One of the questions you get asked over and over again when you release records is what your influences are. There’s a kind of politics to this; you learn pretty quickly that it’s fine to name-check certain artists but not others, and you get into the habit of slightly massaging your responses to give an impression of yourself as an artist with good catholic tastes – name-checking a few newer artists and a handful of old masters – and never, ever revealing any of the really embarrassing stuff. You know, the foundation stuff, the things you heard in your parents car when you were barely aware of what music was, which probably had more of an effect on what kinds of melodies and sounds you respond to than anything cool you could care to think of in later life. The kind of artists that would raise eyebrows if you mentioned them in polite company, like Deacon Blue or Gloria Estefan or whatever.
But I think I’m fairly unique in being able to say that I pretty much owe my whole career to one track that I heard in a field when I was 26 years old. I’ve used the track in question, “Fall” by the Californian band Sway, for years now as an example of what I think constitutes great new shoegaze music, I just realised this week, when recommending it to a friend caused me to glance casually at Sway’s Bandcamp page, that on Monday it was exactly a decade old.
I first heard the track in 2007, when I witnessed an Ulrich Schnauss DJ set at the Big Chill festival. It was midnight, it was starting to rain, and the scattering of people sat on the hill around one of the minor stages were beginning to drift away when Ulrich began his set. The latter half of set was fairly standard electronica fare, and I probably would have drifted away as well had Ulrich not opened with the Sway track and a selection of some of the best new shoegaze music I’d ever heard. I was then as I am now a die-hard fan of Cocteau Twins and Slowdive and had privately been making my own music for several years, but I had never heard any of this new shoegaze music before.
I subsequently sent a – rather gushing, in retrospect – email to Ulrich, asking what he had played, and it was from his generous reply that I came to realise that there was a major shoegaze resurgence happening under most peoples radars – a very healthy and organic scene, made up of fans and bands sharing tracks on Myspace, with shoegaze-influenced artists in all corners of the world seemingly aware of each other and doing gig swaps and things like that. Bands like Elika, Mahogany, The Daysleepers, A Shoreline Dream, and Fleeting Joys.
At the time I had some demos on my Myspace page which I’d never shared with anyone outside of a couple of friends; it was only after Ulrich’s exceptionally kind (and unsolicited) words about those tracks that I got around to releasing my own music. In fact I was so inspired that I wrote and released the whole of Voss EP – my first release – in about four weeks, mainly by myself with a little help from my good friend Graeme Meikle, and Oisin Scarlett, who contributed an instrumental track to round out the EP. That’s “Within The Boundaries”, “Locust”, “Lostening” and “The Magic In My Head”, some of my favourite tracks and what some consider to be my best work – not bad for a month’s work.
I’m sure I would have released my music eventually, in one form or another, but that newfound confidence was key – and as it turned out, I got involved just at the right time, anticipating the shoegaze revival (well, at least in terms of when the press became interested in it) by about a year or so. Everything that came later, from working with Ulrich Schnauss, to the Sonic Cathedral connection and my first record deals, the subsequent Daniel Land & The Modern Painters albums, and then being asked to join Engineers and The Steals – just lined up perfectly.
The record remains criminally neglected and unknown outside a small cadre of hardcore shoegaze fans. But it’s safe to say that without Sway there would have been no Daniel Land & The Modern Painters, and for that I am eternally thankful.