Interview with Ash Orphan – Part 1
We had the chance to put some questions to Ash Orphan about his new album ‘The Man who fell from the Moon’ which was released earlier this year. You can find the results below…
Find out more about Ash Orphan here.
How are you dealing with the lockdown?
There is a meme running around since the lockdown began talking about art people and gamers, stating that it didn’t change much our daily habits. It is poorly explained with words, but that’s pretty much how I feel. Dealing with being at home all the time is no problem with me as I spend a lot of time locked in a room when I record or create, or when I game too. I know how to spend that time. And I’ve been pretty lucky as I share a house with three other people, six cats and a puppy. I’m in the process of recording a song for a challenge (Homework challenge from Go Out Of Tune) and it is actually a bit challenging to be surrounded by so many living creatures!
Life is good. My family back in France are all safe and sound, my friends are too. I feel lucky to be in the Irish countryside, with a roof above my head and the people around me are really supportive. And what is challenging for me are things that always have been. Millions of questions about where to go, how to reach what I’m aiming for, about making the right choice, knowing when to keep persevering and when to let go. It sums up pretty much my music life, to be honest with you. So the toughest thing for me at the moment is not being able to play for people, and feel that I’m doing the right thing. People’s acknowledgement helps me a lot on my doubts about having the right to be a full-time musician. Impostor syndrome as we call it generally. It is not new and I’m definitely not the first one.
From your bio, it says you initially hated your voice after it broke. Can you tell me how you got over that?
People. People’s kindness and support. People that I didn’t know and came to me after my set at open mics. But here is the story: I used to sing in a choir for years when I was a teenager. I probably did eight or nine years, I don’t remember exactly. But I was a high soprano (so the highest range for children and women’s voices) and after a few years, I was a regular soloist. Long story short, my voice broke in the middle of learning Mozart’s Requiem solo parts and it was just impossible for me to sing it properly for the two planned gigs. The main thing is I always wanted to have either a tenor voice (the shiny “front stage” voice in most people’s mind) or a real deep bass voice (that’s probably what I was hoping for). I landed right in the middle and hated it. I was fifteen years old and you add to that the usual insecurity of teenagers, some “jokes” about my voice and you get me complexing on my voice for ten years.
I lived three years in Los Angeles as part of the rock band Tarah Who? and I discovered Ben Howard thanks to my good friend Tarah. From there I started learning the fingerstyle guitar by learning Ben Howard songs… and started to sing on top to accompany my guitar playing. Tarah heard me and she’s the one that pushed me to do it more. I discovered roughly at the same time the open mic thing. I had never heard of it before and decided to push myself and go for it, to practice my singing. I had a real “work” approach to it as a professional musician mindset. Rehearse every day and try what you’ve learned in front of people to see what I was mastering or not. The first times were terrible, horrible… on my side. I actually have no idea how good or bad I was from a listener point of view. I wanted to die and be buried so deep down below. But I kept going, practising. By the time, I was back in Paris and that’s where I discovered
the two places that made me what I am now: the Oz open mic by the talented Brislee Adams (the pub closed unfortunately so the session is no more) and the Highlander open mic hosted by the cool cat Thomas Brun (this is probably the oldest running open mic: every Wednesday for fourteen years). I’ve discovered kind and supportive people, and an amazing music community of singer-songwriters in a city I was born in and thought I knew. I decided to go to these two open mics every single week and discover others from time to time too.
That’s why I’m saying people. I went to open mics for practice and I received love and support in return. I was not prepared for it, I was not expecting it. But more and more people were coming to me after my few songs, telling me how my voice touched them, how they loved the songs I played. And thanks to all these people, I started to overcome my own mindset. I didn’t realize it right away as it was subtle and progressive. But the fear was going away, the overthinking about “what people would think” was going away too. And one day, I realized I was focusing more on how to share words and emotions better, how to make people travel and escape for the time of the song. And I realized then the real singing “work” started.
You’ve recently released your first album, ‘The Man who fell from the Moon’. Can you tell me about the recording process?
‘The Man who fell from the Moon’ was an unexpected journey. It is indeed my first album and as raw and unperfect it is, I wanted to crystalize what happened at that time. I was telling about how I got over my voice. Composing always has been a part of my musical journey but while learning fingerstyle guitar, I couldn’t find my own sound from all the songs I was learning, all the doodling sounded too much like Ben Howard, not like me. But four years ago, I felt a sudden urge to compose. I sat at my table, in front of my computer, turned on my recording software on my laptop and started thinking about what stories I wanted to tell. I came up with this “man who fell from the moon” theme and wrote seven titles as I’d have written a narrative arch. I don’t really know why but I decided to challenge myself (again) and to write a song a day, meaning seven songs in a week. Spoiler alert, I didn’t make it and finished in ten days instead but nothing too dreadful (laugh).
So the process went like this: with my story and the titles in mind, I took the first song and started to doodle around and as soon as I had something I liked, I pressed record and improvised. The structure appeared mostly like that (sometimes, I cut parts or added some but you get the idea). I just then press play and doodle on top of that structure to find things to add. This is the process. Playing the track, again and again, adding layers from time to time. Once the instrumental part was in a state I liked, I was going for the vocals. Sometimes adding backing vocals, sometimes writing lyrics while the track was in repeat in my ears (that’s what I’m actually doing writing you these words, as I need to write lyrics for my new song). I was confident on my guitar skills, as I got experienced composing and recording with my previous bands… but for the vocal part, everything was new. I did like we usually do when we don’t know the limits. We try. All the vocals are experiments if it makes sense? I tried things that I was thinking could be cool. Sometimes it worked, most of the times you end up with something completely different from what you had in mind. That’s probably what I love about the whole recording process. Be surprised about the music. It gets me excited and makes me want to finish the song as fast as possible to hear the final version.
In more technical terms, I’m using the recording process as a composing process. Or vice-versa, I don’t know. I have some minimal knowledge on how to record myself and I’ve bought what I needed to record on my laptop so I’m pretty free. From my first album experience, I know I can process like that. I know also that ideally, this first recording process is my way of composing and finishing songs. I couldn’t do this in a more “standard”-recording studio-label-way. But I know also that I’d want to work with a proper studio recording process to release my next album (so tracking again all the music in a better quality environment with a real sound engineer knowing what he’s doing… because I don’t).
Continued in part 2 of interview…