Raymond Westland puts the questions to Skyclad front-man and producer, turned solo artist, Kevin Ridley. They talk about his new solo album “Flying In The Face Of Logic”, how the album came about and the inspirations behind the songs, as well as much, much more…
Your first solo effort is about to see the light of day. Are you relieved that it’s finally seeing the light of day after five years of work? How’s the feedback coming along?
Yes, it’s taken over five years but at last it’s out there and I’m glad to say that the reaction has generally been very positive – especially from the ‘metal’ press. Obviously, as this is not a ‘metal’ album I wasn’t sure how it would be received by the rock/metal people on the one hand but also by any folk people on the other. I think it’s difficult when there’s a lot of cross over of genres and you could get lost in the middle, so to speak. So it’s been great to see good reviews from the rock press and more general music press.
You’re mostly known as the vocalist and producer for Skyclad, so why the craving to release your own solo album? Is this the start of a solo career besides Skyclad?
I’m not sure there was much of a ‘craving’ to do a solo project but I think around the time Skyclad recorded ‘A Semblance Of Normality’ (ASON) – between 2002/4 – I was on a fairly productive streak in terms of writing, so perhaps there was more of a desire to record more music but also to do more gigs. Moreover, as Skyclad had decided to concentrate on being more ‘metal’ I think there was space for me to continue with the ‘unplugged’ or ‘Irish pub’ vibe we had up till ‘No Daylights…’ album (Skyclad’s ‘unplugged album’). So while I hope it is indeed the start of a ‘solo career’ I have to add that this album should be seen as music ‘in addition to’ and not ‘instead of’ Skyclad.
Flying In The Face Of Logic is a very enjoyable mixture of acoustic folk songs and more uptempo folk-rock material with a slight melancholic undertone. Did you have any sort of grand scheme on how the album would turn out?
There was no grand scheme here (I find that these things tend to fall apart in my hands) but I did have an interest in pursuing both the themes and relationships from ASON days. This meant a further examination of ‘roots’ and identity (more local as opposed to national) and using Northumbrian pipes and other ‘folk’ instruments as well as the studios and engineers etc.
Point Of Departure seems to have this Peter Gabriel/early Genesis vibe to it. What do you think of this?
I think it’s very flattering to be mentioned in such esteemed company. I’m a fan of both Peter Gabriel and early Genesis though I think I had more of an ‘afro-celts’ vibe going through my head with this track. I’ve been very keen to link percussion loops with acoustic guitar for some years now – I also did it with ‘Which Is Why’ (which is why I re-mixed that track for my album). I think it’s the pad synths that add a sense of space that do it with POD, another device I’m fond of.
From what I’ve heard the album was written over a five year period. Can you give a summery of how the material came together in that time?
Well, the initial writing for the bulk of the album happened fairly quickly and this was interesting in that I started off most of the songs with the ‘folky tunes’ (as we say in Skyclad) and a lot of these were done on mandolin; which gave me a different perspective on the tracks. However, after I’d completed the initial demos I found that it was difficult to transfer the files to the studio because I had stored them using different file formats and equipment etc and things were put on the back burner for a while. I eventually got all this sorted and even had some new songs, which were added later and in 2009 I went out to Italy to mix the album. This wasn’t the end of the story, however, as I still had to sort out all the label stuff and the artwork and then there were some ‘bonus’ tracks to do. All this took another year or so until we could finally sort out a release date – and stick to it. While all this was frustrating, it meant that I could rearrange the songs back to how I originally planned the album – this included ‘The Linton Flyer’ and ‘Knotwork’ to break up the songs – but with the new tracks added that I think really strengthen the album.
The lyrics on the album are very personal and they have a lot to do with your native Northumberland. Can you shed some light on the themes and topics which your lyrics deal with?
To be honest, I’m not sure how ‘deeply personal’ they are, I think some writers could be much more visceral and searching but I didn’t want this to be a ‘dark’ or ‘bitter’ album. I think maybe I have taken a more tongue-in-cheek approach and have been a bit cheeky in places without actually revealing too much. Although it was still a fairly ‘cathartic experience’, as solo albums can be. The subtitle to the album is ‘life, love and growing up in North-East England’ and that pretty much covers the themes here though ‘Angel of Harlow Green’ is largely about municipal art and ‘Dance Till Tomorrow’ is about regional government and ‘Eat The Sun’ is as about ‘you are what you eat’ and the obesity epidemic. So there is a range of topics here apart from the obvious, ‘there was this girl and ‘when I was a lad’ type of song.
Back in the day you produced quite a lot of albums for other bands and artists, like Anathema, Venom and Skyclad of course, basically other people’s material. How was it like to produce your own material? How did you approach the whole recording process for Flying In The Face Of Logic?
My involvement with these artists varied, I have to say this; sometimes I was just engineering other times writing, singing and producing. All of which, however, helped me to learn about producing albums and one thing I like to do is give people enough room to do their job (if they’re good at their job). So for my album I recorded most of the parts myself, either at home or in ‘Blast’ (Global Music’s studio) and then let the engineers Dario (Mollo) and Thom (Lewis) record the rest of my parts and mix the album the way they like to work. At this stage my job is more about overseeing the process so that I can realise the project as I intended.
On the album there are contributions from a couple of high-end players of the English folk scene and your fellow Skyclad members contributed as well. What did they bring to the table in terms of music and atmosphere?
One of the reasons I asked the members of Skyclad for contributions was to stop people thinking that there was any ‘dissent’ or split in the band. In fact, the band couldn’t have been more supportive and we all do projects outside of Skyclad. I asked George to do a fiddle track (obviously) but I also asked Graham (Bean) to add some bass to one of the heavier songs and Steve to add a solo to a track – just to give that ‘Skyclad’ reference. But I mentioned I wanted to use Northumbrian pipes again and Andy May is a great musician to work with because he ‘gets it’ so quickly and can play all sorts of instruments. Finally, to give it that ‘folkestra feel’ and because I just wanted Skyclad members to contribute one piece, I used a few different fiddle players (like Sophy Ball) to track up the tunes. Arron Walton (Skyclad’s drummer) played on the whole album however because he also ‘gets it’ very quickly and is into acoustic/folk music as well.
Can you share some funny stories from your past recording experiences as a producer for other bands?
I honestly wish I could but I don’t seem to recall many funny stories – apart from the obvious people getting drunk and falling in the swimming pool sort of thing. Maybe it’s because it was some time ago now but all I tend to remember is being up against time and having to work ridiculously long hours – so maybe it just didn’t seem that funny to me. I mean, when we were in Providence (US) mixing Skyclad’s ‘Silent Whales’ album, I remember that we had to work all through the night (cheaper rates) and then try to sleep through the day and not only was it about -25c then but we were staying in a very rough loft where the pigeons were nesting and erm ‘courting’ all day. So there wasn’t a lot of sleep through that week, but I think we saw the funny side of it – eventually.
In your early days as a musician you started in playing local pubs. The material on Flying In The Face Of Logic seems to be tailor-made for an intimate pub-setting (with a pint of Guinness within reach). Are you going to perform in pubs again just like you did in the early days?
As I said, I wanted to continue with the ‘Irish-pub tour’ vibe and it’s nice that you have picked up on this and I do indeed plan to play some solo shows in ‘intimate pub-settings’. The big difference is that when I started out I had to play all cover versions and it tended to be in horrible social clubs (not nice), now I’ll be able to play my own material and, hopefully, have some fun. I’ll also use the full band for gigs as well, of course.
What’s next in your agenda when it comes down to performing, Skyclad and your job as producer?
Well next up is the Folkwoods Festival in Holland with Seth Lakeman and Martin Simpson and then I hope to do some gigs for my solo project. It’s all about trying to plan things to suit everyone but I think when I decided to do this album that there was room for me to do more live work.
Any final thoughts or remarks?
It’s nice to some interviews in the UK (as well as Europe) but it’s also nice to do some interviews that might cross over into the more ‘folky’ areas of the business. Thank you.