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Glass Ankle Interview: Football + Swan pedalos

By Billie-Darian Hollyhead

We spoke to Greg of Glass Ankle and asked him a few questions about the new single ‘Without You Here’, some of his older tracks and what it takes to create his unique sound. ‘Without You Here’ is available to pre-order now and will be released to stream and download Friday 15th April.

For those who don't know you, tell us a little bit about Glass Ankle.
Glass Ankle was born in 2010 out of a strong desire to perform the songs I had written whilst living and working in Japan, with a band made up of my friends. I wanted to bring the songs to life and also share and collaborate with others. I have been very lucky to have been able to call upon some very talented musicians along the way and share some amazing experiences.

The name 'Glass Ankle' materialised while playing football in a reunion match with old friends from university. I was the victim of a reckless challenge by my mate Matt, and as a result, I badly twisted my ankle. A twisted ankle is an injury I have regularly sustained during my footballing career and as a result, whilst hobbling off the pitch, my friend Pete, in jovial derision, shouted, “He's got a glass ankle that lad! ”. At the time, I was looking for a name for my new musical project and for some reason that insult seemed to strike a chord with me...

Since then Glass Ankle has gone on to record a number of songs and perform shows far and wide, maintaining a strong DIY approach all the while. The new single, “Without You Here”, signals a new direction for the project as it is the first time I have worked with a third-party record label to release my music. I am excited to see how things progress.

Greg, you have a very distinctive singing voice and it’s greatly complimented by the style and genre of your songs, who are your influences?
I haven't thought much about it before but I suppose there are a few different artists who have influenced my style of singing. These include:

Sufjan Stevens – For the airy quality of his voice and his understated delivery. On record, his layered, hushed tones are really quite haunting

Guy Garvey – His crystalline vocals, romantic lyricism, and ear for melody are a beautiful combination

Ian Brown – In my teens I really liked the way he sang in his own, Mancunian accent, unlike many British singers who seemingly adopt pseudo-American singing styles. He stays true to himself and thus has inspired me to do the same.

Jónsi Birgisson (Sigur Rós) – His falsetto is to die for

In terms of the music, there are many musicians whose work has rubbed off on me, some I imagine are predictable, others perhaps not so. The list includes: Joan As Police Woman, Kings of Convenience, Beach House, Nick Drake, Yo La Tengo, Boards of Canada, Alfie, The Small Faces, Belle and Sebastian, Lee “Scratch” Perry, MIA, Ohbijou, Blur, The Flaming Lips, Gomez, Blonde Redhead, Doves, Team LG, My Bloody Valentine, etc.

‘Without You Here’ sounds great, it has a spacey feel-good vibe to it, is this the feel you were going for?
Partly...the 'spacey' quality you refer to, I believe is created by the inclusion of some 'ebow' guitar phrases. These were part of the initial arrangement I had in mind, which also included more traditional instrumentation, such as piano. The producers wanted to pursue this style further and so, to add extra 'spaciness', the piano part was substituted for some synth strings reminiscent of classic '70s synthesiser sounds.

How was it recording a studio session at Catalyst Studios, St. Helens? As I understand it didn’t take you long to finish recording the single.
It was a very different experience for me, but nonetheless a positive one. I am used to doing everything myself when it comes to recording and producing my music, so relinquishing control was quite hard at first! Additionally, when working on my own, I am very methodical in my approach and take my time to perfect and craft my songs during the recording stage, so the prospect of finishing everything in two days (16 hours) was a daunting one! However I approached things with an open mind and as the sessions progressed it became quite refreshing to work at a fast pace. It was also a luxury to not have to record and mix the track myself.

It was insightful to see how commercial producers such as Ady and Lee (Sugarhouse Music) work while keeping to tight deadlines. When you are producing your own songs it is easy to become too close to the music to realise when takes of parts are good enough, so it was helpful to have their opinions. The resultant recording is very much a collaboration: it is a Glass Ankle song yet it definitely has the 'Sugarhouse sound' due to their input when it came to instrumentation and of course producing the track.

You’ve released some fantastic music videos along with your singles, especially ‘Unlike You’, can we expect anything to accompany the new single ‘Without You Here’?
It would be nice. We'll see :)
Where does your inspiration come from? Tell us a little bit about the writing process and how you choose the arrangement. The song ‘Poor Boy’, especially, has a great mix of sounds.
I think like for a lot of songwriters, the inspiration for lyrics can come from many different sources, for example, from books, personal experiences, politics, etc. Quite a few of my songs draw from personal experience however I do like to be creative and on occasion I embellish certain details somewhat... but never to an extent that lyrics are too far from the truth. At the same time, I like to leave things open to interpretation so that people are free to draw their own conclusions.

'Poor Boy' was influenced by Nick Drake's life and music, and how I relate to it. When it comes to arranging songs, I sometimes have an idea prior to recording as to the sort of instrumentation I want but often things evolve through experimentation with different electronic and acoustic instruments while I am recording. At the core of nearly all Glass Ankle songs is a guitar of some sort as this is my main writing tool. One guitar which has proven to be a staple of many Glass Ankle recordings is my Breedlove Passport C25 travel guitar. Its small size and higher tuning give it a distinctive sound which you can hear for yourself on “Without You Here”!

What’s been your favourite performance so far?
Playing in Paris for EuroMusic Contest 2014 was an amazing experience but I think my favourite performance so far has to be our set at the 2013 Acoustic Gathering Festival in Scarborough. It was a magical festival, set within Peasholm Park. The stage was in the middle of the boating lake and could only be accessed by riding a giant swan. The weather was excellent and we performed to a big crowd of people based both on land and on water in dragon-shaped pedalos. We played really well and our set went down a treat. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed playing a gig as much and I think that’s because of the combination of performing in such a beautiful setting with such awesome and talented friends/bandmates.

You’ve played Joy Divisions ‘A Means to an End’ in the past, are there any covers that you’d like to play in the future?
Yes, there are some covers I would love to play and record. There is the version of Fleetwood Mac's “Big Love” which we have played live and, hopefully, we'll get around to recording that soon.

How has being signed to PWS influenced you as an artist?
It has allowed me to concentrate on making music and has also introduced my songs to a new audience.

‘Without You Here’ will be released on the PWS label on 15th April. What’s next for Glass Ankle?
Recording more songs, and booking some shows. I am looking forward to performing again after some time away from the live scene. I also plan to have a new EP finished by the end of the year.

Thank You Greg of Glass Ankle for taking the time to answer these questions

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