You Kiss By The Book is the shambling, endearing, pared down musical project of Simon Dowling. Having enlisted the micro-scene equivalent of a supergroup (featuring those for whom The Terribles and I Heart The Monster Hero are the regular gig, among others), Simon recorded an album of winning simplicity live at his house. The result is Bear Leader, a limited edition vinyl released with a free CD enclosed, available at Road Records. The album’s on Hefty Horse records, an imprint that will be familiar to those who’ve attended the gigs Simon has put on in Anseo, upstairs in Whelans and elsewhere.
You Kiss By The Book – Stones and Stones You Kiss By The Book – Hands On Water
Q 0.5 How are you?
Q1 Nowadays, when everybody has a decent computer and gear is more available, it’s much easier for anyone to make music and have it heard quickly – does the bedroom music explosion devalue music at all by making it so easy to do?
No, not at all. Just because recording equipment is cheap and readily available, does not mean the actual music is easier to write. It gives every musician a chance to get their music out there.
Q2 Is downloading a good thing? Does the fact that it’s possible to get so much music so easily and for free make it more disposable at all?
I think downloading music is only a bad thing when people take the piss. Everything in moderation. Although it is very easy to get caught in the downloading trap and become too overwhelmed with new albums. Generally when I download something I like I tend to go out and buy it or at least support the band by going to gigs and I hope that is how most people think.
For me, my downloaded music is more disposable than say my CD or record collection because if I lost all my MP3s it would not be very hard to replace them and I do not care much for the sound quality of MP3s. It is not the fact the music is easily obtainable and free, but the format itself that makes it so disposable.
Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is it intentional?
Apart from mispronouncing the odd th- word, I don’t think so. I do not intentionally try to make my music Irish, it is what it is. A lot of my lyrics use American state and town names. I think they sound better in songs, I have never been able to fit Dublin or Grafton Street well enough into a song. I did spend a few years living in California and I do find my surroundings and general life experience influence my writing, even if it is not intentional.
I have been listening to a lot more Scottish music lately and its funny how most of the bands sing in a Scottish accent, they sing how they speak.
Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from your music and look at it objectively?
I am not really sure. I never know if the songs I write are any good or not. Sometimes I will write a song and know that it is a step forward or a step above previous songs I have written and I know when something is really bad. But for all the songs in the middle, I find it hard to tell if they are actually good or not. I think as long as I like the songs then I am on the right track. I would not like to be at a point in life where I am writing music I dislike for the sake of other people.
Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are you a part of one?
There is a Dublin scene somewhere out there, but it seems scattered and detached from anything. There seems to be little pockets of bands all over the place with some sort of crossover and interaction. And there are a lot of side projects and musicians playing in multiple bands. I often go see an Irish band play and recognise one of the band members from another band, which is not such an odd thing until you realise half the audience are doing the same thing or are trying to place what band(s) everyone else in the room is in.
I started a little promotions company called Hefty Horse a few years back and that has really opened my eyes up to new bands and in a way I feel I have forged some sort of a scene. Greg O’Brien, from the Hollows and At Last An Atlas, was a really big help and still is today and it was through him I met a bunch of other people. I just searched around on MySpace for bands I liked and booked them, I found bands I (and back then probably most people) had never heard of like The Ambience Affair, The Holy Roman Army and Drunken Boat and gave them a gig. It all just built from there. More recently a collective called Popical Island has popped up and they are doing a great thing.
Sorry, I went off on a bit of a rant there but yeah there is a scene and many scenes within themselves.
Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.
History. I really like events in time and situations that happened before I ever existed.
Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from the beginning to the finished article.
I guess I will choose the last song I finished which is titled ‘There is only one train out of town and I missed it’. Me and my friend Angelo were hanging out in the living room in my house and I was plucking away on a Spanish guitar. I found a nice little chord progression and made up an entire song on the spot, something I do all the time. The lyrics about a railroad at the end of town stuck with me and the song manifested itself in my head for the most of the day. Before I went to bed that night I took my laptop out and recorded as much of the song that I could remember. The next day I listened back to the song and gave the chords a structure. I had the idea that the song was set in an old American country town and there was a railway station in the town which was the central meeting point and focus point. With a melody in my head I wrote a few verses and choruses in a notebook. Once I had most of the words down I put a final structure on the song and finished off the lyrics.
For me every song has its own way of being written. Sometimes I sit around for hours on end inventing new songs and melodies, some of which may form an actual song, others may never be heard again. Sometimes I will be listening to a song and I will make up my own lyrics with the melody from the song, again I may write these down and use them in an original song or they might just exist in that moment. I do not have a set song writing pattern, for me songs seem to write themselves a lot of the time. I can build layers of music in my head which no one will ever hear and sometimes I can sit down with the intent of writing a song. Lyrics just seem to pop into my head.
Q8 Has music criticism ever influenced your music, or at least made you think about it differently? I mean proper reviews, but also blogs or even just hearing someone you don’t know talk about you.
I have never had a proper review but we have just released a new album so this is something I might have to deal with soon. A part of me wants to send the album out to everyone and get it reviewed but at the same time this is a very scary thought. I am afraid of getting bad reviews. I know I should not be writing music to please other people and I am happy to sit at home and sing songs that no one else will ever hear but like most people I do dream of getting discovered as a band or getting rave reviews and recognition.
I have had some mentions in a few blogs and heard people talking about my music and it definitely affects me. I take what people say quite personally and to heart. It is hard not to be affected by it, whether it is a positive or a negative review/remark. Maybe in time I will learn to deal with critics better.
Q9 Have you ever felt guilty for trying to get other people to take an interest in your music, if you aren’t making the effort with new music yourself?
I always feel guilty asking people to go along to my gigs, especially if its more than a fiver on the door. I find I am always asking the same people along to gigs, but that is the only way for new bands to build an audience. It is hard for promoters to book bands with no pull so I always group text/email/facebook people about my gigs but have to constantly apologise for the cover charge on the door.
I try and support the Irish scene as best I can. I mainly do this with the gigs I run and I try get out to see local bands play. Being Mr. Hefty Horse I usually get loads of records for free, so I do feel bad asking people to buy my record when they have given me theirs for free. At the same time you can’t feel bad about the perks of the job.
Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music, either as a listener or in how you go about writing/recording/performing?
I have never really thought about it before. To be honest I don’t really know how to answer that. I usually write music on an acoustic guitar and keep it very simple, so I guess you could consider that a traditional way of writing music.
I do love traditional songs, songs that no one knows who wrote but that everyone has heard. Those are the kind of songs I would like to be writing. When people hear the song they already know it, music with a sense of nostalgia and familiarity.
Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?
At this very moment Smog and Kimya Dawson. I usually listen to one album over and over on repeat and obsess over bands from month to month. I was on a huge Owen Pallett kick with the release of his new album but in the last week I have moved over to Sparklehorse after hearing the sad news about Mark Linkous.
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