It’s been five long years since the release of his debut LP ‘We’re Too Young’, but although he’s kept us entertained with a number of single releases – and an EP – throughout those five years, one of Australia’s most celebrated singer songwriters, Andy Bull, is finally back and armed with a brand new album.
‘Sea Of Approval’ arrives with a sumptuous new ambient/electronic-leaning sound and lyricals interpretation of his “lucid” dreams. Naturally, we couldn’t let such an auspicious occasion go by without having a natter with the amiable performer, who begins by defending himself against the five year wait.
“I didn’t realise that I was keeping anyone waiting, actually…,” he laughs. “I guess it has been a little while in between. It’s not that I haven’t been doing music stuff; it’s just been a while between delineating it with an album. I did a lot that didn’t get released along the way too, so I’ve been noodling away in private even in amongst all those releases.”
Andy burst onto the scene in 2008 with his debut single ‘Small Town Girl’. A rousing piano-driven pop song, it reminded us at the time of some of Elton John’s earlier work. Times have changed of course, and so it seems has Andy. We ask him whether his perception of what kind of artist he wants to be has also changed since his debut.
“That’s a good question. I think probably it has changed and it continues to change, just as I get a feel for it,” he explains. “If I get a feel for it, I realise what feels right… or what feels good and what doesn’t feel so natural. That kind of thing.
“I think now I just want to be a bit more autonomous than I did back then, so I’m definitely less idealistic about what it means to be a performer and a musician. Hopefully scratching a little deeper and asking some harder questions. It’s a complex question to answer, but I think it certainly has changed.”
One thing that’s clearly not changing with Andy any time soon, however, is the intensity of his dreams. And it’s they that have inspired a number of the lyrics found on ‘Sea Of Approval’.
“I’m quite a vivid dreamer and sometimes a lucid dreamer as well,” Andy explains. “I don’t like to talk too much about it because it can make me sound a little bit loopy, but I often keep a journal where I keep creative ideas, so I’ll write about music I listen to or things I’ve seen and sometimes my own reflections on things.
“And sometimes if I’ve had a particularly vivid or strange dream, I’ll write about that too. So maybe about once a month or so, I’ll end up writing about it. I guess the reason is that sometimes you have such strange dreams; they’re so strange and the images and themes are so unexpected and you wonder where they’ve come from. But they have all come from your own mind.
“So when I’m writing music, I want to try to tap into that imagination. That strangeness or that kind of unexpected creativity of weird lateral thinking and stuff that symbolically might make sense but doesn’t literally make sense. So that’s why I keep a diary… so I can keep an open line between my waking hours and the more imaginative dream hours.”
But Andy tells us he draws the line at consulting the dream dictionaries in order to decipher his dreams’ possible hidden meanings.
“Any potential interpretations have got to be personally relevant. Maybe when I was younger, I’d look at them and think ‘what do these archetypes mean?’ – not as like a fortune-telling device, but culturally. I dream of snakes a lot, for example. So what does that mean? There are certain things that keep coming up. Maybe there’s some sort of order or archetypal meaning to those or maybe they’re just more personal.”
There’s also a fair bit of comment lyrically about our reliance on social media for communication and the way in which we manipulate it to present the best version of ourselves, but Andy is quick to point out that he hopes he doesn’t come across as being too specific about any particular social media outlet.
“For me, it was more trying to reconcile the face that you wear publicly with the internal reality of your day to day experience, which is maybe a little bit different to the way other people perceive you,” Andy explains. “And I guess that nowhere is the disparity between reality and the façade greater than on social networking, where you get just a sliver of information about a person.
“It’s not really a forum for in-depth discussion. It’s certainly not a forum for quiet reflection. Social media is a format that prompts people to think, interact and communicate in a very narrow way. It’s not an invalid way, but it shouldn’t be confused with the bigger picture. I think that’s sort of what I was thinking about.
“If you want to feel really understood or you want to feel that you have some autonomy or whatever, then a healthy life would include more than just social networking as the primary means with which you interact with other people.”
Of course, the need to be in constant connection with a voracious fanbase means that for any artist, social media is a necessary evil.
“That’s true. I know a number of different musicians who’ve had different approaches to it,” Andy admits. “I kind of see it for what it is and you have to communicate, but not take it too seriously.
“I know some people who are just not on it at all, some people who are on it all the time, some people who have worked it into their art form and use it in a funny way… I guess you’ve just got to find the way that feels comfortable for you. But there’s definitely no denying that it’s there and there’s certainly an expectation to use it.”
However, that’s not to say that Andy covets the attention.
“I see a lot of value in privacy and quietness,” he reveals. “But on the other hand, I really enjoy performing. I love talking to people and meeting people. It’s not normal sort of attention. You have a find a way to rationalise it and navigate your way through. Most of the attention is overwhelmingly positive and some of it’s not.
“I certainly don’t think I would ever want to perform in any capacity just for the attention. However, it’s certainly nice to have an audience when you go to play shows. That’s the point, in a way. But you really want to go and have a fun, shared experience. It’s not some propaganda rally. I don’t know if there’s an ideal way to deal with it. It’s a complex thing.”
Andy’s all-important second album arrives at retail from today. Stylistically, it marks a sonic departure from his earlier material, introducing a more electronic, ’80s-inspired synth-pop element to his music. But although the direction shift might be new for his audience, it’s not quite so new for him.
“I’ve been dabbling in these sorts of sounds for three years,” Andy reveals. “I just felt like it was time to put them onto a recording. I think also the sounds have a quality to them that’s really interesting and reflects the mood I was trying to describe with it.
“Synthesisers and vocoders have a familiarity about them, but they’re not of the natural world either. They’re a bit unnerving and elicit a seasick sort of feeling. So they seemed like really emotive sounds to me. So that was more the decision rather than a consciously stylistic one to pay homage. I certainly wasn’t trying to do a pastiche of anything.”
We comment that the album feels like a big middle finger to anyone who’s ever attempted to pigeon-hole him. He laughs.
“You’ve got to keep it interesting for yourself as much as anyone. It’s not a perfect process either; I was trying to marry a few idea together like live performance and traditional songwriting, but with sounds that you might associate with more ambient or electronic music.
“I didn’t find it to be a particularly efficient process or a very perfect process and the result isn’t necessarily perfect or efficient either, but it was certainly a compelling thing to try and I hope a curious thing to listen to as well.”
But while this latest change in style will certainly heighten his chances to finally be embraced by the commercial radio fraternity across the country, Andy’s not holding his breath.
“I guess every radio station has their own prerogatives and their own needs and markets to service,” he philosophises. “I don’t know. It’s a bit random. Sometimes things might make a crossover and there’s obviously some pretty clear examples of that over the past couple of years… People like Lorde and Gotye… But I’m not one to pursue any particular kind of attention.”
That’s not to say that Andy strikes us as the kind of artist for whom commercial radio airplay would be the be-all and end-all.
“Yeah. And maybe moreso when I was younger I had more commercial aspirations, but that was a long, long time ago and I worked what you might call real-world jobs. But now the music for me has a much more personal importance than a financial importance. So I guess now I’m involved in it because it’s personally important more than anything else.
“I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to as a career to anyone if it were about commercial success. I think if anyone knew what it was really like, they wouldn’t want to be a part of it.”
Andy is set to take ‘Sea Of Approval’ on the road too; earlier this week announcing nine live dates across the country, with shows kicking off at Brisbane’s Spiegeltent on September 07. We ask whether the format of the tour will take on the feel of the clip for his latest single ‘Talk Too Much’ (above), with John Mangos in a hosting role.
“There’s an idea!” he enthuses. “It’ll be quite live. We try to keep it quite loud and live and a bit rocky, I guess. We try to reinterpret it for the live arena; we don’t make it sound just like the record. It’s a little bit different every time and we make it up a little bit each night. Hopefully it’s compelling to watch for people. It feels more like a living beast rather than just going through the motions… that’s the hope anyway.”
It’s an ironic album title. Partly because the LP is bound to be met with a “sea of approval” from the nation’s music critics and partly, but possibly more accurately, because it’s clear that Andy Bull’s dreams for a “sea of approval” from the wider Aussie public certainly aren’t keeping him up at night.
And for the latter in particular, we ought to think ourselves truly lucky.
Andy Bull’s rather marvellous second album ‘Sea Of Approval’ is released today.
You can also catch Andy and his band at one of the following live dates, tickets for which are on sale now;
September 07 : Brisbane (Spiegeltent)
September 11 : Canberra (Transit Bar)
September 12 : Newcastle (Cambridge Hotel)
September 13 : Sydney (Metro Theatre)
September 18 : Adelaide (Jive Bar)
September 19 : Perth (Bakery)
September 20 : Rottnest Island (Rottofest)
September 26 : Hobart (Waratah Hotel)
September 27 ; Melbourne (Corner Hotel)