Daniel Hugh hadn’t picked up his guitar since his band broke up. Then lockdown happened. New Boots spoke to the Northampton musician about his journey of rediscovery.
New Boots: How did you get into singing and songwriting?
Daniel Hugh: I’m afraid it’s the clichéd story of having musical parents who were kind enough to send me to piano lessons at a young age – although I never appreciated it at the time!. I was in my teens when I decided I didn’t want to just play other people’s music any more, and had a friend who I would work with to figure out how to put music to words. I certainly wasn’t any kind of child prodigy. But I was fortunate enough to acquire a Tascam 4-track recorder, which enabled me to record my songs and at least discard some of the most dreadful numbers.
How would you describe your sound? Who are your main influences?
I describe the sound of this EP broadly, if not concisely, as acoustic-led emotionally-driven indie-pop. It might just be soft rock or acoustic rock though. I’ve always been driven by wanting to create a big sound, with lots of harmonies and lots of dynamic and dramatic moments in my music.
My main musical inspirations are artists like Jimmy Eat World and Ben Folds, but also more mainstream acts like Coldplay and Keane who I feel have created that big dynamic sound. Strangely though I’m not sure my EP sounds anything like any of those artists!
You did well locally as Wolfetone in the past decade, releasing an album. What was the reaction like to the band, do you feel? Good memories?
Definitely great memories. And shared memories, which is the great thing about being in a band with friends. You experience the highs and lows together. The great gigs and the ones when you’ve driven for three hours just to play to the sound engineer. Wolfetone started well. People were excited by the first EP we put out. But then we made the mistake of deciding we wanted to release a full-length album, which took four years to get done. And a lot can change in four years. The people who liked your band have other things going on in their lives, and it’s tough to get traction again. It was one of my main motivations for not hanging around with this EP really. I started writing and recording in mid-April and had the aim to release it as soon as possible, even if no one knows who I am yet!
Tell us about this ‘Stories Involving Time’ EP. It’s a lockdown project we take it?
It’s definitely a lockdown project. I hadn’t played any music for a long time as my focus had been elsewhere. Lot’s of ‘adulting’ with work and DIY, etc.
But when the lockdown hit, like a lot of people – once I’d stocked up on a lifetime supply of toilet roll – I had more spare time. So I dusted off the guitar, and all of a sudden new ideas for songs started pouring out. ‘A Promise’ was the first one, and it came out basically fully-formed.
I’m the kind of person who likes having a project to work on. And at the start the focus was on re-learning recording and mixing skills in my modest home studio. But then more and more ideas for songs came flooding out, and within a couple of weeks I had six songs written, but no plans for releasing them at that point. It was only when the recordings started to come together that I started thinking it would be a shame not to share them with the world, and so the idea of releasing the songs as an EP became the focus of the project at that point.
Thematically the main subject matter of the EP is around the idea of time, it’s fleeting nature and how I experience it, how it influences decisions and relationships. It’s a subject that’s on my mind a lot, and I often joke that I’m having a constant low-level existential crisis. It’s probably not a crisis, but it is a sense that I need to get things done because our time is finite and life is too short to fuck around. All of that said, and on a more positive note, it’s strange thinking back to when lockdown began, that I hadn’t played any music for a few years. Now I can’t imagine not being musically creative. So while the coronavirus has been obviously awful, the lockdown period has enabled me to rediscover my passion for making music.
Are you part of the music world in Northamptonshire? Any favourite acts and venues?
As I mentioned, I’ve had an extended hiatus from the local music scene, and so a lot of the local musicians I gigged with in the past have either moved on or moved away. Liam Dullghan was someone I always admired locally, and bands like Twelve Titans and Acoda at the heavier end, who are either no more or less active these days. I was always a fan of Katie Malco, who has only recently released a brilliant record. And I met Joe Payne before he joined The Enid, and have really enjoyed following his journey as a brilliant and incredibly talented solo artist.
When I was in a band I feel like we gigged at most of the renowned venues across Northampton: The Roadmender, The Racehorse (aka The Black Prince), The Penny Whistle, The King Billy. I may be showing my age a bit here, but my favourite venue was the bar in the Soundhaus, which I never gigged at, but saw Biffy Clyro and Hell is for Heroes play at. They were pretty incredible shows in that small space.
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
The last album I bought was called Blue Sky Girl by an artist called Manhattan. It was released earlier this year and it’s an instrumental synthwave album, super 80s sounding, and I love it and the genre in general.
An album that I stream at least once a week though is Futures by Jimmy Eat World. I think most people have one album that they feel is the soundtrack to their life. That’s what Futures is for me.
What is your burning desire to do in the future? What plans do you have?
My ambitions are pretty modest. I love the idea that a song I’ve written might have an impact on someone’s life, or make them feel something for a minute. It doesn’t need to be thousands or millions of people. I make music because I love to be creative, and writing songs is almost literally creating something from nothing! One of the advantages of being a solo artist now is that I can go off in any musical direction I want. I’m writing lots of synth-based music at the moment. Synths aren’t something I’ve ever really used before, so it’s a whole new world to explore and I’m really excited by some of the sounds that I’m creating. I think it’s going to sound really different to this EP.
I don’t think it will be too long before I’m putting out new music. Life’s too short to hang around.
The ‘Stories Involving Time’ EP is out now via the usual digital platforms