About two months ago, I sat down with Jamie Downes, the creative lead behind the brilliant A Lonely Ghost Burning series, to talk about the compilations he’s been putting together and what the project is all about. You can read the first part of the interview here, or carry on to read the second half now!
If a band were to submit their single or track to you, what would it take to impress you and to get them on the compilation?
Well for a start, I don’t accept one-track singles. The idea of the compilations themselves is to give people a flavour of the full record, so it needs to be at least two tracks. It’s hard to put into words what my taste in music is, but the music I tend to fall for has very strong melody. If you take each collection by name, then the Alt-Melodies collection all has a lot of melody in it, and each Beautiful Songwriting entry has an essence of beauty to it. With the Oneiric Escapism, I guess that was more up in the air. I’ve only put out one volume of that so far, but it features quite a lot of different styles.
Something that has always grabbed my attention has been vocal tone, and I’ve always had a love of singers that have sounded distinctive. So while that’s not the only thing, that’s the most common thread that someone might notice in the music I feature.
Listening through the last Alt-Melodies compilation, that’s definitely something I picked up on. I’m very much like you, I tend to look for a really strong voice in the things I listen to, so it was great to pick up on that.
Oh really? That’s pretty cool to hear you say that!
Well I was looking back through some of the old ones, and I noticed bands like Creeper and Bad Ideas, and they’re bands that I’ve always thought have a really strong voice, both vocally and lyrically.
Definitely, and taking Creeper for example, their singer Will is amazing. I used to love Our Time Down Here, so that was how I found them. There’s just something about his voice really stands out, and I think I probably said something along the lines of ‘he’s got one of the most interesting voices in the British punk scene’ in the write-up, which is probably hyperbole, right?
No, I totally think that’s true! I mean, I’m a really big AFI fan, as is Will incidentally, so when I went to go and see Creeper, I noticed that Davey Havok has a big influence on the way he performs, even the way he holds his mic. However, even though there is that influence, his voice is still very distinct, and the live set is just incredible.
I haven’t seen them live yet, but I really want to. They’ve really exploded recently, and I’m keen to see what they do next.
Well, actually, in your compilations, there are quite a few bands who are getting to be quite big in their scenes now, which is not necessarily bizarre, because it shows you’ve got an eye from the future! Who do you think in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 will be the next ‘big band’?
It’s hard to say, because I don’t necessarily look at things that way, but there are certain bands that I have an inkling about, and I reckon they’ll be pretty popular with the listeners. However, by no means is that a prerequisite for me to feature them.
I would suggest that Varsity have been very popular with people. And once you start listening to the album, it’s one of those that you just want to stick on repeat as soon as it’s done, it’s a really strong record. I don’t really like picking out names, it feels mean, but personally, the two records I’ve listened to the most are Varsity and Leggy. They just have something — I can’t really put my finger on what, but the songs are just destined to be hits. It’s quite intangible to describe, but I suppose it’s a mix of the songwriting, the voice, the instrumentation and yeah, those two are the ones for me. I’ve not really answered the question though!
That’s alright — it’s a pretty tough question!
Haha, well last year, there was a band that I really wanted to feature and they had to change their name, they’re now called Hinds? I unfortunately didn’t manage to get in touch with them, but at the time, they had about 200 Facebook followers, and they now have a hell of a lot more and they’ve played sold-out shows in London. And they were one of the bands I thought would do very well when I contacted them. I suppose you could say that there are a fair few similarities between them and The Daddyo’s, who feature on Alt-Melodies Vol. 4. Some people may disagree, but yeah, I think there’s a similar sort of sound there and I think The Daddyo’s will do very well over here in the UK.
Do you try and pick a mix of artists from different countries and different areas?
That would be the ideal scenario, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4, every band is from North America, and that’s just how it happened this time. Ideally, there’d be an international mix, and there’d be male vocals, female vocals, but I’m not going to alter what I’m doing to fit in with that. If it turns out that way, then great, but if not, I’ll hope for the best next time.
Ultimately, you just want to put out a good record, it doesn’t really matter where it’s come from.
Exactly, and it’s good in terms of the publicity of the record if it does have artists from different countries, because then there’s a possibility for coverage in those countries, but if it doesn’t work out that way, it doesn’t and I’ve just got to get on with it.
One thing that I noticed listening through was that all of the compilations I listened to had a really nice flow to them. How do you pick that ordering?
Well, you’ve actually made my day completely there, because I do put a lot of effort into that! I’m often sat there for so, so long tweaking the ordering and thinking ‘well that should go there, this needs to go there’ and so on. Some have been really easy, and some tracks are really easy to place, but others take more thought. For example, the first volume of Oneiric Escapism is quite a quiet and thoughtful record, but there are some tracks that are a lot louder and a lot more full. I could have put those tracks near the start, but I didn’t want people to think that’s what the whole record was about. So that was the hardest one to order, and both of those tracks ended up much nearer the end. However, it’s absolutely fantastic to hear someone say what you’ve just said and to notice the ordering because I haven’t had that sort of feedback before!
Oh, well when it comes to mixtapes, I get really into getting the ordering right. I agonise for an hour, at least.
Same, and it really makes a difference to the feel of the whole record — I think, anyway.
I think it depends on the kind of music as well, as to what the best ordering is. For example, if you’ve got a good punk rock album, you want a banger at the front and a banger at the end, but not necessarily if you’re listening to a post-rock record.
Yeah, and with the Alt-Melodies, I always tried to make the first song something that’ll stick with you, and for me, it was important to make the last track something more mellow, but that’ll leave you with a good feeling, or that you’ll want to go back and listen to it all over again. Volume 1 ended with a song by a band called Summerhill, and that one perfectly sums that kind of idea up. Much of the vocal work is at the start of the song, but it finishes on an instrumental, and it really makes me want to go back and listen to the song all over again. And that’s what I’ve tried to do for all the compilations really — finish them with a track that really embodies that feeling.
I didn’t actually listen to that volume, but in all of the compilations I have listened to, I noticed that really came across. So I’ll ask you one of those bullshit questions now — at the time of this interview, Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 has just come out, but what will be coming up next in the series?
The general ordering has flitted between Alt-Melodies and Beautiful Songwriting, and then in February, I introduced Oneiric Escapism. So the next one will be Beautiful Songwriting, which I’m working on at the moment. What I’d like to do is increase the output, as I think a detriment to the project as a whole is that there can be too long between releases. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the music that I find, and if I haven’t got enough stuff, I haven’t got enough stuff. I’ve always said I’d rather delay a release than put something out that I didn’t truly believe in, so sometimes that means waiting. It might seem unprofessional from the outside, but I’m doing it for the right reasons and at the end of it all, I know I’ll have a much stronger release and I’ll be promoting the bands I really love at the time.
A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk