Astonished at the veracious ratchet-y blues and gospel yeah yeah of Oxford’s Huck, our inimitable Istanbul critic, Sean Bw Parker, follows up his review of the troubadour’s highly rated ‘Alexander The Great (Operetta)’ album with an interview. An obliging enough chap, Huck is also sharing with us some photos from his most recent gigs.
Hi Huck. What can you tell us about Alexander the Great: a Folk Operetta? Is this a twentieth century concept album?
At its heart, yes, it is a concept album, though I was wary that the label is a turn-off for some, so did a bit of research and found this term ‘folk operetta’, which just sounds so nice. For me, it also has an interesting double meaning: folk as in lay, and folk as in the style of music. I don’t claim to be a folk singer, though – I’m just a fan and follower of that storytelling tradition. I’m a writer as well as a musician, and Alexander the Great is my first serious attempt at fusing those two disciplines.
You have an incredibly versatile voice, and way of delivery. Has this always been the case, or have you perfected it for/on this album?
It’s something that’s developed over the years as I’ve tried to find my voice, which I’m still looking for, to be honest – hence my schizophrenic style. I’ve always been a big fan of chameleonic singers like Tom Waits and Mike Patton, who can fit a lot of character and drama into a small space, which is exactly what I’ve tried to do with Alexander, of course. The vocalists I really admire, though, are the baritone-falsettos like Tim Buckley and Antony Hegarty, who make the most of their incredible range in a way that doesn’t detract from the sentiment. I’ve learnt a lot from them, and am still learning.
For indie fans who know little of Oxford past Radiohead and The Unbelievable Truth, what can you tell us about the city in 2014?
I like to moan about the post-Foals crowd because I can’t relate to that kind of stuff, but really I can’t complain. The Oxford music scene is perpetually vibrant and busy, largely because of the ever-changing student body, and that keeps us all on our toes. And compared to somewhere like London, which chews bands up and spits them out, Oxford strikes me as a great place to get established – it’s big enough not to get boring, but small enough to be practicable, with a lot of camaraderie between artists. Plus, if you’re going to stage a polytheistic, bisexual rock opera, better here than in Bolton, I imagine.
‘Alexander the Great’ sounds very spontaneous, live, and even analogue. Is it, and more broadly how do you feel about digitally recorded guitar music?
I’m glad it sounds spontaneous – it’s supposed to be a tale of youthful abandon, after all! I wish I could say it’s 100% live, but it’s more like 50%… Analogue is cool – we used a lot of old amps and compressors, and my philosophy is that you should try not to cut corners unless you really have to. That said, recording to a professional standard is (in my experience) neither quick nor cheap, so it’s always a compromise between how much time you are willing to spend in the studio and how much time you can afford to spend in the studio. If you and your band are good and ready, though, there’s no reason you can’t get a solid record done in a weekend, which is how long Act 2 of Alexander took us. I tend to roll my eyes when bands talk about spending months in the studio – I kinda think that if it’s taking you that long, something isn’t right.
Will we see the album on vinyl?
Hopefully yes! Once we’ve recorded Act 3, we’ll group it with 1 and 2 and release them as a single remastered album with an illustrated lyric book and so on, which would be perfect for vinyl… A 3-LP set, perhaps?!
Which other artists are exciting you these days?
I am in love with Angel Olsen and Chelsea Wolfe, though both of their new albums have taken some getting used to. Angel is a bona fide poet – I really believe she is one of the best and most subtle lyricists around – while Chelsea is a master of sonics – Unknown Rooms sounds like something from another planet… I also just discovered this country singer Sturgill Simpson, who is so real it hurts… Local music-wise, I highly recommend Billy T’rivers, Ags Connolly, and The August List.
Care for a beverage?
Rather too often, I’m afraid.