The Unlit Path
People always said I would end up as a writer. Having an introspective and dark turn of mind coupled with a strange obsession for word rhyming, I seemed destined to be a poet. With no musical background, I had no idea I could write songs.
As a teenager, many fevered hours were spent in coffee houses, obsessively playing chess and filling notebooks in attempts at rhyming my emotional chaos. I didn’t actually discover my aptitude for music until I was at college, studying philosophy.
Intrigued that one of my classmates was a drummer, I asked him for a lesson. He introduced me to snare drum rudiments and a new obsession was born; rhythm. I literally tapped into a talent I never knew I had. Little did I know, I would soon abandon academia to become a musician.
I subsequently joined a series of Indie rock bands and naturally contributed lyrics but there was little room for subtlety of
expression. Realising that my own ideas demanded something quite different musically, it became obvious that I would have to write my own songs.
And so I set about teaching myself to play guitar and then piano. There was an almost 'existential' intensity to this unfolding, as the music simply demanded expression, driving me to develop very quickly. Yet still, I was haunted by doubt, as I knew I’d given up an academic career to follow this unlit path. But I persisted, until eventually, to my delight, I could play well enough to front my own project as Emberhoney.
Songwriting is fascinating to me. Like all art, it is a mysterious form of alchemy. With it, a songwriter can transmute the base metals of experience; like pain and confusion, into shimmering harmonic compositions with the power to soothe a troubled soul like my own. Over time, I have developed my own method for capturing my ideas to catalyse this process.
I often start with a title and write a first draft of lyrics in their entirety, with a rhythm or a melodic riff in my head. Letting the lyrics form completely on the page, I then set these word-paintings to music, much like a composer might do with a film.
The only rule I adhere to is that the song must stand up even when stripped down to a vocal and one instrument. I then develop the arrangement with Emberhoney’s guitartist and producer John Baron Kent, whose sonic wizardry helps to create the evocative and dreamy Emberhoney soundscapes. We share a love of film music, especially composers like John Barry and Danny Elfman.
Other sources of inspiration include classic songwriters like Burt Bacharach and Roy Orbison, narrative poets like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, and artists like Bjork, Anna Calvi and Agnes Obel.
A Voice Like Smoke and Chocolate
The first strangled notes I moaned over my guitar were sufficiently dreadful to provoke requests for instrumental versions of my lyric-driven songs.
I had a few voice lessons but, having burst into tears through most of them, the teacher asked me not to return. He suggested I needed therapy and not singing lessons...
Fortunately for me, writing was a form of therapy, so I continued singing quietly while playing my instruments. But the day came when I needed to start recording vocals in a studio and so my voice was suddenly highlighted in merciless detail.
Listening back through head- phones, I was mortified. But once I decided I was not going to quit, no matter how little talent nature had
actually given me, it was like pressing a fast-forward button on my development. The immediate feedback of recording allowed me to experiment with different ways to vocalise emotions in service to a song. I soon found ways around the limits of my own voice and in fact, found the voice for Emberhoney. And to my utter amazement it has turned out to be, as one reviewer described it; ‘a voice like smoke and chocolate’.