Time to shine the spotlight on to another musical talent and now it’s the turn of S J Denney. Influenced by the alternative Britpop scene, this singer songwriter has used this foundation to build a sound that offers so much more. Over the last few years, S J has been busy getting his music out to the world which has seen him receive nothing but positive feedback for his lyrical content and powerful live performances. This journey has now resulted in the release of his debut album ‘Then Again’.
To give you more of an insight into the musical world of S J Denney, we enlisted the help from the man himself. He was kind enough to get involved and some answer some questions. This is what he had to say:
What was it that inspired you to become a musician and who helped to shape your sound?
When I was really young, I played the clarinet and sung in a cathedral choir. So I guess the journey started there…
Then, when I was a teenager, someone bought me a copy of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. That was the first album that really grabbed me and I went and bought a cheap guitar from Argos. Everybody knows that they’re a band that’s heavily influenced by the musical greats, and I have them to thank for plugging all the golden oldies.
Whenever I check out an artist, I like to listen to the acts that influenced them. This enabled me to absorb lots of music. It also meant I spent a lot of money on CDs and vinyls. That’s something I’m still guilty of! There’s so many influences; probably too many to mention. The main ones that shine through are Oasis (for the directness of their music), The Beatles (for their melodic qualities), Neil Young (for his raw and emotive style) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (for their funky rhythms).
When you began the task on assembling the new album, what were your goals?
Firstly, my aspiration has always been to make an album. For me, that’s a real statement of intent for any artist. It means you’re really serious about putting time and money into your music, in the hope that it will connect with people. That’s the most important thing about being a musician. The ability to use your feelings and observations to create something that moves people. So, at a high-level, the master plan was to make an album that means something to people, including me.
I also wanted to record a batch of songs that I could be truly proud of. Something where I don’t regret decisions and hear what could have been improved. Having done some research, I learnt that a lot of artists use their first album as an opportunity to revisit their best songs to date. At first, I was reluctant to do this. I was keen to have a concept running through the album. When I listened back to the songs that I’d written over the last couple of years, I realised that the concept was actually my life and the songs that I’d been inspired to write.
The process of revisiting my songs ensured that I had some quality control. I picked the songs that people enjoyed the most, whether that was through hearing demos or watching me perform them live. This approach helped me to identify the unrealised potential in some of my music. I challenged myself to enhance my songs. This included rewriting lyrics, making structural changes and adding new sections. To my surprise, I actually found this process more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. I was taking my best compositions and refining them.
I also wanted to make sure that my music spanned as many sub-genres as possible. One big advantage of how we listen to music these days is the ability to have so much music in our libraries. I wanted to absorb all of my influences and make a record the incorporated lots of different styles of music. I’ve always loved albums that feel cohesive but cover lots of ground. That’s probably why The White Album is one of my favourite records.
Another goal was to come up with a tangible product that represented where I am as a person. In my eyes, that product has to be cohesive from the music through to the artwork.
And finally, I wanted the record to be produced to a high standard, ensuring the arrangements come to life. I think it’s important to keep the listener interested. You don’t want them getting too comfortable. This was always at the back of my mind and I made sure that there were lots of instruments on each song. At the same time, I tried to ensure there was a balance, so I only added layers if they were going to add something to the song. It’s also really important to let a song breathe, otherwise you might lose the emotion that made you write it in the first place.
During its process, what were the highs and lows?
– Mixing down The Knee-Jerk Blues and realising how good my songs could sound
– Jamming with Mat and Ville Leppanen and feeling like I was playing with people who got my songs
– Recording vocals with Bee Bakare and Roisin O’Hagan. Both are great artists and lovely people, and they’ve added another dynamic to the record.
– Hearing strings and brass on my songs for the first time
– Designing the artwork with Alex Hutchinson
– Going to Wales and mastering the final record
– Realising when I’d got THE album title
– Playing the album to family and friends, whilst seeing their reactions
– David Bowie died ahead of one of the sessions. I was absolutely gutted and I still am. We put pictures of him on the piano before I recorded Across the Waves. It’s probably why that song sounds so sad.
– Having to compete with the builders that were working outside the studio
From the album, which are your favourites and why?
I must admit, I absolutely love all of the tracks. I’ve never been this satisfied with anything I’ve put out there. It’s a nice feeling. If you pushed me to make a decision, I could probably narrow it down to four songs:
This Is Where It Rains – I wrote this song in a dream and I really surprised myself with the feelings going around my head! I think I nailed the vocal. It really communicated the sadness in that song. I’m also really happy with my brass arrangements.
The Great Unknown – This was the first song that I wrote that wasn’t about my personal feelings. It really opened a new door for my songwriting. I’m really pleased with my guitar playing on it too. It’s somewhere between The Smiths and Suede, and that’s a pretty good place to be!
Across the Waves – I’m not really a pianist but I know how to write a song on most instruments. The fact that I blagged a song on piano makes me really happy. It’s also got a really strange structure, which keeps you on your toes.
The Knee-Jerk Blues – This was probably the first song where I realised that I could make a pretty professional record. The riff makes you want to take on the world, and the song blends so many of my favourite artists together.
If you could time travel to see any musician perform, who would you like to see and why?
That’s such a tough question! I’d probably go for Jeff Buckley. There’s lots of artists that I’d love to resurrect. But most of them are bands, rather than solo musicians. I also feel like his career was far too short. He only made one album and it’s right up there. I’m yet to find another artist who has such an emotive voice.
Now that the album has been released, what are your future goals for your music?
My immediate goal is to promote the album like my life depends on it! I’d love to get it into as many homes and car stereos as possible. I’m also filming a series of music videos with a very talented director called Robert Watts. That’s something that I’m really excited about, becauses it’s someone else’s interpretation of my music. Additionally, I’m looking to get a full band together and maybe support a more established artist.
‘Then Again’ is a collection of songs which can be split into two different sounds. First up we have the indie rock side with tracks like ‘The Knee-Jerk Blues’ and ‘All I See is You’. Here is where you can hear those Britpop influences at work, especially in the way he uses his electric guitar which includes some cool edgy riffs.
Then you have a much softer sound which puts the spotlight firmly on what makes his music stand out, his lyrical and vocal talents. When he slows things down and delivers a more emotional tone then you can really appreciate what he has to offer. S J is someone who has always had a great way with words and knows how to craft details in his stories to grab the listeners attention. But, a story is only as good as its narrator and his voice compliments his words perfectly. ‘This is Where it Rains’ and ‘Even Now (feat Bee Bakare)’ are perfect examples of this combination at work.
‘Then Again’ is a wonderful collection of songs that you need to check out. If you need a little more convincing then listen to ‘Across the Waves’, this will do all the talking, it’s that good. So, head over to Spotify, YouTube or Soundcloud to listen to his music. If your ears appreciate his talent and you NEED to add his album to your collection then you can do so from Amazon or iTunes.
If you want to learn more about the man himself then take a trip over to his website at SJSongs.co.uk which also includes dates for upcoming shows. This information can also be found from his social media sites at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you are a fan of S J Denney, then don’t forget to spread the word. Go on, tell the world about his music TODAY!