After they’d heard an advance copy of his new album, Backstreets of Eden, due for release on 24 March 2018, Steve was interviewed by Pete and Glenn Sergeant of www.justlistentothis.co.uk. Here’s the link to the full interview on their site:
And here’s a taster:
Who did the artwork for your new Backstreets Of Eden album?
My wife, Judy Logan, who has done the artwork for my last four solo albums. She is a painter and printmaker, specialising in zany, spiritual portraiture and is well-known for her love of crows (www.judylogan.co.uk). She does in colour and line what I’m trying to do in words and music.
The album title evokes Dylan or maybe Al Stewart – are you a fan of either? Any favourite tracks?
Dylan is one of the two artists I get most sustenance from (Neil Young is the other). He has been a presence in my work since I started and it’s because of him that I think of myself as a song-poet, trying to express the whole range of my experience in song. My next album will probably take it cue from a night when listening to Dylan – Street Legal – turned my life on end. Al Stewart’s song ‘Love Chronicles’ suggested early to me how to make a long story interesting.
Which song of yours could open a thriller film?
‘Deliverance’ on my album of the same name. It’s got a strong eery overdriven guitar hook and deals with the need we all have to be delivered from pain and into whatever feels like salvation. ‘Bought a ticket to Deliverance / Down a long and twisted rail / Met a man who said he’d been there once / Taught me tricks that couldn’t fail’
You’re offered the chance to record a Nils Lofgren song with Lucinda Williams ..which one do you choose and what musical arrangement do you put together?
The engineer who recorded my first solo album worked with Nils Lofgren. I’d choose ‘Black Books’. I’d sing the verses and then ask Lucinda to sing the choruses, bringing all her road-worn passion to ‘She wants / New shoulders to cry on…’, which would make the song feel like an assertion from her point of view though it’s a lament from the man’s. She’s got that blend of rawness and delicacy I’m always drawn to and she did a beautiful Nick Drake cover (‘Which Will’).
Honesty time! Which other band or artist would you NOT want to follow on stage?
That one really made me think. I’ve seen supports jeered at by people only interested in the main act, but generally I think I’d be happy to support anyone who thought it a good idea to ask me. Maybe I couldn’t expect too much patience from a Slip-Knot tribute band. But I met Jimmy Page briefly once and believe that the greatest musicians are often the most generous.
Following the release of Deliverance (2015), Steve was asked to answer a dozen questions by Americana UK magazine. Here's what he wrote:
The Dirty Dozen
Tell us about yourself and what you do
I’m a Welsh singer-songwriter (or as I prefer to say, song-poet) and rock musician, working on and across the borderline of acoustic folk and high-octane rock. I grew up in the Valleys in South-East Wales but spent a lot of time in London. This early experience of contrasting cultures is very much a part of my writing. I try to write thoughtful songs which have energy and drive. Song-poems touched with passion.
How did you start out?
Well, according to my mother I started out aged five in a café in Risca, trying to keep up with the juke box. I joined my first band at 15 and gigged at the school dance that year. I went on to busk all through the subways round Edgware Road and Marble Arch. Got spotted singing at a party and was invited to a posh studio in Baker Street for an audition. I failed it. I sang ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ and the guy there said I sang too high. Later on sang in various cover-bands and a radical left-wing indie band called ‘Keep the Faith’ (a name often mistaken for a Bon Jovi tribute).
What is your current release/future release?
I released a purely acoustic album, Signs and Wonders, last year (2014) that features the guitar-artistry of Kimberley (‘Walking on Sunshine’) Rew and Rhys Wilson. On each track there are no more than two guitars, one vocal and occasionally my harmonica. Rhys also plays on my current album, Deliverance, which is recorded with a full band. I wanted a set-up that would enable me to move easily between the tougher-grained rock songs and the more wistful folkier ones.
[I've been fortunate enough to record another album since with Rhys Wilson, joined by Andy Cross on bass and Phil Bryant on drums: Wanted Alive (2016). I'm in pre-production for a new album, Backstreets of Eden (2017) at the moment].
What is the best part of being in a band/singer/song writer?
I play solo acoustic, band acoustic and full-band electric. I love all these ways of interpreting songs. When I was in Free Again (a Free/Bad Company tribute) it was great being able to roam around the stage and focus entirely on singing. Eventually, though, I wanted to concentrate on my own songs and play more guitar and I needed both the singer-songwriter and the rock-band formats for that.
What is your most significant moment yet?
Marrying Judy Logan, wife and muse. She’s a painter and has always encouraged me in music. More recently, getting the first good review of Deliverance was nice: http://www.liverpoolsoundandvision.co.uk/2015/06/15/steve-logan-deliverance-album-review/
What are your biggest musical influences?
Tricky to answer. Who knows where influence begins and where it ends. My father was a singer mostly in Irish clubs in Newport. I grew up in a family where my great aunt, who sang constantly, was always saying how wonderful it must be ‘to sing on a stage and thrill people’. My mother was a tornado of energy, very rock and roll. And we all came from Wales, where of course singing is a big deal (but taken completely for granted, which helps). Musically, I’d say my chief mentor has been Neil Young, but also crucially Dylan, whose album Street Legalturned my head around. I love what I called song-poets: people whose songs are lyrically rich and who try to make poetry sing. Jonathan Kelly was one of these, so are Thom Yorke, Ryan Adams and Laura Marling. So is Leonard Cohen. There are vast traditions behind them all, blues and folk. And Led Zeppelin were a folk band as well as heavy rockers. I’ve read a lot of page-poets too: Wordsworth, Keats, R. S. Thomas and Seamus Heaney among them.
What venue/gig do you most want to play?
Motorpoint Cardiff. But any musically-respectful venue with a decent audience interested in hearing my kind of stuff is good.
What is your best/favourite song you have written?
This keeps changing. I’ve got two current favourites: a song I wrote for my wife, called ‘Love You in My Sleep’ (it’s on Signs and Wonders) and the title-song of Deliverance. I’ve got into the habit, through playing a lot of Neil Young material, of doing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric one. I often use these songs to close the sets: ‘Love You in My Sleep for the acoustic one and ‘Deliverance’ for the electric.
[On Wanted Alive a favourite which I have played often at gigs and on the radio is 'Jukebox', a song about my mother].
What is your favourite album of this year?
Don’t like narrowing it down that much. Among newer artists Laura Marling, Short Movie. But among people who’ve been around longer it will almost certainly be The Monsanto Years by Neil Young. I’ve learned a lot from Leonard Cohen’s Personal Problems and love to play him partly because he knows how music relates to spirituality and tries, I think, to sidestep ego while using it creatively. If we stretch the concept of ‘this year’ to mean the last twelve months, my favourites would be Jack White’s Lazaretto and Neil Young’s Storytone—the solo acoustic bonus disk, not the orchestral one, which I’m not keen on: it’s too far from the raw kinds of authenticity I think of in relation to him. I’m always keen to hear the song as it was written in the finished recording.
What does the next six months have in store for you?
My main job is to complete the new album, provisionally called Wanted Alive, and try to find a good manager or booking agent or better still an energetic small label that believes in me. You often hear musicians complain about agents, but during the periods in my life when I’ve had a lot of good gigs I’ve also had an agent.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Touring, writing for myself and maybe others.
What is the best thing about Americana-UK?
Well, I like the Dirty Dozen: it gives a good lead into the work of new artists. But in general I like the organized chaos of the whole site. There’s so much to find out, just zapping around among the links. Oh and the title. I doubt much of the music we hear (and write) now would be as it is unless America and the UK lived in a dream of each other.
[Hence my having formed, with Mark Gamon and Daniel Nestlerode, Cambridge Americana, a touring co-operative of Cambridge-based acts all touched differently by American music]
Steve Logan, Wanted Alive. Album Review.
Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
To be Wanted Alive, is to be found by someone trying to give their soul to you when you need help, when your life has taken a downturn because the music has left you. It's to be found and needed with all of someone else's heart. To be Wanted Alive is to feel human and important to someone, so as to put a smile back on your face.
For Steve Logan, Wanted Alive is a statement of desire, a musical landscape in which Capability Brown would have sunk his head in his hands and then in a fit of pique thrown in the towel. The garden of serenity is only fit to sit in if the music on offer is enough to feed the soul and give an open view from an open heart. Steve Logan supplies both the scenery and the hardy descriptions in which this setting of majesty resides.
Wanted Alive is a musical trip in which the expectation of solace is certainly met head on, from the initial caress of sound at the start of the journey. Yet it also deals with the suffering of the anti-lush, the bleak, the deserted, the wasteland of existence in which we have to constantly dream that one day the grass will return. Through this mix of barren chaos and fertile tranquillity the paved road which unites the pair runs like a sight-seer's dream.
Steve Logan, along with Rhys Wilson, Andy Cross and Phil Bryant have explored that splendid dichotomy with a sense of beauty in their work. They don’t just see the sand and rust of the desert. They don’t just see the solitary rose poking out of the ground pleading for a backdrop, the picture is a complex whole, one of completion; for you cannot truly be alive unless you appreciate the rain as well as the sun.
In tracks such as Jukebox, the superb Billy The Kid, Warrior’s Heart, Outlaws and Natural High, Steve Logan finds a way to water the pasture and care for the bleached rocks of the desert. It is a hell of a job to consider even attempting, but for the musician, being Wanted Alive is part of life and life is only possible if you care and observe both sides of the musical hemisphere. It is with great passion that Steve Logan succeeds fully in this album.
Ian D. Hall
1. You describe yourself as a 'song-poet'. Do you understand that as something distinct from the conventional term 'singer-songwriter’?
Yes. I’m not too keen on the term ‘singer-songwriter’. I think it tends to suggest a person who performs only or mostly solo with an acoustic guitar. I enjoy doing solo acoustic gigs, and of course write many songs on an acoustic guitar, but I am equally a rock musician who enjoys playing electric guitar in a band. Many of my songs I perform both solo acoustic and full-band electric and I like being free to do that. Another reason I use the term ‘song-poet’ though, is that it expresses my sense of my own vocation. A song-poet is someone who is expressing their lives fluently and fully through their song-writing. Examples include Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Among younger musicians I’d include Thom Yorke, Ryan Adams, Laura Marling and Elliott Smith. I write songs constantly and am trying to build up a catalogue that records my experience. I have, as it happens, written several volumes of what I call page-poems. But I always have a feeling that, in our era, poems without music are dry music. Songs are the form in which poetry is culturally central now. And I feel I express myself most fully in music with words.
2. Your albums all credit the 'Lord of Lights' or 'Father of Light'. How does faith inform your music, if it does?
Why and how we make the things we value is a mystery. Why does someone want to build a ship, a garden, or a family? Why do painters paint, or poets write? Why does it feel good to be kind? We value creativity. And I’d describe that as the desire to bring something good into the world which wasn’t there before. And for an artist (in any art, including the arts of living) that’s likely to be a matter of following your sense of beauty. But goodness and beauty aren’t things we ourselves have made. Every time I write a song, or give what I believe to be a decent performance, I don’t think it’s down to me. I think the impulse to write the song is a gift, which I’m trying to honour. So for me, being a musician is a creative collaboration between myself and the source of the creative impulse. Some people, including me, think that this source of creative energy is an echo of the divine. That’s why I do whatever I can to protect my own creativity, such as it is, and thus keep it going. I’m grateful for such light as I’ve been given and I try to follow it.
3. You're based in Cambridge. Is it a good place to make your kind of music?
I think so. Obviously it’s a town (pretty small but growing) dominated by a famous university. The presence of the university means there's plenty of tolerance of people like me who walk around, and sit in cafes. dreaming and writing. I’ve been blessed with the friendship of some very fine musicians who appreciate the kinds of thing I do and want to do. Kimberley (Walking on Sunshine) Rew very generously played on my first solo album (Signs and Wonders). His wife, Lee Cave-Berry, played on the second (Deliverance). Rhys Wilson, Andy Cross and Phil Bryant, also Paul Richards, have been steadfast supporters, playing many gigs with me and on subsequent albums. Cambridge has one big venue (the Corn Exchange), one medium sized venue (The Junction), an excellent hireable club (The Portland Arms) and a truly acoustic venue (CB2), often beautifully run by John Meed. The Boathouse has a weekly session, run by John Wright, at which you can hear some of the finest musicians for miles around free. My wife Judy is a painter and can (just about) afford a studio here. In some ways, Cambridge is a suburb of London. Often you’ll hear people talk about towns as if they ought to have dozens of good venues. But the truth it seems to me is that a town is base, and musicians need to tour.
4. In songs like 'Jukebox' and 'Billy The Kid' you recall how your parents' generation dreamed of America even if they never left the valleys (?) Do you think you're carrying that project forward in your music, with its blend of blues, Dylan, etc.?
Well as it happens, ‘Jukebox’ is about my mother and ‘Billy the Kid’ about my great-uncle, who was also my guardian, so that’s two generations and I’m a third. You’re totally right about the dream of America. My great-uncle was a steel-worker in the valleys and the most eloquent man I’ve known in everything but words. He never told me he loved America. But he read hundreds (yes, hundreds) of what he called ‘cowboy books’ from the local library. And he passed on to me that love of imagining hobos, rustlers, settlers, drifters in wide open spaces under burning skies. My mother, who left the valleys for London when she was in her twenties, loved modern US cities. I recently went to New York for the first time. Needless to say, it felt like home-coming. I’m part of Cambridge Americana, a four-band project. But really it’s through Neil Young and Dylan that I feel myself developing the musical language that carries my Welsh and London heritage forwards.
5. What's coming up next for you?
At the moment, I very focussed on getting ready to record my fourth solo album, Backstreets of Eden. It’s got a strong blues-element in it, but as usual with me, it will get its feel and character from the songs I’ve written in the period leading up to it. I don’t usually set out to produce a ‘rock album’ or a ‘country album’, though of course I might do in the future, if that is where the Muse leads me. As the title suggests there is a foundation of songs which see the world we’re living in as having vestiges of some better place we’re always trying to get back to. In practical terms, I have a few definite ambitions. One is the desire to get signed. Another is the hope I’ll soon come across a sympathetic person, who believes in me as an artist, who will have the practical know-how to help me plan tours and publicity. I’m awkward about the need for self-promotion these days, but in the meantime will get on with doing that. Once the new album’s recorded, there will be a run of gigs. My current album, Wanted Alive, could do with a promotional boost, though the response of those who’ve heard it has been hugely positive.
6. Does being Welsh affect your writing and performance style? Is there any relation for you between being a song-poet and the quality called 'hwyl', sometimes attributed to Dylan Thomas?
I grew up in the valleys, in a place which was entirely English-speaking. I was of course used to seeing Welsh place-names and certain Welsh words - such as cwtch, meaning ‘cuddle’ and duw, meaning ‘God’, but always answered no if asked whether I spoke Welsh. What I didn’t realise, however, was that in my local culture certain forms of feeling were embedded which have names in Welsh but not in English. One example is hiraeth, a strictly untranslatable word meaning roughly, ‘longing for the idea of Wales’. I wrote a whole book of poems expressing this feeling before I realised it had a name. Hwyl, means literally a sail. When a speaker speaks with a driving passion, like a full sail driving a boat, that’s called hwyl. I think I must have some of this quality of passion in my singing since people comment on it pretty often. It’s part of range of qualities - emotional warmth, energy and drive - which are highly valued in Wales and I hope I’ve got it. I have a strong drive to make and play music and hope I do so with a passion that touches other hearts.