In this interview, a London based singer-songwriter Alexander Ellis aka Our Man In The Field says that he’s not trying to change the world, just the next three and a half minutes. And that’s exactly what happens once you hear those alluring vocals and engaging storytelling. Inspired by greats such as Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne, Our Man In The Field creates his own stamp in the world of crafty songwriting, with a strong ability to draw you into a beautiful melancholy of his awe-inspiring music.
Read my in-depth inerview with Alex about the beginning of Our Man In The Field, his new EP, songwriting, performing live and much more. Plus make sure to make a note of his upcoming shows!
Eva: How long have you been playing music and what made you realise you wanted to pursue Our Man In The Field?
Alex: I got Fender Stratocaster for Christmas when I was 16 but only ever had one lesson. My cousin taught me a few things and from there I was happy just making my own stuff up or copying songs by ear. I moved to London to study acting and bought myself a cheap acoustic guitar.
It wasn’t until a long time later that I recorded a few of my songs on my iPhone (using a free app I still use to jot down ideas). I didn’t really intend to do anything with the songs, I was just enjoying creating something for myself without needing anyone’s permission. I owe a lot to my mate Phil. I remember being sat with him in Casa Cabanos on Dean Street; I liked whisky and he liked cigars and they let you do both. I played him a song of mine called Ride On and he loved it and pushed me to make a decent recording and start playing live which I did (I’ll be releasing it as part of a double A side in the next few weeks). Phil moved to LA , he no longer drinks and I no longer smoke cigars, but he continues to support me and is always pushing me forward. If it wasn’t for him, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing this.
Can you introduce your new EP to MGMB readers and describe the tracks on this record?
Track 1: L’Etranger
Albert Camus is probably my favourite writer. I read L’Etranger when I was doing my A levels and it changed the way I looked at the world. He wanted to challenge how politics and the state over complicate simple choices of right and wrong, which is something I strongly agree with.
Track 2: It Was Ever So
This one’s about the closure of the fire station in Clerkenwell which was closed earlier this year. I caught the end of a news item which showed the firemen in as they left the building for the last time. It turns out that they had planned to wear Victorian uniforms and march out of the front doors but at the last moment were told they weren’t allowed and were sent out of the back door in their own clothes. The press had all gathered to catch the moment London’s oldest fire station closed and ended up getting footage of these huge men in tears. When something terrible happens like the bombs in 2007 and we’re all running away from the danger, these are the people who run towards it, real heroes.
Track 3: I Remember You
When I moved to London I became friends with a lad from Glasgow who arrived on the same day and we spent our time working really hard but playing even harder, maybe too hard sometimes, but I don’t regret it for a moment. When I look back it seems like a lifetime ago, but every time I see my old friend it could be right now.
Track 4: Long Forgoten
This is a song about a man on the run. I wrote this when I was in America and it’s basically a man walking into a bar and speaking to the bar man. He’s on the run and he knows the bar man has recognised him. I’ve got the video for this one worked out in my head and hopefully I’ll get to make it.
When creating music, what’s your ideal surrounding and atmosphere for writing?
I’ve written a lot of songs and they seem to happen quite quickly. I find it best when I’m on my own in my front room, maybe with my dogs on the sofa next to me. I often have idea’s for lines in songs at random moments so I try to keep a notebook with me just in case. Once I know what the song is about, it can be a very quick process but then I often end up with too many lyrics so I spend longer editing than actually writing.
In terms of live shows, how often do you get to play a gig and what’s your favourite venue right now?
At the moment it’s at least once a week but from mid October it’s going to get a bit busier, which is great. I think my favourite venue so far has to be Brixton East. I’ve played there on a night called Laid Bare Presents and it’s been fantastic both times. The building is an old furniture store and workshop and I play upstairs in the workshop space, which is basically a huge wooden and brick loft space. At night when the fairy lights are on, it has a very unique atmosphere and the acoustics are perfect. Often you have to earn the audience attention but at Brixton East the space already does that.
What kinds of feelings do you get when performing in front of a live audience?
I’m still pretty new to the live stuff, I did my first gigs earlier this year, so I’m still getting used to the way performing affects me. I used to worry that I didn’t belong on the bill with the more established acts but I try not to compare myself to anyone, there’s no point. I admire performers who take risks and there’s nothing more interesting to me than watching a singer who goes right to the edge of their emotions, so close that it almost seems like they are going to fall over the edge and loose it completely. I try to go there every time I play but it’s not always possible. When it happens I can’t really describe how I feel but my songs are personal and I mean every word when I’m singing them.
I got some really great advice from a brilliant poet, Gabriel Moreno, who told me that when you feel as though the audience are not listening, don’t try to push and make it bigger, take in inside yourself. I’ve used this advice and it works. There’s sometimes a moment of silence at the end of one or two songs (if they’ve gone well!) before the audience applaud and that moment can be terrifying, but for those one or two seconds I’m as high as a kite.
What would be your idea on how to get the public to support live music and see the shows?
Some people seek out new experiences and some prefer to have experiences given to them. I’ve got a friend who came to support me at one of my gigs at Brixton East; he’s a guy who makes no pretence about who he is, he doesn’t go to gigs and is quite happy chilling out with his family on a Saturday night in front of X factor/Strictly/The Voice etc, and it’s fine by me if that’s what he likes. He came to the gig because he’s a good friend and wanted to be there for me. The great thing was that he loved it, not just because I was better than he’d expected but because the whole night was better than he’d expected and he relaxed and enjoyed himself in a way that you only can at a gig. I don’t know how to get more people to try it but it’s very important we keep the small venues open so that the possibility is there for smaller acts to play to local people on affordable nights. Rami Radi who is behind the Laid Bare nights in London is an amazing curator so maybe you should ask him?
If you could write a song with one artist (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
Tough question but I think I’d have to say Tim Buckley. I love the timber of his voice and Once I Was and Song To The Siren are just brilliant. It’s a tragedy that he died so young but because he did, he’s forever fixed in the early 1970’s and musically he never got the chance to put a foot wrong unlike many of his contemporaries did later in their careers.
As an artist, is there anything special you hope to accomplish with your music?
I’d love to tour Canada and I’m making it a priority as soon as I have a few more things in place. I get the impression from a lot of the feedback I get online that they really dig what I do over there and it’s such a beautiful country. I can’t think of a better way to visit than getting in a car with my guitar and playing as many places as will have me. At the moment, apart from help from producer Huntar, I’m doing everything myself and that’s cool but it’s quite full on so I’m planning to do a mini tour of Denmark early next year before taking on the big one. I’d also like to do some gigs in the North East. That’s where I’m from and although I’ve lived in London a long time it still feels like part of me and feels like something I need to do.
Do you have a favourite quote or lyric to go by?
“I like you so I’ll kill you last” is a favorite of mine, I think it was originally in the film “Commando” but I really remember it in the Andrea Arnold film “Fish Tank”. I’ve used it a few times myself, if you say it to someone when they’re giving you grief it takes the steam out of the situation nicely. I’ve just finished a film called “Grind” with Director Ed Scott-Clarke and I wrote a song called I’ll Kill You Last which is going to be used in the film and we also shot a video for the song, which I’m really excited about.
One I always tell myself when my songs are getting a bit too heavy or the lyrics might be leading me down an overly political path is this: “I’m not trying to change the world, just the next three and a half minutes.”
Any upcoming plans you’d like to let us know about?
I‘m planning at least one double A side release before Christmas. I’ve got one track pretty much recorded and ready to go, just needs mixing and there’s the video release of I’ll Kill You Last which will be in December.
I’ve got a gig on the 18th of this month at the Kaff Bar as part of the Oxjamfestival which is a really cool thing to be involved in and then the following week on the 25th I’ve got probably my biggest gig yet at the Good Ship in Kilburn, then in December there’s going to be a really special Laid Bare Presents at Brixton East again and I can’t wait for that.