HitQuarters Exclusive Artist Diary Part 2 - October 16, 2006
“The remix was only presented to me an hour before a copy was handed to EMI, so I never had the chance to change it. I regret not imposing my beliefs, but sometimes you have to trust those around you to get it right. However, always be precious about your recordings”.Dan Rowe is probably best known for her successful dance-crossover project 'Poloroid', which received both critical and commercial success with the track 'So Damn Beautiful' (Top 40 UK). Not many know she was and still is an accomplished singer-songwriter who started her career busking in the freezing streets of England's seaside-towns.
In her diary Rowe describes how compromising her musical vision led her to success - but forced her to re-evaluate her career and start again with her own production company.
Read more her insights on why a publishing deal can have disadvantages, and her tips on how to bring out your best live.
Written by Dan Rowe, No Silence
In terms of taking my talent seriously I was definitely a late developer. Having always loved singing and listening to music, I didn’t grow up or attend schools that ever actively encouraged ‘rough diamond’ musicians. By that I mean, unless you were studying grades on a particular instrument you were surplus to requirements.
I never pushed myself up the front (or wanted to), being a typical Brit means such behaviour is considered vulgar and shallow, an attitude I possessed even from a small age. It’s only now that I really understand and appreciate the art of self-promotion.
So at 19 years old, doing a psychology degree and being a truly awful student, I asked a very cool girl from Preston to teach me a few chords on her acoustic guitar. It was at this point that I was hooked! Almost immediately I saw the light: I can now write my own songs!
At this stage my beloved dad became terminally ill and I returned home after quitting university, full with my new passion and eager to show him something to be proud of. “Needs a lot of work” was not quite the response I was hoping for but I was determined to prove the uncompromising bugger wrong.
I teamed up with a girl called Cathy Gray, an incredibly talented and honest girl I knew vaguely from college. She helped me develop one of my ideas and when we sang it to my dad with the most stunning harmonies, he was as proud as punch. He gave me 350 Pounds to buy a proper acoustic guitar!
I and Cathy bumped into each other at a party and since she was going through a tough break-up and my dad was losing his battle against cancer, we decided that two lost souls were better than one. She introduced me to the Essex folk scene.
We gained our live discipline from busking in freezing cold weather at a local seaside town’s high street. We used to be compared to the Indigo Girls, which was great, but it was at this stage I started thinking “how can we turn this into a success?” A feeling that I think ended up forging a gap between us, since Cathy is one of those rare people that doesn’t need to ‘make it’.
I formed a band called Calico, writing with a very avant-garde looking guitarist called Adrian Lane, who I saw playing in another band. He was playing a 12 string Rickenbacker which I thought was really unique sounding and reminded me of the Beach Boys.
It was not until Calico had gotten a local following (by that I mean genuine fans and not just mates), that I thought that maybe we must have something special that appeals to people, and that we should send off demo tapes.
A friend of Adrian happened to know the sister of a guy called Mark Jones, who formed a label called Jeepster ( Belle & Sebastian, Snow Patrol). He came down to see us play at a local venue in Southend on Sea, and chatted to us afterwards. We were so nervous!
The feedback was that I needed to work more on my performance. I felt like I’d let the whole band down but they were very gracious about it. It’s like anything else, you have to turn it around and listen to sound advice.
Although this didn’t pan out how we wanted, the initial rush of ‘we’re going to be stars’ was enough of a high to suck me in. Mark handed our demo (without sleeve) to a friend who happened to know Seven Webster, who at the time was running a small dance label called Jackpot Records and managing artists. He had just lost Dido, who went to be managed by her brother.
At first he didn’t know how to get hold of us, because we foolishly had only put our contact numbers on the sleeves and not the tapes themselves, so he contacted another band called Calico from Birmingham at first!
Seven gave us the support needed to take a young band onto the next level. He set about grooming us for stardom by really working on my performance and getting us rehearsed up so that we were good enough to play venues in London. Our first rider was playing at a venue called Madame Jojo’s in Soho with a mixture of bands, transexuals and comedians.
The best gig was The Water Rats in Kings Cross, where loads of record companies saw us and we had some positive feedback from Parlophone. I guess we never quite knew what to do with all the attention and eventually I became frustrated with having to compromise with my material and the usual band split happened, but rather than feel dejected I felt liberated to do what I wanted to do.
It was at this point that I gained my studio experience with Lee Milleare and Jon Horrocks, who were signed to Jackpot Records. The collaboration was initiated by Seven. I wrote a track called ‘So Damn Beautiful’ and they produced it.
After we gained some interest with the song, coupled with the fact that I’d got quite a few songs on compilations, I talked to Seven about trying for a publishing deal.
He told me about A7, the publishing company he was forming with Anthony De Rothschild and I thought my copyrights would be well looked after. I guess the main thing it enabled me to do was to leave full time employment and concentrate solely on my writing.
Other than that it hasn’t been that pro-active a partnership. I did get to go on a writing trip to Sweden which was great but as the company expands and more artists get taken on board you end up having to keep yourself motivated as the money starts to run out.
A7 initiated Andy Morris and Dogzilla to do a remix of ‘So Damn Beautiful’, as they were on their books. It was also decided that Andy Duncan would reproduce the original mix.
It was only presented to me an hour before a copy was handed to EMI, so I never had the chance to change it. I regret today not imposing my beliefs but sometimes you have to trust those around you to get it right. However, always be precious about your recordings.
The remix hit the dance scene under the moniker Poloroid and Telstar, who used to handle Mis-Teeq, Victoria Beckham and E17 signed it on the spot. We had a few other labels interested but the management decided to opt for short term gain. Did I protest? Heck, I had been waiting for this since I was 19! Did it matter that it was a dance track? Not to me, this was my moment!
A7 chose Telstar because they were the keenest to get things up and running. They were a very approachable and intelligent outfit, I was really impressed. They always listened to me and the photo shoot was phenomenal.
The only thing they weren’t particularly honest about was their financial situation. In terms of their legal demands, they were very flexible and had a great history of compilation success, which is how artists like me can pay the bills.
I ended up playing the most bizarre venues (i.e. in the middle of a sweaty club on a podium with an acoustic guitar playing to a backing track surrounded by lots of spaced out people). I was on a hiding to nothing, my lack of protestations and inability to trust my instincts were about to hit me in spectacular fashion!
With the collapse of Telstar and along with it my deal, the death of Jon and a general desire to rediscover my musical passion I had a big personnel clearout, took time out, got a day job and decided to form my own production company with Mick Jackson (Lisa Stansfield, Barry Manilow).
Mick was introduced to me by Seven and from the start we got on like house on fire. We have a very similar attitude towards recording vocals. So many so-called producers think they have got what it takes, where Mick actually coaxes a performance out of you! He’s the most reliable and supportive musical person I have ever worked with.
I’ve had loads of disastrous collaborations; mainly with A7 instigating some with DJs who cannot be bothered and haven’t got the know-how to understand what goes into writing and producing a track. I always nipped these situations in the bud very quickly. It is through the close personal and working relationship with Mick that I have had the courage to form my own project and believe in what I do.
I haven’t been able to walk away from some relationships unscathed (like you can before you start signing contracts) but that doesn’t mean to say it’s made me bitter at all, why should it? I have had some of the best times ever, and everyone should be taught a lesson or two now and again.
I have strong enough foundations to build from. I also found myself co-writing with none other than David Arnold (a wonderful track called ‘Letting go’).
No Silence are now back on the road for the first time in its new guise and we have found ourselves a brilliant young PR girl who’s booking gigs and beating people up. In a way I have come full circle and am really enjoying getting back out there, studio recording is great but you can’t beat the buzz of a good gig!
Apart from never losing your self-belief and desire, I would say the biggest thing to always maintain is your own ideas about what you want, how you want it portrayed, and how you want it to sound. If you compromise in any way it will return to haunt you. I’m still as ambitious as ever, just with a little more clarity.
A Note about playing live
This is an art in itself and every time I do a gig I still have that rabbit-in-the-headlights feeling before the first song. You really want to be cool but will it look contrived and naff? To be quite honest pre-rehearsing a few in-between songs sentences is no bad thing as long as it’s naturally something you would say.
I have quite a cheeky sense of humour so I’m never going to be the female Lou Reed on stage (more probably Benny Hill), So I’ll introduce a few tracks and make a gag about them in that sort of self-deprecating way I mentioned earlier. The art of a good performance is making your audience feel special.
If only two people and a pet hamster show up, what the hell? Practice a few good moves, ad lib anything - it’s the best way to practice and perfect your act. Oh and if everybody’s talking over your set it’s because all they can hear is distorted guitars and not your poignant lyrics and gripping vocals.
So, get the band to tone it down, get a good friend to tell the sound guy to turn you up and tell your audience what the next song is about. They will be eating out of your hand. Treat an indifferent audience as a challenge! Never ever scrimp on passion!
A Note about musicians
Nothing like a good old fashioned audition to sort the men from the boys. What really worked for me was finding the most stunningly ambitious local guitarist and allowing him to beat up all the good people he had worked with, thus musically directing the whole thing. A massive weight off my mind and he gets to be bad cop too.
Mark Seacombe, I salute you! Not all of us are fortunate to grow up with people who turn out to be the best band in the world.
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