Chris Fordham has lived a busy musical life in Northampton over the past decade plus. His latest project is Violet’s Gone. He wrote and recorded an EP with a seven day deadline, and explains the hows and whys to New Boots.
How did you get into songwriting?
From a young age music has always been in the family. My dad was always in bands as a lead guitarist and singer, playing fifties and sixties music. He would also record his own music on a four-track at home. How I got started was by picking up my brothers’ acoustic guitar when I was about thirteen, and trying to learn Radiohead songs. I’d always enjoyed writing short stories and verse, so deciding to put music to some of them seemed a good next step. I took up the four-track recording, started joining bands as a bass player – and never stopped after that.
How would you describe your sound? Who are your main influences?
It’s hard to ascribe a tag to something you’re a part of, but I tend to describe my music as having a lo-fi quality to it. The songs are a mix of electric and acoustic sounds that all revolve around a kind of pop sensibility with regards song structures. The recording is usually pretty rough though, which is why I say lo-fi. As much as I would love to invest a fortune in terms of time and/or money into producing something pristine and clean sounding, a bit of dirt on the recording seems to breathe life into it. I’ll be happily continuing to place singular, cheap microphones on things and use beaten up second-hand instruments and effects.
I listen to pretty much anything. I grew up hearing Bowie, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Shadows in my parents car. My main influences from my own early on music choices were R.E.M, Radiohead and Sigur Ros. I also like heavier acts like Nine Inch Nails and Deftones, and definitely channel elements of their song structures and sounds too. There’s a wealth of ambient and electronic music that I really enjoy too. Probably my biggest direct influence on songwriting is Ed Harcourt, I’ve been a fan of his music since I first heard his second album, and his writing and performance just goes from strength to strength. He’s also one that doesn’t pin himself to a given style or genre.
What was the reaction like to your Violet’s Gone debut album in 2018?
I didn’t put much into actually promoting it. I did a live stream acoustic performance the eve of its release, and shared the hell out of it on my own social media outlets. The first album was the result of my wife encouraging me to press my music onto vinyl – an ambition of mine for a long long time. Having made my copy I felt it deserved to be shared in digital format. The record was also me wanting to get something new into the world that wasn’t linked to my previous songs under my own name or my ambient project, The Silent Committee. Before it arrived there wasn’t a new vocal song of mine available to hear online for seven or so years. It’s streamed a fair bit on Bandcamp, sold a few downloads. Not a rip roaring success commercially, but people have said to me they enjoyed it and that was good enough for me. If perhaps I’d ventured out to play the songs or done a music video, some interviews, etc it would be more known. But then that was never really the aim.
Tell us everything about this new EP release, ‘Maybrain’.
Like a great number of people I was off work during the lockdown. During that time some music acquaintances I’d made back in the days of Myspace, Aubben Renee and Jose Delhart, had suddenly appeared with new music on a podcast called ‘Weekly EP’. I enjoyed their interview and EP so much and was intrigued by the way that they said the pressure of recording in a week long time limit forced this beautiful EP into existence. The interviewer, Cody, invited the listener to make their own. So I contacted him and he gave me the go-ahead to record and do an interview. I’d done similar projects with a record label called BFW Recordings who used to produce a compilation album in a day, but that was one song in one day, this was something else. A new challenge.
The result was ‘Maybrain’, a four song EP all recorded at home, utilising only about six hours a day over the seven days allowed by the project. Nothing of the songs existed in any shape before the first day. Day one was me sat on the bed messing around on an acoustic guitar to find some chord patterns. What ultimately happened was that I kept detuning and alternate tuning the guitar to purposely find chords I wouldn’t normally use. No particular tuning is used twice on this EP. I had three song structures worked out by the end of that session. Day two I began tracking the guitars and bass. Day three was keys and percussion. Then I hit a block on day four – I couldn’t add to the songs at all and resorted to just mixing the multitracks to as near as finished as could be. Day five I finally got the lyrics done to the first two songs and got the backing tracks mixed completely, adding a few instrumental parts. Day six was all about vocals. On the final day it occurred to me that three songs wasn’t really an EP so I forced myself to write a fourth track and then had to record the majority of it in a live take – very nerve wracking. It was all mastered at home that evening, and away it went.
The songs have different themes. ‘Time’ is a kind of optimistic song about how we shouldn’t miss out on things during the time that’s given to us – grab it, because it won’t wait for you. At its core it is a verse/chorus/verse pop song with a hook. Simple guitar noodling and falsetto vocals. I wanted to be James Iha.
‘Over The Wall’ was inspired by a Netflix documentary about celebrity experiences on LSD [good and bad, not promoting or demonising], and also a number of my social media friends descriptions of meditation. It seemed that both the psychedelics and the meditation could produce a similar outcome, and it got me thinking about who has got the right outlook. That age old question of how do I know that you and I are experiencing the same world?
‘Learner’ is the result of me thinking about how my kids are getting to know the world. It challenges me in the role as both parent and teacher and asks whether or not I’m actually learning a little from them too.
‘Kindling’ is essentially a love song. It’s a snapshot of how my wife and I first met when we both moved to Northampton, and were not to know where our journey would end up. It sounds nothing like any song on the first album, or my previous solo releases. I had been listening to a fair bit of Nick Drake, so I think I just wanted a finger-picking guitar and simple vocal to tell a story like he did.
How has lockdown been for you?
Lockdown was mostly great. It took some adjusting to, but we got there quite quickly as a family. It definitely helped to re-spark the creativity. I’ve never stopped making things, but Becky and I both took up sketching, doing a “draw one-hundred faces” challenge. A few poems were written. Started a long story. Did some paintings. So, yeah, it definitely helped the creativity. Even though I’m back at work now, those ten weeks or so definitely stoked the creative flames.
Do you enjoy playing live solo?
No. It takes a special something to conduct a captivating solo performance, and I don’t really have ‘it’. My last solo show was at The Black Prince in 2016, and was probably the most complicated and interesting performance that I did. Drum machines, pedals, electric guitar, autoharp, loops…It was good, but it felt hard to do. I prefer being in a band. That’s another reason the songs are released as Violet’s Gone these days; I could put a band together with that moniker and it would go out as a team. Maybe one day…
The Snakeman 3, Enki, To Bury A Ghost. What’s your fondest memory of that period [2009-2017]?
Wow! I was busy with all those projects at around the same time. All were great, and all have a wealth of good memories, I’ll choose one for each group.
The Snakeman 3 – Twinfest in Poitiers. The only gigs I’ve ever played outside the UK. They sure know how to put on a festival there. We played in a packed-out big-top circus tent, and I threw myself off the stage into the crowd during our final song. Free Courvoisier. French Chris [if you know, you know]. Pure rock and roll.
To Bury A Ghost – We didn’t get to play too many gigs whilst touring the EP, but a gig we did in Bristol with Her Name Is Calla was incredible. Everything came together on that show – the sound, the mood, the crowd. It’s the only rock band I’ve played guitar and keys in, and the experience of Jon and I making such a huge wall of sound with more effects pedals than we could count is certainly up there as one of the best things I’ve done. Jon’s still recording and I’m happy to be involved in his new stuff as The Holy Road.
Enki – The band I was in for the longest, and technically still a part of because we never split. We took a train up to Liverpool for a gig, it was near Christmas, freezing, and it started snowing in such a way it threatened our route home – but we went anyway. The gig was great, and then afterwards we stayed at a house on Penny Lane [all of us Beatles fans] where we were up ’till the early hours still playing music. What makes it more memorable is that we did struggle getting home with the snow, ended up on the wrong train, but started busking in the carriage we were on. Getting back into Northampton we went and started writing some new songs. We had so many songs and it’s sad that not all of them made it to tape. There is a lot of recorded stuff that never did get out. Maybe one day.
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
Last album bought was Sufjan Stevens ‘Illinoise‘. Spotify threw up the song ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise’ by this artist who I had somehow never heard of before. I was hooked. Instantly went and bought the recent vinyl pressing of it. Four sides of incredible music. Best purchase I’ve made for a long time.
Last streamed album was by Ttrruuces. As is with the world of Instagram there’s a long chain of a friend of a friend of a violinist who’s on their friends album. They shared that this had been released so I felt compelled to go check it out. I was not disappointed, it’s an excellent listen.
What is your burning desire to do in the future? What plans do you have?
I want to write a piece of music for a string section again. It’s something I’ve only done once before, and found the experience both extremely stressful and greatly rewarding. It’s a big ambition but one day I’ll make it happen.
Next up! I’m currently finishing work on the second Violet’s Gone LP – been waiting for lockdown to finish so I can find a place to play drums. That record will hopefully appear in the Autumn. I’m also just this week beginning to record something more electronic and synth based – it’ll be another band with a different name. There’s about three songs fully worked out, but needing to improve my programming skills on. When I’ve got them sounding half-decent myself there are a couple of fellow musicians I’m going to approach to hopefully add their vocal talents and musicianship too.
Maybrain is out now via Bandcamp