Northampton’s Counterpart are, according to their biography, “three gents with an insatiable appetite to record music and stick it on the internet (occasionally)”. Which is a good synopsis of the worldview of Jon Martin, Chris Hardwick, and Tim Smith. On the occasion of the release of wistful, 70s-style soft-pop EP ‘I Can’t Be Silent’ New Boots attempted to unravel a bit of the mystery to these talented folk. Jon Martin is your interviewee.
The group has been active since 2005, but can you tell us about the more recent history of the group.
Counterpart is essentially another extension or direction of my musical compositions for when I want to do something a little less “pop-driven”. The name ‘Counterpart’ has as you quite rightly pointed out been around since 2005 from when myself and my Counterpart Chris Hardwick first wrote and recorded an album when we were young lads. Ten years later in 2015 we wrote and released the This Accelerating Rate Of Change album, which is still available on Bandcamp [and due to be released on commercial streaming sites early this year]. This album received some great reviews and response and had airplay on national radio on the BBC Mark Forest show [a show that went out to all local BBC Radio listeners in the UK].
More recently we have acquired the addition of Tim Smith on the 2017 ‘EP#1’, and even more recently on the new EP titled ‘I Can’t Be Silent’. Throughout its history the group has been entirely a studio project.
How would you describe your sound?
60s, 70s, 80s, 90s-inspired alternative, and at some points progressive, pop rock. Classic albums-inspired, with a traditional “old school” method of songwriting and production.
Who are your main influences in music?
My influences vary from different styles of music that I release under various difference names. Under the Counterpart umbrella I would stick Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Mansun, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel and Steven Wilson to name a few.
What was the reaction like to ‘EP#1’?
Nobody listened to it. HAHAHAHAHA!…sorry no, I mean, those that did gave positive reviews. We were previously known for our 70s classic albums-inspired progressive pop rock. EP#1 was more of a pop-rock Americana/Tom Petty vibe. So those hardened Counterpart lovers probably found the transition hard. But yeah, we loved making it, and we aim to please ourselves first.
Tell us everything about this new EP, ‘I Can’t Be Silent’.
‘I Can’t Be Silent’ was written in February 2018 at the lovely Grange Farm studio in Norfolk. We’ve made a point over the last few years of annually visiting to write music. It seems to work pretty well for us, and didn’t disappoint on this occasion. Probably because we take many crates of Stella with us, and they have a hot tub. The EP was gradually recorded and mixed over the next six to eight months. Considering the fact that me and my wife welcomed our first child into this world in April, and had obvious dad responsibilities to attend to, the process of recording and mixing wasn’t too long. We recorded the EP at my Northampton studio, Stalkers Studio. The main concept of the lead track is around my struggles with tinnitus in my right ear! A concept perfectly depicted by my brother Joe [GoGo Loco mainman] in the EP artwork. We wanted the musical style to be a departure from the previous EP, in the sense of it being a more acoustic guitar-driven affair, rather than then Americana approach with distorted rock driven guitars of ‘EP#1’. The outcome kind of gives off more of my 90s Radiohead influence I guess, with Tim’s guitar providing the more classic flavours.
Why the decision to only record and not perform? Does the freedom from extra pressures play a part in such a decision?
Counterpart has always been a studio project right from the start. I guess it’s because I am a producer myself and having my own studio to play with I find it easy. I spend most of my time in recording studios, be it at Stalkers Studio or my home studio, so it gives me the luxury of not having to break the bank to book myself in. If I had my way I would spend my whole working day in the closed-off environment of a recording studio. That’s where I feel most at home. I do love playing live, and have had other outfits over the years to fulfil this. Most of my live work these days is either work for other artists or cover/function band work. I guess there is in part a freedom from the extra pressures of playing live. The initial thought after recording This Accelerating Rate of Change was that I needed around nine musicians to pull what was recorded off well! But I don’t have that excuse with this recent EP. That pressure of getting other musicians to perform what you’ve recorded on a record maybe. Or maybe it’s a laziness…….or a slight lack in confidence that I can take this one to the finish, knowing that in my older age I lose interest in projects quickly. Who knows? But as a songwriter there’s always that thought that you want as many people as possible to listen to your music, and by not playing live I am essentially limiting my audience somewhat.
Do you feel part of a wider scene in Northamptonshire? Or does the live exile keep you firmly “on the outside” as it were?
To an extent, I do feel like I am on the outside and that is solely down to my decision to not perform live. Since the demise of Presley Johnson there is no real outlet for me in any live scene in Northampton. But at the same time I’m working and recording with local artists all the time at Stalkers Studio so still feel like I am a part, and am contributing to a great musical town. You might catch me on the keys with local band The Keepers from time to time too!
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
Steven Wilson – To The Bone
What is your burning desire for the group to do in the future? What plans do you have?
I know the whole point of this project is and was not to play live. But I’d love to take this out and perform it live at some point, there’s always that desire there! A new EP will be once again written and record this year. One of our “things” as it were is not to make the same record twice, so expect something completely different, well kind of. We are booked in to our Norfolk studio to once again to write, drink, and relax in the hot tub, and write, and drink again next month, so let’s see what happens ay! I love writing and recording music, that’s where I get my buzz from. So as long as I’m doing that on a regular basis, I’m a happy Jon Martin.
I Can’t Be Silent is out now for streaming and download from the usual suspects