It’s been 15 years since ARIA award winning artist Alex Lloyd released his career-defining hit song Amazing. A lot has happened since then, including further successful releases, a relocation to the UK, a foray onto music production and songwriting for others, then a return home to Australia. While playing a charity show a year or so ago, a Liberation Records executive saw Alex perform and instantly twigged that he’d be a perfect artist to record for their Acoustic Series (a collection of over 30 releases by Australia’s most respected songsmiths, such as Mark Seymour, Diesel, The Church, Ian Moss, Stephen Cummings, and more). In December 2015, Lloyd gave himself a 3 week deadline to produce his Acoustic Series long player. On August 5 this year he released Acoustica, a 12 track re-imagination of some of his most loved songs. Just prior to the release of the album, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Alex about the creation of Acoustica.
Alex, do you remember the first time you wrote a song?
Mid teens maybe I tried to write a song. Originally I just did blues and I’d do standards, so my heroes were Muddy Waters and Lighting Hopkins, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter and people like that. So I would cover their songs. My dad had introduced me to the Beatles when I was younger but then I heard Johnny Diesel and he wrote songs that were kind of bluesy but very much soul orientated. So around that time I think I stared writing.
You lived in London for quite a while. You’ve been back 4 years. Did living over there affect you in a creative way?
I really enjoyed living in London. It is probably the most multicultural city in the world. It has everything. It’s a very interesting place if you enjoy multiculturalism, which I do. Musically I did a lot of co-writing in the UK. I had 3 children and taking them to school every day so it was convenient for me not to focus on my own writing. I was helping younger up and coming artists. I did some work with Passenger, that would be someone that you would know and a bunch of Norwegian acts that you probably wouldn’t know… a couple of Americans. Everyone comes through London. It was a good experience and I got a lot better at production.
You’re releasing Acoustica, a collection of acoustic versions of your old songs. Have you been a fan of those unplugged style albums in general?
Yeah I have. I was doing a charity show for the Emerald Ball at the casino in Sydney. I think I was doing Amazing and Hallelujah and Warren, who runs Liberation saw me. He rang me the next day and asked me if I was interested in doing this record. At the time, I wasn’t really doing anything, so I said why not!
What rules did you apply to yourself for this record? It is not an acoustic guitar album per se but an instrumentally unplugged album.
I didn’t want to make a guitar and vocal record. I wanted to create something more interesting. I did have to apply rules because I have a tendency to get in the studio and over-complicate things and over-produce. My rule was that I had 3 weeks to make the record. I locked in a mastering date and said I am going to record this record in 3 weeks. I lived at the studio. My wife kindly let me live up there I literally slept on the back couch of the studio. It got pretty smelly! I would wake up at all hours of the night. I kind of wanted a late night feel to it. Like you were having a glass of wine and I was in your living room and there just happened to be a string quartet there. That was the vibe I was after. I borrowed a microphone, this beautiful Royer ribbon mic and I used it for everything. With the percussion, I have this Irish drum and I used that, boosted the lower end frequencies to make it sound like a kick. Then I’d slap the outside of that with tambourine and shakers. It was never more complicated than that and I used a double bass which fills up a lot of space.
In the song Better The Less You Know, you’ve used hand claps as percussion…
Yeah, just trying to keep it as simple as possible. The keyboards were done by friends because I can’t play piano like that. I wish I could. I sent them a file and gave them a basic idea of what I wanted then let them do what they did. They’d send me back some tapes and I would comp something together. The strings I did at Free Energy Device Studio in Sydney and a friend of mine did the arrangements, which were beautiful.
Did you experiment much with tempos and styles for each song or did you know what you wanted immediately?
Most of them came together fairly easily. The hardest one was Amazing. Obviously it is so familiar. I didn’t want it to sound like the original but I didn’t want it not to sound like the song that it is, if you know what I mean? I think I had 18 attempts on that one. It’s not like I have a band in the room with me all the time. I play everything pretty much. I can sing and play guitar live but then I have to play everything else after that, so working out a song and its tempo, its nuances and its feel can sometimes take ages because it’s not like you can just run it again with a bunch of guys.
Were most of these songs written originally on acoustic guitar?
The majority were written on acoustic guitar, some of the older ones I used to start with a drum beat and a bass line because I am actually a bass player originally. Amazing was written with a beat and a bass and the acoustic guitar was an afterthought. I came up with the middle eight much later then just cut it in. If you hear the original demo you can hear that… I’ve just cut in a middle eight. I never really had any writing rules. I was writing this morning in my studio and started with a beat and some weird sounds, started singing a melody and added piano afterwards.
What guitars did you use on the album?
I mainly used a Cole Clark. I have an F3
Did you just have one microphone set up?
Yep, set one microphone for vocals and guitar.
Have you ever picked up a guitar for the first time and it just fed you songs just by the way it felt and played?
Actually a friend of mine just gave me a Strat … well he didn’t give it to me … he wants to sell it to me. And I hate Strats, always been a Tele or a 335 guy but man, the neck on it is beautiful so I am hoping to get something out of that. It is a really odd colour too, like an orange, all beat up, quite sexy.
Having done this unplugged album, are you keen to get some new material out featuring a lot of sounds?
I’m not really sure. I feel quite fulfilled musically because I get to do a lot of different styles. I am putting myself out there more to write for other people. I can write a pop song or program beats. It might sound weird but I want to make a country album. I want to do something different. I just went to Nashville and got really inspired. I loved that I went to this place that was all about music and obviously predominantly country music. I have always liked country music but I guess I am more of a Johnny Cash fan than a Garth Brooks fan. There are some artists coming out like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson that I really like and I like their philosophy. I like the good times they have on stage with the band too. I’m talking pie in the sky, these are just thoughts but it is a possibility.
Are you the kind of writer who keeps bits and pieces of songs archived for later use?
I record a lot of stuff on my phone. I’ll be driving and I’ll sing something into it. I’ll half write something some days. I always think that if it is any good it will just pop back up one day, like you won’t have to go looking for it. It’s rare that I will go looking for an old idea. Some songs have taken me a year to write because I kept playing them. I might really like a verse and keep playing it and eventually, oh there’s the chorus. Then my favourite songs are the ones you finish in 3 minutes.
Do you have comfort chords that you gravitate to when you pick up the guitar?
Yeah. I mean there aren’t that many chords. I like to play minor and major chords next to each other. It’s rare that I write a song with all major chords. When I was writing in Nashville recently, they threw out all of my minor chords every time I put one in. I learned that lesson over there.
You’re taking this album out on the road …
I am. I’m starting a tour on the 7th of September
What will band consist of?
The first half, I will do it with a band from up here that I love but they haven’t agreed yet. After that I will get a bunch of Sydney guys I have always played with. I like the idea of that though. I think it is cool to change it up, keep it fresh.
It’s quite a long tour. Apart from playing what else do you like about being on tour?
I love working. Being a musician there is a lot of time between stuff. When you are playing shows it makes me feel like this is what I am meant to do, this is what I love. I probably didn’t appreciate that earlier in my career. I was too busy trying to have a good time that I didn’t appreciate the art and the fact that it is my job and who I am. I probably did then but I didn’t think about it. I appreciate it more now.
Acoustica is out now. Visit Alex Lloyd’s website: http://alexlloyd.com/
Wed 7 Sep | Brothers Leagues | Cairns QLD
Thu 8 Sep | Dalrymple Hotel | Townsville, QLD
Fri 9 Sep | Magnums Hotel | Airlie Beach, QLD
Sat 10 Sep | Harvey Road Tavern | Gladstone, QLD
Sun 11 Sep | Kondari Hotel | Hervey Bay, QLD
Wed 14 Sep | The Spotted Cow | Toowoomba, QLD
Thu 15 Sep | Sol Bar | Maroochydore, QLD
Fri 16 Sep | Hamilton Hotel | Brisbane, QLD
Sat 17 Sep | Parkwood Tavern | Gold Coast, QLD
Sun 18 Sep | Redland Bay Hotel | Redland Bay, QLD
Thu 22 Sep | The Brass Monkey | Cronulla, NSW
Fri 23 Sep | The Basement | Sydney, NSW
Sat 24 Sep | Oaks Hotel | Albion Park, NSW
Sun 25 Sep | Milton Theatre | Milton, NSW
Thu 29 Sep | Milanos Tavern | Brighton, VIC
Fri 30 Sep | Grand Hotel | Mornington, VIC
Sun 02 Oct | Northcote Social Club | Northcote, VIC
Wed 05 Oct | The Norwood | Adelaide, SA
Thu 06 Oct | Fly by Night Musicians Club | Fremantle, WA
Fri 07 Oct | Highway Hotel | Bunbury, WA
Sat 08 Oct | The Carine Hotel | Duncraig (Perth), WA
Sun 09 Oct | Dunsborough Tavern | Dunsborough, WA
Fri 14 Oct | Hardys Bay Club | Central Coast, NSW
Sat 15 Oct | Lizottes | Newcastle, NSW