Now here’s a fine fellow I’m excited to share with you. Yes, he’s written a book, which is awesome, but I’M keen to share him with you because of his creativity with music. If you’ve visited my blog before, you know how important music is to my writing, so to speak with a songwriter is a great honor, indeed!
Let’s start with an introduction first, shall we? Give us a bit about who you are and what you do.
When will all the pieces come together? And if I don’t like the picture am I stuck with it forever?a line from a song I wrote when starting out.
The words stayed with me. Kept me honest. A mantra for the inspiration self-doubt hands out in shedloads when it feels like it.
Who am I? Since finishing uni with and against all odds, a BA (Hons) 1st in Music Technology I’ve gone by the alter ego ‘Zoolon’ but generally when people call me ‘George’ they get a response. I’m a singer/songwriter and sound artist without an ego, preferring art above glory; composition over crowds. On balance I prefer animals to humans and am wary of men in suits. I’m colour-blind and dyslexic. I work alone, writing lyrics, composing melody, performing and producing all my own stuff.
Having gone the generic teenage route of live gigging playing lead guitar in an average band and figuring out it wasn’t for me as the politics of people were a thing I could do without, I eventually decided to invent a version of me that could make a music career without going through the rituals of just performance. Hence the birth of ‘Zoolon’ a couple of years back.
The key stat that made me look at the music industry differently was reading that 1% of artists draw in over 90% of the available income. That means most musicians, however exceptionally talented they might be, haven’t got a chance. I just knew I had to take a different path. I’m not there yet, but two years into the ‘Zoolon’ project I’m still in business; I’m doing OK. Just.
I like to vary the genres I work in from things as far apart as classical music at one end of the scale to heavy metal at the other and in between, ambient, acoustic, folk, alternative and experimental.
Growing up I’d never realized that I was dyslexic and colour-blind until the day came when some professional bloke at great cost to my parents confirmed it. That they were the reasons I could barely read or write and that I only saw things as black, grey or white. It’s interesting being told you are something you never knew you were.
My audience is anyone who’ll listen in. In terms of completion of the Zoolon project I hope that one day I’ll be writing the score for a blockbuster movie.
Now you’ve been studying music a long time. Which instrument started this quest for you, and did you begin composing on this same instrument?
I was about 8-9 years old when my parents gave me my first guitar. They’d forgotten I was left-handed so the one I got was regular version. I remember feeling a bit bad about telling them they’d bought the wrong thing so I taught myself how to play right-handed. I still play right-handed.
I eventually upgraded to better guitars but remember I did write my first song, ‘The Universe Has Forgotten Me’ – a stereotypical teenage angst number – but wish I could forget. I cringe every time I think about it. I still have that first guitar. It’s bad luck to get rid of the first one.
Your first album, Dream Rescuer, is actually something of a story told in music. What inspired this project within you, and can you describe your creative process to make it?
At uni I composed two concept albums, ‘Cosa Nostra’ that was a sound art composition using captured sound and electronic music, and ‘Liquid Truth’, an album themed on Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. I never released either as they were both in demo form and I’ve never got around to remaking them. As for ‘Dream Rescuer’ – Zoolon’s first album – I had to start somewhere so I put together a collection of songs that each had its own meaning. From that album there are the two songs that have had the most plays out of all my work so far. ‘Sunlight & The Dust’, a protest song regarding how much the world would suffer when farmers and thoughtless gardeners have killed off the bees, and ‘Rexie Believes in Magic’, a take on being lost and finding yourself again. There was no specific creative process. I just let the songs arrive in their own time. Luckily for me, they did just that.
Now your website Zoolon Hub often shares posts where you share poems that may or may not become a song, but I don’t recall you often having this “issue,” if you will, in reverse. Do you find that the lyrics come more readily than, say, the instrumental themes?
Because I have a short span of attention I find it easier if I try to vary the stuff I put on the blog, throwing in some pics I’ve taken, plus random story words and rhyming verses mainly, although sometimes structured ones, plus pieces of music I’ve created and/or that of well-known artists I like. Foster the People; Coldplay; The Villagers; Paul Simon; Randy Newman; Metallica; Lola Marsh; Within Temptation; Lana; Marina; Aurora and so many others.
You’re right though, I do put up quite a lot of simple verse type stuff on the blog from time to time, well before any melody has even been thought about. Mostly, I go for melody before words but can do it either way. Inspiration for instrumental music comes from whatever mood I’m in when I’m on a roll – especially the electronic classical numbers, like ‘The Forgotten Daughter of Zeus’ and ‘Barbed Wire’.
A good example of exactly how I work are the two numbers I wrote for the album ‘The Pigeons Are Switzerland’ about the life and death of Francesca Woodman a photographic artist from the States who topped herself aged 22 in 1981. They probably reveal a lot about me and the way I write my music. I can’t claim I discovered this artist myself. I got introduced to Francesca’s work by another blogger who writes words better than mine and most others. Dark words and great metaphors you have to think about. Also, she certainly knows her art.
Anyway, what I found amazing about Francesca was that she was her own muse. She did what she did without the assistance of any others. A massive portfolio in black and white portraying/capturing, at least that’s how I see them, reflective statements, moods and emotions in a surreal way. My work also is something where I don’t involve others. My end result is often the same as hers, just that it’s spoken through a different artistic genre. Maybe that’s why I’m hooked on her work. Some people don’t get it when I say, ‘I hunt alone’. I can’t help it.
I wrote the blog words for the vocal track, ‘Francesca’ well before I turned it into a song. Once I had a melody in my head I used just the selected words from the original I needed for the song that might match Francesca’s mindset leading up to her death.
I like having verses in the closet but rarely stick to them when composing. Also, my love of instrumentals meant I just had to cover her final moments in music and try to do her proud with that ‘freedom at last’ track, ‘Eastside 1981’. If you listen, at the very end you’ll hear the gentle whispering of disturbed air as she took a leap of no faith.
Like a lot of artists her work only made the big time after her death. A shame.
That’s basically how I work.
I’ve often thought that the composer’s choosing of instruments is akin to a writer choosing the right voices to tell a story…unless, of course, the music chooses its instruments for you. I’ve had that happen, too, where the characters come to me with their stories rather than me hunting them down. What factors are in play when you select the instruments for a song?
That’s a hard question. I think I can only answer it by providing a list. My mood; gut feeling; influences of other artists (whether I’m conscious of it or not); writing with a bespoke purpose in mind; testing my limits; trying to please; and the random thoughts of the scatterbrain I am.
You’ve received some awesome top-notch ratings for your work. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Certainly and in some ways surprisingly, being featured in the February 2019 Lifoti Magazine improved my stats for a while and having a number of songs curated has helped the Zoolon brand get ‘known’ out there, although certainly not ‘well-known’ yet, plus it’s helped to get my work selected for custom-made playlists as well as things like music for mobile apps, retail outlets and stuff like that. Being UK No. 1 and in the Global top 10 for two months earlier this year on ReverbNation has helped spread the word. I’ve got some good potential irons in fires that may come to fruition soon. A year ago I had none of these things.
I imagine that the marketing strategies of an indie musician can be very similar to that of an indie writer. What do you to keep your discography visible on social media?
Not enough. I’m driven to make music, not driven to make marketing strategy. I glaze over at the word ‘marketing’. It’s stupid but honestly it’s the truth. It’s a musician thing I think. On social media I go through the motions best as I can. WP is OK as it’s one to one contact most often, but Instagram and Facebook are soulless. Twitter is what it is. It’s not as useless as some people say. Twitter has done well for me.
Word of mouth seems more powerful to me than social media where everyone is competing for the self-same thing – selling music. I probably need a full-time manager, but they generally wear suits!
I love how your songs carry a wide variety of feeling: some have a touch of melancholy, others tension; some anger, others hope. Sooo I don’t really have a question on this, but I’d love for you to comment on the emotional drive for your music. Hmmm, I suppose you could say I’m asking this: Does the emotion come first to inspire the song, or does the song help build these emotions inside you?
I never know how a song’s emotion will evolve. Creativity never lets on how and if she’s on my side on any given day. I just have to live in hope she turns up in a good mood. When she turns up bored senseless more often than not I produce work that ends up getting trashed. A good day to me is one where I get so involved in what I’m doing that I forget to eat and drink. I try to get out for breakfast most days just in case I’ll be starving myself without realizing it for the rest of the day and well into the night.
On your site you offer to turn a writer’s poem into a song. That’s such a cool service! What inspired you to do this? Do you find it a challenge to create around someone else’s creation?
Working a project for other artists whether they are poets who want their poems turned to song, or other musicians who want something they can’t do themselves is great. Just knowing what the brief is seems to take the pressure away – unlike composing my own stuff from scratch.
The poem to song thing seemed like a good idea; a sensible thing to add to my WP website. At Zoolon’s WP special rate of just £100 across the board I’m saving the writer of the words probably £2500+ when compared with the alternative of hiring a whole load of others from musicians, singers and sound engineers, plus studio time. The only reason I can do it so cheaply is that I do everything myself. Also, the customer gets the copyright for the finished article. I have a number of satisfied customers out there but could do with a few more. I enjoy creating for others. It’s a warm glow feeling.
Lastly, do you want to share any updates about your current works in progress?
In January just gone I released the instrumental album ‘The Forgotten Daughter of Zeus’ and had planned a new acoustic set of songs for later this year. The new collection was, so I thought, progressing really well. An early release was on the cards. Then it hit me that the title track was a bit special and overshadowed the rest. Others have also confirmed that I might be onto something good with this one.
Because of that a later release of the whole set is now more likely as I need to rethink where I am and where I want to be with the other songs. In many ways this is a good thing. Quality means everything. I’d like to say more at this time but for now all I’ll say is that for the title track I’ve done something entirely different to anything I’ve done before. More on that on my blog in due course.
If you’re curious about my own thoughts on music, feel free to visit my collection of “Writer’s Music” posts. You can also read the results of that inspirational music in my novel and free fiction, available on this site as well as on Amazon.
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!