One of the enduring things about the output of The Rain Dogs is an aim to communicate a real sense of place: something filmic, something almost synesthesic in conjuring up imagery and visuals through sound.
And although we have released a number of albums on things as diverse as travels in Africa and the Peter Ackroyd novel ‘Hawksmoor’, it is particularly so with regard to reflecting the wild beauty places near where we live – in creating something of a soundtrack – or a love letter – to South Wales.
I’m half Welsh. My mother is from Treherbert, and in my 1970s childhood we would visit my grandparents house in Kenry Street often. I’m pretty certain that my love for all the landscape and scenery here was born in those trips. There was an excitement as the flora and scenery became more heath-like and moor-like coming over the Heads Of The Valleys, and snaking along the Rhigos Road past Llyn Fawr and across down into the Rhondda. I loved the scrubby grass, the ferns and heather, the rocks pushing up through the ground.
From my grandparents’ house you could, back then, pretty much walk straight up onto the mountain behind. It was a bald mountain and had a large rocky outcrop near the top, which was a lovely place to sit and look out at the heavily forested hillside on the opposite side of the valley.
All those memories and images of iron or coal coloured water, the roughened, weathered scenery, the dark, tumbling rivers and the smell of coal in the air, are all still with me – and I think the powerful triggers for my having continued to notice and absorb so much of the landscapes I experience.
Moving away, a little bit burnt out, from London over a decade ago, I shed The Rain Dogs previous AOR and Industrial incarnations. I found that very naturally the shift to South Wales brought with it a natural change in direction with the landscapes and seascapes inspiring a new minimalist approach to music.
I spent a lot more time out in the landscape and it feels very much like it seeped in.
Places like Merthyr Mawr – the lower dune system and the upper warrens on top of the escarpment – and Kenfig dunes feel like expansive, self contained worlds; environments you can lose yourself in, with their tracks, woods, ponds, spines of sand, and their massive skies. Likewise the huge open spaces of beach at Kenfig, Sker, and Newton that continue to drift between being land and sea.
As the ideas for soundscapes and minimalist, drifting experiments developed, so did the palette of sounds I worked with. I got to spend more time finding new sound sources and developing and modifying them to create a broad range of pads and textures that seemed to be pretty much perfect for playing out the ideas from my head into the recording gear.
Apart from the (rarely used) Chapman Stick, my recording gear is a selection of keyboards (some full size – semi-weighted and non-weighted, some microkey with aftertouch) plumbed into a Mac. I use Logic Pro X as recording software, and a fair few software synths and sound modules.
One of the key naturalistic sounds is called the Nyckelharpa. In real life it’s a mediaeval Scandinavian fiddle type instrument. I’d originally bought the Nyckelharpa software instrument to use for creepy hurdy-gurdy type sounds in the dark prog ‘Hawksmoor’ project, but ended up setting the aside. However the creaks, acoustic imperfections, instrument body noises and overall quality of the string sound have made it a gift for both intimate and sweeping textures, and I developed a playing style on the keyboard for it that is almost like an Indian classical violin: something that sounds even better with delay and reverb on it.
As well as that I developed – and continue to develop – a broad sound library of patches to work from. These include different kinds of drones and pads: some deep and rich, some hollow, some grainy and distorted, some run through with harmonics or resonant dissonances.