Words & Noises are set to release their debut single, ‘Play Your Cards’, on June 17, through Ditto Music. We caught up with Chris Selman from the duo.
EP: Words & Noises is an interesting name – what’s it about and how did you come up with it?
CS: Without wanting to sound too big-headed, it’s actually a quote from a song I wrote a while ago. My first release as a solo artist, after I left my university band behind, was a track called ‘Graffiti Dreams’. It had a lyric “I’m listening to the radio, but I don’t understand the show, I just hear words and noises speaking in voices to me”. I like the idea that all music, and everything we ever hear, is just words and noises. All sound comes from the same building blocks, it’s about how we put them together and then how others interpret them.
EP: Who are you, how did you meet? What style of music do you create?
CS: There are only two of us doing this full time – me (Chris Selman) and Simon Williams, who adds all the drums and percussion. We have a little help from our friends on a few of the tracks, but Simon and I are the only ones on every track, and when we perform live it’s just us two.
When I first struck out as a solo artist, Simon was the drummer in the very-modestly-titled Chris Selman Band. The band ran out of momentum after an album and tour, but Simon was happy to carry on working with me. He has excellent taste in music, so not only does he introduce me to some brilliant new bands who I can then draw inspiration from, but he’s also brilliant to bounce ideas off – I trust his opinion if he tells me something is good – or otherwise.
I think our songs are quite traditional singer/songwriter affair – storytelling lyrics matched to memorable melodies. There’s a bit of an ’80s influence in there, and the lyrics are occasionally quite dark or introspective – we get quite a few comparisons to Morrissey or The Cure.
EP: We featured your song ‘Play Your Cards’ recently – it’s got a real 80s vibe about it – talk us through it. What’s it about?
CS: It covers a couple of different ideas really. The first is that any form of romantic encounter – whether it’s a first date, or meeting someone in a bar, or formally asking someone out – it’s always a gamble. One party always has to lay everything on the line – play everything on the table – and hope the other reciprocates.
The other idea explored is that, no matter how old or wise or mature you are, it’s very easy to make the wrong choice. The track references a character called ‘The Collector’, which is the name of our forthcoming EP; this character is the sort of person everyone has met – the person you should never, ever fall for. The type who collects hearts and feelings, then moves on to someone new. The lyrics explore the idea that, no matter how rationally you approach the situation, no matter how sensible you are, it’s pretty easy to make the wrong decision.
EP: Who are your musical influences? And who influences you in life?
CS: Musical influences vary. I listen to a wide range of music, although I have always had an affinity for British rock/indie bands. My older brother got into music in the mid-’90s and so the albums he bought were the first I listened to – so I was raised on a diet of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead. I also loved The Smiths, and a little later on explored older British music like The Beatles, David Bowie, etc. When I was at university I started to get into more American music; two of my favourite singers and lyricists are Ryan Adams and Sufjan Stevens. I like a bit of arty rock music as well, with a bit of electronica thrown in; I’ve been listening to a lot of Everything Everything recently.
Life influence is much trickier – there are plenty of people I admire and who I think have done a great job, but in terms of who has an influence over what I do and what I aspire towards, I’m not sure. I think Eddie Izzard has a wonderful attitude to life and does a lot for progressive causes; the same could possibly be said of Grayson Perry. So maybe those two. If you ask me tomorrow I might give a different answer…
EP: If you could do it all over again, what, if anything, would you do differently, and why?
CS: I’m really not sure how much I’d do differently – everyone has ups and downs but I’m happy with the life I’ve led and the music I’ve made thus far. I’d maybe have spent a bit more time focusing on the commercial side of the music. When I was first releasing solo music in my early 20s, I spent a lot of time writing and recording the songs, and very little on the promotion – I had the ethos that great music would sell itself, and if it was good enough, someone would notice. Perhaps it took me longer than it should have to realise that a great song without a great campaign doesn’t stand a chance. But it’s all a learning curve and I’m on the right track now!
EP: What’s your take on the current state of the music business?
CS: I think it’s very risk-averse and that’s a shame. In the ’90s – and even into the ’00s – there was still a fair bit of investment into new British music. There wasn’t so much focus on a ‘global strategy’, it didn’t matter if the artist wouldn’t appeal in the USA, if the album sold well here that was enough. Now artists only seem to be invested in if they have global reach, and can prove that with data – if they have so many thousand likes or followers or views. The only British music that receives serious investment from the industry are the established brands – millions are spent on the latest Adele and Coldplay campaigns to ensure success while a hundred great new bands scrap over a tiny advance from a label that’s concerned they may not have broad appeal.
It’s not all bad. Thanks to the prevalence of companies like Ditto Music, artists are able to self-release and promote relatively cheaply. There are lots of great sharing platforms like SoundCloud and the ability to crowdfund a new release is much simpler than it was a decade ago. There are new opportunities, but the traditional music industry is sadly in a bit of a mess.
EP: What can we expect from your EP, ‘The Collector’?
CS: Four new songs which we’ve been honing for a long, long time. Our last EP was recorded about two years ago – I really wanted there to be a marked improvement in the quality of the music. Three of the songs have been written in the period since we released our ‘Loaded Gun’ EP – although the songs have probably been rewritten and gone through several different demos. One of the songs, ‘The Morning After’, is actually a reworking of one of my oldest tracks – but I’d never made a studio recording of it before; I think I’m finally happy with the structure and the pace. The opening song has some of my strongest lyrics; it has a bit of an Arctic Monkeys vibe to it. The closing track is a big ballad and possibly my most memorable chorus.
Also, it all sounds very slick. We spent a good deal of time – more hours-per-track – than we’ve ever had on any of our releases, to get the recording and mixing spot on. It’s also the first time we’ve had it mastered by a professional; the songs have been mastered by Andy Walter at Abbey Road. He’s worked with everyone, from David Bowie, to Radiohead, to Kylie Minogue. It’s all very exciting and we can’t wait to share all the songs.
EP: What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does?
CS: To be honest I’ve done so many interviews that I’ve probably answered everything by now! People are often afraid to ask about a favourite song, because it’s too big a question. But here you go – Bohemian Rhapsody!
‘Play Your Cards’ is set for release on June 17 through Ditto Music and will be available on all good streaming and download services. ‘The Collector’ comes out in August.