Since I first saw Alan Pownall play at the HMV Next Big Thing Festival I have wanted the chance and sit down and chat to him more about his music. A couple of weeks ago I was able to do just that after a surprise gig.
My fellow London bloggers and I had been planning to go to an event at one of our favourite theatres for a while. The male leads from one of the plays we saw there last year were putting on an evening of music and performance art and it sounded like fun. There were no announcements about who would be playing, so you can imagine my excitement when I was chatting to Marcus Foster at a gig and he told me that he, Johnny Flynn, Jack Penate and Alan Pownall were all playing.
The gig did not disappoint, and the addition of new band Club Royal and performance art from one of the other leads of the original play (Punk Rock) rounded off the line up perfectly. Afterwards I caught up with Mr Pownall and, huddled under cover from the ever present London rain, as we settled down to discuss music, food, wine and dinner dates.
So what are your musical influences?
No I don't have any, none at all. Imagine something shouting at you from behind, and you aren't ignoring it but you are just interested in something else. That's how music influenced me, it was never something that was too conscious.
So how did you get involved with it then?
Well it was more drawn out of a desire to create and that was the thing I was best at in terms of creativity. If I was to list all of the things that influenced me I couldn't tell you. I think there is also a big difference between influence and inspiration. the people who inspired me to do this were the people who weren't that far away from what I was doing, people like Jack Penate, Johnny Flynn, Jamie T. They were just people who I shared mutual friends with and I thought "If they can do it then so can I". That was what inspired me to do it.
You used to live with Mumford and Sons too didn't you?
I did live with Mumford and Sons, but its been documented a bit incorrectly. I lived with JJ Pistolet and I lived with Marcus and Winston from Mumfords. And I was very good friends with Ted who now plays bass for them. I introduced Marcus and Winston to Ted actually.
Can you tell me about a day in the life of Alan Pownall?
Well I wake up late, and I am currently living with my parents temporarily. We have my grandmother there who is a little bit senile so I try and spend some time with her. She doesn't always remember me but I remind her. Actually music is a very nostalgic thing emotionally, and so I sourced out a load of music from 1940s Germany from where she grew up, and I played about a hundred songs to her. Any song that got a spark from her I would note down and then I made her a CD of those songs. So I try and sit with her and listen to those with her everynow and then. Its amazing to see her reactions.
How did you get involved with the Communion compilation?
Well Kev Jones is a friend, he's played with me a couple of times, and obviously Ben Lovett is in Mumford and Sons. He's a great keyboard player and has played with me and Mumfords are all great friends of mine. I've played their gigs too so it was a bit of a no brainer really.
Who are your underrated artists?
Eugene McGuinness. Straight away, Eugene McGuinness, I don't even need to tell you anyone else. He is the most underrated artist I have come across of late.
Do you have any overrated artists or are you too much of a gentleman?
Overrated? No, because the thing about people who might appear to be overrated is that there is always something about them that is magical. Maybe you and I don't see it but someone else does, it touches someone. So it's wrong to say someone is overrated as they are doing something right.
And you know, a lot of artists who I have been fortunate enough to rub shoulders with seem to almost cut their noses off to spite their faces. They put up walls and say "I could be this successful but I'm not going to be because I'm worried about the credibility, I'm worried about this I'm worried about that". I have a real respect for people who don't allow those thoughts to come into play, they let the process happen naturally. That's what I try to do, as soon as something tells me to pull back I try to ignore it. I want to be as successful as I can, I want as many people to hear my music as possible, and I respect people who have that attitude. There are too many talented people out there who aren't getting listened to, and in many cases I believe that it is their own fault as they pull themselves back from the limelight.
If you could play a gig anywhere in the world where would it be?
Royal Albert Hall, no questions. It's somewhere with so much heritage, it's close to where I live and it's just an amazing venue, magical.
What are your favourite types of venue to play?
My favourite venues, funnily enough, are ones like this theatre. I imagine myself being the kind of artist who would play at the Barbican rather than Brixton Academy, or the Albert Hall rather than the O2. I like a sit down gig. I personally like to go to gigs where I can sit down and listen and concentrate on the music rather than have to push my way to the front and mosh out. That has it's place but it's not for me.
What sign in your life would tell you that you had been successful?
Oh it's got to be people singing the words back to your songs, that's the ultimate goal. Although that sort of contradicts my previous point which was "shut up and listen"!
You know, the real answer would be when you walk out onto stage and everyone applauds. You haven't even done anything. That's when you think you must have done something right. I don't wish for huge audiences or anything. I love music but I also love the character that one brings to music and I think a performance is important. So the mark of making it is when you simply walk out and people applaud.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
The album which I have just written has many elements which happened by accident and I am grateful of that as there is definitely a magic in it. But I never set out to write this album. I started writing and it all sort of happened too quickly or too slowly or a bit of everything, and in the end it ended up being what it was. So in five years time I would love to be able to sit down and write an album which is considered. To start at a point where I say "This is what I want" and I end at a point where I have achieved it or bettered it.
On this album I was saying I wanted to do this or that in an almost immature and naive way, and maybe that is going to be the beauty of the album, I hope it is. I've never been someone who says what I want and gets it. I've always been "this is kind of what I want, err I don't know, maybe I don't want it at all" and then something has happened. I've always been quite scatty in that way. So to be able to say that I want something and achieve it would be good.
Also, to be able to go out and song by song, be hanging on my every word and you be hanging on my every word. In fact, fuck it, as long as I am hanging on my every word and really enjoying the moment you know. On this album I'm still figuring it out. There is nothing about it which I regret and nothing I would have done differently, but yes a considered album would be nice.
You've been compared to the likes of Jack Johnson, how do you feel about that?
It's not something which I resent. I am sure a lot of people expect me to hate it but I don't really know very much about Jack Johnson or know many of his songs. If people want to compare me to anyone I don't really care. It's up to them really. I was speaking to someone today and he asked me how I would like people to hear my music, and I had to say I couldn't really answer that as people will hear my music how they wish to. There is nothing I can do to control that. If people wish to review it and say it sounds like this or that then that is fine.
What process do you take when you write songs, is the emphasis on the music or the lyrics?
I started writing music when I was about 19 or 20, so it was a late development in my life, and there was a real emphasis on lyrics, that was it for me. If you listen to songs like "Colourful Day" or "Heart of Hearts" there was a much more lyrical emphasis, and I believe the songs suffered for that. And then in later songs like perhaps "Chasing Time" or "Life Worth Living" I think there was more emphasis on the music, the melody, the rhythm and I think the lyrics suffered as a result. Thats what I would like to achieve on the second album is striking more of a balance. I'm a good song writer and a good lyricist but I feel like I could have been a better lyricist on this album.
Apart from yourself, who are your big tips for this year?
Club Royal who played tonight, they were amazing. And there's another one, but they have an ever changing band name, but it's JJ Pistolet's new band. It's early days but they are going to be fantastic.
You have a lot of connections to the London Folk scene, would you class yourself as part of that? If not what genre would you say you are?
No! They are friends, and I like folk music to listen to but no. I like Jazz and sort of effected stuff but I don't write songs with a genre in mind. I like it to stand alone. For instance one of my favourite artists is Prince, and there is no one you can compare him to, he just stands alone.
Ok, let's ask a few of the more silly questions now, what's your favourite food?
That's an interesting question because I like sort of staple food like cheese and bread and steak, but it's my least favourite food it it is done badly. There is a pub in Chelsea called the Pig's Ear and it does the best steak.
A good red wine, a good Merlot.
I think we would get on well here on food and drink likes
We should have dinner, no really we should.
I'm going to publish that and hold you to it!
Would you choose East or West London?
I'm a West London boy, but I used to live in Old Street and I didn't like it. To be honest I'm a bit of a loner, and I like to be able to dip in and out. East London is very social and that didn't really suit me.
Do you have a rider?
Red wine. Just that, red wine. If you ask for too much you don't get it. If you ask for a decent bottle of red wine you get it
I'm quite into wine, my Dad collects wine and he has about 3000 bottles, so I grew up around vineyards and wine growers.
No! Really? We should definitely have dinner. At your Dad's house.
I have been listening to 5 sample songs from Alan's upcoming album all week, and have to say they are set to be the soundtrack of my summer. Despite what Alan says I don't believe that the melody is lacking on "Colourful Day" which has to be my favourite of all the songs I have been sent. The upbeat melody of tracks such as "Take Me" and "Life Worth Living" have me and fellow Ruckus girl Lizzie dancing about our living room on a regular basis and we are eagerly awaiting his full album "True Love Stories" which is set for release in July. If the production and song writing continues to be as good as on the sample tracks then it really is set to be one of the albums of the year.
Alan is signed to Mercury Record
Photo credit to Max Knight @ WWW.MAXKNIGHTPHOTO.COM