There is a scene in the soon-to-be-Oscar-winning movie Up In the Air, where George Clooney’s character explains to a man who is about to lose a high-paying job – but has a degree in French cuisine – why kids love athletes: Because they follow their dreams. I think the same could be said of musicians. At least that’s what the kid in me loves about them. Just one more reason to admire Richard John, the English singer-songwriter I discovered several months back on the old T61 site.
Richard became a professional musician after he was “made redundant” or as we say in the States, “laid off” from a nice job in the catering business. He had always dreamed of making his living through music, and found a way to do it by teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he is developing a nice collection of songs, many of them with a sweet Brazilian influence I simply cannot resist.
As soon as I heard his music, I thought, wow, this is something out of the ordinary. In a word, it had heart. Beautiful guitar work, soft melodic vocals. I nagged everyone I could about him and he seems to be developing a nice fan base. I have very high hopes for him.
Below is an e-mail interview that I think many people will find inspiring. It is never too late to follow your dreams. It might not make you rich, but it might be just what you need to find happiness.
MM: What first excited you about music and made you want to play an instrument?
RJ: I first got excited in music by listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, early Stevie Wonder, etc. – stuff with really big melodies. I still think of Brian Wilson as being a main influence. My mother played piano and my father sang a lot. So there was always music arod, and I remember there being a pile of Dad’s old 78 records that survived his house being bombed during the blitz, with artists like Nat King Cole, George Gershwin etc, that I also loved from an early age.
MM: How did you learn to play guitar and banjo?
RJ: I started playing the guitar when I was about 10. I had lessons then, and also about 20 years later, when I had an inkling I may one day teach the instrument. I picked up a load of finger style experience at that time.
I pick out a tune on the banjo for recording, but wouldn’t pretend to play it well.
MM: Did you always dream of being a musician?
RJ: During my years in the catering industry, and being a training officer, I would often dream spending more time on my music and maybe making some money out of my guitar. Although never really as a front man. More as a songwriter or more mundanely as a guitar teacher.
MM: Your songs often have a personal story. Are they based on reality?
RJ: The lyrics of my songs often concern wistful romance, yearnings, disastrous relationships and loneliness. All of which worries my wife a little as I’ve been very happily married for 15 years! Lyrics come secondary to me. The melodies and music always excite me the most! So there probably is reality in my lyrics, but from a long, long time ago!
MM: I know you’ve mentioned you really like the High Llamas. What is it you like about them?
RJ: When talking about the current influences on my music I always mention the High Llamas. It’s their mix of great melodies, experimentation and originality that I admire most and I guess, in my own way that’s what I’m trying to aspire to.
MM: Do you have any other big influences?
RJ: I tend to favour anything with a memorable, nagging tune. “Strange” and “interesting” is a bonus! People I’m listening to at the moment include Richard Hawley, Sondre Lerche, Orwell, Celso Fornesca (Bossa Nova), Max Richter, Keran Ann, and Stereolab.
MM: What new bands and musicians excite you?
RJ: New artists I’m listening a lot to include, The Softlightes (tuneful, quirky, indie) , M Ward, Kassin + 2 (Latin indie), Anthony Rochester (A fine and original Tasmanian Musician), Bossacucanova (Brazilian).
MM: Could you elaborate a bit on getting laid off? What ran through your mind? Were you scared? Confident? Any advice for others going through that situation?
RJ: Being laid off is scary, especially if you’ve worked for the same company for many years., but with a little help from a redundancy pay out I was able to gradually build my guitar teaching business, make space to create music and do some local live work with several musicians. I may earn less money than my previous job but I’m genuinely very much happier than before. A cliché but true! I suppose any advice to others being laid off is try to look at it as an opportunity to work at something you love or enjoy, rather than something you fell into many years ago.
MM: What are your future plans, musicwise? Do you consider that you’re “living your dream” now, or do you have much further to go?
RJ: My musical future hopefully includes more live work and a steady improvement in my recording abilities and to make a little money selling my music would be great i.e. allowing me more time to make music.
MM: How important is teaching music? If you find a way to make enough money from writing and performing, will you still continue to teach?
RJ: Teaching music is good. Enabling pupils to gain even a fraction of the enjoyment I’ve gained from music is very fulfilling.
MM: You once mentioned that a hosting website you were using didn’t satisfy you because there were too many artists to get honest feedback (too many people giving good reviews, hoping you would return the favor). You got to interact with fans on the old version of T61 and you’re getting some of that on Uvumi. Why is that important to you?
RJ: Self-congratulatory sites for musicians aren’t really very helpful. Sites like uvumi and the old T61 were great because they were full of “listeners,” who had no reason to say they liked your music or save your tunes if they didn’t want to. Any constructive criticism is useful – but you have to have a thick skin!
MM: What lessons did you learn about yourself and your music during your “heyday” on t61?
RJ: Lessons I leaned from the old T61 days were quite flattering, i.e. that a quite a few people actually, genuinely seemed to like my music! It was then great to chat to them and be a part of a community.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Richard’s music, check out his e-album Etched On Glass on Bandcamp, below and if you like it consider showing him a little love and help him keep the dream alive: