I recently seen an interview on Cousin Silas’ Facebook page which was, well, short and very concise. He was trying to be funny, and succeeded. But I got to thinking that maybe there could actually be more to Cousin Silas than the tongue in cheek interview he posted. I decided to call his bluff and, I must say, he responded with a very insightful look into what makes Cousin Silas tick. he is on the net label based in Scotland called We Are All Ghosts, and you can also read about how he came to be on that label and other bits and pieces.
He also provided an exclusive track that can be listened to while reading the interview.
Cousin Silas – Fade To Yellow
FTY : Can you introduce yourself and what your artist name is?
My name is Dave Hughes and I go under the same of Cousin Silas.
FTY : How did you come up with the name Cousin Silas? When Fflint Central told me they were going to release Lilliput (my first album) I didn’t want to go under my real name simply because I used to do music reviews. I felt that if people didn’t know it was me, I would get more honest reviews. By the time I’d got to my third release I thought I might as well keep things as they are and hang on to Silas as a ‘brand’ name. The name Cousin Silas comes from a line in the song Happy Families from the album by King Crimson, Lizard. It’s an album that I have always loved.
FTY: Can you tell me about what your musical background is?
As for liking music, I have a very broad taste. I enjoy classical, jazz, avant garde, indeed, most ‘genres’. I pay more attention to the music than the genre. As to my own musical apprenticeship, well, my first ‘proper’ band I got into enjoying as a kid was ELP. Those strange yet compelling sounds that Emerson created made me want to get a synth. I began saving up but eventually realised that something like £1 a week wasn’t going to get me a synth any time quick. I think I’d saved up around £14 when I decided I’d be Greg Lake instead. So I went to Woolies and bought myself an incredbly crap guitar. Later, I bought a better one, and at school I joined a band, all mates, and we did rock n roll. In the latter years of school when punk came along we embraced it whole heartedly. We formed a punk band and had a load of fun and laughs along the way. We never took ourselves seriously, well, I didn’t. Like most things, that eventually fazed out, band split, I got married and put the ol’ guitar away. It was years later, with the advent of cheaper pcs (I used to have a Spectrum) that I realised that this strange and odd music could be made on a computer. It basically grew from there, slowly increasing the range software and often waiting for technology to either catch up or become cheaper.
FTY : Can you describe your sound?
Mmm! Well, I like to change direction, moods and styles a lot (I get bored pretty quickly) I don’t thinkI can. I guess the best description, and sadly it’s a bit of a cliche, would be mood. I often get an image, a place, or a location, usually remote or out of the way, and I try and convey that in the music. These images can be from memory, at work as I pass some place, a photo, or something on the tv or even in a book.
FTY : Tell me about your latest release?
Probably be another two after this is published 🙂 I am presuming it’s In The Dark? (link) On most releases I’ve always thrown in the odd dark and brooding piece. I really like the mood and atmosphere that this kind of style can convey. When I’ve posted these dark tracks up on Facebook, or Soundcloud, a lot of folks have enjoyed it, with the inevitable ‘more please’. So, I just thought, right. I think now is the time to do a full album of ‘dark’. I did get carried away because there’s at least another two potential releases that came out of it.
FTY : Can you tell me about your other releases from 2013? I am thinking about the Dronescape series for the Netlabel We Are All Ghosts
The Dronescape series actually started out as a bit of a bet! Over the years of doing Silas, obviously, I became aware of Drones. I’m not a big fan of them. A lot I hear just seem fairly simple and repetitive – I guess that’s the idea, right? I’m no expert, so when I said I’d have a go, just for the hell of it. Sure, they are drones but I have to add other things into the mix, otherwise I genuinly get fed up. A lot of these extra little sounds or fx are simply to wake me up. I’m not professing to have invented a sub genre, or confess to taking anything away from the true Drone genre. All I’m saying is this is how Cousin Silas does Drones… And, again, I enjoyed doing them, I ended up with something like 25, hour long drones. And I’m still doing the odd one now and then.
FTY : What other record labels have you released music on and is it the case that you contact them or they contact you?
I’ve had both really. Earlier in the game I used to get emails, probably to mention in the music review mag I did, about a new netlabel looking for submissions. Actually, I’d just done what would be my last album for Fflint Central when someone sent me an email from Earth Monkey, which had recently been set up by Shaun Blezzard. I sent loads of material and he accepted it all. Now that was a really nice boost to the old confidence and ego. Did a few albums for Earth Monkey, then heard about other labels, such as Just Not Normal, Free Floating, Aural Films, Withering Trees, Acustronica, BFW, and Earthrid. Some labels have written asking if I would contribute to compilations, and there has been the odd label that has asked for an album or two. I feel I must mention WAAG (We Are All Ghosts netlabel) at this point though. Thomas Mathie was a name I’d seen way back, commenting on the Earth Monkey releases. He was an admirer of my music back then. So, turning full circle, I was more than happy to be on WAAG when Thomas decided to create a Netlabel. I do feel that WAAG has become a relatively permanent home for Silas (a good one too). He’s also managed to get some great music on there as well. And by that I mean other folks!
FTY : So thinking back to the first album that you released, is it now easier to record the music, what is the biggest thing you have learned about the music and the recording process from release to release?
It’s a lot easier for many reasons. The first and, for me, the best is the simple fact that there are so many software alternatives. A few years ago there were perhaps two or maybe three DAW’s and for the most part you needed a degree in astrophysics to understand and operate them. For someone like me who has more of a let’s go attitude, a strike whilst the idea’s hot kinda chap, I found that studying and constantly reffering to the manual, or in most cases the Encylopedia Galactica, I just got bored, frustrated and dismayed. Nowadays there are some fairly simple DAW’s that you can more or less get going within a short time. Now, of course, the huge choice of hundreds of synths and VST’s is astounding (free and otherwise). Not sure if I’ve actually learned anything on the journey. I know I’ve had many things confirmed!
FTY : What is the process for writing the songs? Do you start at the beginning or in the middle?
I think I’ve always started at the beginning. There may have been a few where I’ve started at the beginning, and then thought I’d like a voice sample or another ‘sound’ to start before the real one gets going. I don’t think I have the mindset to ‘see’ half way through a track? As I said above, most of the stuff I do begins with a mood, a feeling, and I try and find a sound that conveys that. Then build up from it and try to compliment and/or enhance it. Some tracks have started with just a few notes of the piano, or guitar, others with just the sound of a pad that really digs deep.
FTY : How do you name the songs on your albums? Obviously the long form drone tracks are self explanatory, I am talking about the shorter tracks that you have released
I think I’m notoriously bad on titles. Some are thinly disguised that express the mood. Last year my wife lost both her father and mother, and it kinda put the brakes on things for a while. Initially I just couldn’t find the inspiration, just couldn’t be arsed basically. But gradually, this sadness and loss began to get expressed in a lot of the material I began to create. The album East features quite a lot of material from that period. Tracks like Secrets, and More Secrets, Of Passing Days, Of Dreams And Memories, and Empathic Resonance. Other pieces I try and convey the geography that inspired them, bit like trying to describe a snapshot: Two Waterfalls, New Forest and Early Hours. I do struggle sometimes with titles.. no imagination y’see!
FTY : I understand that you have a large guitar collection, tell me more about that. Do you have favorite guitars that you like to play and perform with? Is there one guitar that you predominantly use for your dronescapes?
I do have quite a lot of guitars, and in some respects I guess I went a bit crazy apeshit with them. There were two major reasons for this. The first is that up until recently I simply could not afford one. Family, financial comittements, all the usual stuff. About two and a half years ago, the financial clouds cleared somewhat. I took the plunge and actually bought a brand new guitar. Something I had never done. It was the Burns Shadow. And it wasn’t exactly expensive, really. But I hummed and arred, and thought bollox, I want a good guitar and I’d always fancied a Burns. Then a Strat, and a Tele, and a …. etc. etc. The second reason was, although the guitar was my first instrument, I could’t use the one I had on anything I was doing with the pc setup. I was using an old beat up casio keyboard that was middied to the software synths. I didn’t even use a DAW, just Soundforge, and layered and mixed the material I was creating. So, for about ten years the guitar was in the loft, redundant, couldn’t use it! I had tried on many occasions, but things like latency and buzzing, or humming just stopped it dead in the water. Just beforeI bought the Burns, however, things started to fall into place. I found/read about a variety of devices and software that beat the latency issue, and stuff like Guitar Rig and the Line 6 Studio GX made the prospect of using a guitar a reality. So I began to using it, as I still do, as a means to an end. It’s just like another brush, but has different bristles and textures to add to the canvas. I don’t have a fave guitar. I genuinly love each and every one. Because I did without for so many years,each one is real special to me. Plus, having access to quite a few makes it a lot of fun choosing the right ‘feel’ and sound for a particular track. I have always wanted my guitars to sound like guitars, I can make all the other stuff via the keyboard! And the Dronescapes are predominatly done with the keyboard. My memory isn’t that good, but I’m sure, apart from maybe the odd ‘fx’ the Dronescapes are all guitarless!
FTY : What or who influences you to do what you do?
It would be a lie if I said people like Eno, Harold Budd and Michael Brook didn’t effect the fact that I wanted to do music like that. Not all their music did this, but odd pieces took me to places I remember from childhood, and brought out feelings, memories and again, moods. I thought I wish I could create those moods but obviously they’d be more personal and done with my music. I think, though, the biggest influence was the ethos of early punk, no matter you can’t play like a pro, just get in there and have a go, have some fun. That attitude was a kind of revelation. Even though I might have only been kidding myself, having that attitude made me realise that I ‘could’ have a go. So I did!
FTY : Would you say that listening to artists in similar genres can influence how you sound?
If I hear something that takes me to that ‘place’, I do feel inspired to recreate that. Not so much by the ‘sound’, more the actual mood. It’s difficult to describe, and I’ve tried on many occasions to get what it is I feel across to people but it doesn’t happen. There are many artists I listen to who I really like, but it’s not what I’d do. The beauty of this game is that there are so many ways and methods to create your music, and even though some standard patches crop up now and again, it’s what and how that patch is used, what’s put with it, how it’s layered with other patches, etc. In all this time, and all the chats I’ve had with other musicians, not once have I ever come across anyone who even remotely does it the way I do. I think the bottom line is simply that no one really influences my sound, but they can and do influence the way I feel, and it’s that feeling that drives the creativity.
FTY : How do you promote yourself, are you finding social media is a good avenue for this?
I’ve always been uncomfortable with all this self promotion stuff. I never have and never will feel at ease with it. Fortunately (for me) none of my releases have been self released, so that side of it, I feel, has been taken away from me. Of course, I’ll put links up on Facebook and in various groups about a new release, but I cringe when I see some artists, day after day, having to promote their wares. The thing is, my stuff, apart from the first two releases and a couple on the Earthrid label, can be had for free. It’s a hobby, and the best and most appealing sideline is that there are some people who like what I do. Each and every time I am in the ol’ Silas Room, creating material, I am so happy and content, and that in itself is reward enough. I really like Facebook simply because (and it is how ‘you’ use it) I tend to be more sociable rather than promotional. Sure, picked up some fans (hate that word) and made some really great ‘friends’ on there. I don’t take myself too seriously, the music? Well, that can take care of itself.
FTY : If you could collaborate with any artist or band, who would it be and why?
I have been very lucky in that I had an idea a while back to do collaborations. But rather than have the result of one collab appear on one album, I’d do a full album of collaborations. Well, the response from people to collaborate with was quite staggering really, and still continues. The results thus far can be heard on the two Silas & Friends albums. Currently on (and off, as time allows) with the 3rd. And I won’t mention who I would like to collab with, because, as the tracklisting on the Silas & Friends albums show, I’ve been well blessed so far!
FTY : What advice would you give to any artist playing instrumental music starting out today?
Don’t go expecting world wide domination, it ain’t gonna happen.
FTY : Last piece of music you listened to, apart from your own?
I believe it was a dub album, and I’m buggered if I can rememember now who it was. Old school dub mind!
FTY : What does the future hold for Cousin Silas?
Never thought I’d be quoting David Byrne, but ‘same as it ever was!’