go to the pub and in the corner would be some guys doing the violins and whistles and stuff. I have always found it very earthy like it has been happening for 100's of years. It is something I have always loved and something I have always wanted to integrate into the music. I would never profess to be a real folk musician though. None of us would really. It is just an angle, an influence really.
INT - Is that why you include the jigs as well? You seem to include a large number jigs in the live set.
BRYAN - Yes. Sometimes it depends where the gigs are. I think they provide a really nice break from the heavier more thoughtful large pieces in the set. I think it just allows people to let themselves go and refresh themselves before the next one.
HEATHER - They are like light and shade and they do seem to go down very well.
INT - Presumably you write for yourselves then rather than an audience.
BRYAN - Yes absolutely. It is a very honest concept to the whole thing. It is completely removed from any fashion and anything that happens in the songs just happens as it happens and that is the way it will always be.
INT - When did you first start writing?
BRYAN - When I was 11 or 12 I was coming up with ideas for songs. I was knocking them down and using those ideas again, I have always been doing it.
INT - Have you been using those ideas with Mostly Autumn?
BRYAN - No, not things that are that old. I first started writing with Mostly Autumn in mind in 1988/89. "The Night Sky" was the first major piece I wrote and Troy Donockley, who you met earlier, played some whistle on it. He was very inspirational to me actually. He was in a fantastic kind of rock folk band called “You Slosh”. They were mind blowing and powerful and they were quite an inspiration back in the mid 80's. They kind of drove me on to write that and I asked Troy if he would play on it, which he did and that was kind of the birth of Mostly Autumn. Heroes, about 6 years later, started it in the live sense.
INT - And how about you Heather?
HEATHER - I probably didn't take writing seriously until a couple of years before Mostly Autumn. It probably progressed from collaboration with a producer I was working with at the time. It wasn't a very earthy style of writing then and I wasn't happy with it, but I was gaining experience. Then, when I started playing more acoustic guitar, I became more organic and I found myself becoming more comfortable with writing. I have always had a strong connection with nature and I always used to write metaphorically about nature issues. So I was very naturally attracted to Mostly Autumn when I was asked to join. Writing then became an even more serious issue.
INT - You seem to be writing more with each album
HEATHER - Yeah. I don't know if that is a conscious thing though. For instance Bryan wrote the first album over a ten-year span, though it obviously got more concentrated near the end. But I wasn't in the band for that period.
BRYAN - I think the relationship has just developed over time. We have been working together and I think it was just a natural movement forward.
HEATHER - I guess playing more music has led to me developing as a musician and that has given me the incentive to experiment more. When I first joined Mostly Autumn I wasn't a musician at all. I have learnt the instruments that I play in the last couple of years only.
INT - How do you approach recording for an album?
BRYAN - The spirit of a song is born or created and then the crafting comes in. Basically we go into Pre-production. We take the idea to a rehearsal room and then develop it with the band getting everyone to do everything at the right time. Getting the tempos, movements and all the right instrumentation is a very important phase. Then we take it into the studio and I guess we do it like most bands do and record the rhythm section. We try to keep it all as live as possible. Most of the stuff is done live in the studio and then we add the vocals and solos.
INT - How long does an album take to record?
BRYAN - We have had limited budgets on all the albums. We had to do the first album in 12 days. That was for recording and mixing. We had to make a lot of compromises as we went along with that. We just tend to do things in the time we have to the best of our ability. "The Spirit Of Autumn Past" took about 20 days and "The Last Bright Light" was 33 days. We have always been under a lot of pressure to get things done in the studio but it seems to be going well.
INT - Do you structure your albums in a certain order?
BRYAN - When all the songs are written there is certainly a lot of thought goes into the song order. It is very difficult; an album is like a song itself. It has to be crafted and it has to move through the different mood changes and dynamics. So yeah, a hell of a lot of thought goes into the order of the songs.
INT - So do you deliberately try to end on a big song etc?
BRYAN - Yes I think it is a natural thing to do to try and end with some kind of high impact. Yes I definitely think it is likely to be an epic song we would finish with.
HEATHER - For about three weeks Bryan will be in the studio getting our heads around recording with a general idea of what we want and where. Then for about a week when the album is being mastered Bryan goes into this auto-pilot state where you will talk to him and you just know nothing is going in because he is just sat there thinking about the order of the album.
BRYAN - The order is, generally, very much changed at the last hour. I remember ringing up the mastering studio at the eleventh hour and telling them to swap those two around because it had only just hit me. Sometimes you are so close to the material that you can't see the wood for the trees.
HEATHER - We could really do with a gap after the recording just to sit back and think. Then when you go back to it you would think "Oh yes that is obvious".
INT - How did Mostly Autumn actually come into existence?
BRYAN - Again after writing Heroes in the early 90's (and other songs before that) I kind of wanted to put a band together, so I kind of got musicians I knew together and took it from there. Then we played live and as things have gone on we have gradually been getting the right people in. People that are committed and can do the job. It has taken quite a few years to get the right balance of personalities and musicians in. Basically I just formed a band and then we changed it and improved as we got rid of people, or people’s commitments to their families got to be greater than to the band etc.
INT - When you first started out did you have an idea of what instruments you wanted in?
BRYAN - Well yes because I had written "The Night Sky" I had a rough idea of what I needed people to play for that song. And then with "Heroes" it was kind of laid down because I knew what I wanted in my head.
INT - You have gone for a large band size, which is unusual.
BRYAN - Yes it is, but then again, I wasn't interested in getting it together for anything other than for the songs to be played. I needed the right people in the band in order to play them well. It was never the case that this should be a five piece because five works well and looks good. No, it was the music that came first and if I needed a whistle, flute or violin that was what I recruited. If you want a big sound you have to use more people.
INT - So do you have the right range of instruments in the band for what you want to do now?
BRYAN - We have, although it depends on the songs really. We might get some more ambitious ideas for songs on the next album so we might need more people. Perhaps they will be session musicians. But within the band now we have a core that can produce most of the stuff we want to produce. I am now 100% happy with that but if we need any more unusual instruments we will get them in.
INT - But if you used session players, surely you wouldn't be able to play the song live?
BRYAN - Possibly. It depends what sort of tour it is. If it was a larger scale theatre tour or festival tour we might be able to get them to guest on stage.
INT - Why did you lose your violin player Bob Faulds?
BRYAN - Bob was heavily committed with his life in York really. It came to the point where we were heavily committed with band work, playing concerts abroad etc and it was just impossible for him to keep playing with us. It has happened to other members before. They just can't keep getting the time off and they have to pay the mortgage and feed the family etc.
INT - Bob used to help with the writing, so is that another reason why Heather has been able to write more songs?
BRYAN - Yeah he was doing some of the jigs on the violin, although a lot of that is traditional. But no I don't think that was the reason. It was just the way things have developed.
INT - How do you feel about losing the violin from your sound?
BRYAN - It is certainly something that could come back, probably on a session basis. Probably not a permanent addition to the band, but someone stepping in for certain songs. I like the violin and have always liked the violin.
HEATHER - It would probably be difficult to draft in a violinist and say "OK you are going to be a member of the band but you will probably only play on 20% of the material." It would be especially hard on tour to just stand in and solo regardless of whether ego gets involved or not. So it tends to be easier if you can pay somebody and say "Your going to play on three songs" or possibly we could use someone that can play something else so they are multifunctional. That way they can keep occupied. You certainly wouldn't want them to be playing just for the sake of it. That is why I have picked up on another melody instrument, so I can harmonise on jigs. There is now the possibility of two shades of a solo. The soloing isn't just limited to Angie and Bryan now.
INT - So the violin has never been used on every song then?
BRYAN - Oh no. But it is certainly something that could come back in.
INT - What has caused Heather to come to such a fore in the band? You now seem to be singing more and, as you say, playing more instruments.
HEATHER - I don't know, I think there has been a lot of confidence building on my part. When I first joined the band the others were all established and I had never sung in front of a drum kit before. Although it isn't supposed to happen, I often end up sharing my mic with the drum kit because I am positioned in front of it. I was constantly being told I was a quiet singer and people couldn't hear me, so I had to learn to be more powerful. Gradually, with practice, I became more powerful and then I thought “ I wouldn't mind playing more.” We already had an acoustic guitarist in the band with Liam so I wasn't needed for that. I thought I would like to try some percussion, so I decided to give the bodhran a go. After that I decided to have a look for something else and I have always fancied playing the flute or whistles so I gave the whistles a go too. It just makes the band a lot more versatile and dynamic, both visually and acoustically. Angie has started backing me up vocally on my studio parts and vice versa. I have started providing her with backings behind the flute that she physically can't do live. It just strengthens the whole thing.
INT - And Angela seems to be growing in role too.
HEATHER - Yes, again that is possibly because one of the other band members isn't there and that gives everyone more room to grow without stepping on any other band members toes or just doing something for the sake of it.
INT - She is still sitting out of some songs though. Is that because you don't want the flute in that song?
HEATHER - There is no way you would actually find a place for the flute just for the sake of it. It is a solo instrument and it has it's own mood. You don't necessarily need that mood there all the time. It is sometimes more dynamic to bring it in and take it out. She is multifunctional actually. She plays recorders, they are in fact her first instrument and they give a different mood. She is also developing as a vocalist and on keyboards, so she can help back Iain up. So everyone is branching out a little bit.
INT - How did you get the record deal for "For All We Shared"?
HEATHER - We didn't, we made that one ourselves. It was like a documentation of the material we had made so far. New songs where emerging so we felt it important to record the existing material before it got dropped or arrangements for things like "Heroes" changed.
INT - So it was self-financed?
BRYAN - Yes my mother put up the money for us. She could see that I was pretty cut up and I needed to download all this emotion. So we recorded "For All We Shared" as you see it now.
INT - But it came out on your own label?
BRYAN - We just recorded it ourselves and got it pressed up. Basically it was just something that we would sell to people at gigs and send off to make contacts.
HEATHER - It was always very natural. We never tried to use it as a passport but ended up being so anyway because people would hear it and pass it on. You know, it would sit on someone’s coffee table and you would ask to hear it etc. Someone would then give us a festival and then a PA from the festival might do another festival and pass us on to that one to and so on. It has just grown really naturally. We have never pushed it and have just continued taking what is on offer.
BRYAN - After we recorded "For All We Shared" and we were gigging that album, we were invited by someone from the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham to play a gig. Troy Donockley had in fact sent a copy of the CD to Martin Hudson there and he liked it so he gave us a gig.
INT - So were you gigging in pubs before that?
BRYAN - It was a cross between pubs and art centres that sort of thing. Nothing extraordinarily big. Some festivals and that. So we did a gig for the Classic Rock Society and there was a real strong response from the audience. They all e-mailed Malcolm Parker at Cyclops. And I think someone else had e-mailed him before this, so he was aware of us and I think he said he got such an overwhelming response that he wanted to hear the album. So I sent him one and he gave us the licensing and distribution deal, which went on for the first three albums.
INT - So were you still self-financing for the next two albums or was he giving advances?
BRYAN - It was somewhere in between he offered to put it up but we felt we wanted to keep it close to home so we said we would pay for it and then let the royalties come straight to us.
INT - What sort of sales figures do you get?
BRYAN - To be honest I don't know. Obviously it is thousands but how many I would rather not know.
HEATHER - We could find out from the invoices if we wanted to but it is not a straightforward figure because we buy albums from the label to sell ourselves etc.
BRYAN - It is just something we really don't want to know. They go all over the world and we have sold a reasonable number of each, which is all that matters to us.
INT - And have sales gone up with each release?
BRYAN - Big style yeah. We sold 2500 of the last album on the day of release and probably the same again over the next couple of weeks. And they are still selling now.
INT - Do your back albums sell regularly still?
BRYAN - Absolutely, yes. They all sell very well now.
INT - Do you find you have a place in a rack yet in shops?
HEATHER - In the larger stores yes. We have seen them in most of the large city stores where they have the space to store underground bands.
INT - Did it please you when you first saw you warranted your own divider?
BRYAN - Yes it was a bit weird. Apparently, in California, people have seen them in shops; so it is a bit strange, but of course it is great that the music is getting out there.
INT - How did the Blackmore's Night tour come about?
BRYAN - Angela was a promoter for the Fibbers group in York and they promote gigs in a few venues here and there. She was promoting the ‘Blackmore's Night Concert’. Basically they wanted a ‘drum and fife player’ support for the shows. Angela put us forward in an acoustic 3-piece format, which was very nice. We went down there and auditioned and they liked what they heard and gave us the whole UK tour. And then we got some stuff abroad and we have just come back from doing a German tour with them.
INT - So why was it only a 3 piece?
HEATHER - Well basically all they wanted was a fife and drum player originally. A fife is a three-hole whistle so Angie thought, "How can we get round this? What if I play the Flute and Heather plays the Bodhran" so we rehearsed that up and we decided it wasn't really right without the guitar so we said could we bring Bryan along as well.
BRYAN - And of course the full band wouldn't be right in that setting. They just wanted something to get the atmosphere right.
HEATHER - And something organic as well. We could play the jigs that we do and some other songs like the Renaissance Baroque stuff that Angie knows. That fits into their style of show.
INT - Were you worried about the effect an acoustic 3 piece might have on the whole band?
HEATHER - Not at all, because all it has done is pushed us forward. We were allowed to perform and say we were part of a 7-piece band, we could also sell our CD's. As we were introducing the song we would also say, “this normally sounds like..”. We just quietly, humbly, fit into their program. We were going to the first show in York anyway, so we all had our tickets and costumes. Then recently we were invited to join them for their shows in a castle and Ritchie actually asked us to join him and the rest of Blackmore's Night on stage, so that was fantastic for us.
INT - How did you actually enjoy that tour and did the others feel left out?
BRYAN - Oh we really enjoyed it. Yes they probably felt a bit left out, but they understood that this was just the way it was. We were there promoting the ‘Mostly Autumn’ name and having an absolutely fantastic time. There was a really nice bond between Blackmore’s Night and us because they are like-minded people. They really enjoy doing what they are doing. They aren't trying to be fashionable they are just doing what Ritchie has always fancied doing.
HEATHER - I think the rest of the band recognise that whatever we do as a three piece will be beneficial for whatever the band as a whole will do as a follow up. We were really breaking new ground in Germany. We sold so many of our albums out there we had to get some more shipped out half way through the tour. All those people will go home and hear the full band and then, hopefully, we will go back there as a full band and these people will prick their ears up and go "Mostly Autumn, oh yeah" and come and see us. I can't see it doing us any harm. They are smaller versions of the songs we do as a full band. The music still translates well because it is really heartfelt.
BRYAN - The 3 piece is definitely an element of what we do because I wrote some of the songs acoustically back in the early 90's. So it is as natural as the rest of the band is really.
HEATHER - I think that is what grabs people. No matter how you break down a song like "Steal Away" or "Evergreen" the heart is still there. It's still going to convey to people and I think that is one of the biggest elements that make Mostly Autumn successful. People feel the emotion in there.
INT - Did you find the crowds hard to play at all?
HEATHER - No not really. The only thing with being support band is occasionally if the running order isn't going so smoothly the doors might have opened only five minutes before we go on stage so people are still walking in. But generally, I find them quite receptive and responsive.
INT - How about the British ones?
BRYAN - Again they were really responsive.
HEATHER - There is always the thing with the Blackmore's Night fan club sitting at the front. After you have done one gig with them they know your material so the next night they help get everyone going. So the crowds were easy to warm up and that was after all our main purpose, to warm the crowd up for Blackmore's Night.
INT - How did the DVD recording come about?
BRYAN - Well, we have just signed to Classic Rock Legend. They wanted us to have a showpiece gig in London to coincide with a full-page article in Classic Rock Magazine. We had been due to do the Borderline but Bob had been talking to me via E-mail. I didn't know who he was and he said, "No don't do that, it is just a pub. Why don't you do the Astoria 2 (Now the Mean Fiddler) and at the same time why don't we do a DVD." And that is how it came about really, so he got the venue and promoted it and we said "Yes, sure it would be great to document the band at this point." It's a nice opening for us really.
INT - So have you moved from Cyclops to Classic Rock Legends?
BRYAN - Yes and that's a great thing.
INT - What will you be doing next? Just the DVD?
BRYAN - No they have signed us for what is really the equivalent of a major record deal. They are going to spend a serious amount of money promoting us over the next couple of years. We are signed for three studio albums and an anthology. We are going to do that this October, after the DVD.
INT - What are you going to do on the Anthology?
BRYAN - Basically we are going to re-record the songs with the most impact of all three albums. This will be really great. We are really looking forward to working with Pip Williams as producer and we will have more budget to work with. What they want is one product which they can say is "This is Mostly Autumn so far". Instead of saying this is off the first and this is off the 2nd they just want one album they can promote and take into their world and put about. They just want a very representative CD with Mostly Autumn on it.
INT - So you aren't going to do any new work on it?
BRYAN - No not that one. There might be the odd one but generally it will be the best or strongest songs we have done.
HEATHER - There might be a few little twists, which you might not have heard on the old songs. As we have played live some songs have evolved.
INT - Like you did with the "Prints In The Stone" single?
BRYAN - Yes.
INT - Have you got any plans for a new studio album yet?
BRYAN - Yes definitely. We expect to start that around spring 2002. That's the main album we are looking at. This is the album we really need to pull off. I have got 4 or 5 ideas. Heather has a few ideas and so do Liam and Iain. So we have actually got quite a lot of material already. It is unfinished, but the heart of the material is already there. There is some really exciting stuff actually. I am really looking forward to getting on with it. I think it could end up being a really nice album; I have a real good feeling about it.
INT - What do you feel you give to the world of music?
BRYAN - Something honest and something from the heart. Something people can relate to in life. I believe that is what it is all about. I think there is a lot of power there, especially live. It's a big sound and it is also very earthy. It's close to nature. The nature thing has always been there and we are all great lovers of that.
HEATHER - It is something that is not the slightest bit mathematical or contrived. It is not Math rock.
INT - Do you have a favourite track?
BRYAN - That is very difficult. I could name a few. Obviously "Heroes" is a very special track because it is so highly charged with emotion. Also "Evergreen" is a very beautiful song. It was incredible how that song came about really, because this riff just came out of nowhere. I think I was giving a guitar lesson and this riff, it just appeared. Later I went to Heather’s flat and she had a concept for a song and they fit together perfectly. I played the riff and she hummed her idea and the song just appeared completely written. The two halves written independently completely fused to form "Evergreen". I just think there is something really great about that piece.
HEATHER - It is a very difficult question to answer because there is such diversity within Mostly Autumn. It is hard to find favourites. There are obviously special ones like "Evergreen", which is really personal. It was probably the first serious song that I had written and taken anywhere. I also had the chance to rock in it. I have always liked songs like "Stairway To Heaven", the big epic rock tracks, and that was probably our angle on that type of song. "Shrinking Violet" is another special one for similar reasons. It is quite personal. It is quite difficult writing a song like that. You think, "Do I really want anyone else hearing this". But then seeing it progress from sitting in my sitting room with the hysteria of "Oh find a pen and a Dictaphone quick." to seeing it develop it's full potential - first recording it and then on the DVD where we had backing vocalists. It was so special, seeing it come to life like that. There are so many elements of Mostly Autumn that I enjoy. I love the Celtic stuff and I love songs like "Mother Nature" which is massive in emotion. I can almost stand back from that, as it is not that personal to me. But I am completely with the concept of it.
BRYAN - I think "Half The Mountain" is pretty special too.
HEATHER - There are so many it is hard. They are like your children and it is like saying "Here's Billy, I like him best out of my children". It's hard.
INT - On "Shrinking Violet" it seems to contain a riff from "Whiter Shade of Pale".
HEATHER - It does.
INT - Was that intentional?
BRYAN - It was half intentional.
HEATHER - That riff was another personal thing for me. As Iain was playing the Hammond Organ at the end, we said, "Can you just try that I am sure it fits there".
BRYAN - It’s half the same chord progression.
INT - Yes it is not the complete riff. It changes at the end.
BRYAN - It's a song we both love very much, so we decided to add it.
INT - And do you have a different favourite live track?
BRYAN - It's so difficult, because every night you get a different kick out of playing a different song. "Heroes" and "Evergreen" are always up there. They are always strong live songs, but sometimes other songs come out more. For instance "The Spirit Of Autumn Past" is a really nice song. "The Night Sky" as well.
HEATHER - Sometimes it depends on the sound as well. Sometimes I can be having a really bad time vocally on stage. I can't hear myself or it is just not coming together so sometimes I enjoy the bits where I am playing percussion. I like just sitting back and listening to everything else going on around me. Other times I might enjoy playing the guitar. It varies from gig to gig. The emotion is always there, but there are different angles on it.
INT - Do you feel your albums have got better as you have progressed? Most bands favourite album is normally the one they have just completed.
BRYAN - They have certainly become better crafted. The last album "The Last Bright Light" runs better as an album than the others. There are elements on all the albums about which I could say that nothing was better. There were some great tunes on the first album and the 2nd album for that matter. I think we are getting better at putting it all together though. They run better. The ideas and the emotion are probably always the same but we are getting better at doing it. They are more balanced. When you get a little more time you can put a little more effort into that side of it. The amount of time for each album has been quite a factor really. When you are under high pressure you have to make quick decisions and compromises. Yes they have generally got better but I wouldn't say there is anything on the third album that is better than the better songs on the first album. It is just crafted and produced better.
HEATHER - Certainly I can look and see songs on the first album such as "Steal Away" that I could do a much better job of now. But there is certainly not a better song than "Steal Away". The song quality is not much diminished when you look back at the albums, it is just the crafting that gets better and obviously we have all grown as musicians. So I think we are all likely to be critical of ourselves and say "Oh well I think I could probably do that better now because I am more practised" and “I would probably try this instead of that now.”
INT - I suspect this has been covered but is there a song you are most proud of? I assume it will be "Heroes"
BRYAN - I don't know really, there are so many I haven't mentioned that I really, really enjoy. I love the feel of "Boundless Ocean" on the first album. Then again I love "Steal Away" and "The Last Climb". I love them all in different ways. I don’t know, "Heroes" yes, I guess I am proud of that, it is just such a strong emotional thing.
INT - Does it make you think, "I am glad I wrote that"?
BRYAN - Yes definitely.
INT - When you are writing do you write songs with a view to performing them live? Or do you just take a finished album and see what can be done live?
BRYAN - Both really. You know instinctively some songs are going to work well live, and others you know by the nature of the song will be trickier. Some songs are easier to record in a studio.
INT - Would it put you off recording a song if you thought it wouldn't work live?
BRYAN - No not at all.
HEATHER - You can always place them on an album and you could probably pull them off live. But at the stage we are at we couldn't necessarily perform something like the "Gap Is Too Wide" from "The Spirit Of Autumn Past". We would need a lot of extra musicians on that one. On the album we had a choir and Uilleann Pipes. There is also the problem of where to put it in the set live. It is such a long piece to keep people's attention, especially when you aren't always playing to your crowd, i.e. at Festivals etc. Maybe for the DVD if we had done a different set list we could have done it, but there was so much new material to get in there as well.
BRYAN - For example "Mother Nature". There are only so many epics you can fit in there.
HEATHER - That's it and it would have been such a shame not to put "Mother Nature" in because that was new song at the time.
INT - Why didn't you use a Violin player on the DVD? Did you not want to cover that angle on the old songs?
BRYAN - We just didn't feel it necessary for that concert.
INT - A DVD recording would have been the ideal time to have a guest player though wouldn't it?
BRYAN - Well we did think about it.
HEATHER - But it was just something else to organise. There was talk of using lots of different areas. But with rehearsals and getting together with Pip Williams to set up the sound and everything, it would all have been a lot of pressure.
INT - And no doubt you were nervous enough as it was?
HEATHER - Oh absolutely. We had our work cut out and we worked solidly for the months leading up to it, so that would have been another element.
INT - Were you worried that the performances would be off or the DVD recording wouldn't come out sound wise? Did you know on the night that it was going OK as you performed?
BRYAN - We didn't know at all.
INT - It is such a big pressure/risk for one night.
BRYAN - It is. We had to do the recording and it had to be from that night. We knew we had to perform for the cameras but also be sonically right and it is difficult to stand and play and know how exposed everything is. You can't redo it and you also know whatever you do is going to be released without a question of doubt.
INT - Have you ended up over dubbing?
BRYAN - Not really no. There was hardly any.
HEATHER - We only did it if there was a really bad feedback pop or something and you had to replace a vocal line or something like that.
BRYAN - It was more to do with technical reasons such as sound bleed onto another microphone or something. But no it was all on the night and it was a scary prospect.
HEATHER - It is quite controversial to record audio and visual at the same time because there are a lot of things you would do to enhance the audio recording that just wouldn't work visually. For instance I couldn't use a radio mic, whereas for my freedom and confidence it would have been much better for me to use one. But for sound reasons I had to use an SM58 with a lead, which nearly tripped us up a few times. Also playing the tambourine live we had to kill loads of channels all the time because it was bleeding from one microphone to the next.
INT - Presumably you practiced the recording before the gig?
HEATHER - No. Well we had a day’s rehearsal before, but what they wanted to do was put me in front of a microphone when I was playing a Tambourine and have me stay there all the time. The tambourine is almost like a prop as well as an instrument for me. I use it to express how the music is going so being forced to stand still wasn't what I wanted to do. So in the end we got round it by switching channels off.
INT - What styles of music do you listen to? Presumably Pink Floyd
BRYAN - Well I grew up with the Floyd from a very early age. I love that and always will but there is other stuff such as Roy Harper, Jethro Tull, The Alan Parsons Project, Deep Purple, the early Genesis stuff. There is more recent stuff such as Blackmore's Night. It is actually really hard to think of the more recent things.
INT - What is your current new album then?
BRYAN - Roger Hodgson. A fairly recent solo album called "Rites Of Passages". Also Maddy Prior's latest album "Arthur The King" is a fantastic album.
INT - And what do you listen to?
HEATHER - All sorts really. Generally it is 60's or 70's stuff. I tend not to buy more recent stuff because there is far too much back catalogue stuff to buy first. I don't even want to entertain what is going on at the moment. Lots of Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, some Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Simon And Garfunkel, Spirit. Even stuff like Metalica.
INT - How did you get to hear them in the first place?
HEATHER - A lot through my upbringing and a lot through the people I have met over the years. Guitarists I have worked with etc. Certainly Bryan has introduced me to a lot. Obviously with Pink Floyd. I didn't really know much about them until I met Bryan. But I also love the raw angle music such as Zeppelin. I have been listening to a lot of Deep Purple recently. I love Stevie Nicks she is like my heroine. I like a lot of stuff she has done. Kate Bush, Maddy Prior. "Arthur the King" is a brilliant album.
INT - What ambitions do you have for the band?
BRYAN - Well I have always had an idea from the day I wrote "The Night Sky". I have always had a picture or a vision of a larger sort of stage set where I have the theatrical mountains on stage and the sky is a projection. I want to be able to put the full picture of what we are singing about into the audience's head. I want to be able to put the images that I feel are strong in the songs and take it out into the open air. To do a tour like that is my dream. The show is currently 2 dimensional you get the live band and the emotions coming across but it would just be so much nicer to be able to add a third dimension of the visuals in a really organic way. To be able to have an eagle soaring in "The Night Sky" and the mountains and the trees on stage and getting the Celtic thing on there as well. I would love to be able to get that to happen.
INT - Would you deliberately manipulate yourselves to become big?
BRYAN - I don't know really. It would certainly be nice to get it across to people.
HEATHER - I think that is when there is a dangerous cross over. I think that is when you start dealing with something that isn't necessarily music any more. It starts getting into money. You’re not doing it for different reasons but you are getting into dodgey territory. As much as you would love to see the project reach it's full potential, to do that, I think, there would have to be a lot of crooked paths you would need to cross.
BRYAN - Hopefully not. Hopefully it would just be natural and grow in it's own way.
HEATHER - It certainly has done so far.
BRYAN - It would just be nice to give people the full picture on a large scale.
HEATHER - But not to contrive it.
BRYAN - Oh no it could never be contrived. I would detest that.
INT - Why is there a Lord Of The Rings excerpt on the first album?
BRYAN - The song called "Out Of The Inn" was a track that was inspired by the chase when Frodo and the guys where chased by the Black Riders. That was something that just came out and that was what it was about really. "Out Of The Inn" was when they came out of the inn. So we used that sequence from the BBC series to precede the song.
INT - So it wasn't that you had anything to do with the series then?
Heather - No it was just a scene setting piece.
BRYAN - It was just nice to indulge ourselves with that clip. It doesn't mean to be anything really. We used to open the concert by playing that segment and it worked quite well.
INT - What is the drunken singing at the start of the album about then?
BRYAN - That was my father. That was a real special moment from my 21st Birthday on the North Yorkshire Moors at The Lion Inn, which incidentally is pictured on the cover of "The Spirit Of The Autumn Past". He was completely pissed at the end of the night and that was the last little clip that was on the video of the night. He was sat there and he was just being sarcastic.
HEATHER - He was singing about Bryan.
BRYAN - “Why was he born ... ” He was just having a go and I remember looking back then and thinking how sad it was because he wasn’t very well even then. It was just a sad and special moment for me and I just used it as part of the whole tribute.
HEATHER - Another interesting fact is that at the end of "Heroes" Bryan plays the same tune to end his solo.
INT - I have seen you three times live now. And on every occasion someone near me has commented about Heather being “a babe” or whatever. Are you aware of that as such and do you play to it?
HEATHER - No. I don’t take compliments that easily anyway, so I tend to get embarrassed. If that sort of thing happens I tend to try and ignore it. No I am certainly not the sort of person to play up to it at all. I can see how you might think I could do that in a Marilyn Monroe type way, but no I am really not that type of person. I am not a flirt and I don’t like to flutter my eyelids at people.
INT - I must admit I am still trying to work out what it is - whether it is just your stage clothes or something else. There is certainly something different about you when you are on stage.
HEATHER - Oh yes definitely. I am person A and when I am on stage I'm person B. Sometimes my worst nights are when I can’t break into person B. I can’t find her and you can hover over the top trying to be this person and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know why. I think everybody has a different stage persona to a certain extent. I have certainly seen that with people I have met. Candice Night is actually a really good example of that. When I first saw her on stage I was “Wow” because she moves well and she was very Stevie Nicks like, which is something else I could relate to. But her presence is so big on stage that I imagined her to be this tall confident person. When you meet her however she is the most tiny, 'fairyest' person you have ever met. She is very quiet. I am not saying she is not confident but she is really kind and gentle and friendly. She does come across that way on stage as well but her personality is just so much bigger live. I think you have to have those two sorts of people and sometimes they break into each other’s worlds.
INT - The last “Autumn Leaves” fan club magazine was talking about your image and bringing you and Angela to the front more. I think it was also mentioned in another interview somewhere. Are you worried about your image and how you are putting yourselves across?
HEATHER - Personally I don’t think we have got many problems with that. As far as I am concerned I have got quite a strong idea of where I want to be. My clothes are always very 70’s influenced. I love dressing up and I love a flamboyant look and I think that works quite well in the middle of a stage. Angie has a different thing. She likes to dress in dark colours, she is quite Gothic and paganist.
BRYAN - I think that image is something that we are developing as we are going along. We have got an idea and it is moving and fine tuning itself all the time. It is just another element of the band that has to move forward. There isn’t really a problem. All the seeds are well in place.
HEATHER - I think the guys are starting to realise that it is important. They can’t just throw on jeans and a T-shirt and come on stage. The venues are also changing now. We aren’t playing the places where we were 3 or 4 years ago and where it didn’t really matter so much what we looked like.
INT - What about in promotion photos? Are you consciously thinking about what is being presented on album sleeves and photos?
HEATHER - Yeah I think it is important.
BRYAN - Yes it is important.
INT - In the "Prints In The Stone" single the photos are all with the girls at the front and the lads are at the back.
HEATHER - I think that was just an idea we played with at the time. The people at the record companies had asked us to do that because they think that it works having this strong female side of things. Probably because it is so rare at the moment. There aren’t too many female fronted bands in the field of music we are in.
INT - I certainly noticed the Cyclops advert for the last album seemed to talk about “great vocals by lead vocalist Heather Findlay” giving the impression that Heather was the only main vocalist. There was no mention as such of Bryan also doing the lead vocals. Are you trying to get Heather more to the front?
BRYAN - I definitely want Heather singing more songs. I sing but I am not a terribly good singer, as people probably know. But when I sing it is very much a heart-felt thing. Some songs are more relevant with me singing them. And sometimes the way they are written means it is impossible to put Heather on those songs. Definitely I would much rather see and hear Heather singing a lot more on the next album. I think it is inevitably the way it will go because she is a far, far better singer than I am. She has also got the feeling as well. But if there is a song I have written and it is not right I would still sing it because it is a very honest thing and I don’t care really. That’s just they way it is really.
HEATHER - For me as well, it is nice that I am beginning to be recognised like that, because first of all I was sort of drafted in as a vocalist but I was very much in the background because on the first album there was only one song that I did lead and that was “Steal Away”. We did that live and we only did that live occasionally so what was mentioned a lot in the early days was Bryan’s solo playing and Bob’s Violin playing. Not that it has changed a great deal since then but it is nice for me to be recognised as a vocalist because, if I am not a vocalist in Mostly Autumn, I don’t know what I am.
INT - In the past you have tended to sing quiet songs but on the last album you sang “Never The Rainbow” which is the first real rocker you have sung. Why did you do that one and did you enjoy the change?
HEATHER - Yeah I did enjoy it. It is very difficult to sing live however, which we hadn’t really thought about. When you have got a rock band thrashing out a tune it is quite difficult for me to project out above it. It also uses a different part of my voice.
INT - Who decided to put you on it?
HEATHER - I think it was always said that I would be singing that one really. The song was a collaboration between Iain and myself and based on his original idea. I don’t think there was ever really any question of who would sing it.
BRYAN - Yes it was just obvious.
INT - Do you tend to sing your songs and Bryan his?
HEATHER - Bryan has written a few where he has wanted me to sing them but I think if Bryan has got something he really wants to say it is generally sung by him, because they are his words and his feelings. If you want to fit a feminine angle in there I tend to sing. For Instance on "Mother Nature" it was strong concept by Bryan but obviously the female thing in there worked. Perhaps we should both have sung it really. That is generally the way it works unless it is a really personal song. We tend to harmonise quite well anyway.
BRYAN - It is really what is relevant to the song. It is never “Oh we must use this person more”.
INT - Live, you tend to use several cover songs including one I don’t know at all, you did it the other day as Halesworth.
HEATHER - It’s “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. A lot of people raise their eyebrows at that one.
INT - That one really threw me. It has a really high vocal part on it so it made me think you had maybe done something strange like convert a Jimmy Somerville song or something.
HEATHER - On that song Mick Jagger himself sings a really, really high vocal in the chorus and they also got a backing singer called Vicky Brown to do really high vocals too. The Stones version is very, very different. I am afraid I am guilty for that one, because I wanted to do that one when I first joined the band, but we know it works well so we just stuck that one in the other day. Also Liam doesn’t like playing in that one and because he was sick that day, it was a good one for us to do.
INT - What other covers do you do?
HEATHER - ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’.
INT - Do you include covers because the crowd doesn’t always know your material and you are trying to attract them?
HEATHER - Possibly
BRYAN - It depends on the gig really. A lot of the time we don’t play any covers at all. At a party atmosphere like Halesworth, apart from the Liam thing, it was just something appropriate at the time.
INT - Do you make up your sets as you are going along then?
BRYAN - Well yes.
HEATHER - Sometimes we have a full set list and I go to pick up the guitar for the next song and Bryan will completely change his mind at the last minute.
BRYAN - Yeah it is a feel thing really.
INT - You’re playing to the audience then?
BRYAN - To a certain extent if it is an open audience like that, in a park, it is just something that people can enjoy. We have already made our mark by that point, so we just do something for them. But at more important gigs we don’t generally ever play covers. We aren’t a cover band.
HEATHER - A lot of them are tributes really, certainly the Fleetwood Mac and the Floyd one. Sometimes we have done quite important gigs of our own abroad maybe and we have put "Comfortably Numb" in at the end and it has gone down really, really well. We are just kind of saying here is something else for you.
INT - Well that is it. Thanks a lot.
For more information check out http://www.mostly-autumn.com/