Visual Artist Joe Simpson has a passion for music and allows this to come through beautifully in his artwork. One of his previous projects, ‘Almost There’ featured paintings that corresponded to tracks by less-established acts. For his newest venture, Joe set himself the challenge of getting the bigger musicians on board for his ‘Musician Portraits’ project. He set about to paint his favourite musicians, taking him to the intimate settings of their homes and studios, to venues and even to Vegas! There’s a nice mix of musicians from Paloma Faith to Scroobius Pip to Sam Beam (Iron and Wine). Each one is so realistic and intricate, the photos of them (below) do not do them enough justice, in the flesh they are even more amazing.
Visiting the pop-up collection in an empty shop space in Soho on the last day of the exhibition’s two week stint, I spoke to Joe about how the development of this project, musical tastes and that trip to Vegas…
So, where did the idea for this project come from?
Well, basically before that I was doing a lot of big commercial commissions for P&O. They built a new ferry and I was doing these massive New York style paintings and I spent a month on each one. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it paid quite well and it meant that I did then have a bit of time to start a project for myself. I thought about doing a series of portraits, trying to get some well-known names and something I could do for myself with some smaller pieces and more of them. I came up with musicians in the end because I am a huge music fan. I thought it would be a really nice way to meet people who I’m a fan of and it would be a good subject, interesting faces and interesting people, so I started doing it.
So when did this project actually start?
I think I did the Liam Frost one in about July last year, 2010. Then I was kind of working on other things at the time and it wasn’t until i moved to London in October, that I worked full time on it. I think a year is probably accurate in how long it all took.
How did you manage to get the big names on board?
Just Google basically, I looked at the management and made a wish list of people that I wanted. I did one of Liam Frost first, who’s a Manchester singer and I know him, so I sent that one around as an example of what I wanted. Hopefully it was an unusual enough request that people were kind of up for it more so than if it was just photographs of something.
So, where abouts in the Country or the World did it take you?
A lot around England and I went to Vegas to meet Brandon Flowers, which was really cool.
What was that like?
It was awesome, yeah I made a bit of a holiday out of it. I went to LA and then went to Vegas for a few days and went to his house and did that whole thing, so it was great. Also, I went to Manchester to see Faithless, they were playing at the MEN arena. So I went backstage at some big stadium gigs and to people’s houses and things like that.
How did it work, did you do sittings with them?
Basically, I met up with them and took original photos of them to work from because it was often hard to get half an hour with some people and some I had more time with than others. So I took a little blank portable flash and I didn’t give them that much direction, I just let them act in front of the camera how they do to let their personalities come through. Then I took the original pictures home and worked them in the studio in to a painting.
Did you feel at all starstruck when you met these people?
A little bit, it was all people that I choose who I was a fan of and liked. So I was excited to meet people. I got a lot of free gig tickets, so I got to see them live, which was really good and saw lots of them. I think I was definitely nervous going into it because I’m not a photographer as well so I’ve got a short amount of time to get good photographs. So I think it was a nervous situation a lot of times because it was a short amount of time, a little bit starstruck and something that I’m not incredibly confident in doing.
Did you just paint the pictures at home?
Yeah I’ve got a studio in Brixton, so I’ll start off with just fine pencil drawing, line drawing and then I’ll block colour it in and put the darker tones in and then work it up from dark to light from there.
Were there any musicians that you couldn’t get that you wanted?
Yeah I think so, obviously i made a big list and sometimes it’s hard to know whether that was management of not. Sometimes management would just say we can’t fit that in or there’s not enough time and you don’t know if that’s just asking them or the musicians have said no. There was people who I would have liked to have done, but i think I got some good names that I’m happy with. I got much much more than i expected.
You’ve got a nice mix as well.
Yes totally. I could have done with more girls but I think because it was a short amount of time and meeting them somewhere, they need more prep. But I did try and address the sex balance but it didn’t really work.
The music industry is quite male dominated anyway.
Yes that’s true, more to choose from, more blokes.
Who are you favourite musicians at the minute, who are you listening to?
It swings around really. (looks at his recently played) I like James Blake a lot at the moment and I’m a massive Ryan Adams fan, Ryan not Bryan and he’s just got a new album out. I’m enjoying The Miserable Rich, who are a small band who I really like. And I’m always a fan of Sufjan Stevens and things like that.
Have you got any plans to take this projects anywhere else in the country?
Possibly, somewhere next year.
Did you just come across this place?
Well I looked for a long time to try and find the best way to do it and I wanted to put it on myself and do it that way. But it was really hard and expensive to hire a lot of galleries; some were charging four grand a week. I thought if i could get a place that wasn’t being used and I managed to find out about this place though another guy who had done a pop-up and then they went on a paper trail trying to find who owned it. Then I eventually persuaded them to let me use it. It wasn’t easy.
It’s a good central location as well.
Yeah I’ve done shows in the past where they’re a bit more tucked away down an alley and it’s hard to get people in to galleries anyway. So i really wanted a good location anyway, because I’ve spent so long on this. I did commit to find somewhere that was central and easy to get to and all those things.
Have you got any future projects in mind?
I’ve got a show coming up in January that’s totally different stuff; it’s called ‘Everything Is Electrified.’ There’s lots of mixed media, pylons and sunsets. It’s entirely different, a lot less pressure and a lot less time put in to it, but it’ll be cool to do something like that. I’ve got some commissions to take me up until the end of January, and then I’ll hopefully start working on a new project that I haven’t figured out yet at all, but we’ll see. It’s kind of a given that I’m still very much in this mode at the moment, I’m not sure that I’m ready to move on yet!
I asked Justin what he thought of the painting:
“It’s unbelievable, I haven’t been down to the exhibition but I’ve seen the painting. It just looks like a photo, it’s amazing. He came down when we played the Electric Ballroom and yeah it’s just amazing. I didn’t think it would be that good, then I saw that and the other pictures and they’re just so good!”
For more examples and info, have a look at: http://www.joe-simpson.co.uk/
Philidelphia rockers, Twenty30 have recently released their self-titled EP as a free download. They fuse punk and rock together for an energetic buzz, drawring comparisions to the likes of Deftones and Queens Of The Stone Age. I found about the foundations of their passion for music, future goals and what really goes on at their gigs.
So, you guys aren’t the first rock band to emerge from Philly, (Free Energy, Valencia and The Wonder Years all hail from there) what do you have to offer that these local bands and other rock bands have to offer?
All these bands have a real love for making music, and we’re no stranger to that. We, just like the others, believe in working hard for our music and making a product we are really passionate about. As time goes on we always have trouble making setlists because we really do enjoy playing everything from when we began. Each of these bands also sees a constant desire to continually improve and write something that people can relate to, we are always trying to connect, make new friends and bring a positive message in which people can be a part of.
The self-titled Ep has been released for free download, how did the EP come together?
We really just wanted to bring to light the true raw sound of the band and have a comfort level unlike anything we had previously experienced. With these goals in mind, and a regular practice space already in his basement, Lyle, our singer/rhythm guitar player, set out to combine our live sound with the studio environment and produce the most true to form E.P. possible. Studying other engineers and friends and with plenty of feedback from those closest to us, he put himself to the test to truly capture everyone’s sound with no click tracks and a base rhythm set completely by himself and drummer Vinny Feliciano.
Your sound is a fusion of rock and punk with tremendous energy. What artist inspired you to pick up that instrument or sing for the first time?
This is a different answer for each of us however we all seem to have a lot of old classic and indie rock in the roots of what we are doing. Some bands that we all seem to take influence from and cross all our radars are Deftones, Superchunk, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Black Sabbath
Who would be your dream band to tour with?
Superchunk, Deftones, so many amazing bands to name.
Twenty30′s sound can be quite heavy. Am I right in thinking that there is a great deal movement within the crowd at your shows, you know moshing and the like?
More then moshing we get a lot of skanking, dancing and just focused attention. It really is different everywhere we go, but our friends and fans are a lot of fun no matter what!
Your band name is just numbers! Is there any significance behind it?
We fought over this for weeks on end all the way until we actually recorded our first E.P. We finally agreed on a joke name of our ages, it was the ONLY consensus we got and thus we chose to settle the peace.
Finally, what is your ultimate goal as a band?
Ultimate goal as a band is to continually have fun with what we are doing and never limiting ourselves with writing music we are passionate about. We continually wish to make lasting friendships and hope we can continue to play for our friends and family. Thank you for your time!
You can listen to their EP on: http://www.twentythirtyrock.com/fr_home.cfm.
Mona have a spark that ignites the room, it also gets under everyone’s skin and stir them up to empower It’s just their whole persona and sheer gift that bewilders one. The Nashville rockers descend on Shepherd’s Bush tonight, which is the half way marker of their intimate 4-date UK tour.
‘FiN’ open the stage tonight, a South London outfit who are ones to watch, believe me. New release, ‘It Changes Everything’ is the highlight. Its twangy riffs and effortless strength in quiff-clad singer Luke Joyce’s voice make them stand out. I wonder if Nick Brown gave him any tips on that, or vice versa.
To follow that, ‘Transfer’ are up next. Mona’s fellow countrymen, based in Cali put on a decent set, they sure can perform but it just lacks charisma and just doesn’t do it for me. They do have a following though, some of whom are standing proud here tonight, so they must have some effect on people.
This show may not have sold out in advance, which is surprising but it certainly looks it by the time the four piece come on. As soon as Mona take to the stage and Nick Brown starts to sing in to his vintage mic, everyone is stunned. Yes, he has a powerful voice on record but to have this live too is just amazing. The women in the room swoon over his charm of 50’s heartthrobs James Dean and Johnny Cash (who Mona lovingly dedicate a song too.)
Due to their 50’s inspired sound, the demographic here tonight is very mixed. The older generation in the room have obviously had a hard week at work and now just want to go wild. ‘Teenager’ seems the appropriate song for them to jump around and loose themselves as if they were well, teenagers again. ‘Listen To Your Love’ is the same, though now they’ve all won’t let the ‘whoahs’ go and they are heard throughout the gig. It’s now an almost iconic mantra replacing the conventional ‘Mona’ chant.
Some aspects of their stage presence are nice and old-fashioned. Nick Brown introduces the rest of the band as the crowd applaud and remind them that it’s not just a one-man band. They’re also very grateful for where they are today, as he tells of how they walked past Shepherd’s Bush and said ‘One day.’ And here they are. They play favourites from their debut, ‘Lines In The Sand’, ‘Trouble On The Way’ and the slower ‘Pavement’, before Brown ditches the static mic an grabs the modern kind to begin his audience sweep for ‘Shooting The Moon.’ He makes his way across the barrier greeting his admiring fans before standing on the speaker to finish this stint as everyone shouts along in his gritty and aggressive way. The emotive and goosebump inflicting, ‘Say You Will’ follows to end with ‘Lean In To The Fall’, giving everyone their final offering of Mona’s beauty.
They certainly do not get enough credit for what they are about and their talent, people need to see sense and jump on the Mona bandwagon. Oh and for the record tonight has proved that they are NOT just a band trying to impersonate Kings of Leon, just because they’re from same state, it doesn’t mean they haven’t got their own stamp. Dare I say Mona have better one, fresh and modest. Yes. Mona deserve the big time.
Frankie & The Heartstrings – Everybody Looks Better (In The Right Light)
This is a potential ‘cheese’ tune for years to come, y’know. It seems ideal for those awkward family party-in-a-hall situations. Musical chairs springs to mind with the baffling stop/start bassline and the camp ‘Aha, Aha, Ahas’ entice a drunken sing song. Though, the track has probably just been mixed up with Frankie Francis’ audition tape for when ‘Grease’ rolls in to the Sunderland Empire. Cheese comments aside, it’s a gooden and another hearty addition to F&TH’s ever growing list of trademark pop ditties. So c’mon everyone, have a boogie to this. Oh and good luck with that audition Frankie!
Zulu Winter – Never Leave
Despite an opening sounding like synthed up version of a toddler refusing to go to bed when asked, it’s a glorious offering from revitalising newbies, Zulu Winter. Layers are built up and dropped, kind of making you feel like you’re drifting in and out of consciousness, but in a very good way. There’s the eerie shrill of what can only be described as a ‘ghost train’ soundtrack, along with the equally as eerie words of Will Daunt stating how he’s ‘never leave’ us. These sit comfortably on the booming bed of the tribal drums, creating an atmosphere confirming that the hype they’ve gathered is genuine.
First Aid – The Lion’s Roar
“The lion’s roar is something I’ve heard before.” No need to boast girls, everyone’s heard this either on David Attenborough or at the zoo. This forestry drawl is not needed to prove it. The folk-obsessed, jumper-clad siblings return with this very monotonous attempt, that just doesn’t cut it compared to their humble beginnings like, ‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight.’ Though come to think of it, it probably does sounds a hell of a lot better if you ever happened to be sitting around an open campfire with some good mates, contently roasting your mallows. An enchanting atmosphere? Maybe, just.
This is impressive. It’s like Hanni El Khatib has digested most of the rock genres from the 50′s onwards and regurgitated them. There’s influences from the Rock ‘N Roll era, 70′s/80′s Punk and some weighty riffs that could easily rival Jack White and Kings Of Leon. His cover of ‘You Rascal You’ and his own venture, ‘Loved One’ are incredibly slick and crunchy, definitely worth getting your choppers into. He’s on to a winner here!
‘You Rascal You’
New Yorkers Milagres have something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. Maybe it’s their use of the much extinct xylophone or their alternative/indie crossover. Whatever it is, it works. The words heard from Kyle Wilson are random but quaint to say the least, ‘All the birds seem to sing in the key of H. The Emperor of Ice Cream is here to stay.’ Give them a listen.
‘Here To Stay’
Futures – Islands In The Sea
Futures gave everyone a taste of what’s to come this week by putting new track, ‘Islands In The Sea’ up for free download. The four-piece share their ever-growing potential in progression of last years’ EP, ‘The Holiday.’ Everything that matters to the band is in there. The romantic lyricism, stressed chord progressions and the notable calm middle-eight, that is Futures’ trademark. The soft vocal is discretely projected as the intricate riff accompanies.
Download it HERE.
Veronica Falls release their new single, ‘Bad Feeling’ this week, featuring B-side, ‘Back Page.’ The London 4-piece are out in The States touring with The Drums and they’re sure to be making a good impression on route.
‘Bad Feeling’ holds a galloping pace, the kind that sounds like the title sequence to a Western with a cunning cowboy and a couple of horses disappearing into the distance. They’ve got the whole girl/boy vocal harmonies going on which gives this 60′s inspired sound precision and class, whilst drawing comparisons to the likes of Summer Camp and Slow Club. The sweet voice of singer, Roxanne is backed up by the male front of the group, as she confesses, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling, and it’s not going away.’
B-side, ‘Back Page’ is a fraction slower with a twangy guitar in tow and elongated vocals to give those hushed unity-ridden harmonies emphasis. Veronica Falls needn’t have any more bad feelings because if they carry on like this, they’ll be free of any worries in no time.
Electropop outfit, Fenech Soler are back on rightful form, after singer Ben Duffy’s recent Cancer battle forced them to postpone their UK tour back in March. Singles, ‘Lies’ and ‘Demons’ are examples of why the band deserve recognition. With waves to electro goodness and a vocal that sits at the higher-pitched end of the tone spectrum, it sounds impeccable. For fans of ‘Foster The People’ and ‘Everything Everything’.
Two-piece DZ Deathrays showcase ‘Rad Solar’, an adrenaline infused track where you’re in touching distance of the crunching riffs and the harsh sounding words, giving them an edge. Though at 1:45 this song may look brash, the song needs no more, its punchy message is apparent from the first few seconds. Short tracks intrigue, persuading you to listen to more. This has been done recently by The Vaccines and look at the sudden success they’ve encountered over the past year.
As one of the creative minds behind the Mystery Jets’ back catalogue and having previously penned tracks for Mark Ronson, I think it’s fair to say that Kai Fish is ready to produce some solo work. Fish’s recent single, ‘Cobalt Cheeks’ presents his talent as a singer/ songwriter. The distorted bass line fuzzes contently with some plucky guitar and a soft melodic vocal for effect, reminding me of the mid ‘Blur’ era. It’s a progression from the Mystery Jets; the boppy rhythms have gone, replaced with layers of maturity and depth.