What can we expect from your new album ‘Studio Zoo’?
It’s a different beast. I’ve kind of gone back to my roots, but I’ve gone back beyond the first album, so it’s like my prehistoric roots. But yeah it’s completely acoustic with very little else. I’m really pleased with it. I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done.
What made you decide to strip everything back?
Two different things went in two different directions really, so after ‘Dream Catch Me’ did really well, I was under pressure to release more produced things. And at the same time, live-wise, I’d had a band but people said that they massively preferred it when I was on my own. So I became a solo live performer, while the records became more built up, which lead to me really pushing the boundaries live. At one point I was triggering visuals with my foot while playing violins off a cassette and playing cello with my other foot – it was mental! But then with this album I stopped trying to do anything, I kind of just did what I wanted and wrote the songs I felt like writing.
So you recorded it in your home studio and the whole process was live streamed to the world – how did that come about?
To begin with it was quite small, just one camera and no audio. I saw it in my head like the web cams you get in radio stations where it’s a frame every second, no sound, and it’s not actually that intrusive. I just assumed that the label would say no, but then they were like “Yeah, definitely have sound, that’ll make it amazing”. So it grew from one camera in the studio, to four cameras in my house. We were originally just going to film when I was working, but then it became 24 hours a day, and it went on for 5 weeks!
What was it like being in a Big Brother-style situation? Do you think it helped or hindered the process?
I think it had a massively positive effect on the record. One thing I’ve been trying to do since the very beginning is to bridge the gap between the live show and my recorded stuff. So by having people watching me recording, it changed it from just singing into a microphone for the sake of the microphone, to singing and knowing that people were paying attention. And afterwards I would get loads of Tweets saying “That was awesome, that’s the one!”, or “I think you should go to bed now…” And I listened to them, so if they said that they liked something I tended to keep it, and if they said I was putting too much on a track, then I was just like okay cool, I’ll take that out.
Has anyone done anything like this before?
No one’s ever done it before, it’s like a world first. No one’s even done a few tracks let alone a whole album. So it was a completely unique experience. We didn’t know how long people would watch it but people basically just left it on all the time. And the level of connection that the people who’ve watched it now feel with the record is unattainable any other way – they basically feel like they’ve sat in the studio with me.
I love the lead single from the album ‘Losing Ground’ – what is it about exactly?
It’s kinda just about battling against the odds, but it’s got a really nice vibe. I still can’t quite work out what style of music it is – each different section has got a different set of influences. The first bit is kind of Kinks-y I guess, and then a load of banjos come in and it’s like, what’s going on?
What’s your favourite track to play live?
I think Plastic Hearts is creeping up on my favourite-to-play-list. It’s a real challenge – I’ve made it even harder live that it is on the record.
You’ve just done some in-store performances and you’ve got a tour early next year – but do you prefer big venues or the more intimate ones?
I just like playing, so I don’t really care. I genuinely love it – I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. One of my favourite sets of gigs was when I played Isle of Wight festival a couple of years ago to like 50,000 people and then I pretty much got straight on a plane to San Francisco and played in a bar to 5 people! It was such a massive juxtaposition, it was crazy.
I know you’re a fan of your quirky covers like Spongebob Squarepants, so can we expect some more of that on your tour
Yeah I’m trying to find something new because I did Bohemian Rhapsody quite recently, and I’m trying to find something that goes a step further – if that’s even possible.
What’s your favourite festival to play at?
Glastonbury will always be special because that was the first big festival I ever played – and I didn’t even know if my stuff would work in that setting. When I played Isle of Wight festival the time before last I had a band, and it was only on three tracks but it was just knowing that there was someone else coming on. But this year I was on my own and it was terrifying. Nobody else does that! No one else is stupid enough. But yeah I’m still amazed that it works.
If you were booking your own festival, who would be on the dream line-up, dead or alive?
I’d get some guitar-y people – all the people who played on the record are my favourite guitarists in the world, like Nick Harper and Thomas Leeb. Also Guns and Roses, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Creedance Clearwater, Al Green, Bill Withers. I don’t know who’s headlining yet…
If you could be eaten alive by one animal what would it be?
Would you rather look like Jar Jar Binks or talk like Jar Jar Binks?
Both are equally annoying. Maybe look, yeah I’d rather look than sound like him.