ARTIST NAME: XUK
SONG TITLE: Forest of Dreams
ALBUM TITLE: U
My first band was a Christian band called “Answer”, with my friend Don Tregartha on bass and me on drums, based at Cannon Street Baptist Church in Accrington, Lancashire (the northwest of England).
My brother had bought a set of drums that sat unused in our basement on Burnley Road and I taught myself to play them (not very well).
After that Don and I used to get together with people like Pete Britcliffe, Adrian Jones, Howard Taylor, and others to just jam.
Don and I used to write songs together. Don played the piano as well as bass, and I wrote lyrics. I think the first song was based on a poem I’d written at school which Don put to music.
We never did much with these musical get-togethers but after university Don and I both ended up living near each other – me in Hertfordshire and Don in Bedfordshire – and we played together in another couple of bands.
We did a few small shows together and a festival around the same time as Live Aid.
We also went into the studio under the name Rawhide Love Rainbow (the secret service names for Ronald and Nancy Reagan).
After I moved to Los Angeles to work in the film business I didn’t do anything with music for ten years.
Then I bought a keyboard and wrote some instrumental music for my own amusement.
A couple of years later I started writing songs on the guitar. By this time my son, Robin was working in a studio named Swinghouse in Hollywood. He was assisting a British recording engineer called Warren Huart.
I asked Warren to help me record the five songs I’d written, with Warren playing bass and guitar, me providing vocals and some drums.
I put out an EP of five songs called Words Mean Nothing under the embarrassing name Simontheband, which is thankfully no longer available – Not a reflection on Warren since the songs were only demos.
I decided I wanted to form a band to play these five songs and a couple of others I’d written after the recording session, so I formed XUK with various friends.
A friend introduced me to Eric “Summer” Lea, the viola player, and he came in and added a whole new dimension to the sound.
The XUK’s first live show was at a Los Angeles venue called The Kibbitz Room, a bar that is attached to a famous diner, Canters.
I continued to write new songs and asked Robin to help me record them all using his other band’s Pro Tools recording rig at my home in North Hollywood.
We tapped several other local musicians for the recording – guitar players (Robert Maune, Matt Southwell, and Tony Lyman), a drummer (Simon Hancock), and a keyboard player (Russian singer-songwriter, Elizaveta).
Most of the drums, backing vocals, and bass were provided by Robin who worked for months putting the debut album together.
In the end, we recorded 19 original songs plus 2 cover songs – a double CD – called “Love Hits …like a cricket bat-out-of-hell” which was released in August 2005.
The album was entered into the 2006 DIY Music Awards – and Robin won “2006 DIY Producer of the Year” for the album.
Making money with your music as an independent musician is difficult. People tend to think that with music streaming that there’s a flow of revenue for most musicians. This isn’t true. To break even on what the most frugal musician pays to get an album released is next to impossible without significant sales of CDs and digital downloads.
Streaming websites pay a few thousandths of a cent per play. So unless your music is being constantly accessed by thousands of people a day, streaming is not going to help.
I never recouped my investment, and probably never will. So learning that lesson the first time around, I wasn’t particularly motivated to write and record a follow-up.
It was after many years before I wrote another song. The live shows and the difficulty in selling music to the public were discouraging, to say the least.
But when the new songs started coming, I was compelled to record them… thinking they might just remain as demos.
This time I didn’t rely on other people to help me, and I recorded and mixed all the instruments myself.
As the tracks developed I really thought the result was something different. So I decided to jump back in and make a whole new album under the same artist name – XUK.
The sound is a lot different this time around. No voila, for one thing. Eric Summer’s viola really defined the sound of XUK in the first phase of the band’s life.
Thematically it’s different too, with somewhat less emphasis on relationships – the good and the bad – and it broadens the subject matter to more universal themes.
Discuss your singing ability.
When I was singing a lot of karaoke during the early 2000’s I was singing a lot of Bowie material and I think there may be a slight influence there – although I won’t pretend that my abilities are anywhere near his monumental talent.
I think the vocals on our first album aren’t as natural or honest as those on the more recent album “U”.
It’s definitely an area of my music that I try hard to deliver the best I can and I hope that future recordings will continue to improve my vocal abilities.
Tell us the reason you want to sing.
I think I mentioned that I sang in a couple of bands when I was in England, but the results weren’t particularly inspiring.
I’ve never had any training and it wasn’t until I started doing the karaoke several times a week that my voice actually improved and partially inspired the forming of XUK.
Tell us your most memorable live performance.
XUK regularly performed live from 2003-2008, mainly in and around Los Angeles.
We went on the road only briefly, when we toured from Los Angeles to Austin Texas to perform in the South-By-Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival in 2005.
I think the most memorable show was in 2006 at Safari Sam’s which was used by a movie crew to test their newly assembled team of cameramen and editors.
We never saw the result of the tests, but it was fun to have the cameras there for one of our biggest shows.
Discuss how you build your song.
Generally speaking, the music comes first – either as an idea in my head for a hook, experimentation on an acoustic guitar to come up with a chord sequence – but sometimes it starts with the idea for a lyric.
I write lyrics pretty much on an ongoing basis, so I have plenty of material to dive into if I’ve completed the basic song tracks and I’m thinking of adding a vocal melody. As a result, I think most of my songs have a story to tell or at least a point-of-view.
Discuss the relevance of promotion to the music business.
It’s everything. Of course, nowadays it’s not difficult to find places for people to listen online – it’s just hard to get noticed among the vast amount of material out there. It’s a needle in a haystack – even for some more established artists, it’s not easy or cheap to do effectively.
Tell us what you will do apart from music.
My training is in graphic design and filmmaking. I am a visual effects artist in Hollywood. Currently, I do a lot of editing of movie trailers and visual effects for TV shows and movies. I work for a large post-production company in Burbank, California.
List the names of the instruments you can play.
Guitar and drums… well, that’s about it. Of course, I can pick out a tune on a piano given enough times to get it right and onto a recording. I played all the instruments on the album but most of the non-guitar stuff are keyboard-based sounds.
Tell us if you have any music background.
I’m the only one of my three siblings who never received any musical training – and the only one who is doing music – Strange.
Tell us the piece of advice you will give to a new artist on entering the music chart.
I’m really the last person to give anyone advice about the music business, but my attitude is – “create something that nobody else could create, something from inside you, and that is rewarding enough in itself”.
Once you’ve made something you’re proud of, remember what experiences enabled you to produce the music, and don’t stray too far from those experiences if you want to keep making good music.
Elaborate on melody and rhythm.
My music is influenced by the British pop and rock music of the 1970s through to the early 2000s.
I think the music that you listen to as a fan seeps into your subconscious and dictates how you express your musical personality.
I think I’m lucky to have started out in music by playing the drums. A deep understanding of rhythm definitely informs how you can weave together different melodic structures.
Singing and the ability to harmonize means that you can also hear potential counter-melodies that you can make to build out a more complete sonic picture in your music.
State your future goals.
For me, releasing new music is something I cannot force. I cannot set a timetable for completing an album – although I have tried.
Sometimes I think it will take only a few months to come up with enough songs and then, creatively, I go off the boil for a while.
So I try and let the songs reveal themselves to me in their own time. I like this approach because I never feel forced to make something.
My goal is to continue like this, making music only if and when it feels right. If I can release another three albums in my lifetime I’ll consider that a good thing.
Tell us the most difficult part of the recording.
Definitely guitar solos because I’m more of a rhythm guitar player. My fingers hurt after repeatedly trying to get a solo right – playing it sometimes over and over for an hour to get it right!
Also, anything to do with keyboards is a challenge for me because I’ve never had a piano lesson. I have little formal musical knowledge…
Discuss the greatest mistake you have ever made in your music career.
I have no regrets – Possibly the purchase of the old van that we toured in. It died shortly after the tour ended, but it did last a couple of weeks.
Discuss the relevance of relatability of the lyrics to the listeners.
For me, the lyrics are the most important and fun aspects of songwriting. I always want to make my songs about something. I hope listeners get that.
Unlike many vocalists, I want listeners to understand the lyrics, so I try to ensure that my vocals carefully annunciate the words.
Elaborate on the song.
The song Forest of Dreams (which I think is the song you refer to) was based on a dream I had.
My girlfriend at the time had been drifting away from me, so the imagery in the dream definitely was summoned from that.
Another track on the album, Café Lyon, is another “relationship-themed” song – more like a lot of the songs we recorded for the first album “Love Hits …like a cricket bat-out-of-hell”.
The songs on “U” are generally less focused on romantic involvements and more on universal themes.
Elaborate on your artist name and the title of the album.
XUK means “ex-united kingdom”. I’ve lived in the USA since 1989 but still, feel very British.
I wanted to express that in the name of the band. Much of the band’s image in the early days was based on the British flag.
The first album had a very tongue-in-cheek title. The band had a lot of contributors for that album, with guest musicians and a revolving live setup.
But with the new album being a solo effort I wanted to strip down everything about the title and look of the album.
The idea of using the middle letter of the band name came to me and it made sense since it’s the abbreviation of “you” in text messages.