Both in understated songs and in electro-acoustic experiments, Fraser McGowan’s art is always very personal and full of sentiment. Here’s how he talks about his inspiration and the different shapes it takes in his music.
You started making music in the duo Small Town Boredom, but what have been your musical wanderings and education before then? How did you approach making music?
The road to where I am has been a bit of a strange path. I learned to play piano quite young, I think I was 10. I went to piano lessons until I was 16. I then gave it up. I took up the drums when I was 17 and played in a punk band for a few years. I never saw myself as someone who could actually write music. It never seemed to be an option in my head.
At the age of 20 I tried playing the guitar for the first time properly, it didn’t stick and I didn’t really pick it up again for another two years. I bought a four track at the same time and an old synthesizer and started making very experimental music, very tuneless, not very good on reflection now. I self released a few cd’s in the late 90’s under various names.
Small Town Boredom came after that. I found a kindred musical spirit in Colin Morrison, it was easy to make music with him. But it wasn’t until we recorded “Autumn Might Have Hope” that I felt I was on the right path.
In what way does your work as Caught In The Wake Forever differ from the one in Small Town Boredom?
Caught In The Wake Forever is very much just my own project. I do whatever I want with it, make whatever I feel like making. With Small Town Boredom I didn’t have that. I was always concerned with what listeners were wanting and I didn’t ever want to stray too far from the classic STB sound. With CITWF that doesn’t really concern me, I use it as a very inward and self satisfying project and I think it will always be that way.
Caught In The Wake Forever is a very expressive alias for an artist, where did it you take it?
The name for the project came from a section of dialogue from the TV series Nip Tuck. I wrote it down when I heard it as I liked it. A few years later when I was thinking of starting a new project I came across it again in a note pad. It resonated with me on so many levels I had to use it.
What’s your ideal condition for writing music? How much does your feelings influence your inspiration?
It depends what type of music I’m writing to be honest. Lyrics often come to me in waves when Im not expecting them. I usually quickly write them down in my phone and then work on them bit by bit as it comes. It can take a long long time. My lyrics are usually quite melancholy, I try not to force this as it’s not a great state for me to be in often. So when they come I embrace them but when they don’t I don’t force it anymore.
When composing on my classical guitar for either songs or instrumentals, ideas usually just come while I’m sitting on the couch watching TV. Again I record short demos on my phone as I forget things quickly.
For the more ambient leanings (which are my favorite tracks to write). These usually come from improvisations in the studios with synthesizers, field recordings and effects. This is where I’m at my most comfortable and most creative, I never have any preconceptions and I just let things happen naturally. It’s a very organic experience for me and by far the most rewarding of the processes.
Your music has always been deeply personal, and you never hide the close link between your life and your artistic creation. Would you relate your musical production to something like a diary of your own life?
Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Each album or Ep is very much like a chapter in the diary of my life.
After the wonderful “Against A Simple Wooden Cross” you released a few instrumental Ep’s, before getting back also to songs in the new “My Family Goes On Without Me”: in this time have you been looking for something different?
Not really, I’m always searching for peace and quiet, which always seems to elude me. But with regards to music, the songs don’t come as freely as the instrumentals, it’s a harder process. I think if it was just songs, songs, songs, I wouldn’t want to make music that way. It would be too much of a strain.
Do you feel any difference between the creative process for proper songs and the one for experimental stuff?
I’ve previously touched on this, but i will try to expand a little. I find songwriting hard, it takes me to dark places that I don’t always want to go and to work on a song over time (some take years to complete) it can be a very draining process to constantly re-visit a painful moment. The experimental aspects of my work I think give me reprieve from the songs. One wouldn’t exist without the other.
I’ve read from one of your posts that you were about to give away guitars to replace them with synths. Will this imply a massive departure from what you’ve done before?I sold a guitar and bought a synthesizer, I then bought another guitar, then I bought another synthesizer. I don’t think there will be any massive departures in sound, that wouldn’t sit right with me. I think there will always be a natural progression in what I do. I’m always interested in finding new ways to balance electronic and acoustic instruments together, while pushing my sound further with each release.
Would you explain the meaning of the titles of your three albums?
“Against A Simple Wooden Cross”: this was a year in my life that was very rough. At the time I felt I was being punished a bit for things that were out of my control. I tried to reflect that in the title.
“My Family Goes On Without Me”: a lot of the time mental health problems can leave you feeling very detached and isolated, especially from those closest to you. Very much so in-fact with anxiety and depression. When you hide away and don’t connect with people, you miss things. It can feel a little like you are being left behind.
“The Places Where I Worship You”: sometimes the world gets in the way. Work can overshadow everything else. When outside distractions are stripped away and all that noise is gone, it’s easier to see what and who are important to you.
How important for you are family and personal values?
In general my family is everything to me, my partner and young son are the best things that have ever happened to me and I try to keep that within sight every day.
You decided to donate all proceeds from “Against A Simple Wooden Cross” to a social institution: apart from this specific money contribution, do you think that music can help people and heal their souls?
I believe music has the power to do a lot of things if the individual opens themselves up to the possibility. For me listening to music is a very rewarding form of therapy and the main reason I was drawn to ambient music years ago. I can’t really speak for others but it works really well for me.
You often use looping and repetitions of notes, which are somehow related to the concept of ”hauntology”. Is this something you feel closer to your idea of music? If yes, can you tell how do you relate the concept of persistency to your compositions?Personally I’m not a massive fan of the whole genre that incorporates “hauntology”. However I am interested in the reputation of subtle phrases to create a state of calm within the listener. This is something I do try to use in my music, mostly for myself as I find it very soothing. I’m not sure if that answers your question though.
For how definitions might mean…how would you define your music?
I really wouldn’t know where to begin in defining my music. I just try to make music that is personally true to myself and represents how I am feeling at that time. It’s very much an extension of my person. I don’t know if you can define that.
Are you interested in different arts other than music? Any literary reference or inclination?
Not massively, I do own a few original paintings that are in my living room but I find most paintings that I do like are a little out of my price range. I’m not a very big reader either, it’s not something I enjoy. In my spare time I actually like watching lots of bad Hollywood movies and series on TV. Besides music it’s one of my favorite things to do.
You’re released “My Family Goes On Without Me” on your own new label and also on a very limited special edition. Which have been the reasons for this choice? Do you think there is also space in this time for record labels and for records as objects?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had albums released on some really great indie labels. For me however there has always been a sense of detachment from the releases. For something that is such a personal process like creating an album, it’s strange to then give it to someone else to put their vision on to it and to leave it in their hands. With the self release I guess I just wanted to have a bit more creative control and remain a little closer and less separated from the project. It was a really great thing to do actually as I had a lot of fun varnishing boxes and printing and cutting and sticking things together. I also gave me direct contact with all my listeners which was really rewarding.
There are however down sides to this process as well. In my case I certainly did not get the same level of exposure. Due to the fact it wasn’t on a ‘cool/hip’ label it was largely overlooked by the press. There is also a sort of stigma around self releasing. For example I’ve heard people say that because an album isn’t on a label that it probably wasn’t good enough. In large it can be overlooked by the online community as it doesn’t have that stamp of approval that a label name gives you.
I do think there is space for record labels in this industry, however their roles are constantly changing. I also believe that there is still a very big market for albums as objects, especially ones that are limited in edition and slightly more elaborate with packaging and design.
What do you think about the way music spreads nowadays through the web? Do you think it is helpful for independent artists like you?
I think it can be very helpful. You can get your music out to listeners all over the world, very quickly. But it also means there are so many other artists doing exactly the same thing. So many in-fact I think it’s at a kind of saturation point. When you release an album, you’re lucky if people turn their gaze in your direction for a week. Then they move on to something else. People seem to have very short attention spans these days and music has become very much a throw away commodity, consumed quickly and discarded.
The part I like most about music and the web is that I have met some genuinely lovely people who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the internet. Some of my best friends are people who have ran labels and put out my releases. This would not have been possible without the internet and I am very grateful for it.
What place does music occupy in your life? Is it still worth writing songs and releasing records?
It plays a huge role in my life. I’m constantly buying records, listening to them at home, in the car, on my headphones. If I’m not listening to music then I’m making my own. It fills big sections of daily life for me. I don’t know what I would do with myself without it.
Personally I think I will always write music along as I find it therapeutic. If I ever didn’t get that from it I would no longer do it. I doubt that will happen though.
How do you feel about playing your music live?
Honestly, I hate it. It makes me far too nervous. I played my first and only Caught In The Wake Forever show last September at a Hibernate night in Bradford, England. Everything went fine, it seemed to go across very well and the crowd were lovely. But It just takes too much out of me. I’m not saying I will never play live again. If the situation is right I will do it. However it’s not something I think is necessary for what I want to achieve with my music.
And, finally, what else can we expect from you in the near future, and what do you expect from music?
I have just had a new album called “The Places Where I Worship You” released through the lovely Dronarivm label. It’s an ambient album based on a collection of environmental recordings I took while on holiday on the Isle Of Arran.
Later on this year (if my finances allow it) I have a long form ambient drone piece that I would like to release on my own imprint. I’ve also just started recording for my next proper album, lots of songs and instrumentals in the works. I have recently started a blog detailing my recording sessions and what I’m doing, you can check that out here: www.theviewfromthebeardmore.tumblr.com.