Ned Stranger, best known to FFS readers for his work with August and After, released his second solo single ‘Berlin In The Spring’ earlier this month. So we caught up with the nomadic troubadour to find out all about his latest venture.
First things first, how is life in lockdown? And where are you based at the moment?
Things are fairly calm here (in Riga, Latvia) – I’ve taken the time to immerse myself in video editing and started making YouTube videos focused around being an indie songwriting and the balance between building an audience and keeping good emotional wellbeing!
I think that us artists and songwriters tend to struggle with the idea of putting out an “honest” perspective – we’re engrained with the need to project a constantly positive image of success. And so, in starting a solo project from scratch, I’ve grabbed the chance to document the process with complete transparency and talk about the emotional challenges I’m facing along the way in real time.
Feeling completely lost with life goals, fighting to keep productive, struggling with the challenges of getting people interested in my songs in amidst the far more important things happening in the world – these are all things that any artist can relate to, and so I’ve been talking through my feelings as I go through them, and the techniques I find useful in overcoming them – all in a weekly video (every Monday) on my channel!
What does this solo project mean for August and After? Is the band still going?
It is indeed! To be honest, I think we all needed a step back from the day-to-day August and After to work things out for ourselves… without speaking too much for other people, songwriting is such an important part of our respective identities, but can easily get lost in the desire to build a bigger audience. I wanted to explore my songwriting and put out a lot more music without worrying too much about the ‘impression’ I was giving in representing the collective. Plus Vedantha has been busy in climate change policy work with the UK Civil Service (whilst songwriting at his own pace) so it seemed a good time to explore a new sound and start building my own personal identity…
But we are releasing several new songs this year and can’t wait to share them!
There’s a distinct change in sound – what has inspired this music?
Yeah, I’ve moved in a more ‘pop’ direction, probably for a couple of reasons – firstly, I spent the last few summers travelling around Europe playing functions and weddings in a band called Truly Medley Deeply – amazing fun, as you can guess we sing medleys of pop and dance classics and so I’ve been immersed in far more mainstream music. I think it’s pushed my voice in a punchier direction, a contrasted to the more acoustic sound I was used to, and made me want to explore more electronic elements too.
I also think – though he won’t necessarily admit it! – that Jonathan (my producer in Paris who has worked on all our August and After music since our home-recorded debut) has been itching to explore more analog synth sounds … hence the slightly retro synth sounds of the first two singles! I wanted to simplify things and write music in a more uplifting direction, and generally get out of my comfort zone, falling back on acoustic indie folk textures. It’s been really rewarding to get people’s reactions so far as I don’t think anyone was expecting it!
If I were REALLY exploring my roots, I’d probably be writing darker, far more alternative rock-influenced music – but I don’t tend to think very much about who I want to sound like. I focus on drawing out the melodies and lyrics in a cradle of music that will grab people’s attention without detracting from the vocals!
This is the second single you’ve released in the past few weeks – what’s next for the project?
I have another two singles coming out from the same recording session in Paris and obviously want to use them to grow a decent-sized following so that I know a good number of people will listen to everything I put out from now on (basically I want to put some new music out every month until the world ends, which might turn out to be sooner than I thought…)
But I’ve been moving my focus away from the quantitative and thinking more about how I want my music to make people feel. I’ve been trying to bring that into focus, and where I am at the moment is that I want to give people a different perspective on emotions or situations that are familiar to them. Exploring themes like nostalgia, inner conflict, anxiety, in more detail…
I also want to use my YouTube content to help other artists build a healthier, more sustainable approach to their musical journeys – together with my girlfriend, Anya, who does all the Ned Stranger visuals, I’ve recently built an online magazine called The Emerging Artist which explores the various emotional challenges faced by musicians near the beginning of their artistic journey. It’s still early days and we’re talking to a lot of musicians about the best way to help them, but all very exciting!
AND, I want to explore more songwriting with other artists – no disrespect to Vedantha who is a wonderful collaborator, but I’ve always focused my songwriting efforts on August and After and would love to branch out!