In 2016 prolific music producer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee teamed with fellow producer/songwriter and vocalist Andy Platts to release a project under the name ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’. The album was a nod to the great west coast lounge sound of the late 70’s and encompassed those very same recording techniques and sonic sensibilities, smooth, soulful and oozing that human feel, littered with perfect imperfections. ‘West End Coast’ featured ten tracks of concise pop with a start to finish flow that is rarely heard in modern day music and it quickly went down as a classic for me. In late 2017 I heard they were working on a follow up release entitled ‘AM Waves’.
‘AM Waves’ broadly picks up where the previous album left off. The opening track ‘Midnight in Richmond’ is unashamedly similar to previous work which is no bad thing. The age old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ comes into play and there is definitely nothing broke with this songwriting formula. As you delve further into this album with more listens you realise the subtle improvements from ‘West End Coast’ from the sublime yet subtle backing vocals on the opening track to the brilliant almost 70’s funk film score like horn arrangements at the breakdown on ‘Love Guarantee’. As easy as it would have been for ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’ to simply copy and paste the past they seem to have made a notable effort to bring more of the same stylistically yet look to improve on their previous efforts. The changes and differences may be subtle but they are definitely there and there are almost definitely intended.
During my review of ‘West End Coast’ back in 2016 I decided, in order to understand the process a little more, I would interview recording and mix engineer Pierre Duplan on his role within this set up. The interview proved to be an insightful look at how the three of them work and end up creating a record like ‘West End Coast’. For this feature I thought it would be great to carry this on and chat to songwriter and vocalist Andy Platts to try and gain some further knowledge on how this project came to be and the process behind it.
As well as being the front man for ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’ Andy is the songwriter and driving force for the band Mama’s Gun (who you should all check out also).
EP: I’ll be honest and begin this interview by saying that I hadn’t heard a great deal about you until I heard the YGSF project with Shawn Lee. I then went back and checked out the earlier Mama’s Gun stuff but I can see that, similar to Shawn, you’re quite a prolific writer/producer. Can you give a little insight into your musical beginnings?
AP: I was born in British ex-colonial Hong Kong in the late 70s into a household with a fairly healthy vinyl collection built largely on classic hit records of the era. My parents themselves weren’t particularly musical although my mother did play nylon strung guitar into her late teens. I first got into music playing piano by ear when I was 9 years old which led me to take all the classical grades. I took up guitar at 12 years old and turned my bedroom into a giant musical laboratory where I would frankenstein loads of old hifi separates together so that I could record myself playing over songs on the radio, cassette or vinyl. I would also stay up late and compose my own little radio shows with their own jingles which is where I may have got the bug for writing songs but I couldn’t say for sure.
EP: So YGSF, who had the idea? Was the intention always to create this yacht rock, soul drenched music or was the intention to collaborate with Shawn in some way and this is what came out?
AP: Both really. It was first and foremost Shawn’s idea. He’d been looking to create an album which celebrated his deep love of the West Coast music he grew up with and was waiting for the right collaborator to do so. We’d met around 2006 on myspace and tried a few things together over the years (including some Mamas Gun stuff) but nothing to really get our teeth into as a unit. Sometime around 2010 he got in touch with me about trying a few songs in this West Coast style, and was convinced that between us we had the perfect tools to continue the West Coast musical conversation but with our own twist.
EP: The blend between Shawn and yourself seems like such a good fit. It’s like one is crying out for the other. Both your styles of playing, writing and recording seem to match so well. What do you think the key to this is?
AP: Great question. I think between us we have everything covered. There are many areas where we overlap, but quite quickly we adopted the roles which most suited our skill sets and our particular desires with regards to this project. Very loosely, Shawn handles and is driven by the sonic and musical aesthetic and I handle the melodies, lyrics and vocals and am very much driven by the song writing. It’s often the case that Shawn will send me a completed instrumental (which sounds like a finished record) and I will write the songs and record the lead / backing vocals and perhaps some rhodes/piano (Emilia, Distance Between Us, Midnight In Richmond, Caroline, for example).
But on both West End Coast and AM Waves there are quite a few instances of me having created everything my end to send to Shawn to replace certain parts with a better sound or to elevate through the mix process. (Better, Long Way Back, Lenny, Take It Or Leave It, for example). And of course there’s everything which sits between those two places, where we come together in perfect union from the ground up (You Can Feel It, See Me Slumber, Underdog, Just A Man, for example).
EP: Stylistically I think what grabs me about the YGSF stuff and then into the new Mama’s Gun album is the freshness. I think it feels fresh because at times the world is awash with negativity and this music has such a happy, easy feel. Even a track like ‘Lenny’ which talks of drinking away worries and not facing tomorrow has that catchy hook, and sing along feel. Is that something that you have deliberately perfected or is it something that is natural to how you write?
AP: For some reason, I have always tended to create music which is warm and uplifting in some way. Although fairly simple, ‘Lenny’ paints a portrait of a man at a low ebb seeking some kind of temporary escape through alcohol but the melody and music ultimately implies some kind of redemption.
I take my songwriting craft cues from a bygone era – from the 60s, 70s and 80s – where (for me) the song’s musical journey was always equal to the lyrical journey, that is to say that the song could be enjoyed on a number of primitive and mental levels. A certain depth and sophistication I guess, where each part was balanced for the whole to work effectively. And wrapped up within that type of song craft was always a good collection of musical hooks, as part of the journey and not hooks for hooks sake.
In the West Coast genre, something like the Doobie Brothers’ ‘What A Fool Believes’ is a perfect example of a song which is very catchy and radio friendly but built on something quite musically complex and with lyrical and conceptual substance.
EP: I heard an interview with you when you said that your choice to be a musician is to “sacrifice everything for the notion of perfecting the best version of an idea”. That is probably one of the best descriptions of anyone involved in a creative industry. Do you feel that these uncertainties help or hinder your creative process. And also, as someone who appears to be naturally quite upbeat do the inevitable issues within the industry ever get you down?
AP: Being a musician, and more emphatically perhaps, a songwriter, is a lifestyle choice. For many people on the outside looking in I’m sure it must seem like an abstract existence, and if I think about it long enough it seems abstract to me too. There is a moment in writing every song when the seed blooms and the idea suddenly crystallizes and you can see what the song is and what it could be. It is a kind of quiet euphoria which is very addictive, like you’re peeking through a keyhole and getting a look at something you weren’t meant to see. It’s a similar feeling at a show when the whole venue – performer and audience – is resonating as one and you feel invincible.
Ultimately those kinds of feelings are very special. That’s what I want to do with my life, to do things which feel special, and to do them as well as I can.
But it’s all cyclical. Self doubt and financial uncertainty can be emotionally crippling, but how you channel and divert those emotional peaks and troughs determines the effect on the creative process. Sometimes you’re good it, sometimes you completely drop the ball. But there are so many variables tangled up with it too – like how many hours a night sleep you are getting. I have a 9 week old daughter so my brain feels like a leftover trifle at the moment!
EP: With the above question/answer in mind. If you could change anything about the music industry what would it be?
AP: I don’t think I would to be honest. Sure every generation has it’s go-to bugbears about the negative effects of progress but the music industry has never been easy to negotiate regardless of the era.
Besides, I have too much shit to do…I’ll let someone else pull faces munching those sour grapes.
EP: If you had some terrible accident and you were about to be left with no way of singing or no way of playing a musical instrument again (I don’t know what kind of accident this is, just go with it) but you could save either your voice or your ability to play which one would you save and why?
AP: I’ve never thought of myself as a singer. With each year that passes, I get more comfortable with the role but it’s something I have to work hard at. Of the two, I’d have to go with keeping my ability to play (and I could still write with a pen right?) because for me songs and songwriting is the lifeblood of it all. Without songs what would all the singers sing?
EP: Finally, you sacrifice everything for the notion of perfecting the best version of an idea every day but if you weren’t doing that by creating music then what would you be doing?
AP: I think that part of me is all about obsession, so whatever I would do I would bring a self flagellating can-always-do-better attitude to the work. I have unending respect for people working in crucial positions of public service or charity – doctors, nurses, aid workers, animal rights so perhaps something in that area. But maybe because that’s a reaction to a guilt I sometimes feel about whether what I’m doing actually contributes meaningfully to the world. I think on the whole it does – I’ve had many humbling conversations with people who have described how music which I’ve written has really helped them through the bleakest of times in their lives and kept them moving forward and upward. And that really does mean everything to me.
You can buy all the work from ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’ direct from their bandcamp page and I thoroughly recommend that you do!
If you’re interested in what else Andy is up to then I’d also definitely recommend you check the new Mama’s Gun album entitled ‘Golden Days’.