Always Seeking is the eagerly-anticipated second album from guitarist and singer songwriter, Jake Aaron. It follows his highly-acclaimed 2019 debut, Fag Ash and Beer, which drew many enthusiastic reviews. Always Seeking was released on digital formats on 17th May 2023 and is also available on CD from 7th June. Having interviewed Jake back in 2019 following the release of his debut album, I catch up with him again to find out more about the latest one.
It’s been four years since your debut album Fag Ash & Beer which attracted some extremely favourable reviews. When did you begin working on the follow-up?
Some of the music goes back a long time, a few years in some cases. I had chords without a melody, words without songs, songs without words, but an Americana album of some sort seemed to be taking shape for a while. The actual process of bringing it all together and finishing it off probably spanned two or three years.
Was this a different process to writing the previous album?
It was pretty different, yes. With the first album, only three tracks were recorded live. I started mainly with solo acoustic pieces and the players coloured some of them in with overdubs. With Always Seeking eight of the tracks were recorded live so it probably has more band energy.
How would you describe Always Seeking as an album?
I loosely imagined a noir Western, and something with a moving landscape, scenes and moods. As far as the theme goes, I suppose like a lot of people, I’m prone to follow mirages and over romanticise the future and the past.
Like its predecessor the album crosses a number of genres and takes in a range of influences. It’s obviously important to you not to be boxed in, musically?
I’ve absorbed a lot of music over the years and like lots of different music so it would be hard to stick with just one sound. As I’m an independent artist too and not very commercial, I’m pretty free to record what interests me. It’s not like a major label is locking me up till I’ve written my next hit.
Some genres probably aren’t that far removed from each other anyway especially folk, rock, and blues. John Renbourn and Davy Graham were often crossing over naturally to classical and jazzy sounds. Or, thinking of George Harrison and Robby Basho who played some sitar, into Indian Raga. Maybe it’s partly due to the instrument – guitarists can pick up a classical guitar, an electric guitar, sitar or banjo, or use different tunings and sound very different. I mean if I played the bagpipes I’d be a bit more stuck stylistically.
The album features a number of the musicians who played on your first album. Clearly, you enjoyed working with them, first time around?
Totally! Steve Lodder on keyboards again, Davide Mantovani on bass, Marc Parnell drums, Steve Waterman on trumpet and Kenny Jones engineering. They’re fantastic to work with. I think they’re a good choice too because some of my music is off-beat and, as jazzers, they’re completely unphased.
The only track I was unsure about asking them to play, was the rockier track ‘Gotta Believe’ and they were free to opt out of that one if they wanted. Marc’s response was: “Jazz players are fine playing rock, it’s rock players who won’t play jazz!” It’s true, listen to them!
You’ve also got a couple of other guests on the album, John Etheridge on several tracks and Kate Kurdyak on a couple of tracks. How did they get involved?
The character in the album artwork and music turned out to be female so it seemed to call out for a female singer. It took a long time to find the right singer till I remembered a song I really liked in 2021 – ‘Dose Me Up’ by a Canadian band Vox Rea. Kate has a beautiful voice. I had to wait a while till she got back from touring but it was worth it and I’m really glad she got involved in the album. Vox Rea recently made it onto BBC Radio 2 with their track “Julia”, so very possibly we’ll be hearing more of them.
I’ve known John a little for a few years ever since bumping into him on the tube and sharing a tube journey with him. I’d just seen him playing with John Williams at Ronnie Scott’s, and in Nottingham too, so had quite a bit to chat about the music and the shows. It so happens John also plays with Steve and were working together on some jazz versions of The Kinks which I heard when I was working on the album. It had some stunning lead guitar. Three of the tracks on “Always Seeking” needed some lead guitar and I wasn’t about to follow Steve’s solo in The Revenant – so one thing led to another and John seemed to like the pieces. John’s two solos on The Revenant are just brilliant which is partly why the track is so long! I couldn’t find anywhere to fade it. It’s a very joyous listen, very melodic, very unrushed.
The artist Anthony Macbain produced a very striking image for the album cover, full of old-style western film imagery. Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted from the outset?
Anthony’s art is fantastic and adds a whole new dimension to the music. We had some shared musical interests too which probably helped including – you’ll be very pleased to know – Iron Maiden. I sent Anthony a rough, badly drawn sketch of a rider on a ridge looking over clouds, with a guitar and rifle. Anthony took the idea and transformed it. His first sketch was of a female rider looking at the viewer. It was so good I asked him to finish it though we felt the image of the rider in the distance worked better for the album cover. The original image is now in the CD as a fold-out poster and looks terrific. It was a real surprise when I received the first copy.
What next for Jake Aaron?
I’m looking into pressing some vinyl for Always Seeking, depending on the level of interest. The feedback about the artwork and line up is so good it would be good to see it on vinyl – it might be something someone picks up in a second hand shop one day and asks what the hell was that? I had that experience a lot when I used to trawl second hand record shops. I’ve emailed a record shop in London who haven’t got back yet, so if there are any vinyl shops reading give us a shout!
Vinyl seems to be making a huge resurgence. One of my tracks was picked up by a vinyl “mixtape” club in the US, Vinyl Moon, who produce really beautiful vinyl each month with original music and artwork that piqued my interest too. Jared Sylvia designed the volume that my track’s on.
Musically I’ve got quite a lot of stuff simmering in the pot, some lyrics, chords, a few melodies, song titles. So I guess there could be a single or two, an EP and another album at some point. I’m more interested than I used to be in reworking earlier tracks these days. Sometimes you can only take a track so far at the time and then run out of time, skill or imagination and then a few years later pick it up again – you might have evolved a bit musically and can do more with it.
I did think the other day if I write more material I can do a Best Of some day which would be a great thing – it would immediately improve the overall standard of the album with a massive edit!
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Album streaming link: https://jakeaaron.com/always-seeking
Interview: Darren talks Fag Ash and Beer with guitarist/singer-songwriter Jake Aaron