During June, 2005, Jim conducted a wide ranging interview with his namesake, Jim Smedley.

Part One
covers some of his early musical memories and recalls some musical highlights.

In Part Two, Jim talks about his own music and his approach to songwriting.

In Part Three he talks about some of the songs on American Dream


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Computer Music

 

Jim Lesses Interviewed: Part Three 
by Jim Smedley

Part One | Part Two | Part Three 

 

As we said a moment ago, Itís a pretty eclectic mix of songs and styles. Is that what you set out to do?
Not consciously. You have to remember, Iíve been singing some of these songs for quite a few years, now, and strange things can happen while you are on stage performing songs, or at home practicing.

Such as?
Such as hearing other voices and instruments singing and playing along in the background. For instance, I always knew that if I ever recorded the song American Dream, it would have some sort of organ arrangement somewhere in the background, because I could hear it in my head as I sang it. But for most of the songs on the album, the process was much more spontaneous and organic.

How so?
Generally, I started the recording process by recording just the guitar and vocals. If I already had an idea for extra instrumentation I would add those. But quite often, totally unexpected ideas would come to me while listening back to what I had recorded. These musical ideas seemed to come out of the songs themselves. It was as if the arrangements were trapped in the songs right from the beginning, and were waiting to be freed and captured during the recording process.

For example?
For example, take the counter melodies that many of the songs have. Discovering these has been a total revelation for me.

What do you mean by Ďcounter melodiesí?
Have another listen to A Modern Chief Executive for instance. The basic melody is a very simple piano arrangement that runs through the whole song. Now I knew I couldnít have just the piano part and sing over that for the whole song. And I also knew that I wasnít a good enough keyboard player to be able to add lots of variety to the piano part. So I had to add something else to keep it interesting, but I had no idea what that Ďsomething elseí was.

It wasnít until I had recorded the piano arrangement and added a vocal guide track that I was able to sit back and listen to the basic composition. Then an amazing thing happened. Out of nowhere, the counter melody you hear, which starts with an accordion sound, justÖ appeared!

There I was, listening to the basic track, and this counter melody just seemed to materialize out of the song itself. Itís as if the counter melody was always there in the song, like I said, waiting to be set free by the recording process. And this happened over and over again as I was recording my songs.

And Iíll tell you another thing about that song, that still blows me away. The little bridge section, where the boss breaks into song, again, that just appeared out of blue during the recording session.

Again, I knew instinctively that the song needed something to break up the flow of verses, but I didnít know what. It occurred to me that a bridge might do the trick but what would it say? Well, the answer came from the boss himself. The character just broke into song one day and began singing, I am the leader, I am the boss/if you donít like it, I donít give a toss. And thatís all! Two lines, but they were perfect for what I was looking for.

Now where did those lines come from? They werenít there when I wrote the song months before, and they werenít there when I started the recorded process. Or were they? Where did they come from? My theory is, they were trapped right there in the song waiting to be released and captured again for the recording itself.

Thatís a fascinating theory. Iím not sure how many other people would subscribe to it, but it obviously works for youÖ
It certainly does, and itís what makes the recording process so exciting. Because I literally donít know from one moment to the next what amazing discoveries are waiting to be uncovered or revealed to me as Iím working on a song.

Iím sure we could talk for hours about each song, but we donít have time for that, but can I ask you about one or two others? Junk Yard Dog for instance.
Junk Yard Dog
was an experiment in sound sculpting.

Sound sculpting?
I buy a magazine from England called Computer Music magazine, and each month it comes with a cover disk that has hundreds of megabytes of copyright free sound samples on it. Back in May or June 2004, the cover disk included a heap of recorded junk objects. Things like steel bars, nails, oil drums, whatever. As an experiment I thought Iíd try to put some of them together to create a percussion track of some sort. To my delight, I eventually came up with a rhythm track that I thought might have some possibilities for a song, and Junk Yard Dog is the final result.

While we are on the topic of Ďsound sculptingí, I should also point out that the rap/hip hop version of The Future Is Theirs, and the instrumental, Eye of The Beholder, also developed out of my experiments with sound samples from some of these Computer Music cover disks. 

Oh, and by the way, Junk Yard Dog is one of the very few examples, if not the only example I can think of right now, where I have created a song out of a melody first, as opposed to writing lyrics first, which I normally do. Not, I hasten to add, that the rhythm track has much of a melody!

 

Ok. Actually since you mentioned the hip hop version of The Future Is Theirs can we talk briefly about that?
Sure.

I was amazed to read on your website that The Future Is Theirs was originally written back in 1974 or Ď75Ö
Thatís right.

Why put it on an album 30 years later, and how did it become a hip hop/rap song?
The reason itís on the album is quite simple, because despite the fact that it is 30 years old, it still has relevance to listeners today. In fact, the song could have been written a month ago, given some of the things that are currently happening in the world.

For instance, while the opening verses originally referred to events that took place 30 years ago, such as the coup in Greece in 1972 and the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, in 1973, and various anti-colonial struggles in Africa and elsewhere during the 1970s; today when I sing it, I am also referring to Iraq, the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by US personnel.

The really sad thing is that the song has dated so little in 30 years!

And you recorded it as a hip hop/rap style numberÖ
Iíve recorded it like that, and Iíve also included a, mostly, acoustic version on the bonus disk.

As someone who seems to have a long history of involvement in folk music, why even bother recording a rap version of your song?
Because itís there!

Please explain?
One of the things I like to do with my songwriting is set myself songwriting Ďchallengesí. Like writing in styles and genreís that I would normally not write in. And rap or hip hop is one of those styles.

Iíve actually been wanting to write a rap type song for several years, and despite the fact that Iíve had an idea and a theme to write about, I just havenít been able to do it. I was surprised to find that itís actually a lot harder than I thought it would be to write that type of song.

Anyway, one day I was playing around with some sound samples from one of the Computer Music cover disks which included some rap style beats and rhythms. I ended up with a basic groove which I thought I could use to finally write my rap song. So I dug out this idea I had to see if I could do something with it, but I just couldnít get past the first few lines. Like I say, itís much harder than you think it is to write that style of song.

Anyway, in a brilliant leap of inspiration (that I have no explanation for), I decided to see if I could use the lyrics to The Future Is Theirs over this rhythm track, and to my amazement it fitted perfectly.

And just one more question about the bonus diskÖ
Okey DokeyÖ

Why a bonus disk? Why not just release a double album?
Again, like the decision to record an album of politically themed songs, the decision to include a bonus disk was quite accidental, at least, to begin with.

Originally, I had planned to include two or three bonus songs at the end of the main album. Those songs were Heartache To Heartache, Keeping Up Appearances, and Eye Of The Beholder. But the three songs together ran to almost 15 minutes, and clearly this would have been far too long. It would have totally changed the mood and flow of what I was hoping to do with the sequencing of the 13 songs on American Dream.

Then I thought, Why not put the three songs onto a CDR which I can burn myself, and give away with each album sold. Then I thought, Well if Iím going to put three songs on the CDR and burn them, I might as well add some additional songs to it and make it worth everyoneís while, if you get what I mean? So thatís what I did, and thatís why people are currently getting a full length bonus disk with each copy of the main album.

But thatís not the same as a double albumÖ
No, it isnít. Having decided to concentrate on my political songs for American Dream, I just didnít have enough songs ready to be able to spread them out over two albums, and I didnít want to fill them out with material that I thought would detract from the overall effect I was trying to achieve with the main CD.

But quite frankly, the other reason is, I didnít have enough money to manufacture a second CD, anyway. Thatís why I am burning them myself at home and adding my own labels, and doing my own packaging. Itís not ideal, but itís about all I can manage at the moment, so it will have to do.

Well, like I said before, we could talk for hours, and probably have been anyway. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your musical influences and your new album and recording processes.
My pleasureÖ and thank you, too.

 

JIM LESSES: Sometimes I Wake Up Naked

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JIM LESSES: American Dream

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