After cutting his teeth in Devon and Cornwall playing for Cosmo Jarvis, Bristol-based singer-songwriter Aaron Douglas’s blend of different genres, storytelling, looping and honest and passionate lyrics has allowed him to carve out a name of his own. Recently his debut single “Shipwrecks” reached number six in the iTunes singer/songwriter chart, and last year tracks from his EP “Battles” played on BBC Radio 6. Aaron Douglas has also played at a number of festivals including the Eden Sessions and Glastonbury Festival.
blu: How would you describe your style to someone who has never heard your music?
Aaron: I guess I’d describe it as cross between folk, rock and indie. A bit like early Radiohead but more acoustic guitar based (for the moment anyway!).
At what age did you discover your love of music?
One of my earliest memories is music based. I have a vague recollection of making a tune on a xylophone in first school and being utterly mesmerised by the instrument. Since then I’ve always loved music. It wasn’t really until I started playing guitar (about 15/16 years old) that I became aware of my fascination with it.
Who did you grow up listening to and how have they impacted your music style today?
I listened to a lot of “guitar band” music in my teens. Started off with Oasis, Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers, then onto rock – Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins etc. Then I went backwards I started listening to artists like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. I think probably the most influential band I listened to back then would be Radiohead though. I really wanted a voice like Thom Yorke’s when I was younger. I think his influence can be heard in my voice even though I wouldn’t say we sound the same. Radiohead’s use of dynamic is pretty much instilled in me now too. I don’t have to think about how or where a song will get loud or quiet when I write, it just kinda happens.
Your music varies in terms of style, from the acoustic “Shipwrecks” to “Head Up High” which loops beatboxing, harmonious backing vocals and acoustic guitar. Can you see yourself experimenting differently with music in the future?
I’ve actually been giving that a lot of thought recently. At the moment I don’t feel that anything I’ve recorded fully represents me. The new EP I’ve got coming out in September is closer than the previous ones but I still don’t think I’ve fully found “my sound” yet. I’ve got a lot of influences and I’d like to incorporate the ones that fit together if I can. I really want to get back into playing piano and using that to write. They’ll definitely be a lot of experimenting for the next one for sure!
What’s your writing process and what drives how you act on stage?
My writing process is usually me in a room by myself with my guitar, a pad and pen, and a cup of tea! It varies a little but for the most part it’s not something that just happens on a whim. I tend to set time aside for it. I almost always write the music first. Lyrically I write about anything that’s on my mind or anything I feel strongly about. At college and university that would often be things personal to me. Recently i’ve found world events and things external to me tend to be my subject matters. I think that if you’re singing about something you feel strongly about or really believe in, then you’ll deliver it far better than you would if it means nothing to you.
You’ve also played some high-profile festivals such as Secret Garden party, Isle of Wight Festival, and the Great Escape, if you could choose a festival to headline in 5 years time, which one would it be and why?
It’s hard not to just immediately say Glastonbury! It’s arguably the biggest festival there is and to play on the Pyramid Stage would really be something else. Aside from that probably Greenman Festival or any of the bigger ones abroad (Airwaves, Lollapallooza, Benicassim). Greenman always has a great line up and I’ve heard so many good things about it. Headlining a festival in a country you don’t live in would be pretty ace though!
Do you prefer playing at small, intimate venues or to bigger crowds?
Somewhere in the middle if I’m honest! Big crowds are incredible especially if they’re getting into it. The energy that you get back from an appreciative massive crowd is completely addictive. The downside to playing to large crowds is that to do so usually means a big stage, which if you’re playing with a band means you might be quite far away from your bandmates. I’m sure you could get used it (who wouldn’t given the chance!) but it does feel a little disconnected in my experience. That said I still get a massive rush (usually caused by nerves!) from playing to a dead silent intimate crowd, especially if i’m playing solo. There’s a different, more intense energy from a crowd like that as you know that every note you sing and or play is being listened to…intently!
From your experience, where in the UK offers the most opportunities for unsigned musicians?
In my experience I’d have to say Bristol. That could be seen as biased as I live there, but Bristol’s music scene is the reason I moved there in the first place. That said it depends on what you mean by opportunities too. When I lived in Plymouth I very rarely played gigs with just my original material. There was a lot of scope to play covers gigs though for which there was a half decent amount of money to be earned. In Bristol I almost never do covers gigs now but there’s very little money in the originals scene. There’s good opportunities to support upcoming and established acts too.
Do you think gigs and festivals in the underground music scene offer something different to mainstream gigs?
Definitely. For a start, non-mainstream gigs are usually far cheaper! Production quality is usually one thing that differs. You’re unlikely to see a band honing their craft at Wembley Stadium, by that time you’d imagine that they know what they’re aiming for. Not that it’s a bad thing. Seeing a band or artist evolve over the course of several gigs can be great. You become part of the band’s journey. In the same way I think the unsigned scene is more personal, simply because it can be. Chances that you’ll have post-gig drink with the act you’ve just seen at a mainstream gig is pretty small compared to an unsigned gig.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time and how are you going to get there?
I guess my ultimate goal would be doing this full time. Travelling to other countries, playing bigger and better gigs, writing for other artists and having a home to put a recording studio in would all be very nice! At the very least I’d like