Interview: Richard Self
Welcome to the Sanctum, Richard Self! It’s great to have you! To begin with, how do you feel now that your latest release is out in the world?
I finished it back in April 2022, so I’ve been waiting on the artwork and a few remixes before I released it. I have had plenty of time to sit back and listen to it simply as a piece of music. I’m not going to make changes to it, so now I listen to it because I like listening to it. As one of the many albums I’ve made over the years, right now I think it’s some of the best work I’ve done. To get a bit of objectivity I need to finish the next album and see if I’m still going back to this one. I’m really pleased with the thing as whole. When I came up with the idea for Lives of the Ignorant I wasn’t sure if, 1. I could do it and 2. Would it make any sense. I think that part 2 is definitely easier to get into than part 1, mainly because of the music and guest singers, but also because I stopped trying to make the story a side point and went 100% in trying to tell it. The artwork has helped a lot as well. I was very lucky to get a very talented artist, Alex Boshell, to help out on that side. Told him the basic story line and off he went and I really couldn't be happier with the results.
What kind of music did you enjoy as a child/teenager? Can you remember any artists or albums that had an effect on you back then?
My first memory of being effected by music is seeing Depeche Mode playing New Life on the TV. I’d never seen or heard anything like it before and it sounded new and exciting to my ears. When I was growing up I was surrounded by people my age who were telling me that I should like Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet as well as older people telling me how great The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were and I just couldn’t hear it. At the start it was electronic bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Heaven 17, OMD and the Human League that I latched onto, as I got older I ended opted for Simple Minds over U2 and as I got into my late teens I started listening to all kinds of Metal/Prog, from Nuclear Assault to Rush and Queensryche.
When did you feel the need to create your own music and how did you manifest it?
I’ve always had songs in my head, but never really found the time or the confidence to try it out until I turned 30. I didn’t have much confidence in my singing voice so I partnered up with a friend of mine called Frank Horsely. I would do the music, he would sing and write the lyrics. We made 2 albums over about 3 years (with some of my favorite songs) before life got in the way, as it always does. From there I made my first real album on my own, mainly to see if I could get away with singing (it was a decent start, but I don’t really listen to this album much, there’s one song I like, but there rest is not great). From there I started up a band called Runciter, Drums, Bass, Rhythm Guitar, Female vox and me on lead vox and guitar.
We made 1 album which I co-wrote with the Rhythm Guitarist Joff Maiden. We gigged and were together for about 3 years then, inevitably, life got in the way. Whilst figuring out what to do I made another album (this one I like, most of the tracks were written for Runciter). I then put another band together, this time there was myself, Joff (from Runciter) and Cath Retgate. We called ourselves Biscuits for cheese, bitch! and the project was a concept of sorts called Rock, Pop and Misery. Each section having its own theme, tune and musical concept (you can probably work it out). This was the best work I’d done, really good songs, with the 3 of us writing and contributing it really did seem to bring out the best of all of us. Never got the chance to play live because, once again, life got in the way. Which brings me to Lives of the Ignorant. I came up with the idea in 2015, I’d got a bit sick of trying to follow music trends or styles and didn’t really know what to write about, so I had to have a good long think about what kind of music do I want to listen to and what do I want it to be about.
Is Richard Self a full-time musician or is this a project on the side?
This is all a hobby, I’m a full time teacher working out in China at the moment, been here a couple of years, don’t know how long I’ll last.
The way you put your hands on a variety of genres exhibits a fearless approach to music. Can you please elaborate on that thought?
I find it difficult to label my own music, I much prefer it when other people do. I just try and make music that I want to listen to. Cliché I know. Other sets I’ve done exhibit a much greater range of style, whereas here I’ve tried to keep as much in the realms of melodic electronic music, with some guitars here and there as much as possible.
What was your vision for the Lives Of The Ignorant project? What did you need to express/communicate through it?
O.K., so it’s a story. When I came up with the idea I had beginnings and end points for the parts I was working on and some plot points, but beyond that when I had to try and piece it together that’s when the hard work started. I want to try and tell a rather out there story, but make it relatable. I mean in part 1 I had to try and tell the story of a secret agent who topples governments in an afternoon who gets recruited to by an alien race to the intergalactic secret service. I had the start and end, but how to get there (training, missions, mental breakdown, recruitment, saying goodbye to the people you love) was a bit tricky. Part 2 had it’s start – recruitment and missions and its end – being turned into a God of sorts, but how to get there. I decided to make it a love/revenge/despair story instead. Then it comes to 'how to do that musically and lyrically'. Then there was the idea 'could I get other people involved'?
When you want someone to play the head of the intergalactic secret service, you have to approach that very carefully, same when you're asking someone to play a God or a murderer. Fortunately everyone I asked seemed to be up for it and I think they all gave terrific performances.
I’d especially appreciate it if you would give us the story behind ‘Eulogy’, one of my favourite tracks and 'Time To Say Goodbye'.
It’s strange that you would pick that as a stand out, for me it’s a connecting song, it’s there to show the thoughts of the protagonist as he watches the murdered love of his life slowly die in his arms. If you’ve been unfortunate to witness the death of someone all you keep saying is: 'I don’t want you to die'. A more interesting idea, from a lyrical viewpoint is both 'Numb' and 'Time To Say Goodbye'. 'Numb' is a song about grief counseling. How do you get out of the pit of self pity and anger when someone you love has been taken from you? In this case it was a chance to be turned into a God. 'Time To Say Goodbye' is about the final stage of grief, acceptance. You look at what you have to do in order to move forward. You don’t ever forget, but realize that the pain you feel gets a little less with the passage of time, you may not notice it in a week, but 2 years later, it hurts, but not as much. It’s the bargain you make with yourself so that you can move on, “I’ll see you when I die”, whether you believe in that stuff or not.
Is there a specific song or two in this album that holds a special place in your heart?
Tricky. Normally, when I make albums and listen back to them there's always the odd track I’ll skip through or struggle to listen to because I’m picking faults in the mix or the vocal arrangement, but not on this set. From a music point of view, a track like Messier 42 has a lot of moving parts, so for that to come out the way it did is very pleasing. Lyrically, writing happy, positive lyrics has always been something I don’t feel comfortable with so the double header of 'Softly Does It', followed by 'A Gentle Time' felt really satisfying. To be able to write a couple of love songs that don’t make me cringe and that aren’t cynical in any way feels like a win. Maybe I just need a bit more distance and need to get bored with it. A friend of mine told me that when he first listened to 'Time To Say Goodbye', it brought him to tears, which I’ll take.
What are you currently listening to? Are there any new albums or upcoming artists you’re discovering and would like to share?
I make a point of trying to find new albums and bands to listen to each week. I don’t hold with the idea that we’ve had the golden age of music. Right now, whatever day that is, it's the best day ever for music. You have all the great music from the past, plus whatever great music was made that day. Best albums I’ve heard this year, in no particular order are:
Cheat codes – Danger Mouse & Black Thought
Omnium Gatherum – King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard
Sad Cities (The Remixes) – Sally Shapiro
Lucifer on the Sofa – Spoon
The Tipping Point – Tears for Fears
Life is yours – Foals
Fix yourself, not the world – The Wombats
What is Self’s greatest power and what’s his worst fear?
My ability to not care about a lot of stuff is my super power. Worst fear? Wasps – nature's bastards.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
Retired, sitting by the seaside, drinking cocktails.
Enjoy Richard Self here: