ARTIST NAME: Dan Sumner

 

SONG TITLE: Electric Light

 

RELEASE DATE: 8th May 2020

 

GENRE: Indie Folk/ Alt/ Folk/ Rock/ Blues/Alternative

 

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Electric Light is the first single from the upcoming album by Brighton singer-songwriter, Dan Sumner. The track blends electric guitars, strings, horns, electronic beats, and field recordings into a rich, textured soundscape that bristles with energy. It was recorded in Dan’s studio in Brighton as well as The Tape Room, Brighton and features trumpeter, Jon Atwood and cellist, Alexa Warnes.

 

The song was partly inspired by a trip to Iceland and the title of a Seamus Heaney poem and is “a search for hope in a chaotic and unpredictable world.”.  Dan adds “I started to write the song after visiting Reykjavík. I felt so moved and energized by the vast landscape that surrounded the city that was both hostile and beautiful and wanted to try to capture a sense of it and the effect it had on me.”

 

Dan Sumner grew up immersed in music with his father, aunts, and uncles all folk musicians and picked up the guitar aged 11, playing in rock bands throughout his teens and later the London singer-songwriter circuit. His first release was the Songs for the Doomsday Vault EP with his band, The Dan Sumner Quartet, whose single Sing me a lullaby featured on the Big Chill Label’s Busking for Solaraid album.

 

Following the breakup of his band and in search of brighter skies, Dan moved away from London to the south of Spain where he discovered not just a language, but a new culture and a new musical palette. He credits this period as being very formative for himself and his music and was where he wrote many of the songs for his first solo EP, The way we did.

 

The Way We Did was recorded in a barn in Kent during a week-long snowstorm with whatever was to hand; including empty beer bottles and an electric drill and saw Dan experimenting with different rhythms and arrangements. A second DIY EP, Old Haunts, followed shortly after; described as containing “delicate, chiming arrangements” and compared to “the more fragile retreats of Richard Thompson” and “the salty seaside sting of British Sea Power” (Wow Kent Magazine). Following the release of the EP, he toured the UK solo and with his band supporting the likes of the late Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention) with memorable performances on Irish TV and the Ayala Show.

 

In 2017 Dan released his debut album, Storm on an Island. Recorded between Battersea Park Studios and Brighton’s Metway Studios by Toby May (The Levellers) and featuring bassist and drummer brothers, Joe and John Sam (Incognito), the album showcased a rockier more bluesy sound and contained a live version of One World by one of Dan’s major influences, John Martyn. Many of the songs on Storm on an Island are of a political nature, including The Rising Tide which tackles the refugee crisis and the rise of right-wing rhetoric in the media. Dan has also performed at events throughout his career that aim to raise awareness of social and environmental issues, such as Make Some Noise for Tibet and Busking for Solar Aid at the Big Chill festival and helps to host an annual festival, Festival of Hope to raise awareness of the ongoing refugee crisis.

 

Dan Sumner is set to release his second full-length album in 2020. ‘Ebb and Flow’ contains a more introspective collection of songs, compared to 2017’s politically charged Storm on an Island, which centers around themes closer to home. Musically the record is more expansive and soundscaped, incorporating string arrangements, layers of guitars, and a mixture of live drums and electronic beats and showcases Dan’s evolution as a songwriter and arranger.

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Go on at length on what it takes to write a song from the start to the end.

There are different ways I write songs. There are times when I feel something intensely and have to express it and feel compelled to write about it. In those instances, songs can be quick to write – I once wrote the lyrics to a song on a ten -minute train journey. However, that’s rare and most of the time it’s a much more drawn-out process of adding and editing and so on.

 

Sometimes I just think of a phrase or verse and later come back to it. I might just have the title or theme of a song floating in my head for a while until I get the chance to expand on it.

 

 

In terms of how I get started, I might be playing the guitar (nearly always the guitar) and find a hook or pattern I like, and lyrics start to emerge. However, more and more often I’ll write the lyrics first on a pad or my phone while I’m on a train or a bus or just have a spare moment (which is harder to find these days). I might also have a melody in my head and record it roughly on my phone. Then later, sometimes weeks or months later, I’ll pick up the guitar and start trying to write music for the lyrics and will develop the song from there. That process is sometimes very quick and easy, and I can almost have the full song within an hour, but other times the song is there in the background and doesn’t get finished till years later. That’s happened many times

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Elaborate on the gain and loss of being a musician/artist.

The main gain for me is having a creative outlet. I started to write songs before I could really play an instrument and it’s always been at the heart of what music is to me.

 

Writing an idea and then being able to develop that and see it turn into a finished song is immensely satisfying and I really hope I’ll always be able to do that because it brings me a lot of pleasure.

 

Playing live is something I also really enjoy. When a gig goes well, and people are into it, there is a kind of euphoria, a ‘buzz’ which can’t be replicated in any other way, at least that I’ve experienced. I’ve been through periods of my life when I haven’t played live, and I’ve really missed that. I’d also say the connection you feel when playing with other people. When things click on stage or in a rehearsal, it’s really exhilarating.

 

The loss is the time you must spend on all the other stuff that has nothing to do with making music – what is bound up in the music industry, all the self-promotion, trying to get your music heard, etc. There’s also the crippling self-doubt, but I will leave that cheery subject to another day.

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Tell us how you connect people with your music.

The usual stuff; social media, press, radio play, etc. Recently social media has become more exciting with the livestreams that are going on. It certainly doesn’t replace live gigs in the traditional sense, but it does feel you can connect with audiences in a different way, and in some ways,  it feels more interactive, which I didn’t expect.

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Mention your greatest song up to date.

My greatest song is the one I’m writing now. It has to be, right?

 

I suppose the two songs which have endured the most and have particular significance and also people mention more often are Watch You From Afar and Cutting Down The Elm Tree.

 

I wrote Watch you From Afar when I was 17 on that 10-minute train journey after falling in love in the way only 17-year-olds do.

 

Cutting Down The Elm Tree was much more longwinded and it took me 7 to 8 years after coming up with the title to write it. I never feel completely satisfied with something – there’s always something I’d change, but with that song, I felt that at least lyrically I got close to expressing what I wanted to express.

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Tell us what you hate most about the music business.

There’s nothing I hate about it. It’s a necessary evil if you want your music to be heard. The business side has never been more in the hands of the artists than it is now, which is great on many levels, but it means a lot of time is spent on it which could be spent on making music.

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Discuss how you monitor your digital distribution and streaming.

I use AWAL as a distributor and they have useful in-house tools to do this, as does Spotify for Artists and Feature FM, which I’m currently using.

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State the obstacles that a new artist can face as a starter.

It’s probably easier than ever to get your music out there with all the platforms that now exist to host music and all the third-party distributors that exist to get it there, but as a result, the internet is saturated with bands and artists, and it is very challenging to stand out in that sea of music.

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Tell us how you will tutor a new artist in the music business.

I think I’d say stick to doing the music you love and try to enjoy it because that’s what you got into this for and tell them I must remind myself of that on a regular basis.

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Explain how you record songs.

I record a lot in my home studio, but there are parts such as tracking drums and recording strings which I’ll usually do in a studio, because of the expertise and equipment it requires. I normally use a studio called The Tape Room in Brighton that is run by a brilliant engineer called Matt Sewell-Rutter, as well as other local studios like The Leveller’s Metway studios, which is another nice one. I’ll usually sketch out an arrangement and then track drums first and then build from there.

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Discuss digital and analog recording.

When I started experimenting with recording it was on an old Tascam reel to reel – which was old technology at the time, but it’s what my mate’s dad had used in the 70s/80s and had given him, so it’s what we used.

 

Later at college, I learned on pretty much all digital recording equipment and carried on with that, partly because it’s much easier – not that many people have the space in their home studio set up for a proper reel to reel tape machine.

 

Recently though I got inspired by watching a short film about Olly Knights from Turin Brakes recording his solo album on a half-inch 8 track reel to reel machine. It’s something I feel excited about experimenting with again and it would feel like I’ve gone full circle. There’s something about analog gear, which is timeless and restrictive, in a good way, which has been written about by people much more knowledgeable than me. One of those people is Eric James who’s mastered my last two albums using predominantly analog equipment and who literally write the book on analog mastering.

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Tell us your opinion on adding effects to vocals.

It depends on the genre obviously and the effect you’re going for. I’m no purist about these things. If it works, go for it. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with effects on vocals, putting them through bitcrusher, etc. Think about Prince’s If I Was Your Girlfriend, a recording I absolutely love. He was one of the first people to experiment with speeding up and slowing down vocals in that way and it sounds amazing.

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Tell us how you eradicate noise in your recording.

By trying to set up equipment as well as possible, but there is some noise you can’t avoid and that’s where a good mix engineer comes in. There’s also noise you might want to exacerbate to create an atmosphere.

 

Nowadays there is an obsession with a ‘clean’ sound, but some of my favourite recordings have a lot of noise in the background that adds character. Generally, though; setting everything up carefully and using the right equipment.

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Describe the theme of your lyrics.

They cover all kinds of themes. On my last album, I had love songs, a murder ballad, a song about bankers. It’s all in there! However, even when I write about politics or other serious topics, it’s hard to get rid of the ‘me’ in the song, and songs are inevitably partly autobiographical, even if you don’t intend them to be.

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Tell us if you consider singing about politics or injustice rather than love stories.

This is something I’ve always done. I grew up listening to singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, and Bob Marley and was really drawn to what they had to say as well as their music, so it’s something that comes naturally.

 

My last album had several political songs, especially about the refugee crisis and the rise of right-wing rhetoric in the media that I felt compelled to write about because it was on my mind a lot and was something I care about. It is important not to sound preachy about something though and that’s something I’m wary of. I try to write about issues like this from my perspective and how they’ve impacted me.

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Discuss the registration of your songs with your Performing Rights Organization.

I register the songs with PRS and MCPS just before I send them to my distributor.

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Discuss how you distribute your music.

I use AWAL as a distributor and I’ve used them for years. They’ve always been very helpful and efficient, and I don’t have any complaints.

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Discuss how you cope with the crowd on the stage.

I’ve always felt nervous, particularly just before the gig and it’s that classic contradiction of really wanting to do something and at the same time thinking why the hell am I doing this to myself, but when I’m actually on stage, as long as the sound is ok, I really enjoy performing, and there is obviously a part of me (quite a big part) which enjoys the attention, and there is no better feeling than when a crowd is enjoying what you’re doing.

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Elaborate on your artist’s name and the title of the album.

The title of my new single is Electric Light, which I took from the title of a collection of poems by Seamus Heaney. The album will be called Ebb and Flow and is taken from one of the lyrics of a song on it. I’m still finishing the album, but the title represents a central theme on the album that nothing is static, everything is in flux.

 

My artist’s name is simple; it’s my name. Not very original, but I guess I’m stuck with it now.

 


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