7 questions with S A Reyners

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SA Reyners

Buddy Holly would have approved of S A Reyners. The singer-songwriter’s a throw-back to a time when pop and rock was simpler. A one-man band, he plays vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, keyboard, xylophone and drums wherever necessary. Right now, he’s in the midst of promoting his latest EP Saturday Afternoon.

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Rocknuts.net caught up with him and asked him seven questions:

Q: What do you think differentiates you from the other artists out there?

My ‘maximalist’ style, at least in terms of melody, hooks, oft-changing chord shapes and lyrics. While my production style is often stripped back, the songwriting always favours melody, especially those melodies comprised of 5 or more individual notes. On my 2013 single ‘The Other Way’, I cover 11 notes across the chorus vocal hook, all within a matter of seconds. This more or less represents a grounding principle when it comes to melody and indeed my general approach to songwriting. People also say my voice is unique and varied across range though to be honest I don’t necessarily hear it as such. I love to hate it just as it does me.

Q: What are your hopes for Saturday Afternoon?

That people derive a sense of ambition from it. The song’s protagonist is optimistic and so too is the song, particularly the rousing effect contributed through the chromatic chord progression of the chorus and the modulation middle 8 part (bridge) part. So I hope people can relate to the song for what it is in terms of feel and movement.

Q: What does your song-writing process look like?

I write from energy more than I do from the heart. I need to feel great before I sit down with the guitar and devise a chord progression even if I have some lamenting subject matter in the back of my mind, like I did ahead of penning ‘Saturday Afternoon’. If it means having a strong coffee, eating dark chocolate, going for a run, taking a bath (water-use conscious), or doing some housework, then so be it.

Yoga is the best, though I’m nothing more than an amateur and wouldn’t bend over backwards for the sake of writing the perfect bridge!

One day maybe. Seriously though, I feel much more motivated to write once the endorphins are roaming freely. The movement I hear in music begins with movement in my body. That said, there is also a sensitive element to this otherwise hedonistic approach, yet this usually stems from a sensitive yearning for melody itself and acute vocal hooks. The musical premise for a song often comes through the vocal lines and syllable sounds I test out, or sometimes through particular guitar sounds I get from certain chords. I look for that ‘response’ from melody and if I’m not satisfied I’ll try something else, vocally or otherwise, imploring an interesting melody to reveal itself. It’s the same when I write on piano, though again the emphasis is more on interesting chord shapes initially and finding a workable progression around certain chord ‘colourings’. For me, the arc or contour of a hook informs the ‘feeling’ of it, be it happy, sad, or otherwise. I guess I write songs back to front in this respect. I hate it when people ask me if I write about my feelings. I don’t know my true feelings half the time, that’s why I let the music reveal them.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part about being a recording artist?

Hearing a song come to life exactly how I planned it, or near enough. Also receiving positive feedback from music lovers and critics alike, especially when their feedback is detailed and lengthy. I really value that. Like it or not, social media has made it too easy for one to show approval on very vague terms. In other words, the ‘like’ button might appease the burgeoning artist in the short term but ultimately what’s more valuable is detailed feedback. The ratio of likes to comments in most social media scenarios these days makes poor reading for those who care about how their work really sits with people, even when the likes indicate a favourable response. People aren’t speaking up enough or, when they do comment, don’t elaborate on why they like something. Twitter obviously limits characters but please use 50 words, and not 2, when giving me feedback via Facebook! It might be the age of interaction but people aren’t engaging as much as the technology permits them to.

Q: What’s the worst part?

Changing my mind. In terms of songwriting that is. Whilst I accept there are a lot of prolific musicians out there who are satisfied with a song the moment they’ve devised the first verse, I’m constantly trying to write the perfect song, every time. While that may sound like a chore to some and downright time-consuming (which it is), the fun part is that my songwriting values change all the time. In other words, I’m learning about all the music I listen to and asking myself, ‘what are its central values? Ie, is it all about that opening riff which later repeats a couple of times? Must it repeat at all? (on ‘The Other Way’ the opening riff is never heard again). Do I even need a riff? And so on. So my idea of ‘perfect’ is progressing all the time and yet it’s also something I won’t ever truly realise, not objectively at least, which makes me strive for it that much more whilst conversely validating those ‘near misses’. I’ve also recently begun to value lyrics and narrative a lot more highly than I did before. So the lyrics have to be vivid as hell and, while what I’m saying won’t appeal to everyone, I want to be as descriptive as possible. A lot of modern music has too much of an emphasis on abstraction, be it through arbitrary lyrics, dull instrumental filler parts, empty bits, sparseness, or otherwise. While I accept certain genres are founded on these very traits, I strive to make music that is very much in the foreground. Put simply, I don’t write ‘background music’. I want to achieve realism in my music where expression is everywhere. For me the experience should be rich, engaging and progressive. As an apt parallel, the best lesson I learnt in courtship during my early 20s instilled a vivid picture in the mind’s eye and I regard this moment as having a direct impact on my approach to music. I saw multi-contoured lines crop up in my head as part of a vivid picture resembling something like a kids’ bead roller-coaster with each little detail seeming to represent a newly acquired appreciation of romance and its wonderful complexity. Everything was dynamic, and that’s how I conceive of music. It’s about change and excitation motivated through passion – I believe every good song should inspire an epiphany in the listener, be it mild or prominent, subtle or obvious.

Q: What advice would you give to a 14-year-old who wants to become a rock star?

Stop hanging out. Get indoors and pick up a guitar in a room that is all yours. Value this space, however lonely it may be.

By that I mean write a chord progression, even if it’s only 3 or 4 chords. Get a feel for how the respective chords sound compatible and incompatible with one another, ask yourself for example, ‘does the A minor fit in this progression?’ Etc. Conceive music in your head whenever you hear a tune come in, even if that means you’re thinking about music when you shouldn’t be. When I was at school, half the time I was thinking about the things that drove my imagination. Often I was listening to the melodies in my head instead of the teacher, engaging creatively with those melodies by way of extending them. Record yourself humming a melody on a device like your phone and later work out which chords would work with that melody. A handy tip is having your phone at your bedside as you go to bed at night before lying awake with your thoughts. Start thinking up a melody and record it on your phone. All in all, be prepared to sacrifice a large chunk of your social life and in time that sacrifice will be rewarded through enjoying a more fulfilling social life later on once you’ve won people over with your music, especially after they’ve discovered you. This won’t happen overnight though, so stick at it. That said, it doesn’t hurt to think of yourself as ‘an emerging rocker’, it will sustain your confidence and motivate what you do that much more. So look sharp and original too out in public. Be sure however to treat your appreciation of music as priority and slowly try to understand the ‘science’ of it. Ask yourself ‘how does it work?’ Or, for example, ‘how do I write a truly anthemic chorus?’ Etc. Listen, listen, listen (like Brian Wilson once sang) and consider your listening as more than a mere leisure activity by thinking of each song as a music lesson in itself. Ask yourself, ‘why is it important to include a bridge between verse and chorus?’ Etc. While ultimately your songwriting should aim to be unique and original, it also pays to learn about the merits of existing songs you think are strong, powerful and meaningful.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

I am vegan and have experience of synesthesia.

S A Reyners is on Soundcloud.

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