Paul K, composer and producer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

There was always music in the house when I was growing up and my elder sister was into David Bowie. I remember stealing her Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane albums (I still have them framed on the wall) and playing them non-stop. I had piano lessons when I was really young and I think it was the combination of the two that made me want to write and produce music. I was fifteen when electronic music emerged in the late 70’s early 80’s, and I was bought my first synth and joined a local band – I’ve been writing and performing ever since!

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My influences vary across genres: glam, punk, post-punk, electronic, rock, classical and neo-classical, prog and ambient come to mind, but I will listen to pretty much anything if the song is good. In terms of influential bands or individual artists, I would obviously say David Bowie, but Kate Bush has also had a huge influence on me from both a performance and production viewpoint. This list is long and constantly evolving, and if you check out my Spotify playlists you will be able to listen to the artists who have had the biggest impact on my career.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Keeping the faith! Like other composers, it’s that feeling that you could always have done something slightly better, mixed it slightly differently or perhaps added one more part! The hardest bit is the constant worry that nobody will like it; some days you think a track sounds great, whereas the next you completely change it and then end up going back to what you thought sounded great in the first place! I think the greatest challenge is still trying to come up with something that is different or unique so that you find your place in the musical ecosystem and can then write, produce and develop the sound to your individual strengths.

What are the special challenges and pleasures of working with other musicians/artists?

I love working with other musicians and artists and I’m always amazed how tracks develop when you give them the creative space to interpret the piece and put their own mark on it. There can be less flexibility when writing for strings but the stylistic interpretation and expressivity of a great instrumentalist can completely change the dynamic and spur you on to create something different (and hopefully better) than what you originally envisaged.

What is your most memorable live music experience?

I performed my last album “‘Omertà’” at St. Pancras Old Church last September and it was just an amazing experience. We lit up the venue with lights and projection, and being in a church performing an album that centred around a (wayward) priest, it was incredibly atmospheric and was exactly how we’d envisaged it! It very nearly didn’t go to plan as I forgot to take the sheet music for the quintet… luckily, a family member made the hundred-mile trip to the show early enough to allow for a quick rehearsal, and all went well on the night. As a concert attendee, the most memorable was without a doubt Kate Bush’s

“Before the Dawn” concert which I saw in 2014. Amazing staging, choreography and musicianship from some of my favourite players, and Kate herself was simply peerless.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m proud of all of my work as I strive to make music I myself would listen to and enjoy. However, I think the new album ‘The Fermi Paradox’ really brings it all together in a very cohesive way and is a natural progression from its predecessor, ‘Omertà’. It was written as a concept album from start to finish and there has been a lot of research and work gone into making it as complete and as scientifically factual as possible. I very happy with how it’s turned out and how all the elements interact sonically.

How would you characterise your musical/creative language?

I try to write with as much melody as possible, even on the most “ambient” tracks. It might be the piano, the strings, or even the bass, but I think it’s important when writing instrumental music that there is something that still puts across the feeling that you would normally get from a vocalist or solo instrumentalist. I think my own musical tastes influence my own writing, but not in the ways you would expect. It might be something fairly subtle, but it’s always interesting when you play a track to someone and they can pick out a specific influence from a particular beat or a couple of bass notes! I also try and write on different levels so that the listener might pick out something different each time they hear it. You may listen once and pick out some spoken word lines and completely miss a refrain that was playing at the same time, or vice versa! I think it gives the work a sense of longevity and keeps the listener interested.

How do you work?

Nearly everything I compose begins on the piano. A few bars of melody, a motif, a chord sequence or an arpeggio will trigger an idea which I then develop in Logic Pro X using mainly soft synths. Sometimes, a new sound from a particular software plug-in can trigger a whole piece. I write all the string parts in Albion and then notate them in Logic before recording them live in my studio. Once I have the piano and strings down, I will normally add bass and send some ideas to my guitarist with a vague outline of how I anticipate the track to build and progress. Drums are added if required using my Roland TD30 and Superior Drummer 3.0 and then my (live, human!) drummer takes away the MIDI and has some fun with the ideas and rhythms to produce the final drum track. On the new album, there are more layers of backing vocals which we added during the production process. I mix in the box as I go along so the track is normally 90% ready by the time all the parts are recorded by live instrumentalists. I then finalise the mix and head off to Alchemy in London for mastering. Normally I have a title for the piece within the first few minutes of starting to write it!

Tell us more about your new album ‘The Femi Paradox’…

The concept was inspired by Enrico Fermi, the famous scientist, and his off-the-cuff remark to his colleagues one lunch time: “Where is everybody?”, e.g. why aren’t we in contact with extra-terrestrial beings given the age and size of the universe? I did a lot of research into the subject and was fascinated by the juxtaposition of man’s doggedly determined search for alien life, while there are so many lonely people on our own planet. I set this idea against the age of social isolation, both digital and physical, and went about writing the pieces using some samples from NASA’s Golden Record and spoken word recordings from famous cosmologists, namely Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, Joe Silk and Mario Livio. The album is a mix of neo-classical, electronic, rock and ambient that uses the textures of these genres to build the sentiment of each piece. It was written and recorded over six months and features a whole array of musicians and instruments. I think it has a real atmosphere about it that is carried in particular by the spoken word samples. The artwork was commissioned from Elle Nelson and features collages made up of brutalist architecture and scenes from deep space with a single isolated figure to represent man’s place in such a vast universe.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Quite simply, making music that I enjoy and would listen to myself. It’s great when you get positive feedback and people take the time to understand the concept, but as an artist, I need to be happy with it as well!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be bold. Try something different and don’t be afraid to experiment. All the great artists started out with a niche underground sound so who knows where the next big thing will emerge from. Be true to yourself and your musical beliefs and you will find success and satisfaction at the right level for you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In my studio (hopefully somewhere near the Amalfi Coast in Italy) writing my next album but maybe at a more sedate pace!

Paul K’s new album ’The Fermi Paradox’ (released 9 November) has been developed in collaboration with Oxford University’s ‘Fine Tuning Project’, which features rare archival transcriptions from the works of astrophysicists Joseph Silk and Mario Livio interspersed with synths and strings.

In his follow-up to ‘Omertà’, electronic artist and producer Paul K (Kirkpatrick)  experiments with samples and vintage gear and asks why humans seem so pre-occupied with spending billions on space exploration when so many people are starving, poor and isolated at home. 

The inspiration behind Paul’s concept album comes from a range of scientific and theoretical sources, and includes audio samples of prominent cosmologists discussing the search for extra-terrestrial life, with tracks named after Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.

Pre-order The Fermi Paradox here

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