I'm going to spend the last part of the year somewhere near the foot of the Alps. The plan: drink wine, eat cheese, be merry.
2014 hasn't exactly been a roller coaster year like 2013. In fact, it's been pretty quiet. There have been some amazing one-off shows, intermingled with random writing and production sessions for the next album. The ebb and flow of the music industry is a pretty chaotic thing. One moment you don't have time to breathe the next you have weeks to contemplate the meaning of existence. I guess that's why some musicians are very destructive? Not me however, not bothered about destruction, only creativity and how to hold on to it.
What have I read, what have I learned, what have I proved to myself, that's what I want to know. Not about the random highs, but the necessary and sustained lows. Not about the chaos, but about the easy order of silence. Bloody 'ell I sound like a Vulcan. But no, seriously, my point is, I think 2014 has made me a better artist.
In September and October, I sat down and made a concerted effort to write songs for a commission at Manchester Central Library. In two months I managed to put together all the songs I needed from scratch and get them rehearsed and performed in a short space of time. Just thrashing out so many lyrical ideas, editing, setting them to music, getting them heard and approved etc, was a condensed and concise way to work and I have a batch of new songs to show for it.
You are probably thinking 'but isn't that what you do when you make an album?' The answer is 'hell no?' For me, album making is more of a dismantling process than a building one. Writing ideas that never get finished; starting songs with collaborators, which go back and forth for weeks and months; re drafting lyrics; reshaping arrangements and progressions etc etc. For me, album making seems to take years not months. Until finally, everyone involved is happy with the tracks and there is some kind of conclusion. As the only person involved from word, chord, and day one the process is exhausting. And on the back of that creative heap of fatigue, someone eventually decides to release the album. RESULT!
I wish things could always be as simple as the library project was. But at least now I am aware that such a focus is possible. That things can be condensed to their necessities in a way that stops them becoming abject.
That's my homage to a quiet year. It started off with a month long tour of Germany supporting Ryan Sheridan, during which the band and I played a sellout gig at a club called Mojo, Hamburg. Then I went off to Zimbabwe to perform with my band; I saw Paris by motorbike and at the end performed ahead of Jack White for a Miu Miu fashion show. In between all that, I've been thrashing out the next album, which may come out next year. I've blogged about all of this. But none of this is as valuable to me as what I learnt in 2014 about being an artist myself.
Amongst other things, I've been sitting in libraries reading almost every lyric Nick Cave has ever released, in his Complete Lyrics 1978-2013; I read Tracey Thorn's wonderful biography Bedsit Disco Queen; I've been listening to records that I haven't heard since I was a kid. I've been crafting songs at speed. 2014 has been a determinedly quiet and creative year of processing.