Release is the new album by Northampton singer-songwriter Duncan Bisatt. No vocals? New Boots went in search of answers…
How did you get to this musical point?
I’m a latecomer to creating original music. I’ve played guitar since I was a young teenager in the 1970s, and always enjoyed live music. I only started playing in bands in the 1990s when someone I knew was looking for a bass player for a new project and I thought, ‘What the hell, give it a go’.
After a couple of different versions of bands that rehearsed a lot but never did a lot of gigs I ended up joining Bushpigs in the late 1990s after someone handed me a Herald & Post advert. At that time Bushpigs, as a band was probably 50% covers gigs and 50% writing and recording original material [the former paying for the latter]. We recorded a dozen or so original songs at The Lodge studio [mostly with Max Read on the desk], but then never did anything with them.
Bushpigs had evolved out of an earlier Northampton band called Marabar Caves and when that band reformed in 2019, I ended up picking up the bass role there as well, so I now have two bands and a solo career to manage.
After the creative side of Bushpigs faded I ended up forming acoustic pop-rock band The Rogue State Circus with Jon Delaney in 2009. That band is still going, but I left in 2018. I wrote a bit for that band in its early years, but Jon is always the main songwriter and vocalist. To get the creative outlet, eventually, I decided to write and record my own album [Auto-Self-Destruct] which came out in 2015. Then, of course, I really needed to gig the songs and so I started playing acoustic versions of them at open-mics and suitable festival gigs.
How would you describe your sound? Who are your main influences?
I struggle to describe my own sound: it’s difficult to be objective. If I had to list influences they are generally songwriters rather than technical musos: people like Joe Jackson [I love his cynical edge] and Neil Finn. I also like energetic and noisy stuff like The Who and Midnight Oil. Behind it, however, is also a teenage love of 1970’s prog-rock. I haven’t tended to write 20 minute songs, but sometimes a hint of some of that appears in arrangements on my albums. The new album probably let that ‘excessive’ side out a bit.
What was the reaction like to your last album, 2018’s Reality and Abstraction?
Really good thanks. It is a more diverse set of songs than the first album, where I consciously tried to stick to a consistent pallet of sounds and songwriting. R&A has songs that range from full-on rock with massive overdriven guitars to acoustic pieces and, almost, some folk music. The cover art was fun to work on as well: it’s an extract from an abstract painting by local legend [drummer, artist, bike-nutter] Mark Halsey. It makes a nice t-shirt, if anyone wants one.
Tell us everything about Release.
I came up with the idea before Christmas. Both of my earlier albums had some instrumental elements, and I had various pieces sat in the archive which I had written and recorded between 2012 and 2018. I had started working on an ambient piece, which became ‘Danses de Travers’, and realised that I wanted a vehicle in which to get that and some of the other pieces released.
The original thought was that it would be really simple: finish ‘Danses de Travers’ and just pop it on an album with the rest and have it released by the end of January. Then when I went into The Lodge [with Mark Cann] to mix it, it became clear that it would be worth revisiting the mixes of some of the other pieces. Mark was always going to do a massively better job on those than I had originally, and so a predicted half-day to mix one track turned into about two and a half days spread over a month and then, once other ‘stuff’ started to happen, the release got pushed back to April.
It’s a very diverse album, and I make no claims to a particular cohesiveness of genre. There are rock instrumentals, ambient pieces of varying lengths and even a classical guitar solo (‘Sunset’). With music now being mostly streamed, however, I think the pressure to deliver a cohesive album isn’t there so much. Each piece can stand up on its own.
How does it feel producing an album without any vocals?
A bit easier! I find lyric writing and singing the hardest part of what I do. I regularly have the instrumental arrangement of a song finished while I’m still agonising over the words. The track ‘Toc’ was supposed to be the second half of a mammoth two-part piece, not surprisingly called ‘Tic & Toc’. The instrumental part of ‘Tic’ was really good but I had about four attempts at writing lyrics and then gave up because nothing seemed to fit. So ‘Toc’ was left, and found its way out on my ‘Captains & Kings’ EP last year. Now it’s remixed on ‘Release’.
What has been your favourite artistic moment of the past year?
The two highlights have to be Mano Music Festival in March 2019 and King of Hearts in December. I get the biggest musical kicks out of playing live, and being asked to travel to Marburg and play four sets over three nights was an unbelievable privilege. We were a little late getting to Marburg and I had the experience of getting off a bus and, twenty minutes later, walking onto a stage in front of, probably, a couple of hundred attentive Germans to play the biggest solo gig I’d ever done. I thought I did the whole “Guten abend Marburg” bit quite well, but Kenny later said that I couldn’t have looked more English if they had painted me red and put postcards in my mouth! Kings of Hearts was memorable because I had a bunch of other local musicians down the front who joined in singing ‘One Pound Town’ and even added their own improvised backing vocals. Getting that sort of reaction from the younger guys was a real lift and something that I won’t forget.
How are you coping with the lockdown?
I try to keep telling myself that, in many ways, I am lucky in being able to deal with this situation reasonably well. I have my own house with a garden, good neighbours and I’m still working [from home] and not worried about my job. I think it’s important to recognise that these are things a lot of people can’t take for granted. It’s tough being 160 miles from my immediate family and not being able to visit them, though. I really miss the live music and being able to get together with my bandmates in Bushpigs and Marabar Caves; we’ve lost a fair number of gigs.
I’ve been doing a bit of streaming of acoustic performances. I’m also working on a new single remotely with drums by Ben Gordelier [The Moons, Paul Weller), some guitar by Bill Westley [Marabar Caves] and keys and mix by Jon Martin. It’s a different way of working and you have to relinquish control and run with whatever people send back.
We’re also likely to finally release some of the ‘lost’ Bushpigs recordings spanning 1994 to 2001. Having the time to do these things is the positive side of the current situation.
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
U2 Boy. I’ve also been buying local artists from Bandcamp.
What is your burning desire to do in the future? Any plans?
To go for a long walk without having to worry if I’m breaching guidelines! Also to see some of the local bands playing again and meet the guys. That new single should be ready within the next month, and I have a few other songs written and was planning to start recording them before the lockdown happened. I made a decision not to get into the commitment of recording a whole new album, so it will be singles and EPs for the time being. I’m keen to keep working with live drummers [and other musicians, if they are interested]. It would be nice to get a band together to play some of the songs in a way that’s nearer to their original arrangements rather than the solo acoustic versions.
Release is out now via the usual digital platforms