Opening with an ethereal rising arpeggio, Alex Bayly’s latest single Distance generates a distinct sense of movement. Punctuated by rich orchestral strings and driven by Bayly’s husky vocal tones, the song rises and falls; contrasting powerful dynamic swells with moments of delicate intimacy.
We caught up with the London-based singer-songwriter to learn more about the story behind the song, his musical influences and plans for 2019…
Hey Alex! I’ve been really enjoying your new single Distance. Can you tell us a bit more about the song and what it means to you?
The song introduces a character conceding that things in life must be a certain way. For me, the ‘distance’ refers to those film noir style moments where a character stares into the middle distance, deep in thought. Why the character in the song feels that way – whether it’s due to warm, positive feelings or due to regret – is the listener’s choice, I suppose.
It’s also about the effect we have on world around us. For some reason, the song always reminds me of the film The Road. It includes some personal elements of nostalgia, too: the song references an Incubus song that I liked growing up.
The song’s arrangement is beautiful – I love the soundscapes and strings. Are there any particular bands or artists that influence you?
The arrangement for Distance was partly inspired by Kevin Morby. I was influenced by the acoustic guitar tuning from one of his songs: a drop C on the low E string. This created a fuller, more bass-heavy response from the chords. The song also contains elements of Gerard and the Watchmen, a band I used to play for. The electric guitar part at the beginning is supposed to be mimicking seagulls – reminding me of being near the coast in Northern Ireland where my nan lived. La.nskey (AKA Rachel Lanskey) provided the strings. She has been a close collaborator with me since my first EP, New America. She is always sympathetic to the song and doesn’t overplay.
The inspiration for having strings as part of the arrangement partly comes from my love of the Nick Drake song Riverman. The strings on that song are always lurking at the back of my mind. An interesting fact I learned about the Riverman string arrangement is that Robert Kirby, Drake’s friend, didn’t arrange it. Rather it was arranged by Harry Robinson, a specialist in horror and vampire film, which listening back now gives the song a crazy perspective. Also, they tracked it live, which is insane considering the whole thing’s in 5/4.
How did you first get into songwriting?
I liked writing my own music from the off. It’s a very cathartic thing. I’ve realised recently that songwriting is something that you have to keep working at and treat with respect.
What’s always been important to me is understanding the approaches that my influences, peers and predecessors have used in their songs. I think that’s one the allures of the folk genre, rather than pop music, because artists often become custodians of previous works. It’s a simple task to learn somebody’s song, yet it will affect your songwriting forever.
Lyrically, my inspiration is often drawn from nature and absurd, open-ended and ambiguous metaphors. I like to let the lyrical meaning float around in the ether a bit more; I think it helps to give life to my songs.
What’s been your favourite musical experience to date?
I’ve recently completed an album, which I think is a good milestone for any artist. Prior to this, I’ve released many tracks but most of these have been either singles or EPs until now. Though it feels like the album has died slightly in the age of streaming, it’s still a vessel for music that I really enjoy. I’m really looking forward to getting it out there.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I collaborated with Laish on my upcoming album of whom I’m a big fan. If I could choose anybody alive today it would be Kendrick Lamar; he is so artistically out of this world I find it quite frightening.
But if we’re talking about past artists, too, I would have to say either Nick Drake or John Lennon although I imagine they would be horrendous to work with… excuse the pun!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t compare yourself to other people. The more you can ignore what’s going on around you and other people’s success then the more you can focus on fulfilling your goals – and the happier you will be. Unless you end up broke then it looks like you wasted you time… WHOOPS.
Music aside, what are your favourite ways to pass the time?
I recently took up bouldering which I really like. I’m quite into Alex Honnold, the first climber to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (without rope or safety equipment). He talks about how his training regime was so rigorous that the real thing felt like a walk in the park – something that also applies to preparing for gigs!
Do you have any live shows coming up?
Next in the calendar are:
St Edith Hall, Sevenoaks, on Friday 18th January
The Finsbury, London, on Friday 22nd February
The Half Moon, Bishop’s Stortford, on Sunday 14th April
And then once my album is released I will be booking a UK tour, which I’m excited about.
What are your plans for 2019? Is there more music on the way?
The album is finished and will be coming out soon. Follow me on socials for more details. It will be on vinyl – my first release on that format, which I’m also very excited about!