Mr Fogg

Steven Morgan 14/09/2009

GIITTV's Steven Morgan caught up with Mr Fogg, at the Truck festival he's just finished recording his album with Valgeir Sigurðsson.

Are you having a good time at Truck 12?

The good thing about playing festivals is that you play to people who don't necessarily know anything about your music. Especially at one like Truck, where people aren't attracted by big names, so they're open minded. If you're playing a gig under your own name, the kind of people that go along have heard of you already. And I came to the first ever Truck festival, so it's good to come back and see how it's grown.

Any particular other festival you'd particularly like to play?

Coming from near Reading, playing Reading Festival was quite a big deal. A completely different audience to here, a lot younger and a lot more chart orientated, but still looking for new sounds.

What sort of bills do you end up on?

I make electronic music but I try not to limit myself to only playing with other electronic acts. The most important thing is the songs, so I try not to play too much to the electronic thing.

I'm putting on a show at a hundred-year-old cinema in Oxford in September, which allows me to choose who I play with and have a bit more control over things than I would usually. The idea is to do something a bit different to the average gig in a pub or club. I like the idea of a performance being a moment that won't be repeated again, so as well as my set I'm going to be doing a live collaboration with a great group of improvising musicians called Braindead Collective.

Have you done a lot of collaborating with other musicians?

I played Secret Garden Party a couple of years ago just accompanied by a string quartet, busking around the site, which got a really good reaction. We played in one of the chill-out tents, in the campsite.. all over the place. I've also done an a cappella choral version of Stung with all the beats stripped away. I like the idea of different versions of tracks - as long as the original song is good you can use a radically different arrangement and he result will still be good. At the moment I'm working on an arrangement of Keep Your Teeth Sharp with the Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, which is sounding great.

What instrument do you tend to start writing behind?

Keyboard generally as I do most of my writing on computer. I build the track up bit by bit and do the lyrics and vocals as the very last part. I record as I write, so I might just start with a verse, finish the instrumentation for that section even to the extent of string arrangements, drums or whatever before I think about writing the chorus. Piecing it together is the difficult bit.

What made you decide which of your songs to record for the album?

When I started writing songs for Mr Fogg three and a half years ago, I didn't really know what I was doing and I just kept writing and writing. I wrote about 50 or 60 songs during that period that I had to choose from when I made my album. The problem with that is that if I'd just chosen my favourites there wouldn't be much cohesion on the record. As time went on I was starting to fix an idea of which songs would make it and where they'd fit in, and the last six months was writing for specific purposes. For example. I wrote "Answerphone" specifically to be the last song on the album. I knew that I wanted an ending, a definite full stop, and there was no song already suitable.

Did you find that writing approach natural?

I did actually. A lot of the time song-writing is hard work, where you have a little idea and you work at it and work at it, because you can't be inspired all the time. That last song just came together very quickly though. I think I'd been subconsciously preparing myself to write that song, and when I made myself physically do it, it just poured out. That's not always the case mind you...

How much influence did Valgeir Sigurðsson have over your sound when recording the album?

I had fairly complete demos of everything, so the whole album had already been recorded in one form or another, but there was definitely a world of difference between the demos and the finished record. I would say Valgeir's biggest influence on the final record was his approach to mixing - a lot of engineers will follow almost set rules of where instruments need to be in the mix, but Valgeir will put things in unexpected places, which means you end up with more space to play with. We also replaced a lot of the computerised sounds from the demos with real synths to give it more of an organic, three dimensional kind of sound.

What's your opinion of the shift in power regarding the way people get their music?

Recording is so cheap, and distribution is so democratised that it's within every musician's capabilities to release a record - you can record almost anything and upload it yourself. That means we don't have to accept so much what the major labels tell us what we should like but, at the same time, with no filter there's no guarantee of quality. There are a lot of songs that should never have been released out there at the moment. And even if it costs next to nothing to release your record on iTunes, there's no guarantee anybody's going to buy it, because when it comes to marketing there are still haves and have-nots. But it's a really exciting time at the moment. Major labels are finding it increasingly hard to turn a profit on new music and at this rate eventually they will have to stop investing in new music and focus entirely on back catalogue. Somebody is going to have to come up with a completely new solution - and nobody knows what it is yet.

So are you full time into this project now?

Yeah, I don't think there's any point being half-hearted about it. You've got to put everything you've got into it and hopefully you'll be rewarded by doing so. And anyway, I can't imagine doing anything else."

Mr Fogg plays The Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford on September 17th, with Braindead Collective and Tarik Beshir. Tickets available from