The second in this series of interviews with inspiring creative people is musician and journalist Andrew Eaton.
Andrew co-runs Biphonic Records, an Edinburgh based independent label, through which he releases some great music including his own, both in the band Swimmer One and for his solo project Seafieldroad. And he’s even been brave enough to share some of his home demos on his new blog!
I asked him to introduce himself and answer some probing questions on his creative habits:
Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?
By day I’m an arts journalist for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. On evenings and weekends I make music – with my band Swimmer One and as Seafieldroad (which is mostly me, but my bandmates are involved in that too).
I’m a slightly obsessive songwriter – I’ve recorded well over 40 hours of music since my early teens, mostly on a home studio. Recently I started sifting through all my old recordings and began posting them, one song a week, on a blog called Might Make A B Side.
A lot of them are terrible, but I’m putting them up anyway on the grounds that they’re sometimes terrible in a quite interesting way. Or a funny way. You should hear the way I sang as a 14-year-old.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?
I started writing songs at a very early age, without really intending to. I remember listening to Radio One as a child and thinking that particular songs would sound much better if there was a slightly different chord change in the middle eight. So I was sort of making my own versions of other people’s records, because I thought I could do it better.
If you listen to my old demos though, I’m all over the place – punky guitar songs, electropop, comedy songs, weird film soundtrack type music. I’ve never really had any idea what kind of music I wanted to make.
That’s still true now – Swimmer One are all over the place stylistically, especially on our second album. I don’t imagine there are many bands who get compared to both Belle and Sebastian and the Who. It’s probably not done us any favours commercially, but some people seem to like it, if they can get their heads around it.
How do you define success?
I suspect that success, creatively, is getting to do the thing that you really love doing for about two thirds of your time – and no more than that. If you do it all of the time, you probably end up hating it, or you stagnate, or you get stuck in a comfortable bubble. If you don’t get to do it often enough, you’re frustrated. It’s a fine line.
I suspect that, even though I’ve never made much of a ‘career’ out of music, I’ve been reasonably ‘successful’ at it, in the sense that I still love doing it and am excited by it. That’s what’s important.
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
Technology has obviously made it much easier to make yourself visible to the world. The downside, of course, is that it’s much harder to make any money now – recorded music is no longer regarded as something you should pay for.
Even the most successful bands aren’t making the kind of money that they did a few years ago. Live performance and merchandise is the only way to make a living as a musician now, because those things can’t be downloaded. Unfortunately I don’t like playing live very much.
In terms of creating work, having spent years making quite complicated, ambitious, technology-based music with Swimmer One, I’m actually finding myself wanting to use as little technology as possible. My ‘solo’ project, Seafieldroad, is just me and a piano. That partly comes of wanting a simpler life generally. Technology is useful when it’s a tool for making life simpler, less so when it takes over your life.
Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?
I suspect I’d sound like a better person if I said yes to this, but the honest answer is no. The buzz idea these days is that musicians will thrive by collaborating with their fans – getting them to suggest song ideas via Twitter, or just offer direct feedback via the internet. That’s a lovely idea. But I’m still at my happiest making music on my own, or with a couple of other people, for ourselves and on our own terms.
Which is maybe one of the reasons why I’m not more successful – we’ve never been part of any ‘scene’, which undoubtedly helps you get along, especially in a place as small and community-spirited as the Scottish music industry – but you have to be true to yourself.
Swimmer One: Laura Cameron Lewis, Hamish Brown, Andrew Eaton. Photo by Jannica Honey
I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
I’m completely inconsistent, and all over the place creatively, possibly to my detriment. When I was younger I thought writing songs would get me nowhere so I should become a writer of other things. I tried to write a novel, was useless at it, and became a journalist instead.
In more recent years I’ve dabbled in theatre and in art installations, but rarely do the same thing twice. In the end I instinctively keep coming back to songwriting, and sometimes wish I’d focused more on that, and really pursued it, at an early age. I would have quite liked to be a songwriter-for-hire, someone like Eg White. I had no idea that existed as a living though.
Advice? Find something you love and are good at, and pursue that relentlessly rather than fall into something for the sake of it. You’ll probably have a more rewarding life. Then again, some of the most interesting, enjoyable and transforming experiences you have in life are the ones you have quite by accident. I’ve had a lot of those, and they’ve often made me very happy. So perhaps constistency is overrated.
That’s good to hear! Many thanks to Andrew for answering so honestly – what do you think? Say hello and add your thoughts in the comments.