This is the full transcript of an interview I did with the Italian journalist Birgit Benedikter in September 2015, shortly before the release of Imperfectionist. We met up at The Cut in Waterloo and spoke for ages, It's long so get the kettle on first!


 

He has just finished one of his sets on the South Bank on this

sunny September morning; his fingertips are sore, but Scott is 

beaming when we meet up for our interview. Music still surrounds

him as he starts talking about finishing his first solo album, the

magic of songwriting and his definition of art.
 

“I want my music to be honest…”

Scott McMahon on his debut album, ‘Imperfectionist’


 

You’ve just finished the album. What does it feel like?

 

It feels great, amazing. I actually finished it late last night. I worked on it for a long time and I put my heart and soul into it, so now there's a real sense of relief, I’m very happy with it. Now maybe I can think about something else other than music for a couple of days. (laughs)


 

How did the album evolve?

 

The album took shape over quite a long period of time. There are ten songs on the album, and the earliest one was written about eight years ago, the latest one this summer – I finalised the lyrics to She’s Like Summertime just the other day. So basically it’s pretty much the best of all the stuff I’ve written over the last eight years. I only kept the good songs. (laughs)


 

When did the idea of making an album come to you?

 

I’m busking on the South Bank nearly every day and people often ask if I have a CD. The idea of finally putting an album together had been in my head for quite a while, it was the right time. Getting it done has given me a new push musically and the whole songwriting thing is exciting to me again. I’ve been writing songs for years, so to have that feeling of freshness is great.

 

There was a period recently when I just stopped listening to music at home. My whole life, since my teens, it had always been there. But maybe because I’m hearing music all the time due to my job, I needed to take a step back for a while – which became about a year and a half. But I’m starting to discover new music again, which is great. I hadn’t got into anything new for a long time. Making the album has given me a shake and I feel a new energy musically.


 

How would you describe the musical style of your album?

 

I had to specify a genre when I was mastering it and I said Folk Rock, but it’s difficult – every song has its own characteristics. Of course I think it sounds completely original! (laughs) I suppose the closest description would be singer-songwriter, straight from the heart, troubadour music. A lot of that comes from the artists and bands that have been the biggest influences on me. So my musical style...it's held together with Blu Tack and Sellotape. (laughs)


 

Who are the bands that have influenced your music, and do you have musical heroes?

 

I grew up listening to bands like The Smiths and Teenage Fanclub, amazing songs, big influences. Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits…Kiss! I love Kiss. I’m obsessed, which is ridiculous. That started when I was about five years old. My parents and I went to visit some of their friends and I was taken upstairs to see their teenage daughter's bedroom where she had this big Kiss mural painted on her wall. That would have been around 1978, obviously something stuck in my head. My friends always make fun of me because of my obsession with Kiss, but I love them.

 

What all these bands have in common is that their songs are all quite passionate and they are all based on feelings. That’s especially true for The Smiths. Johnny Marr is a real hero of mine – he's the reason I started playing the guitar. Stuart Adamson from Big Country had a big effect on me, an amazing songwriter with the guts to deal with all these deep personal feelings.


 

Morrissey and Marr would split the songwriting process up. How do you write songs?

 

I generally write all the music first, not really thinking about lyrics. Then when I’ve got the music done, I'll listen to it over and over until words and phrases appear and start to stick. The music just comes from … here. (taps on his chest) I don't like the idea of writing a song with a calculator, although some people do...trying to fit in with the current trends. They might take some chords from here, some words from there, and then mix them up into a new song, to me there's something really cynical about that. That’s not my way. The one thing I would be able to say about my music is that it’s honest. The music comes out very naturally, then it’s a case of listening and listening until the sounds within the music start to suggest feelings. Then I'll try to put those feelings into words and make them as poetic as the music suggests they should be. Some days the process works better than others, but that’s true of life in general.


 

As an artist, is it harder for you to find the right chords and harmonies or the right words?

 

The music is never a problem – the chords and arrangements come quite easily and quickly. The lyrics usually take me a while because they're often quite personal and I have a strict quality control. I won’t stick with anything if I don’t think it’s going to stand up and you can tell when it’s contrived. The song is going to be permanent. I’ve got songs where I had the music for about ten, fifteen years, which I know is a long time, but songwriting for me is a bit like planting a garden. You plant a seed and sometimes you see results instantly, yeah that’s good. Sometimes a song can be ready in a week, but sometimes a song will take twenty years to grow. You just have to keep an eye on the garden and have faith that someday things will bear fruit.


 

Coming back to your album – what would you say the songs are about?

 

They're about relationships, mostly. There are many different ways to approach writing a song, but usually if I’m sitting with my guitar, the mood I'm in dictates what kind of song will emerge. And for me, as for many people I guess, two of the most powerful emotions are falling in love with someone and being really happy, or splitting up with somebody and feeling really down about it.

 

Dragging the Years Behind You, for example, was written towards the end of a relationship. I hadn’t written anything for a long time and was told, “You don’t write songs any more, you've lost it.” I thought, OK. Just give me a couple of days! (laughs) That’s when that song arrived. The Sea and the Sky is a lot more positive, She’s Like Summertime as well, love songs. But then, Your Dreams Are Not Your Own – that’s probably the deepest song on the album. The words speak for themselves. I had to wait six years to write that song, because I was so broken and I couldn't even think about it. But then, when the time came, that song was written in one night. You know, some songs take ages, but that song, I think I had that done from start to finish in about four hours. When I finished it, that was a similar feeling to completing the album. Back to the Start is about the period just after a breakup, when you feel a bit lost. That was me at the time. “Standing here on square one / instructions in my hand / in a language I will never understand / Won’t grow up is a compromise / where you don’t get old but you don’t get wise / You just build better castles in the sand”. Whispers and Wine is a proper love song, that girl really affected me. The great thing about songwriting is that it's a means to get those emotions out, whether you are feeling very happy and you want to tell the world, or if there's something weighing heavy on your back that you need to shift.

 

So mainly my songs are about relationships, but that’s not always the case. There are some songs that deal with different things. Quiet Time, for example, or Long Tall Peggy Sue. Snapshots of time and place.


 

Speaking of snapshots – can a musical album in some way be compared to a photo album?

 

Yes, because like a photo album it’s a collection. It is a collection of moments and memories.


 

In a photo album the arrangement of the pictures is mostly chronological. How about your album? Does the arrangement of the songs affect the overall perception of an album and influence its atmosphere?

 

In a way, yes. I changed the running order around a lot until it flowed properly. Originally it was going to open with Back to the Start. But then, when I was listening to it over and over, I started to feel it was strong, but maybe not strong enough to open the album. So I decided to move it a bit further along and now the whole thing sounds better. If I had arranged the songs chronologically, that wouldn’t have worked. I would have constantly been telling people to just listen to the end! (laughs) Maybe I could have put some songs in sequence, certain songs about the same people, but again I don't think it would sounded quite right. After a lot of trial and error I'm happy with it now.


 

Do songs – like pictures in an album – tell stories?

 

Yes, they can do. But there’s different kinds of music for different situations. If you go to a club then of course the music's not much about storytelling. (laughs) But with my songs, it’s certainly the case.

 

I love music biographies, which are also stories, life stories. I've read loads: Neil Young, Kiss, Elton John. His was very interesting. Bowie in Berlin, that’s the one I’m reading now. Station to Station is my favourite song from that period, amazing arrangement. These people’s lives are full of amazing stories which in turn come out in their songs.


 

By living our lives and making choices we are all in a way writing our own life stories, day by day. What would you definitely want to write into your biography, what would you definitely not want to be missing?

 

If that ever happened I'd want people to be entertained, I'd want people to laugh out loud. Bez from the Happy Mondays wrote the funniest book, it's great. Check it out, it's called Freaky Dancing.


 

In the introduction to your album you say there’s always something positive in your songs, even if the listener has “to dig around for it”…

 

Yes, I hope so. That’s again a bit of a The Smiths thing. A lot of the music in their songs was really upbeat but the words could be quite dark, the happiness of the music kind of cancelled out the sadness. I think there’s a bit of that in my songs.


 

Do you think music can have a cathartic effect not only for the artist, who writes it, but also for the listener who immerses in it?

 

Oh yes, absolutely. Music lifts people up. Even with the sad songs. Music has this special quality, it can change people’s lives.


 

Can music in a way help us to understand who we are or who we want to be?

 

I think so. In my case music has proved to be the great love of my life. Picking up the guitar was the best decision I’ve ever made: you always have a friend. Especially the guitar I play while busking, it's my best friend. (laughs)


 

Is there a special relationship between a musician and their instrument?

 

Oh yes. I bought that guitar the day I moved to London. I left Scotland under a cloud, it was quite a difficult time. I had a friend here, living and working in a pub in Kentish Town. She invited me down and gave me somewhere to live and some shifts in the bar until I got organised. I arrived like Dick Whittington...just me and a rucksack.

 

I left everything behind in Scotland, I needed to get a guitar but I didn't have a lot of money, and I ended up in this little guitar shop in Denmark Street. 'The Acoustic Room', it's not there anymore. There were about ten guitars hanging on the wall and one looked just perfect but it was too expensive...then exactly at that moment my phone rang, it was a guy that I knew in Edinburgh asking if I was going out that night. I had to tell him I'd just moved to London! I explained I was in a guitar shop and trying to justify buying this guitar, he told me to do the London thing and just buy it. The shopkeeper overheard the conversation and gave me £40 off it just like that...I wasn’t even asking for a discount.

 

Yeah, it was meant to be, I think. I’ve played it almost every single day since I moved here. I love that guitar. We have a real relationship: most of the time it plays perfectly, but sometimes you can tell that it's not happy with me, going out of tune, strings breaking... (laughs) It’s been through the wars. Its neck was broken when a girl dancing knocked it over, I had to glue it back together. If that guitar could talk, it could tell a few stories. (laughs)

 

 

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

 

The Sea and The Sky is my favourite today, but all the songs have all been my favourite at some point. There are some songs that have a lot of emotional significance and there are songs that I have maybe listened to too much. It's funny though, because as a busker I play the same songs, day after day, and when I finally get tired of a song, I'll leave it out of the set for a while. But then, when a few days have passed, I'll do it again and it'll be the best one.

 

Sometimes when I'm playing I'll do a song and think, oh that’s sounding good. Then there are other times when I think, this doesn’t! The circumstances affect you when you are busking as well; if you're getting into a song you're playing and people just walk past and nobody shows any interest, you can end up thinking, Oh I’m crap, I’m crap! I wouldn’t even give myself any money! But when it’s going well, it’s the best job in the world, I love it. I guess you’ve got to have the lows to appreciate the highs.


 

For your album you wrote the music and the lyrics, you played all the instruments, you engineered and produced it and you designed its cover…

 

Yes, I’m very proud of that.


 

… so you lived through every part of the creative process from beginning to end, from the very first moment of inspiration to the final CD copy. What would you define as a favourite moment in this whole and rather complex process of creation?

 

I would say – and I know it’s an easy answer – but it would be last night, when I took the computer apart because I knew that it was finished, that moment was amazing. But to be honest the whole process of recording the album was great. Tough at times, but great. I had most of the music recorded in the first week, but then it took a while to record the singing and then mix and master it. It was becoming a bit of a slog. Do you know Breaking Bad? I love Breaking Bad. I’ve watched it before, but I ended up watching the whole thing again, just to take a break! (laughs) But with music – as with anything creative – you can’t force it, or else it comes over sounding contrived. You've just got to be there when the magic comes, you’ve got to be there when the inspiration kicks in.

 

It was also a nice moment seeing the list of the songs for the first time. Over the years I would make up CDs for myself but I would always have the feeling that some songs would be making up the numbers. The song that comes closest to that on this album is Paris. Well I say that...I often think it could be better, but then when I actually listen to it, I think it’s pretty solid. I listened to it last night and at one point I was thinking...that is probably the best song on the album! I put a key change in at the end, I think you’ve got to have at least one key change on an album to cover all the bases. (laughs)


 

The album’s title is Imperfectionist. Would you call yourself an ‘Imperfectionist’?

 

The title is a bit of a misnomer, to be honest. It’s actually quite ironic because I spent so long crafting everything and trying to get every wee detail as perfect as possible. I know there are a lot of things about the album that could be better – I don't consider myself to be a brilliant guitar player, and then I’m not a brilliant producer or engineer either. I’m good enough to get by and do what I want to do. I know that some people will maybe listen to the album – myself included – and think, oh no, that bit's not quite right...so I thought if I called it ‘Imperfectionist’ that would give me the perfect excuse. (laughs)

 

There are a lot of little details that could be viewed as imperfections, but are still important. At the start of The Sea and The Sky, for example, there's a guitar part that starts off really quiet, with a lot of hissing in the background. I tried taking it out and some of the feeling just disappeared. Also with She’s Like Summertime, just before the music kicks in, you can hear me blowing a raspberry into the microphone. Normally the rule of thumb is that the start and end of a song should be totally clean, but because I spent so long working on that one the exasperation you hear is completely real and authentic. (laughs) So these little things have been left in, I think they can definitely add to the personality of a song.


 

Does any artist at some point have to become an ‘Imperfectionist’ in order to finish his work of art? André Heller, a famous Austrian live performance artist, once said, “Every finished work of art means in some way accepting a successful failure.”

 

Yeah, that’s good, that’s good. Well, you know Jeff Buckley? I don’t know if he was quoting someone else but he said, ”Great art is never completed, only abandoned.”


 

Is the process of recording and creating something persistent and unchangeable especially tough for a mainly live performing artist, as you are?

 

In a way yes. It goes back to that thing about it being permanent. I could have gone on forever and ever, trying to get everything exactly right, but you can polish something too much. There’s a lot of things that I would have changed if I didn’t think it was going to have a negative effect, like the hissing for example. With most of the other recordings I have ever been involved with in the past, there was always an element of “I really want to like it”, “I really want to love this”. Rarely was I ever a hundred percent happy with the end result. But with this album – and I know that it’s flawed, I know there are mistakes in it – but last night I just knew, I knew that I had it done. And that was a great feeling.


 

You release your songs not only on CD, but also as digital download, via Bandcamp. You offered your first single on a pay-what-you-like basis, starting at zero pounds. That’s a beautiful idea, but isn’t it also a bit risky from a commercial point of view?

 

Have you seen The Dark Knight? There’s a line in it when the Joker says, “If you’re good at something, you shouldn't do it for free.” And it is my job, but I liked the idea. With the single I did it with the attitude of - if you want to pay for it, then do so. I liked the way it was in keeping with the busking ideology. But you're right, not a great commercial decision. I didn't do it with the album, I do have bills to pay! In saying that, I read a brilliant Dave Grohl quote about illegal downloading. His take was, “I would much rather there were 20,000 kids at one of my gigs who downloaded the album illegally than a hundred people that paid for it.” There is something in that. I’m very lucky that I can get by with the busking.


 

The album will certainly sell very well…

 

(laughs) Well, we'll see. Fingers crossed. I’d love for it to see a bit of success, I want people to hear the songs. But it’s very difficult. I think something has been lost with the advent of downloading. In some ways it’s a good thing, it's very convenient, but – I miss record covers. When I was a teenager I would get up every Saturday morning, get the bus into town and go plodding around all the record shops. There is something quite ceremonial about putting a record on. I would buy an album and listen to the whole thing, song after song and fall in love with it, sometimes it took a bit of investment to really get into it. But now, everything is so disposable, and I’m guilty of that myself. If someone recommends a new band I'll look them up and often end up skipping through the songs, which is a real shame.

 

A record or a CD is something tangible to hold in your hands. Actually, what I would like to do at some point further down the line is to get some vinyl copies made of the album. Even if it’s just for my benefit. (laughs)


 

 

“Leaving your mind wide open…”

Scott McMahon on music and art in general,

on making something meaningful,

connecting with people and inspiration.


 

What does music mean to you?

 

Well it's what takes up most of my life. I read a brilliant

quote from a great singer-songwriter called Martin

Stephenson. He said that he felt that it was his duty as

a songwriter to make at least one other person in the

world feel that they were not alone. I like that. Also I read

that all Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue wanted to do was

write a song that would make two people fall in love. So

that’s what it is. It’s mystical. Music and songwriting is all

about emotion and reaching out to people.


 

What role does music play in your life?

 

It’s how I make a living, it’s my vocation. It’s all I really

think about if I’m honest.


 

What is your story? How did you find music or how did music find you?

 

My family is very musical. My parents both play instruments and were always playing records in the house and tapes in the car when I was a kid. I was growing up hearing a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits, my Dad would play a lot of Scottish folk music. When I was eleven or twelve and I was starting to discover music, my sister was about sixteen and I started to listen to what she was playing. Bands like The Associates, who I love, Duran Duran, Roxy Music, that's where it really started. Then at school I discovered Heavy Metal. When I had my first proper group of friends, at about thirteen, we got into Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss. To be rebellious at school all you had to do was wear an Iron Maiden T-Shirt to PE. (laughs) But then, over time, I discovered The Smiths – it felt like they were really talking my language. My wee brother, who is seven years younger, has also been a big influence on me musically. He's a DJ in Glasgow, I've discovered a lot of new stuff thanks to him as well.


 

Hence you grew up with music. But when did you really discover that “you’ve got the music in you” as the New Radicals say?

 

It was a gradual process. I had friends at school that played instruments and I could see how much fun they were having making music, at some point around this time I realised I wanted to make music myself. The first thing I learned to play was the drums. I was around fifteen. There was an ad in the local paper for a drum kit, 10 pounds. The man selling them had been a jazz drummer in the war...he had these ancient old drums, amazing. Every day I would run home from school, put my headphones on and play along with my records. I remember one day I was heading home and I heard drums in the distance. I thought, who's that? I am the drummer in this street! I got into the house and it was my Mum. Playing along with her Donna Summer records. (laughs)

 

My Mum had bought my Dad a guitar for his birthday but it had been left in a cupboard. My Dad has these massive hands and he finds it difficult to play a normal guitar, although he does love to play. Not long after I discovered the drums and was really getting into music, I pulled the guitar out. It was very difficult at the start, the first two weeks were a nightmare! But then things gradually developed, I started being able to play chords, and then eventually it started to flow. That’s an amazing feeling.


 

When did you start to write your own songs?

 

The instrumental part at the beginning of Quiet Time was the first thing I ever wrote on the guitar. That would have been around 1988, 1989. I actually had a whole song based around that part. That section is maybe my favourite thing that I play when I'm busking – the way those chords change. After that I wrote a lot of bad stuff. (laughs) I’ve been writing songs ever since then. There have been gaps at some points, but it has always been there, always.


 

What is your definition of art?

 

Making something meaningful. Something that has to do with emotions, with feelings, that can communicate and connect with other people. Writing a break up song for example, at some point you want somebody to hear it and say, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

 

I used to have a bad habit of explaining in great detail what my songs were about. When I first wrote Paris I was living in a flat in Edinburgh, and there was a guy living in the flat below me who was going through a hard time in his life. I played him the song and he loved it, it really connected with him. He heard it a few times again over the space of a few weeks and I asked, “Do you know what it is about?” and I started explaining and he said, “No, don’t tell me, it’s about me and my Dad!” He had made up his own interpretation. The song spoke to him. So, I’m actually quite careful these days not to over-explain, I suppose a lot of the time the perception of a song is probably better than what I actually meant in the first place. (laughs)


 

Writing and evolving songs must be a very private process, as probably the creation of all art is. How would you describe the transition from the private process of creation to the sharing with others?

 

The themes I tend to deal with, relationships and life experiences, are quite universal. They are quite common concepts, but then a lot of my lyrics can be quite ambiguous as well, which I like. There are certain things, very few though, that I wouldn’t talk about in songs. I suppose a lot of the break up song writing process is really just my way of sweeping the bad stuff under the carpet. But sharing with others is the best part. When people understand and tell you that they know what you mean – and people have said that about my songs – it really makes you feel this strong connection.


 

Where do you draw inspiration from?

 

Inspiration can be found anywhere, but it’s very hard to look for it. I mean you could write a song about this couch. Or actually, you could write two songs about this couch: you’d get one that's rubbish and one that's a work of genius. You just have to be lucky to be there at the right time, you have to open yourself up and let inspiration find you. Like the line in She’s Like Summertime, “I’m chasing her sunlight, leaving my mind wide open.” That’s what it is. Just leaving yourself open to whatever might come along.


 

 

“If you can make a difference to people’s days,

that’s the beauty of it…”

Scott McMahon on busking,

live performance and happiness.


 

As a busking musician and band leader you are a professional live performing artist. What do you think is the main difference between performing live and recording music?

 

I was writing songs and recording for years before I did a gig. I’d say with the studio thing there’s nothing better than finishing a song, it's done and dusted, whereas the live experience is very transitional, which has a beauty of its own. Both have their special qualities. I would say they are like two sides of the same coin, they go hand in hand.


 

What do you think is the magical thing about live music?

 

Live music is an instant thing, the feeling that it’s an event. A shared moment in time. I saw David Byrne at the Meltdown Festival recently...it felt like a privilege to be there. When I’m doing a gig and it’s going really well and the audience are really into it, that gets you more excited and the audience get more excited.


 

Like you give energy and the others give you energy back?

 

Yes, it’s a two-way thing, absolutely.


 

So the audience is important? Do you feel their presence?

 

Oh yes. When people are really into it, it’s amazing. Did you see when I was playing there and the couple started dancing? That’s brilliant, that’s great. That makes me think I’m doing something right.


 

You play concerts on stage as well. What do you think is different with the audience in the streets compared to the audience in a concert?

 

The great thing about busking is that you're on the street where people are walking past, and they are not obliged to like your music. So if someone stops to listen, then you kind of know that it's because they are digging what you do or because they think you are doing something interesting. Whereas when you are doing a live gig, you can have a situation where people have their arms folded, saying, “Impress me.” (laughs)

 

But it depends. You can have brilliant gigs, and you can have bad gigs; you can have brilliant days busking, and you can have terrible days.


 

As a street musician you perform alone, in a band you are part of a unit. What are the strong and the weak sides of both?

 

When the music is good in a band, you can’t beat it. Then it’s absolutely brilliant, the cameraderie. And of course to play big gigs you need a band. I will get a new band together eventually; I just wanted to get the album finished first. There are many positives to being in a band, but there are negatives as well, because it can be a nightmare trying to keep everyone organised. It feels a bit like spinning plates when you’re leading a band...maybe that’s just me. The advantage of being on your own is you’re in charge of your own destiny. However it does bring restrictions, I wouldn’t want to do a really big gig with just me alone on the stage, I would feel a bit lost. But with a band it’s amazing.


 

What are the bright and rewarding sides of busking; what is its special appeal?

 

The best part is seeing happy faces. I think busking adds a bit of colour to the pavements. You can see when people are walking past and you are doing a song that means a lot to them, they really start to shine. Landslide by Fleetwood Mac is a good example. People often tell me that's their favourite song. If you can make a difference to someone's day in a positive way, that’s the beauty of it.


 

And what are the less attractive sides of busking; what are its downsides?

 

It’s all dependent on the weather. And it’s usually the days when you really need to have a good long day busking, when it starts pouring down. (laughs)

 

There are very few downsides, to be honest. Most of the time it feels like I have the best job in the world. I’m very very lucky to be doing what I do. Before I got the license for the South Bank I was just going all over London and trying to play wherever I could, getting moved on every two minutes. At the end of that period I used to go to Exhibition Road in South Kensington, I found a great spot by the Natural History Museum, but the council actually banned me from playing anywhere in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. (laughs) They told me that if I came back again the residents had a council hotline number they could call, even if they just saw me through the window. Luckily within a week I got granted the South Bank licence. It took a long time and a lot of emails and calls to get an audition. Luckily when they saw me they said yes. (laughs)


 

Street musicians create the score of a city. London’s soundtrack is magical all over, but it’s especially beautiful here on the South Bank.

 

Yes, it's the best. The standard is very high and all the musicians are great friends.


 

So what is the most magical place in London for you?

 

It’s got to be here at the South Bank. I spend a lot of time between here and Denmark Street. Up and down through Soho, just wandering. I love London, it’s got everything. I love Columbia Road Flower Market in the east end, I used to live there and go busking on a Sunday.


 

Your favourite time of the year for busking?

 

It’s Christmas, definitely. I prefer it to the summer. If I'm busking I get the leggings on, layers of T-shirts and my gloves. (laughs) I love the atmosphere here at Christmas time, when you can smell the mulled wine, the dark evenings. It’s really nice when all the lights are on. It's my favourite time of the year.


 

The free open-air concerts offered by busking musicians seem to have a remarkable and astonishing impact on the overall atmosphere of an area….

 

Yes, I think so.


 

… and also on the mood of the passersby, as it seems. A sociological study proved that in areas where buskers regularly perform, crime rates tend to go down.

 

There you go! That’s good to know. I'm a superhero. (laughs)


 

What do you think does that say about the power of music in general?

 

It’s all good, absolutely. Good music always brings out the positive in people.


 

More generally speaking, what is music able to do with people, what is it able to give rise to in human beings?

 

Ah, so much. I think music is the one thing that can really bring people together. It's a very powerful medium, it can do many things.


 

Buskers play probably more gigs than any other musician. How do you keep the songs fresh, real and authentic every day?

 

When I’m playing, it’s straight from the heart and whatever mood I’m in that day affects the songs and makes them slightly different every time. There are so many variables down here, the slightest change in circumstances can make all the difference. Today was great, I was in such a good mood because I had just got the album finished. It’s constantly changing, and it never gets boring. I’ve sung these songs so many many times – Your Dreams Are Not Your Own, for example, I must have played that song about three thousand times by now but there are always new facets to be found.


 

For the audience in the streets the situation is different; for them it’s not a matter of too many repetitions but of too few. The songs street performing musicians play in the streets lack this radio-evoked recognition effect based on regular repetition, which attracts people and makes them feel emotionally ‘at home’. Is that the reason why many singer-songwriter buskers choose to mix their own songs with cover songs?

 

In a way yes. I love playing the covers, equally as much as I enjoy doing my own stuff. Every cover I do has some significance to me, you'd never hear me singing something I don’t really connect with. I would never do a song just to make money. It’s got to mean something to me, I think people would see right through me if it didn’t. They would see straight away that I wasn’t into it.


 

How do you make a cover your own?

 

You’ve just got to try to put yourself in the position of the writer. When you do a song as often as I do, you get right into the nitty gritty. Obviously you won’t get exactly what the original meaning was, but you reveal your own perception of it. I would only sing a song that I'd be able to put a bit of my heart and soul into.


 

What makes you happy, musically?

 

I love it when someone asks me who that song was by – and it was one of mine. That’s great.


 

And what makes you happy in general?

 

When I get my rent paid! (laughs) That’s always a nice moment. And sometimes I'll have a dream that I’m late for work – you know that feeling when you’re running late and you can’t get the time back, and you’re just rushing in? Waking up and remembering I'm the boss. That's great too.


 

Does that mean that music gives you freedom?

 

Yes, for me it does. There’s a famous quote: “If you find a job you like, you'll never work a day in your life.” I’m very lucky to be able to make a living doing what I love. Most of the time it doesn’t even feel like work, music. I’m very privileged.


 

What are your plans for the future?

 

For the moment I'll just try to spread the word about the album. We'll see!

 

 

© Birgit Benedikter 2015, photographs by Katja Grai

Interviews

I was interviewed on the Solaris Empire Lounge radio show on Alex-Berlin in October 2016. I'm on after the first song at 4.14.

I met up again with my good friend and journalist Birgit Benedikter at the end of last

year to discuss the making of Natural History and life in Berlin. Here's the full transcript:

“You just put your faith in destiny and answer when she calls”

Interview with Scott McMahon, Zurich, Park Hyatt, 03.12.2016

 

 

Amazing things have happened since we last met for an interview: you’re

performing at the Titan Summit; you’ve moved to Berlin; you have been invited to

take part in a musical talent show on TV and – most exciting of all – you have just

released your second album, and a third one shortly after! So where should we

start?

 

Yes, there have been quite a few things happening in the last couple of months…it's

been a busy time. (laughs)

 

The Titan Summit

Let’s start here in Zurich, with you performing at the Titan Summit, an

international conference for “top managers, ultra-achievers and world leaders”.

What’s the story behind this?

Last year in November it was raining non-stop and I couldn’t busk for days. The first

dry day – it was very windy – I went out and I was playing Landslide, when a man came

past, jogging. He stopped and stood listening as I was playing, there was nobody else

around. He listened for a few songs and we chatted in between. His name was Robin

Sharma, founder of the Titan Summit, a million-copy selling author and international

public motivational speaker, a very inspirational man. He invited me to play at his event

in Toronto a few weeks later, it was great. Then in January Robin's team got in touch

again asking if I would play at this year’s event in Zurich. And here I am.

Why do you think you have been invited to be part of an event mainly focusing on

inspiration and motivation?

I think I’m here to shed a different light on it. A lot of the summit has to do with business

and that kind of thing, trying to make you more productive and also a more positive

person. Obviously I couldn’t be any further removed from the big business side of things,

but Robin must think that I'm able to enhance the event in some way, that the music

would add a sort of extra dimension to it.

On his blog Robin Sharma writes, “I love music. Music makes life better. Add music

to an ordinary experience and it becomes extraordinary. Music can inspire you to

reach higher, dream bigger and get to the greatness you are meant to be.”

Did he say that?

Yes, and he goes on, “Rock Stars are poets. And musicians are artists, no different

from painters or poets. They document our culture, cause us to think, provoke us

and introduce us to new ideas … The best share wise insights through their songs

that inspire us to see the world through a new set of lenses and step out of the

ordinary – into the realm of the extraordinary…” And he asked you to perform

again this year...

He’s clearly a man of impeccable taste. (laughs)

But seriously, is there some truth in this? Do you think this is what musicians can

do? Open up new horizons for us and bring us closer to the essence of things, to the

extraordinary in life and within ourselves?

I’ve got a very good friend, Susana Silva, another busker. Her songs are very much about

empowerment. She told me one time, ‘With us being here on the South Bank singing to

people we have got a voice. It’s our duty to inspire and motivate them.’  When I was doing this new album I was actually feeling a bit guilty, thinking maybe the way I write is a bit selfish – I’m thinking mainly about my own situation and experiences, but hopefully people can connect to it. There are situations when people say that they find my songs inspirational. It does happen. But maybe I should make a bit more of an effort along those lines.

Maybe it’s less about making an effort but more just about being authentic and sincere? People then intuitively recognize feelings and universal truths and connect to them.

So I should stop worrying? (laughs)

One of the event’s mottos is “Shatter your limits, be legendary, make history”. Do you feel you have “shattered your limits” and would you aspire to “be legendary and make history”?

Be legendary, hmm. These are high hopes. (laughs) My little universe is very small. I’ve got a very small and very dedicated fan base. I don’t think my music has got mass appeal, to be honest. Of course I would love for my songs and my lyrics to speak to people. If people listened to the songs with an open mind and actually invested a bit of time in them I'm sure they could find something worthy in there. That would be great, really. For example, I’m a big fan of the band Rush. When you dig deep into their songs and get right into the lyrics, you discover whole new dimensions. It’s the same with The Smiths and Big Country, and all these other bands I always talk about – if you take the time to work out what they’re saying, I think there is really something to be gained from it. I think it really does make the songs better if you invest some time. But as I said before – that’s the thing about the way music is distributed now. Everything is so instant. When I was a teenager, music and access to music was in much shorter supply, and money was in such short supply that you couldn’t buy more than maybe one record a week, if that! And when an album of a band you liked was about to come out you were so excited. You would get it and then you would spend time with it and listen to it over and over and really get into the songs. I’m afraid this doesn’t happen so often anymore.

But do you feel you have shattered your own personal limits this year, with releasing the second album, and so fast on top of that?

In a way yes, maybe… When I was invited to go to Zurich I knew I had to make a new album, I didn't want to be shrugging my shoulders when anyone asked what I'd been up to. With the songs on Imperfectionist being the best of eight years, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it in a much shorter time. The Natural History album took eight months from scratch, and that isn’t much. I mean I had ideas, bits of music and stuff, but most of the songs were written during these last months. The big worry was that it wasn’t going to be as good as the first one as I was basically doing eight years' work in eight months. Obviously it’s not perfect, and there are things that could be better, but I’m very happy with it.

One of Robin Sharma’s books is called 'Who Will Cry When You Die?' Do you think it‘s very important to us all to lead a meaningful life and to leave love and a legacy behind?

Oh yes, I think so…

Is leaving a legacy especially important for an artist?

I don’t think there's much chance of me going down in the annals of history as an icon of music. (laughs) But don’t get me wrong – of course I would love for people to listen to my songs in the future. And I would love for people to pick up the guitar because they were inspired to by one of my songs, the way I was inspired to pick up the guitar after listening to Johnny Marr. Yes, that would be amazing.

Is it true that artists are searchers?

Yes.

What are you searching for?

Hm… mainly peace of mind. Yes, peace of mind.


 

Berlin

Let’s move on to Berlin. Last time we met you said you were reading a biography about David Bowie and his time in Berlin. Now you have moved there. Can this be a coincidence?

No, actually there is no coincidence at all. David Bowie was one of the major inspirations for me to move to Berlin. I could have made another album in London, but I don’t think it would have been as good. I’d been there for seven years, so it was time for a change. London has become so expensive during the last few years, I had to busk all the time just to pay the landlord, I wasn’t getting any time to write. When you’re out playing for five or six hours a day and you go home at night, the last thing you want to do is sit with your guitar and sing. All you want to do is have a shower and sit on the couch, because singing and playing is actually quite a physical job. So I had no time to write, but I knew I wanted to make a new album. Moving to Berlin was a real leap of faith, but it's turned out even better than I could have hoped.

Why Berlin? Is Berlin – next to London – developing into the new European musical capital? Many musicians and producers seem to be moving to Berlin. Why is this city so interesting, musically?

I think the thing about Berlin is…people call it the capital of re-invention. That’s a quote from a book about Berlin I’m reading at the moment. When I arrived I only had a tourist’s viewpoint of the place and had in mind all the stuff I had read, the stories about Berlin, but you only really get to know a place when you live there. And as I said, it has been a real leap of faith and I’m so glad I did it. It is a poorer city, and I’ve got to play twice as long to earn half as much as in London, but it’s such an amazing place to be. I think the main reason that so many creative people go to Berlin is that creativity is encouraged there and the people are so supportive. Of course it’s not always a bed of roses, but there is something about Berlin that makes it the nicest place for me to be and to do what I do.

Next to the “capital of re-invention”, which sounds interesting, Berlin is also known as “the city of angels”. I think there’s no way we can talk about Berlin without mentioning Wim Wenders’ art films 'Wings of Desire' and 'Far Away So Close'.

Of course not. I watched Wings of Desire again recently.

The film is about angels walking around Berlin and listening to people’s thoughts and feelings, fears and desires. And by putting their hands on people’s shoulders, the angels lift them up, reassure and comfort them.

Yes, that’s a beautiful idea.

Do you believe in angels?

Actually, yes, I do. I definitely think that there is someone keeping an eye on us. I also think they have a bit of a laugh at my expense from time to time. (laughs) But the thing is, when you are in a difficult situation and you think things are really tough, you realise in the future that it was all part of the process and it had to be done – that’s kind of magic. I think you have to put faith in destiny and trust in life. There have been quite a few situations in my life where there must have been a helping hand on my shoulder.

Angels remind us of a spiritual connectedness. Do you think music can remind us of this connectedness as well and is also able to comfort people and lift them up just like the angels in Wim Wenders’ film?

Yeah, definitely. There’s no better feeling than great music. It makes you change perspective in seconds and sheds light on things. And, talking of my music, when you see people appreciate what you do, when I’m out playing and people like it, it’s just amazing, it’s a fantastic feeling. I think the world would be a better place if more people thought along those lines and really listened to music.

 


 

Talent Show

You were invited to participate in a famous TV talent show programme. You turned the offer down. Why?

Well they contacted me and they asked if I’d like to be part of their show. And I said no, I wouldn't, because I don’t think that’s what music is about. Those shows are about making money, about making a quick buck. Getting people to phone in, to vote and vote, the song released at the perfect time to make it Christmas number one. Very cynical. And they've butchered some wonderful songs. Leonard Cohen wrote Hallelujah, but Jeff Buckley’s version is the most commonly known, and they absolutely minced it. I thought it was an absolute disgrace. And there’s no way on Earth I'd ever be a part of that. I think these shows are using music purely for financial reasons and I think that’s just completely wrong, I really do. My Mum was raging that I said no, she thought it would be a great opportunity to get my name out there. But I explained to her that I'm not searching for fortune and fame at all costs - it’s about music, as simple as that. I’ve had other similar opportunities, another TV show asked me and I told them no as well. The possibility of doing it would just never enter my head.

Your song Talent Show seems to ironically reflect this critical attitude of yours towards TV talent shows.

Yes, it kind of puts it in a nutshell. There’s a reason for the weird high-pitched singing: the vocals are all auto-tuned, not a little - I mean a hundred percent. Auto-Tune gets used liberally in today's pop music, sometimes more subtly than others. I wanted it to be over the top and obvious, so I dialled it up to 100% and put in that ridiculous long note at the end. The vision of the song I had in my head was of someone that actually sang like that, that that was their natural voice. As the lyrics in the song say, 'I’m in the queue for the Talent Show, oh yeah', thousands are in the queue. 'Me and my new friends', people that have just met in the queue, all smiles and 'oh you're amazing'. But secretly - 'I've seen the others and I know I'm gonna be a star.' The guy has done his homework, and he knows exactly what the judges are looking for. Like an equation. They don't hold originality in high regard on these shows. 'I’m singing about love in a great big shiny car'. The best line on the whole album is in that song - 'I’ve got a hard luck story that would make a statue cry'. I still laugh about that, that's a good one. My tongue is in my cheek on Talent Show but at the same time I mean everything I say.


 

Natural History

Talent Show leads us straight to your new album Natural History. Congratulations, it sounds great!

Thank you!

You picked the CD copies up today. Is it a comparably sensational feeling as it was last year, when you held your first solo album Imperfectionist in your hands?

It’s different. With the Imperfectionist album there was no time limit on it, so when it was done I knew it was more or less as good as I could get it. It took two months to record, but the songs were all already written and I'd played them all about a million times, so it was only a case of getting them down. But with the new album I had a deadline. So this time it’s a great feeling because I got it finished in time. I certainly put the hours in. Every waking moment basically, when I was out and about, if I was sitting on a train or walking to a shop, I would have the songs in my head. A lot of the time quite literally, with my headphones on. (laughs) Yes, those songs have been a constant soundtrack these last few months.

Is it true that the second album is the most difficult one? Musicians tend to say that …

Yes, that was another thing that I was thinking about as well. I mean I know that the album is not perfect, but it has turned out better than I thought it would, and that’s great. If it hadn't been as good as Imperfectionist it would have been understandable with the time difference – but not acceptable. When I first started to write, it was a real struggle. I was trying too hard, and it took a long time for the first words to appear and a long time till the first song was completely down on paper. Throughout almost the whole process the album was going to open with a song called The Curve of the Ocean. My friend Comis – he's Charlie Chaplin on the South Bank – had insisted I read a poem called Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy and write about it, it's amazing. But I spent so long working on it I just got totally fed up with it and binned it completely. (laughs) Eventually things started to develop and take shape, things magically started to appear and flow, and I got the album finished.

Musicians often rely on bandmates and producers to give them advice and help them to develop their musical ideas. As a singer-songwriter you do everything by yourself. Is there somebody, family or friends, who you trust musically and whose opinion is important to you?

Oh yes, my Dad. He’s the real sound board. It’s really important for me what he thinks, I trust him. I stopped sending him songs towards the end, because if he thought they were bad, they were bad. (laughs) And I needed to get it finished. There’s a saying, an old Dutch proverb, ‘The builder that follows everyone’s advice builds a crooked house.’ I’m actually very easily swayed. If someone, even flippantly, makes a comment, it goes straight into my head. Every one. So I always keep that saying in mind. So yes, my Dad is very important. With The Last Thing On Your Mind, for example, the intro was a lot longer until he pointed that out. It actually had completely different lyrics, it was called Caravan. I wrote it about my great friends Winston and Nizha and their band Dead Sea Caravan, but when I played it to them they felt it was a bit 'Gouda', so again, straight into my head and that was the end of that! (laughs) And then there’s my Mum, of course. My Mum is the nicest person on Earth. She loves everything I send her. Which can be reassuring. (laughs)

Hellfire is quite an unusual and rocky opener for the album…

Yes, I started to realise that there was quite a lot of sentimental stuff on the album, so I thought it would be good to open up with a real kick-ass belter, (laughs) something quite angry, to kind of set a tone before all the sad stuff came in. There’s a space in between the first album and the second one, before anyone hears anything new. I thought people might be (understandably) expecting Imperfectionist Part Two. That’s why I found it interesting to put the Talent Show song on the website as a taster before the album because it’s not really my usual style. I thought it would be good to surprise people. It’s quite a camp song. My wee brother pulled me up on it, with all that high-pitched singing. All the more reason to make Hellfire the first song on the album. It's the first song people hear when they go to the Bandcamp page. A good way of saying that I’ve not gone totally camp. That's the KISS influence. (laughs)

As you say there is a wide range of musical styles on your album, like rock in Hellfire, jazz in I’m Not Dancing Anymore, swing in Teach Me, electronic music in What Goes Up, Must Come Down, pop in Mr Sunshine, and so on… Every song seems a musical surprise. Living, as you said, in “the capital of re-invention”, did you want to re-invent yourself musically?

As I mentioned before, I didn’t want to come up with Imperfectionist Part Two so I guess I made a bit of an effort in that regard. There’s a lot of singer-songwriter stuff on the album, of course, but I’m also interested in electronic music, I'd like to make a completely electronic album at some point. What Goes Up, Must Come Down is a bit of a step in that direction. There are quite a lot of musical ideas in my head. I like to try something new from time to time. When I started making the album I ended up with 24 songs, without lyrics, before I'd written a word. I had grand plans to make a concept album called Helicopters, I was in a bit of a Who phase and was listening to a lot of Tommy. As time went on I realised I should concentrate on 10 and get them as close to perfect as possible. The story was good though, maybe that's another thing I can come back to some day.

Yet, there is a kind of a red thread holding all the songs together as a unity. What is it that binds everything together, what is the distinguishing feature of your songs and music?

Hmm. This is a very good question. Hmm. I think it must be because of the singing. If you take the song Good News for example, it’s a million miles away from What Goes Up, Must Come Down but somehow they still fit together. So it must be the singing that connects everything.

Your voice is definitely a strong characteristic, but I think it’s also the way you play the guitar and arrange guitar riffs that individualizes your music.

I’m delighted you say that. That’s maybe just from doing it for so long. Johnny Marr from The Smiths said when he first started to play the guitar, he would hear a song on the radio and he would try to play the whole thing on the guitar, the bass, the chords, the strings. And as I've mentioned he was a massive influence. When I'm out playing, just me and the guitar, you’ve got to fill up the sound, you’ve got to make it as big as you can. Like in a song such as The Last Thing On Your Mind, or Quiet Time, I'm doing the bass notes with my thumb and the fiddly bits with my fingers, almost sounding like two guitars. That’s very much a Johnny Marr thing. The way I play the guitar evolved over quite a long period of time. It does take time to develop your own style. My Dad had a guitar and this little guitar book, and I taught myself the basics from that. I’m a much better guitar player now. And my voice, that’s taken years as well. I listened to a tape the other day of the first band that I was in, and the singing is not great. (laughs)

In contrast to some of your songs that seem to speak about difficult situations and old scars, Mr Sunshine with its catchy melody and uplifting lyrics sounds very positive. Have you found out, as the lyrics say, “how to turn the darkness into the dawn”?

Yeah… It seems so. I hope so. There are still ghosts that appear from time to time, but I think it’s getting better. Life is great at the moment and good times are ahead. Mr Sunshine is a song that works on a lot of levels. The main reason for writing it was that I was listening through the album and I thought it was getting a bit dark. There’s a lot of dark stuff on the album, and it was a way of balancing things out. So yes, it’s a song about positivity.

Are there any other songs on the album you would like to comment on and share some thoughts about?

I would love nothing more than to sit and to explain in every detail what I meant when I wrote them. But, as I mentioned last time, I think it’s better to leave that to other people, to their interpretation. Their interpretation often is better than mine, but let me think. The story behind Teach Me is quite interesting. All the other songs on the album took a lot of writing to get them finished but the Teach Me song was written in one night. It was really just a couple of hours from scratch, from not even having a guitar part or anything beforehand. My friend Pascal was over visiting from London and at the end of one night we ended up in the courtyard of this old 1930's venue called Ballhaus Berlin. We got talking to a couple of Charleston girls, who explained that there was absolutely no chance we'd get in because of the dress code. After a drunken discussion with the bouncers we nipped round the corner to my flat and came back in suits. The bouncers were all smiles and waved us straight in, they wouldn't even let us pay! The Charleston girls couldn't believe we'd made it in. That was the best nightclub night I'd had in years, great fun. The music was all old-fashioned, like Anything Goes, that amazing swing music. It was only a couple of days later that the Teach Me song just miraculously appeared.

Which song do you consider your best?

It changes from day to day. The song I play the most busking is The Last Thing On Your Mind. What’s the best? I like them all for different reasons. I really like Hellfire. I like the way it builds and builds and builds. It starts off just with the guitar, and then it ends up with loads of guitars, violins, backing vocals. I like the way it evolves, the screaming guitar solo. I think maybe Hellfire is the best song on the album, but I don’t play it when I’m out busking. It’s the same as with The Sea and the Sky. I think that's the best song I've ever written. I never play it when I’m busking, or at least very rarely. I can do it just with the guitar, but it’s not as good as when it’s got the drums and Hammond organ and all the big guitars, but that's not the main reason. I like to keep that song special, to preserve it in a way, so when I hear it it’s a kind of surprise. I was in a car recently, a friend was giving me a lift, and he put the Imperfectionist album on. And when The Sea and The Sky came on, I was thinking ‘Yeah, that’s great', because I don't hear it very often. If you hear a song over and over it’s not as good as when you have not heard it for a while. So the Hellfire song is going to be the equivalent of that for this album.

The title of the album is “Natural History”. Why?

It’s 'Natural History' because when I first started to busk, it was next to the Natural History Museum in London. And now the flat that I’m in, where I live in Berlin, is just around the corner from Naturkundemuseum Station. And also, I thought if I called it ‘Natural History’ I could get my picture taken next to the dinosaur bones and look really young. (laughs) The pictures of the bones inside the cover are like the posters inside the station, I see them every morning when I'm waiting for my train into town.

On Facebook you published a playlist of favourite songs you listened to while working on your album. During the process of creation, is listening to other people’s music still inspiring, or does it more like interfere with your own musical ideas?

That’s another good question. Most of the time I was listening to the songs from the album, trying to get them done. But from time to time I'd listen to other music. I love that playlist, it’s great. I would recommend anybody to listen to it. When I listen back now I can hear bits of influence, nothing dramatic, nothing you would say that’s been taken from that. But there are bits where you can hear they point in a certain direction. There’s a song in the playlist called Transparent Day. That was round about the time when I was working on Mr Sunshine. It doesn’t sound like anything like it, but you can see what I mean when you hear the atmosphere of the song. It’s by The West Coast Pop Art Band, from the sixties. And in What Goes Up, Must Come Down there’s a lot of The The influence. There’s a lot of heavy atmosphere in that song. It's got a kind of darkness about it, a real undertone. Have you heard Good Morning Beautiful? It’s amazing, from the album Mindbomb, fantastic. A big influence.


 

Open and Shut Case

Let’s briefly discuss your third album, Open and Shut Case, an acoustic album, which you surprisingly published only two weeks after Natural History on Bandcamp.

Yes, it’s very rough and it’s very raw… I’ve got a friend, who said of Imperfectionist, ‘Your album is good, but it sounds quite overproduced...however I could listen to just you and your guitar all day long.’ I've heard that a few times to be honest. So I thought, Well… It didn’t actually take very long. I made the decision to do it at half ten in the morning and I put it up on Bandcamp at eleven o’clock that same night. It was done in a day. I wanted it to be rough and raw. I thought that was quite a good contrast to the Natural History album taking so long. Again, it’s not perfect, but it is what it is.

Is the acoustic version of a song always its original version, with additional instruments and musical arrangements being added later?

Actually no. It’s often actually back to front. The Last Thing On Your Mind is a perfect example of that. When that was written it started off with that funny drumbeat, that funny off-beat. The song was structured around that beat. It was only when it was completely finished that I was able to actually play it and sing it with the guitar.


 

YouTube

You’re also successful with cover songs. It seems in fact that you are turning into a YouTube star! Your U2 cover of One has exceeded 100,000 clicks, with thousands of clicks being added every week.

I’m really happy that so many people like it. And it’s a really wonderful song. Thanks Bono.

I read a comment stating that your version was the best besides U2s original version. What do you think makes your performance special?

I really don’t know. I’m just lucky that it seems to please people. Actually the way I play the music is a bit different. I can’t play it the way U2 play it. My version has a kind of swing about it, whereas with the original there’s this characteristic straight beat. I think the way they do it is so much better than the way I do. (laughs) But maybe it’s because it’s a bit different, that's why people like it. I’m not playing it this way because I think it’s better, I’d love to be able to play it the way U2 do it, but I just can’t. I’m delighted that people like it, but there’s a lot of things about my version of One that I am unhappy with. There’s one killer note that I can't get in the key I play it in, if I could just get that note… (plays the song)

Do you think that YouTube presence is important for musicians these days?

Yes, I think so. I should make more of an effort with that. I need to make some videos, I need to have some proper videos.

Which song would you choose for your first video? Is there a song that already evokes images and pictures in you?

Maybe Teach Me. I would love to make a video. It’s obviously going to be a low-budget operation, so it’s got to be clever, like Michel Gondry clever. But there is no better place in the world to be inspired than Berlin. There was a day when I was thinking I could make a video at the Bundestag U-Bahn, it's a brand new station. There are only three stops on that line. The day I went there it was deserted. I was quite inspired, I set up my phone to record and did a few dance moves. (laughs) And then there’s another place in the Mall of Berlin, next to Potsdamer Platz. There are some merry-go-round horses hanging from the ceiling, and when you walk through, it looks as if the horses are spinning. If I went by filming on a skateboard, the horses would seem like they were flying… Berlin is full of places like that. Very inspiring.


 

Plans and dreams

Are there any plans you would like to share?

Next year I’m going to be promoting the album, lots of gigs. I’m looking forward to that. In terms of a new album I want to remix all the Drama Drama songs I wrote with my friend Suzi when I first got to London. Those songs really deserve to be heard. We wrote some great stuff, some of the best for sure.

Any dreams, wishes, hopes?

I hope that Britain doesn’t leave the single market, so that I don’t get “Brexited” out of Berlin. Crazy stuff. If I leave Berlin, I want to go by choice, I don’t want to be forced to leave. And I’d like to go back to America. I’d like to play in America.

Anything can happen anytime…

Yes, and anything does happen anytime! As the song goes, 'you just put your faith in destiny and answer when she calls…' The rest is magic.

© Birgit Benedikter 2016, photographs by Katja Grai

© 2017 Scott McMahon Music