Colin Clyne now calls San Diego home. He is a native of Stonehaven, Scotland, Clyne now divides his time between his homeland and Southern California, with a sizeable following in each.
This August 2012 Clyne attended The San Diego Music Awards in California, USA, where he was named as the ‘Best Acoustic Act’, a repeat of winning the same award at the 2011 SDMA. This is an award that was previously won by internationally acclaimed artists Jason Mraz and Jewel.
Playing shows in both solo and band mode, Clyne has become a seasoned road vet, impressing crowds at venues ranging from Hollywood’s infamous Viper Room, to the Scotland’s Tartan Heart Festival and all manner of stages in between. Now sponsored by Timberline Guitars and Rotosound UK (strings), Clyne has also been a regular on European radio with numerous appearances, including BBC Scotland, Northsound Radio Aberdeen. He has also featured as a top ten pick from Jim Gellatly ‘the voice of new music in Scotland’. Clyne has had television appearances on KUSI TV and NBC in the US.
This thing I do is a privilege and an honor for me. I get to chat with some amazing folks; folks that I have discovered and for a number of reasons found extraordinary or compelling in their artistry. What’s more I get to share those conversations with others so that they too may see and hear what I hear. I connect with artists on a number of levels and if I have done my job that is made clear in the interviews. Although I believe in every artist I chat with, every once and awhile I am, affected in a profound way. Colin had that affect on me.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s just jump in shall we? You are a performing artist with a lot of miles on the road. What have you gotten personally and professionally from all that road and stage time?
Personally, I’ve made a lot of friends along the way and I’ve gotten to see a pretty good chunk of the US. Professionally, I’ve improved and continued to learn. I’ve also gotten satisfaction and confirmation that this truly is a long path we tread and if you keep swinging and keeping plugging away, your music will eventually start to get in the hands of more and more people. Although I’m guilty of watching these reality singing shows (a guilty pleasure) I’m not one for this fast track to stardom or whatever it is these folks want. I’m going to be doing this for a long time and I intend doing it with my pants up and head high!
What suits you better being a live performer or a recording artist?
Well, I enjoy both very much. I’ve definitely improved on both over the last couple of years. I love playing live and giving my all to the process and if people like it then that makes it all the more sweeter. Recording wise, I love the collaborative aspect of it, the energy, the interaction with other like minded souls and the opportunity to potentially put something down that I can be proud of till the big man upstairs decides he’s had enough of my nonsense.
You released ‘Doricana’ your first CD a couple years back. What does ‘Doricana’ mean?
Doric is a Germanic language that is specifically used in the North East of Scotland (where I’m from). It’s a kind of Dutch, German, Norwegian mix mash. My guess is it’s a result of some rape and pillage from a few hundred years ago. The ‘cana’ part is a reflection of the music that I write. Scottish stories told to Americana roots music if you will, or my own contrived way of trying to convince myself I’ve come up with my own genre! :)
Tell us about the making of this CD.
Wow, where do we start. Myself and Mr Alan Sanderson (Grammy award winning Engineer) went into his old studio (in Santee) back in 2008 and recorded and album in basically 2 days. i think there was 8 songs pretty much complete with full band. However, I ended up scrapping that session with the exception of 3 songs (Good for Something, Into My Garden, Peace in My Mind) that I worked on (more on this soon). They sounded great and I had some of San Diego’s finest players on it, however I wasn’t ready for it, it was too much for me at that time. Anyhow, fast forward to Autumn 2009 and myself and Alan Sanderson both ended up in London, UK at the same time. I had just finished a month long UK tour and was in London for my bachelor party, Alan was there on business so we got together and ended up doing the vocals and mixing the three songs there on an old Neve desk. They sounded amazing and the bar was set for the record.
In December 2009 I ended up performing at a big New Year event in Scotland and a DJ (who was there) from the biggest station in the North of Scotland was so impressed he demanded a CD asap. So, I basically returned to San Diego in January 2010 and along with Alan and a trio of myself, Enrique Platas and James Hood on lead guitar we ended up in Signature sound studio where we recorded 10 songs completely live. We were trying to capture the magic stripped down sound we had created whilst gigging in Southern California over the best part of 2009. After some over dubs and additionally work from Matt Hensley (Flogging Molly), Dennis Caplinger and a few other friends and great players, myself and Alan relocated to San Francisco to mix the album at Hyde Street studio’s. It’s in the middle of the Tender Loin, so basically beer runs to the corner store were a bit of an experience dodging junkies and falling TV’s. Hyde Street also had a nice old Neve desk. The album was mixed down on analog tape to give it the warmth and bottom end you hear on it. After a couple of weeks of obsessing over it, I had it mastered up in L.A at Universal studios and what you hear today is the result of that! I gave that album everything and I believe it will stand the test of time.
I trust more folks will discover it as I did. Tell us about the folks involved in the project.
As mentioned, Alan Sanderson produced and engineered it. James Hood played lead guitar and co-wrote ‘Mississippi Queen’ with me. Matt Hensley played accordion on ‘Good for something’, Dennis Caplinger played fiddle on ‘Mississippi Queen’ and Banjo on ‘Hey I miss you too’. Enrique Platas played percussion on 10 songs, Larry Grano (Eve Selis Band) played drums and percussion on 3 songs along with Rick Nash on bass. Tim Foley from Skelpin played the bodhran drum on 2 songs, opera singer Victoria Robertson did backing vocals on 2 songs and Erdis Maxhelaku played the cello on one. It was mastered by a guy called Erick Labson who (at the time) had just won a Grammy for mastering a Walter trout record I believe.
Let’s chat about some of the cuts. ‘Good for Something’ emotes strong emotion with a sing-able melody and hook. Love the outré. Tell us about writing this song.
Basically , I wrote this song in about 5 minutes. A few years ago I saw an advert for a song writing thing run by Cathryn Beeks called ‘The Game’. The song title that week was ‘Good for something’, I picked up the guitar and it wrote itself. It was the first time I had challenged myself to sit down and write a song. I still open with that song today.
‘One of my favorites is ‘Change My Ways’. Is this a nod to Dylan? What’s the back story here?
Thank you kindly. It wasn’t a conscious thing, it was a very natural song for me to write and I guess the harmonica always evokes a bit of Dylan. However, I grew up listening to him on the record player in our house so I guess there’s a wee bit of him in there somewhere. This was another song that literally took 5 to 10 minutes to write. I put on the harmonica and the melody just jumped out. I wrote it on a ship in Norway. It’s a song about people wanting me to change.
‘Dancin’ and dressin’ like Janis hasn’t got her very far.”
That line jumped at me from ‘The Pain of the Mississippi Queen’. There are a lot of reasons to like this; your accent is lovely, great lyric story, Celtic/Americana root stylings, and memorable and sing- able refrain. Tell us about this song.
I played a bunch of shows in L.A a few years ago with James Hood and he’d been banging on to me for ages about sitting down and writing a song together. I’d always resisted because for me it’s a very natural and personal thing and if truth be told, sitting down with someone and waiting for the ‘magic’ to happen never really filled me with much hope. So, we booked a rehearsal room up on Sunset and in we go before our gig that night at the Cat Club. Lo and behold I start playing the chords and the melody jumps out at me, the first lyrics I sang were ‘take it away, away, away my pain’ as someone very close to me was going through a lot of pain at that time. I basically wrote the song over the duration of the next week after that first session, James added a couple of wee chord transitions that made the song sit together very nicely. I suppose it’s a song about how people’s hopes and dreams are very easily shattered, especially in somewhere like L.A. The Mississippi Queen is a character around town (San Diego)
I like your voice in the higher register in ‘Into My Garden’ and the key change in the chorus was unexpected and interesting. Again a great hook. How about a little workshop on the writing to recording this song?
I wrote this song as an ode to accepting a new love into your life. I wrote it in San Diego, same as per usual, a very natural thing, played a few chords and they jumped out different that day. I started singing ‘there’s a furnace inside me, no one else can see’. Once I got to the other end of this song I realised this was for my wife.
As per the key change, I’m not sure this was a conscious decision as such. Perhaps I couldn’t hit the chorus, I’m not too sure I can quite recall as this was whack bang in a pretty heavy drinking and touring period for me back in the UK when we recorded it. I finished singing this song at 5am on a Friday morning and then went out on the town in London for my bachelor (Stag) party. The last thing I sang on that song was the backing vocal ‘whoah’ hook at the outro. It was then replicated by ten drunk Scotsman in the London underground for the best part of the weekend.
This is the song that finally opened me up to a much larger fan base as it got a lot radio play back in Scotland.
‘Stonehaven Radio Station and Me’ –love that title. There is no mistaken the Celtic influence here. I played this one ‘till me ears bled’ my favorite cut. Is there a story here?
This is a song I wrote about going to watch Aberdeen FC (soccer) back in Scotland as a young man (maybe approx. 10 years old). The inspiration came from an opposing fan offering to shake hands with my Uncle Gordon (who used to take me to the games) after the game and then subsequently head butting him. There was a bit of a scuffle and I ended up running to a Policeman and asking for his help only to be told to ‘bugger off’. The song also touches on the ‘Scottish Cup’ win that happened in 1986 and our European Cup winners Cup win in 1983 (glory days indeed). The Stonehaven radio station was a local ship to shore station. All the guys (along with Uncle Gordon) that went to the games with us worked there. This song was picked as a top ten pick by one of Scotland’s leading DJ’s Jim Gellatly.[vsw id=”w-aNrHb8UiA” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]
We are blessed indeed to have you here and a part of the San Diego music scene – although I don’t think you will be exclusive to us for very long. How do you find the audiences here in the States as compared to the UK?
People here are very supportive although I suspect they don’t have a clue what I’m saying half the time due to my accent. There is a lot of humour and cynicism in some of my songs that is quite possibly lost over here (due to Doric or Scottish references). A lot of my stories / lyrics lend them self to the Scottish audiences more. However, a lot of people claim to be amused and entertained by my lyrics, so I don’t know! I’m happy whoever likes my songs.
American root music must give props to the musical influences of Scottish and Irish settlers in the Kentucky Valley. Country music has that heritage. Your arrangements have a modern folk/country feel with a Celtic coloration. Don’t change a thing – ‘cause it sure enough works for me. Tell us of your musical influences.
Well Dylan, Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, The Corries and The Furey’s were all incredibly present in our house when I was a child. All of these artists have had some serious airplay in my ipod over the years. However, non more so than Bob Dylan. As a performer I have been influenced by a few characters I have met on the road.
In a conversation we had I mentioned my love of the poem in the song. I was moved by your answer. You are an endearing storyteller and when I mentioned the fine Irish and Scottish poets your response about the reticence of a Scotsmen to express feelings was interesting. Could you expand on that conversation?
I come from a small town in Scotland where once upon a time you’d grow up and work on the fishing boats, the farm, in the factory up on the industrial estate or laterally in the Oil Industry. You went to the local academy, you played for the local football team (soccer). People don’t tend to spout poetry or write songs there. So to come to somewhere like here where there are a large number of artistic types was very liberating for me. I had been writing poetry through my 20s and it wasn’t something I shared with anybody. Eventually I finally gave in and bought a guitar after obsessing about it for a long time. I think someone up above kept throwing the idea into my head. As I said to you before, I’m not sure I’d be doing this if I hadn’t followed my wife to San Diego.
What is more important to you the lyric/story or the music/arrangement?
My natural leanings are towards the lyrics. People are moved by stories and words in my experience. Of course the music and arrangement is the vehicle for those words however the everyday man doesn’t get moved by an augmented major 7th chord (whatever that is). However, I guess it just depends on what you’re listening to and why you’re listening to it. However, I’m a simple man with simple tastes and I believe a kick drum, strong vocal and a catchy melody can be enough for a lot of people.
What has to be in a Colin Clyne song?
Melody, authenticity and myself.
Is there a particular way you come to writing a song?
It has developed and changed over the years. I used to start with the lyrics and then I’d try to put music to the words. I also used to record everything on a Dictaphone, I have tons of old demo’s, some great and some crap. Nowadays the chords and melody come first and I add the lyrics in afterwards as I find that the easiest part. I do it all by memory nowadays, the lyrics everything, it has to flow and if I can’t remember it the next day, I don’t pursue it. As we discussed, I don’t chase songs, I find they present themselves to me when they are ready.
You were raised in Scotland, how much does ‘place’ have an effect on a songwriter?
I think it does, it’s a lot harder to write a heart felt sad song in the sunny climate of San Diego as opposed to writing in the rain and greyness of a Scottish City.
I have asked this of songwriters all over the world is there a ‘Scottish’ soul in your music? How would you define it?
One review I had for the album described it as Caledonian Soul. I’m not too sure what it is but I think it’s an honesty and a passion in yourself as a writer and a performer. I couldn’t see myself trying to be something I’m not just to make myself more popular.
You have worked hard on the road gaining fans where ever you play – has that been worth it?
Absolutely, as I mentioned before, this is a long road for me. I believe I will still be able to comfortably sing these same songs in my 60s and still mean them. To go out and meet new people in new towns who are drawn to your music is an amazingly moving thing.
You also have a big web presence. How important is that in today’s music business?
Absolutely, that’s where the fans are and I’ve made lots of new friends and fans through the web. However, there is the problem where every man and his dog can post their music online. Also, there is an expectation of free music these days. It can demean what you are doing but I understand its importance and have started to actively give my album away for download to help spread the word.
Your relocating from Scotland with you wife to San Diego is a major life event. By the time this interview gets posted you will be a father or a ‘Pop as we say – another major event. Do you think that will change the color and feel of what you write?
Yes, my beautiful wee daughter Catherine Clyne was born on the 31st of March here in San Diego. Well, I have written some new material this week and it’s positive and kind of quirky. I will still keep my cynicism and wit with what I do as that is part of me but I think I’d be lying if I said the edge won’t be taken off of me due to the wee one’s arrival. Only time will tell.
Is there another CD project on the planning board? Can we hear a preview?
I have a live Ep / CD in the pipeline from a bunch of live shows I did last year. They will hopefully be out sometime in the next couple of months to support a tour DVD I’ve been working on since 2010. San Diego film maker Craig Rian followed me up and down the US West Coast and around Scotland last year. Also, once I have some funds in place I hope to record the follow up to my album Doricana. I have the songs ready to go but i need the time and the money now.
Is there anything you want your fans and future fans to know about Colin Clyne?
I have a pretty spectacular fridge magnet collection, my favourite colour is red and if you’re buying, I’ll have a Guinness.
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