Finally, at long last, here is the interview with Ross baker of Second Thought.
Me: You had mentioned you’ve been involved with the Second Thought project since 1999. What sort of gave rise to that?
ST: An old friend of mine, Dale, suggested starting a band. We’d played around recording silly tapes as kids, but this time we decided to take it seriously in the hope of having a career in music. The initial sound was something similar to Underworld, surreal lyrics set to techno. We got as far as purchasing some equipment – a keyboard, some decks, a mixer – and recording a few demos. Then Dale left school through illness, I lost my interest in dance music (while he was getting more into house), and we drifted apart really. I fleshed out the first collection of demos to form an album of instrumental tracks and decided to take it solo.
Me: What is the goal of Second Thought?
ST: For quite a few years I had the mantra – more of a tagline really – of ‘Music is vision and vision is music’. I really liked the idea of music unlocking imagery, acting as a sort of soundtrack. It’s something I’ve always thought, even as a kid, I loved wandering through the landscapes painted by albums like “Lifeforms” by The Future Sound of London, so I decided to have a go myself. That fell apart a bit in the last couple of years, due to the way I was making music, which made me reassess my goals.
Me: What have been your inspirations as an artist?
ST: My main inspiration is the British countryside, which is why it features so heavily on my album artwork and the field recordings in my music. I also put this down as one of the reasons I stopped making music when I was living in the centre of Leeds while at university. Reading has also inspired me a lot over the years, from books about music to ghost stories and magazines about trains. I take things in and they make me feel inspired to create.
Musically, The Future Sound of London’s flowing soundscape approach to albums is obviously the biggest reference point in my music, and over the years I have taken inspiration from composers and sound artists such as Max Richter, Luc Ferrari, John Cage and Pierre Boulez, as well as contemporary musicians – Underworld and Autechre definitely shaped my second album, Vacuum Road Songs.
Me: For this release, you had said you were referencing many legends and stories from the British Isles. Describe a few that have inspired you while making this album.
ST: My mum had a partwork magazine collection called The Unexplained, and I always remember coming across a drawing of a Kelpie, a Scottish water demon, in the form of a horse walking on its hind legs. I was quite young and the genuinely disturbing image really stuck with me. The Barghest is a ghostly black dog, known by various names around the UK, which generally brings bad luck and often death to those who witness it, but in some stories acts as company a guide when a walker is lost.
Beddgelert is Welsh for Gelert’s Grave, and the mood of the story inspired the rather downbeat music: a Lord discovered that his faithful dog, Gelert, had killed his son, and the dog was immediately slain. Shortly afterwards, however, he discovered his baby boy alive and well, and the body of a wolf. Gelert had killed the wolf to protect the baby. The Lord could never forgive himself, and the town now lies by – and is named after – the massive grave made in respect for poor Gelert. The whole thing was made up to attract tourists, but it’s a touching story anyway.
Me: Is there a story behind “Timber Wolf?”
ST: I’d wanted to write a piece for string quartet for a very long time, and so this came about. In order to hide the synthetic sounding strings, I came up with the idea of the piece sounding like it was being played on an old 78 through a gramophone in a garden. It’s an anachronism, as the music is inspired by the minimalism of Philip Glass which didn’t come around until long after the 78 format had become obsolete.
The title is yet another reference to my childhood. I always imagined a Timber Wolf to live in a pile of old, shattered wood, maybe an old shack that’d been blown down or something. I liked the image of this hermit wolf and the name stuck with me.
Me: What sort of drew you in to Savernake forest?
ST: The first track finished for the album, Savernake, directed the album: the track brought a ghost story I’d read to mind, in which a girl sees the smoke from a ghostly steam train running through the forest she could see from her bedroom window. This led to the interest in ghosts and mythical creatures for the album, and also explains the track Night Train. I did some research, and came across a forest in Wiltshire – a county known for its rather ‘mystical’ nature – which seemed really fitting for my vision. Images of the ancient forest were really spooky, particularly of a tree which is sometimes known as The King of Limbs (Thom Yorke has been reading my blog, obviously). It all just seemed to fit. I don’t like ‘title tracks’ for albums, so I chose the forest’s ancient name for the album title. I’ve never been to the forest, but I’d love to. Interestingly, the nearest village to the forest is Burbage, which is also the name of the village around which some of the artwork for my debut album, Purlieu, was photographed. Small world.
Me: What are your future plans?
ST: Earlier in the year, I came to the conclusion that Second Thought was finished. My life and approach to music are so different now to how they were when I made most of my Second Thought material that it didn’t make sense to call it the same thing (among a myriad of other reasons). I’m officially retiring the name at the end of the year, and as of 2012 I will be releasing music just as Ross Baker. I’m moving onto acoustic instrumentation at the moment, although I’m hoping to pick up some synths when I have the money. I’m trying to make atmospheric, evocative music still, but using instruments rather than computer sound processing. Playing guitar again has really given me more joy than anything else since I finished recording Safernoc over two years ago.
I have two releases lined up for next year: an album of acoustic-based ambient pieces on a Finnish cassette label, and a 30 minute avant garde classical work which may be coming out on a Greek experimental label.
Me: What made you decide to start your own label?
ST: I studied Music Technology at university, and Jerky Oats began life in 2006 as my final year project, although only released one album. Three years later I decided I wanted to release a few things by friends that would otherwise not get a release – particularly Jack Anderton’s fantastic ‘The Moment’, and some songs by my friend Thom. I couldn’t afford to make discs, so I chose the netlabel route. It then expanded to help out a few online friends get music out, and also a way for me to do some short-run CDr releases of my own music. It’s proved very successful – Jack’s album, in particular, has had hundreds of downloads and they keep coming, through word of mouth – I’ve noticed a rising popularity of that 1990s sample-based ambient style recently, so perhaps that’s helped it. He’s gone on to get some attention through the Bump Foot netlabel, which is great; it was that kind of jumping off point – first rung on the ladder if you like – that I wanted the label to be.
Me: Tell me a little about some of the other musical projects you’re involved in.
ST: There’s an album of synth-based “electronica”, which on the surface probably isn’t that far away from Second Thought, called Obliquity, which can be downloaded from Bump Foot – http://bumpfoot.net/foot182.html – it just didn’t have the personal nature of my Second Thought music so I put it out in disguise. It’s proved very popular, actually, which is typical really! I also have a project called The Curse of Kevin Carter, which is based around lo-fi, experimental song-based music, very different really. The first EP was a “collaboration” with Second Thought focussing on more electronic pieces, while the second was largely guitar-based. That’s all incredibly personal stuff, although the lyrics are quite cryptic. I recorded an EP with my friend Gregg years ago, which can be found on Jerky Oats under the name Captain Busby. That’s quite surreal lo-fi art rock stuff.
There have been various other projects over the years, but these are the ones of note.
Me: What’s your opinion on independent music?
ST: I don’t think there’s much room for major labels in the world of serious music these days. There are so many independent labels around that any genuinely talented musician can find a home – as long as they’re willing to accept short runs and/or DIY releases. A quick look at recent additions to Discogs, for example, gives you a tiny snapshot of just what is happening. Established artists are finding it more desirable to self-release – bands like Underworld and Radiohead are releasing deluxe editions through their website, The Future Sound of London are slowly working their way through getting their entire back catalogue available through their own site. The music stays in the hands of musicians and music fans and away from the hands of businessmen, which is something I support wholeheartedly.
Me: How do you think the internet and social media has done for independent music?
ST: The current state of internet-based music is very interesting, as I think it’s very much in flux. There are talented musicians who wouldn’t have had the time, money, interest or even knowledge of having their music distributed by traditional means who can now be heard. Some of my favourite music falls into this category, and there are a handful of DIY and MP3 releases which rank among my all time favourites.
However, I do worry about what the effect of unmoderated releases will have in the long term. I love the idea of ‘anybody’ being able to be a musician or run a label, but as this now requires absolutely no effort at all – half an hour in a cracked version of Reason and an Archive.org account – it does have problems. This isn’t just inconvenient for the listener having to trawl through 500 netlabel releases before finding something worth listening to, but it also provides less incentive for musicians to reach their potential. I have been seduced by the idea of multiple netlabel releases in the past, before realizing that it was diverting my attention away from creativity. I’ll be interested to see how it pans out.
Me: Any advice for aspiring artists out there?
ST: Learn to enjoy pulling your work to pieces. Be as critical as you are towards your favourite band – or your most hated band, depending on your perspective. I just spent six weeks chopping four hours of music down to a 50 minute album. If this was last year, I’d have released all four hours, and then never really listened to any of it – now I have an album I’m really proud of and can’t stop listening to.
Head on over to Jerky Oats to scope out more releases from Second Thought, side projects and a few other artists. http://www.secondthought.co.uk/jerkyoats/
For Second Thought specifically, check out: http://www.secondthought.co.uk/
A Huge thanks to Ross Baker for taking part in this. Really enjoyed the tunes!