The newest EP, Four Faces, from singer/songwriter Patrick Ames features a MIDI guitar synthesizer playing the piano and soprano saxophone via a Gibson Hummingbird.
Four Faces consists of four songs inspired by the artwork by his older brother, Opa, which also serves as the record’s cover art. The songs, like the art, are as different as they are similar. The MIDI allows Ames to apply his percussive guitar style to the piano.
In this interview spotlight, we chat with Patrick about influences, the new EP, navigating the digital music era and more.
Full Q&A along with links and a stream of Four Faces below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I’m originally from Toledo, Ohio, but back then it was Little Detroit. I was born a long time ago and grew up when Motown was king. I had three (much) older brothers and one was into folk, one was into R&B, and one was rock and roll. And my mother sang in the local opera, so I knew the score of just about every Puccini opera by heart. And that is who I am – a mashup of rock, soul, R&B, with heavy focus on lyrics that tell stories, like opera.
Many people say I sound like Bob Dylan. That’s because I cant sing. ; ) But I think its more about my storytelling and the standardized progressions that I use.
You can hear it in my new EP, Four Faces, which really does represent me well as small EP. It features a Rock & Roll + Gospel lead track, “Reawakened” that tells a political story and I use a gospel overtone for impact. The backup singers are amazing (Chana Matthews and daughter Mikaela). The mix and master by Mike Schoonmaker is amazing. The EP then goes on to a down-tempo story about lonely people, then onto a quirky love song, and then ends with This Small Town, an acoustic, skip down the street sing-along happy thing. So the Four Faces EP really does represent my musical style: quirky-aged-Americana-funky-songwriter-artist kind of guy. It’s a mashup of what I have been, and frankly, what I can do, musically, you know, talent wise.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
When I first started playing guitar at age 14, I immediately wrote songs. I wasn’t interested in playing other’s songs – why would you do that? The motivation then, as now, I must express myself. It’s like being taken control by somebody else inside you. And you’re watching like some kind of self-driving car you sit in and watch out the backseat window.
What motivates is a whole other matter… because the music industry is so deconstructed these days. I took some time off of music and when I came back it was completely different. The clear lines of separation had dissolved. The way you get your music in front of listeners is different, and how you make money is different (if not impossible). I worry about the music industry a lot (hence write songs about it) because it seems to going to a place that is non-musical and all about business.
So, after that rant, what really motivates me to stay the course, is being independent. I can be an artist AND still drive every single aspect of my music. I can avoid the slickness, the pop, the music-is-money sound, all that crap about getting signed by a label. So when I decry that the music industry has changed, it is also exactly what I love about the industry’s ability to be an “indie”. I can express my artistry and if the world doesn’t want it as the next go-to mega-monster hit, that’s okay. Frankly, I don’t want that anyway. It would be nice to quit my day job and devote more time to music, but I’m happy doing what I am and I’m happy that I can create EPs like the new “Four Faces.” I can be an Indie Artist. That’s what motivates me to stay the course.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
The new EP, Four Faces, was inspired by some technology – a MIDI Guitar Synthesizer. You know, you plug your guitar into a laptop, turn on the MIDI plug-in for your DAW, and then play and it comes out sounding like a piano, or a tuba, or a choir of voices. It’s still synth, so you got to be careful, but I was inspired. Now, guitar-wise, I’m a banger of an old goat (percussive is the proper term). People compare me to Dylan because that’s the way I play guitar (not a pretty sight). And when I used the MIDI synth I sounded like Dylan playing the piano by banging on his guitar. ; ) But, it’s a new sound, and it has this timing thing going on that reminded me of Theo Monk, you know, Monk. And I experimented and found the right instruments to MIDI as, and I played around with the timing and that Monk syncopation thing that happens automatically because of digital delay and buffering. I also used different acoustic guitars because the MIDI picks up everything. So the whole artistic point to Four Faces is a simple EP with 4 songs, that express 4 different moods, each with a different style (gospel, rock, down-tempo jazz, acoustic folk), all using this distinct sound that sounds familiar but is somehow different. And as always, I’m the only musician on the EP other than my two backup singers, Chana and Mikaela.
Do you face any challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? On the flip side, how has technology helped you (if it has)?
The biggest challenge that faces indie musicians, and all musicians, is the loss of live playing venues. Restaurants, bars, businesses, and malls, now stream everything. There’s no live music anymore, and you can’t find the small live venues to play. Coffee shops have Spotify now. It’s cheap, it’s always on, and you can access entire databases of sound — algorithms can sort the playlist by mood, amount of daylight, or amount of Vodka being poured. Restaurants used to have bar lounges, but no more. Now everyone plays Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ everyplace you decide to eat. The digital age is forcing indie musicians to be producers, not performers. And the only performing venue left for indie musicians are music festivals that don’t pay, don’t care, and don’t repeat. It’s been happening for the past decade, where the revenue from streams is outpacing music sales.
On the flip side, the music industry has always been about technology — anything that can give you a new, hip, unique sound. I think if technology stood still for a decade the music industry would die. Technology has enabled the entire Indie movement. Period. Being an Indie musician is like being in a technology startup (I’ve done both and the two are remarkably similar). A lot of people love that startup rush, who are addicted to the speed, craft, and ingenuity necessary to rise to the top. Like it or not, technology rules in the land of Indie music.
Where can we follow you online and hear more music?
You can follow me online and hear all of my music at www.patrickames.com. I tend to be active on twitter so follow me at @patrickames The Facebook and YouTube are not as active but you can find me there posting news. And I’m on Soundcloud, Spotify, and other streams. I even still create CDs, because I like that uncompressed sound that comes with CDs, and you can order them on CDBaby.
Anything else before we sign off?
I do write and sing about politics. One reason is that I’m amazed about how today, 2017, seems a whole lot like 1970, with the Vietnam war, and Nixon, and the cities burning in the racial slums — it was on TV every single night and the nation was so divided between the establishment and the long hairs. You’ll find politics deep in the veins in my songs. I’ve written songs about cancer, about presidential candidates, about climate change, about the death of protest songs, and most recently, on the new EP, Four Faces, about the amount of negativity in the air in the rock house gospel track, “Reawakened”. Personally, I like artists who touch on all subject matter rather than dwelling obsessively on how much they like each other’s cheeks. I think it’s important to march about what you believe in and I think its important to let people see you doing it. My songs tend to be more about injustice, ignorance, and a lack of immediacy than any political ideology.