Get to Know: Real Velour
The next instalment in our Get to Know series focuses on Real Velour, one of our longest-standing and most eclectic community members. Read on for an insight into John’s rich musical past and inspirations!
Introduce yourself – who are you and how would you describe your music?
I am Real Velour. The decadent alter ego of otherwise boring singer-songwriter, John Napier.
How did you get started with music production?
I’m really more of a songwriter than a producer yet production has always been there. As a teen I was into a lot of alternative rock and indie like The Pixies or The Smiths but also got into hip hop and house. So while I was writing a lot of songs on guitar I was also working on electronic music inspired by the likes of Kraftwerk and Public Enemy, first with some free rudimentary audio editing software on my PC and eventually with a sampler. Garageband came next, as I wanted to program drums and bass to my songs, and then Logic and finally Ableton which is my go to DAW these days.
What would you say are your main influences – musically or otherwise?
Easily the biggest influence on Real Velour is Italo Disco, which I discovered around 2008 whilst running a club night with friends called New York Noise at the now demolished Yardbird bar. I loved it so much that I began some breakaway nights at the Victoria over the next couple of years called Jugend Klub and Berlusconi’s (we had one half of Bicep come to play for a mere £100, a pizza and he crashed in a spare room at my sister’s house-share!) which focused more on the European dance sounds I was gravitating toward. I’m very proud of these nights because we played a lot of music that you just wouldn’t otherwise hear in Birmingham, even today, and had a small but very loyal group of regulars.
As well as Italo, I love a lot of related genres such as Hi NRG (basically Italo’s North American sister) as well as J-Pop, techno, house, synth pop, and other forms of alternative disco. Lyrically I get inspired by a wide variety of stuff. For instance, the title track of my new EP (forthcoming on Blaq Numbers label), Spaceship In Tokyo, strongly relates to the work of left-wing cultural theorists such as Mark Fisher; although you might miss it hidden beneath all the high camp energy!
Tell us a little about your production workflow – any software or hardware you use, any special techniques or sources that are indispensable to your sound.
I like to reuse a lot of VSTs I create in Ableton or other DAWs. Over time these get tweaked so bit by bit my sound evolves. I also use a lot of cheap hardware, including several Yamaha Portasounds which were a range of children’s keyboards from the 80s and 90s. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a lot on hardware. I’m not really looking for any sort of “authentic” sound, at least not in a literal sense. A lot of the music I get inspired by was, at the time, very DIY. Over time the hardware those people used has become fetishised to such a degree that they now come with the kind of price tags the people who pioneered their use would never have been able to afford. I think it’s much more productive to try and understand the attitude behind the music you like rather than simply to imitate it. In a sense that’s real authenticity and it also allows you to be a lot more creative.
What do you do when you’ve lost your musical mojo?
This hasn’t really happened in a long time but, when I was younger, inspiration seemed to come in waves – rising for a few weeks then dipping for a few weeks. When returning from university in 2005, I hit a particularly long dip but luckily (or maybe it was destiny?!), that’s when I reconnected with a family friend from my childhood, Vincent Gould. We began a collaboration that still exists to this day called Waler. I think having another project to focus on really rekindled my creative flame so now the trick for me is to just have loads of plates spinning at any one time. That way, if one project has hit a bit of a bump in the road, you can always focus on something else instead. A change is as good as a rest. That being said, sometimes you’ve just got to grind at something for a bit and then be patient enough to leave it alone for a while.
What are your favourite and least favourite BPMs to work at?
I mostly work between 110 and 130 but wouldn’t rule any bpm out. In fact, some of the harder industrial stuff I like is in the 140s. Be interesting to see some sort of crossover between that and the dubstep/drum and bass continuum. Perhaps it’s always been there!
When you make music, where do you start?
Usually by messing around with some sound or other I like. Could be a keyboard sound, could be a drum sample but I’ve also started tracks with just a lyric.
If you could go back to when you first started out and offer your former self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Musical development is exponential. It’s going to take you ages to write your first proper song that really sounds like “you” . So long that you might wonder how you’ll ever come up with a significant body of work worth devoting your life to. But don’t get disheartened. The next song will come quicker… then an EP… then an album… then another… Etc etc. This has been the same for me for all aspects of music-making and creativity in general and things certainly didn’t fall into place in my twenties or even for much of my thirties.
Can you tell us one thing you really appreciate about the Birmingham music scene and one thing you think could be improved?
I don’t really think there’s a positive characteristic I could apply to the Birmingham music scene as a whole but I think there are specifics that are worthy of great praise. Listening Sessions has given me and so many others so much in terms of support, open-mindedness, encouragement and a platform, The Sunday Xpress is a great promoter for bands while Claptrap, a little further afield in Stourbridge, is just an incredible live music venue.
When you’re not making music, what other interests and hobbies do you have?
I love films, comedy, anything creative and every now and then a bit of cycling but, if I’m honest, music easily eclipses all of those.
Do you feel Listening Sessions has helped you progress as an individual artist?
Most definitely. It keeps me productive knowing I have somewhere to play my tracks every month. The community also really know their stuff so I’ve had tons of great advice and they’re also super-supportive and open-minded. This atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, is something that I think the organisers Mat and Tom really push and it shows.
Which other Listening Sessions producers are you feeling at the minute?
I don’t want to say because everyone just seems like they’re firing on all cylinders these days and the list would be too long! I would say that Listening Sessions has gotten me to greatly appreciate a lot of genres that were a bit out of my wheelhouse before – D&B, dubstep etc. Sometimes you’ve got to hear the raw, unhyped good stuff, away from all the media portrayal of genres, to really appreciate it for what it is.
Where can we hear more of your music?
There are a few tracks on my Bandcamp I’m really pleased with but I’ve been holding back a load of stuff in preparation for some new label releases.