Andy Bull : the Waxx Lyrical Interview
ANDY BULL is an incredibly articulate man. Just like his music, a conversation with him typically promises to be funny, honest and captivating. His 2014 magnum opus Sea Of Approval is our Record Of The Month and was an absolute no-brainer when we realised it had never received a vinyl pressing. We entertained the idea, Andy was into it, his label was into it and the rest is history. Our man Ben Preece jumped on the phone to discuss all things music, records and, of course, Sea Of Approval.
BP: Hey Andy, how are you? What's happening?
AB: Hey amigo. I’m alright man. I guess, if you mean in general, then like the rest of the world I’ve just been trying to go day by day in the middle of this COVID business and all the rest. More specifically though, I’m drinking a cup of tea.
BP: Congrats on nabbing our coveted Record of The Month spot for the month, is it genuinely an exciting time to see your crazy-amazing album finally on vinyl for the first time ever?
AB: Genuinely very exciting, yes. I always meant for this record to be on vinyl - the songs, the sequence, was all intended for this format. There was always a Side A and a Side B. There’s a development, or narrative maybe there in the music that always I imagined in the context of a vinyl listening experience. Even when I made the cover art I thought about it in terms of how it would look on a full size LP. So, yeah, with all that in mind, it’s really exciting, maybe even fulfilling is the word actually, to have it pressed on wax.
BP: Does vinyl actually mean much to you?
AB: Well, you know, when I first started trying to write music, one of my brothers had a turntable that he used to sample records, which he would let me use when he wasn't in. Being a teenager, I mean, I didn’t really have a collection myself, but I had a couple of records that meant the world to me. In particular I had Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind and Innervisions and I would just sit and listen to those records and have this incredible experience; like a very physical, visceral experience. Vinyl was the perfect way to have those moments - not only for the sonic qualities, but the ritual of making time for it, of dropping the needle, of sitting before the speakers and listening through the albums in their entirety
- going on the whole journey, of feeling like you were right inside the music itself. I remember getting chills, or even having my eyes well up, for instance, listening to the full length “Superwoman” on Music of My Mind. I guess in one way or another many of us, well certainly me at least, spend our lives trying to find moments that feel as strongly as those. Those are precious, precious memories now.
BP: Amazing! Our record club members are receiving their records this week, as we speak, does it excite you to think that there might be people hearing you for the first time?
AB: It’s wild to me. I guess this is a bit of a fantasy but, you know, I hope this might find its way into the hands of somebody for whom it becomes a new favourite record.
BP: Last time we saw you, you were sitting in a car in the video for the album's final single "Nothing Is Wrong", aside from touring the country for your own sold out shows and Laneway, what have you been up to?
AB: Well, in terms of music, I’ve been making a lot of music in one way or another. I’ve done a lot of different things, but it’s mostly been for other people’s projects. I was involved in making music for a kids show that won a couple of Emmys in the US even. I think that I’m ready now to be "the artist" again.
BP: Hark back to the making of the album - if I remember rightly, you had recorded 'Talk Too Much' with a band and then undertook majority of the rest on your own, somewhat stumbling upon 'Keep On Running'. At the time, it struck me sincerely as as a beautiful synergy and time of experimentation and new life from there. What was that time like for you?
AB: That was a really potent time. I was at a point in my life where I felt like I needed to feel freedom and self-possession, to establish and pursue my values, and maybe to start living my own life, as opposed to the life somebody else wanted or expected me to live, in a creative sense, if not a personal one.
BP: At what point did you realise you might just have something truly special on your hands?
AB: There are two moments that come to mind. Right at the start of everything, I recorded 'Keep On Running' and 'Talk Too Much'. 'Talk Too Much' took me a few weeks to work out - I was right at the beginning trying to work out what I wanted to do and how to do it, how was I going to incorporate all these sounds and ideas that I had been thinking about, and moreover: now that I had the freedom that I had wanted, what was I actually going to do with it. Half the time I was beating up on myself, like, "oh man, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, maybe I’m not cut out to produce my own record after all"... something about making sense of what felt like infinite choices to make was overwhelming... and the other half of the time I was having all these really exciting creative breakthroughs where it felt like everything was possible.
But, yes, so I finished 'Talk Too Much' over the course of several weeks and then following that, 'Keep On Running' sprang out in a day and half. I felt like I’d plugged into the source, man. It felt like I didn’t even have to think, something else was doing it, it was all so easy - I just watched the whole thing come to life in front of me. Every step was obvious. I was laughing to myself as I did it, because it seemed so funny how perfectly it all landed. I’ve only had that kind of experience a couple of times in my life.
Around that time, a couple of bands I was friendly with were on tour, and they stopped by to visit me working in the studio. The two songs weren’t mixed but they had all the vocals, all the instrumentation. I played everybody both songs and I could sense, you know how you can sense it, you don’t even have to look at people’s faces; I could sense a reaction; that there was sudden energy in the air behind me where everybody was standing, this music was causing an actual, genuine response.
You know, you get accustomed to ambivalence from people when you write music. But, this was really different. Something about this combination of words and sounds was causing a positive, immediate physical reaction, and not just in me, but in my friends. They liked it without even having to think about it. I felt like I could have launched into space, honestly. I felt like the world and I were both on the same page at last. I think that’s when I decided for certain that I was going to try making a full album.
BP: Those songs really were a bolt of lightning. But I'm also keen to know, what is the one moment on the record that you love personally that might slip by everyone else?
AB: The opening track, which is called 'Just One Expression, Just One Line' starts as a slow burner, and might seem strange at first, opening as it does with the white noise generator from my Juno-6, then my studio door banging… but really it’s one of my favourites, it’s like drifting in and out of a daydream. I hope people sit with that one.
BP: Andy, nothing else sounds like you here on Sea Of Approval, can you remember what you were listening to at the time?
AB: Yes, I think I do… from memory my high rotation consisted of Bowie's Low, Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, which had just come out, Japan's Exorcising Ghosts and Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle, Dirty Projectors' Swing Low Magellan, Metronomy's The English Riviera, Shuggie Otis' Inspiration Information, and Mac Demarco 2 and James Blake's Overgrown, both of which came out when I was working on the album, I believe.
BP: Such an incredible list of personal favourites for me too. I caught your Instagram story last week and it was great watching and seeing some career highlights you were posting - performance and production, etc. What are you particularly fond / proud of that showreel?
AB: When I was making the record, it felt like I had a whole lot of different conversations taking place in my head- what do I do with the lyrics in this song, how do I do the drum sound in that one, is that kick pattern right, does this song mean what I want it to mean, what am I going to put in the instrumental section in this spot, does that thing over here sound too much like that thing over there, is this one too slow, and always how can I simplify all of this.... and so on. I get pushed to maximum capacity just handling the details, because there’s nobody else around to do it and because I find I’m very particular about things. It pains me until everything works together. In the end you just go “I have no more capacity to decide, so I’m stopping here, and I hope this is it”. Over time, I forgot all of those conversations that literally kept me up at night. Those invisible checklists were long gone. When I put up that show reel together, I was, and not to blow my own horn, and I’m not comparing myself to other people or other records - I felt really impressed by the level of detail, the boldness and uniqueness of every element, the unconventional aspects of it, the scope of the album, the harmony of it all working together, and this unifying feeling that ran throughout. If it was somebody else’s album, I think I would have felt in awe, like “how did they do all that?”. Sorry perhaps that sounds like a conceited thing to say, but I’m not pretending like it was easy. Nothing was phoned in. I felt intimidated by my own body of work! And then, I put up some other highlights from other records and I realised, oh man, it’s always like that. Every record, every song, feels like an exercise in making order out of chaos... Sorry, I’m aware that’s such an over-the-top description of something fairly trivial. People are going to think I take myself very seriously - in actuality I really don’t, but every time I take on a creative project, it feels like some kind of lesson. I keep saying to myself “can we just skip the lesson this time, can we just knock something out quickly and easily please?”.
BP: I've always marvelled at the utterly hilarious anecdotes your career seems to organically sprout - you've tales of Kanye West crashing your studio session, you were chosen to help on a kids show playing The Beatles music, you supported Joss Stone early in your career at huge arena, and so on. Have you a favourite tale that you love to tell?
AB: This is hard! Uh, I mean, things like the Kanye experience are surreal. I think I’ve had a couple of life affirming interactions with some people I really look up to. And, you know, heaps of totally, totally absurd experiences. But, really, favourite tales are hard. I will say though, and, I hope this doesn’t come across to you as too earnest or whatever, but making this record that we’re talking about - Sea Of Approval - for whatever it’s worth or not to other people in the world; it was really, along with my relationship, the making of me as a man. I felt like I really, properly, interfaced with the rules of life while making it. It was, at that point, the most difficult single endeavour I’d ever undertaken, but the most rewarding. Things don’t always work out like that, you know. Life really tests you, but you don’t always wind up with much to show for it when the dust settles. In this case, though, it changed the possibilities of my life, and I think, I hope, made me a more empathetic, useful person. I hope everybody can find their own way to have a similar experience.
BP: A little birdy told us you're working on new material - will this be a new album?
AB: Uh, ha, yes.
BP: You're being coy! What's the scoop? How has your music/sound/style/writing progressed since Sea of Approval?
AB: After I finished Sea Of Approval, I said: “I never want to spend so much time on my own again”. But inevitably, that’s how it works out still much of the time. But, having proven to myself whatever I had to prove about going it alone, I try now to involve others a bit more or at least make as many opportunities as possible for creative accidents to occur. I still find the creative process to be something I can’t really ‘game’ or cheat at.
BP: Given your very different life changes these days, when do you find time to write music and what does your current music-making space look like?
AB: I have a small room that’s part of a bigger studio complex. For a long time, to be honest, I think I thought of a studio as a battle ground. You’re fighting the clock, or noise coming through the wall, or a blank page. But my little room now is more like the TARDIS, it looks like a broom closet, but you step in and it feels strangely roomy inside. It’s still a work in progress, but it feels like a little sanctuary, and I take care to make it feel like a calm, happy place even on frustrating days. I also share it with friend, and being part of larger studio complex is great, because I get to have a lot of chats with people who come and go – which, you know, no surprise, I quite like to do - and there’s a beautiful live room with pianos I can sit down and play.
BP: You appear so effortless with your art and creation, what are the non-negotiables for you when making it?
AB: Final cut! That’s non-negotiable. Other than that I think I’m very open really, but I just really, definitely don’t like feeling as though I’m just “generating content” as instructed by the environment around me without understanding why or what it is I am doing. That’s a pretty big challenge in itself. As far as effortless creation - well, at the crucial moments, it is effortless perhaps, but it really does take a lot of effort to set up those effortless moments.
BP: What's the greatest slice of advice you'll carry for good and take into making your new stuff?
AB: I asked my beautiful old dad once, on his birthday I think, what his one big bit of life advice would be, expecting him to say, like “know thyself” or something, but he just smiled and shrugged with his palms up. And he was a wonderful, intelligent man, so it really wasn’t for a lack of things to say that he said nothing. I believe I did actually understand what he was trying to convey, though. It was a shrug of “everything and nothing”. It may have been the birthday wine, but it was kind of an unintentionally Zen exchange.
Andy Bull's Sea Of Approval is exclusively available now autographed and on clear vinyl via our Waxx Lyrical Record Club. See more info HERE.