Interview: 5 minutes with Alan Bonner
Since his early childhood, Brighton-based independent singer-songwriter Alan Bonner always dreamed of pursuing a musical career. After a nerve-wracking impromptu school performance, Bonner immediately began to show an interest in music. Fast forward to early adulthood, and newly found inspirational hooks, Bonner then made the decision to make music a priority, coincidentally jolted after hearing a song by American songstress Tori Amos. Alan Bonner began to shape his heartfelt and intimately atmospheric signature style by learning piano and focusing more on vocal delivery and tone.
Influenced by an array of similarly like-minded artists, Alan Bonner has performed at some notable festivals such as Komedia in Brighton, Leestock Festival in the UK, and Cantautori d’Italia, a prestigious Italian festival, and shared stage with artists such as English singer-songwriter David Ford and Fyfe Dangerfield of indie-rock band Guillemots as well as notable venues such as Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. BONNER has also held extensive tours across the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia, USA and founded legendary music nights in Berlin at Laksmi & Alaska Bar, attracting musicians and performers from all corners of the globe.
We caught up with Alan Bonner on outside influence and studio reflection:
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
Because without arts and entertainment, the world would be dull as dishwater, and music is food for the soul. I’ve always been drawn to it for as long as I can remember. None of my family are musical or artistic. They have other talents, so I guess it chose me.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Usually the idea. Typically, I will have the bare bones of a song when I go into the studio, like a basic structure of what I’m trying to do. I may have a sound in mind, or sometimes I’ll bring in other artist’s records that I want to use as sonic-touchstones for a track, but then other times I have no idea how the eventual track will sound. I find it so exciting when I take in a little piano or vocal track, and then come out with a mix that has all these layers and synths and sonic textures to it. It can take the song in a direction you never imagined and I love that. I like to bounce off a producer as well, as they will come up with ideas you would never have thought of and vice-versa, because you are two different people coming from different places musically. I like it to be collaborative.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
Yes – my new EP was recorded in Galway, Ireland, and it features guest appearances from some amazing Galway-based musicians who are also friends of mine; Pa Reidy (vocals and guitar), Tracy Bruen (Backing Vocals) and Niamh O’ Connor (Cello).
What’s on your current playlist?
I love the latest record by Aaron titled We Cut The Night. As well as Susan Sundfor, John Grant, The National, and Bowie is a staple, always!
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
I don’t like to call them fans, because I think that puts a barrier between me and them, and I think it’s very egocentric to refer to them as fans – so I’ll call them people who support my music. I guess it depends on the show but I am always aiming to try and connect with them in some way. To move them, or to make them think. My songs are pretty personal, and I can feel a little exposed at times when I’m up there but when people come up to me after a show and tell me that they were moved, or that they related to the songs or the things I’m singing about, then I feel l’ve done a good job. Music for me has always been about connecting with people and sharing the things that we are too scared to talk about in everyday life. It’s about holding a space in which to be vulnerable and in showing that vulnerability other people can relate to it, and hopefully feel less alone.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I’m not sure if I have many techniques but with every record I make, I usually have a different mood or an idea about a world I’m trying to create with each album. Sometimes I achieve it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes its trial and error until I feel we have found the right sound for that particular track or album. I don’t really have a technique as such, but I know when I have found the sound I’m looking for, even if I don’t always know what I’m looking for until I find it .
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
All the records I made have been made in the homes of the producers, so there’s always quite a relaxed, homely atmosphere in the studio. I usually start work around 11am and work though into the evening. I usually have a clear idea of what I’m going in to do as I like to do some preparation beforehand, so as not to waste time. After the vocals and the parts are done and we are mixing, there is usually some drinking but not until after the vocals are down. Drinking and laughing. Lots of stupid banter! If it isn’t fun, I don’t want to do it. I’m lucky all the brilliant people who have worked on my records with me have become good friends of mine, so the laughing bit comes easy.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I was a socially awkward kid and one day in music class my teacher asked me to sing. I never sang anything before but I did as she asked and people said I was good, and it felt good. So I decided there and then I would be a singer. I was always obsessed with pop music growing up as well. It just felt natural for me to do it, like a compulsion. If I’m not writing, or recording, or performing, I don’t know who I am. I’ve had periods in the past where I got tired, or disillusioned with music so I took time out, but it always felt like I was missing a limb. It’s part of me. I have to do it.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
A drink. Whiskey usually. Mine’s a double!
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Travel, getting away from the normality of your everyday surroundings allows you to have time to think and reflect, and that allows the songs to begin to come to me. Life events; good and bad. Like many artists, I find anguish or upset of any kind usually gets the songs coming, I am far less prolific if everything in life is peachy. Meeting people and hearing their stories. I have had chance meetings with strangers in bars, or on busses, or in airport lounges and sometimes the things they divulge can end up inspiring a song or two. A good bottle of Rijoca usually helps as well.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
An Irish artist called Jack O’ Rourke is just phenomenal. Another is I am Niamh who is a dear pal of mine, as is Tracy Bruen, Valerio Lysander, Paul Diello, Rufus Coats and The Blackened Trees. Steven Sharpe and The Broke Straight Boys. I’ve been lucky to have met and shared bills with so many amazing acts over the years!
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
I am useless with all things technical. I’m so lucky to work with some amazingly talented and very tech savvy producers – Aneek Thapar who made my last album Night Music, and Will O’ Connor who I worked with on the new EP are technical wizards. I am not, although I am still very involved in the production, I have clear ideas about what I want to try out and how I want things to sound and I oversee everything but I do not twiddle the knobs.
Any side projects you’re working on?
I’m writing a one man show that combines theatre and music for the Fringe Festival circuit. Hopefully it will be on stage by 2020 if not before.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
This is my fourth album (well actually it’s an EP so I guess its my 3rd and a half..?) I hope that my songwriting has matured. I’m older than when I first started obviously, so I have more life experience to put into the songs. I’m a better singer and a better player, because you grow with experience. My voice is richer and more lived in compared to the first album, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing as such. I’m stricter with myself when it comes to writing than I used to be, especially with lyrics. I’d like to think I’ve refined my craft but I guess that’s up to the listener.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
Songs In The Key Of Sea was just released on April 6th, I will be on tour in Ireland in April and in the UK and Europe throughout the summer!
Order Songs In The Key Of Sea – The Galway Bay EP by Alan Bonner via iTunes
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