Having already received critical acclaim as part of Edinburgh-based dream pop band Collar Up, musician Stephen McLaren has now gone solo, and is set to release his new album We Used To Go Raving on 29th September 2017 via Errant Media.
Aiming to evoke feelings of nostalgia, loss and longing, We Used To Go Raving was created as a musical commentary on the post-millennium human condition. With subject matter ranging from the personal to political, the distant past to the harsh reality of the present, the album is an inspired and thought-provoking collection of electro-rock tracks. From the anthemic piano melodies and New Order-esque twinkling grandeur of title track ‘We Used To Go Raving’, to the glitchy beats and soaring cinematic power of ‘Patience’ and the shimmering emotion-strewn hooks of ‘I Sing To You’, each song whirrs with a nostalgic grace, harking back to the ‘80s new wave generation.
In this interview spotlight, I speak with Stephen about influences, the over abundance of accessible music, his newest project and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and a stream of No More (Say Yes) below.
Let’s dive a little deeper into You, the artist and your music. What attracted you to this genre(s) or style(s)?
I’ve always been attracted to the ethereal in sound; dreamy, escapist, sometimes dancey, sometimes euphoric, other times moody. I grew up listening to happy hardcore and rave with my friends in the west of Scotland, and so this has shaped my opinion about what I feel music should sound like, and has influenced the dream-pop and indie sounds that I choose to listen to now.
How long have you been creating and sharing your music with the public?
I’ve been writing since I was 21, so since 2002, and have gigged from that time and released quite a few singles and two albums, one in 2009 and one in 2013, with my band at the time, Collar Up. This will be my first solo album since I left the band in 2016.
Who or what influences your playing and/or writing? Also, what motivates you to keep going?
I write a lot about stuff that means something to me. That seems obvious, but if I can explain. So, in my personal life, I’ll write about love occassionally, but mostly about nightlife experiences I’ve had, and memories that have come back to either haunt me or galvanise me. I write a lot more, though, about politics and social issues – there has certainly been a lot to talk about over the last few years! I keep going because…well, what else am I going to do? Play golf? After all this time, it is all I can do to keep going, regardless of the various difficulties that musicians now face that they didn’t before. It is always, always worth it, even when I think that it isn’t.
Were you trying to accomplish anything specific on this new project? Creatively or otherwise?
Well, this is my first solo record, and the first one that I have recorded and produced entirely on my own. Given all of this, the end result sounds different from anything I’ve done or been involved with before. Creatively, I wanted to use some electronic beats/synthesizer sounds and make them much more of a central part of the listening experience; which is much different from the sound of a band playing. Electronic music, of various differing shades, has always influenced me, and so I’m happy to go down that road.
What was the last song you listened to?
Demolition Man – “Ultra Happy”. Yeah, it’s bizarre, but I was feeling nostalgic and needing a lift, and you did ask…
Which do you prefer? Vinyl? CDs? MP3s?
CDs. By far.
How about this one…. Do you prefer Spotify? Apple Music? Bandcamp? Or something else? Why?
I have no real preference for any of those; will usually use YouTube to check out something that I haven’t heard before. I like Bandcamp’s model, in theory, in terms of how it’s weighted towards the artist, but I find that punters aren’t really used to using it.
Other than the digital era overwhelming us with access to an abundance of music, what are one or two of the biggest challenges you face when trying to attract listeners to your music?
That’s it. You’ve said it. There is too much music, and it’s expected that it will be free to listen to now, which, 15 years ago, would not have been possible. People do not expect to pay for it, and that means it is harder and harder for musicians to devote the time necessary (since they need to live) to create and produce something worthwhile and new. One other thing may be that people seem to be busier, more under pressure, less social; all of these things increasingly so…music, especially new music, goes even further down the pecking order of ‘things to do’ than it used to… This new climate is challenging for everyone, so I suppose it becomes the case that when I’m putting out new music, I am aware that it may not be listened to at all if the first 5-10 seconds don’t grab the attention of the listener, and so the challenge may be to think about what may grab the attention, without sacrificing, too much, what you are ‘about’ as a creator.
Do you gig, tour or perform? Do you ever live stream? Where can music lovers see you live?
I gig mostly in Edinburgh, which is where I live. (But I’ll play anywhere! So get in touch!) My next two gigs are at SIPS (temporary Edinburgh Fringe pop-up venue on the Cowgate) on Saturday 26th August, and my album launch, which is at Leith Depot, Leith Walk, on Saturday 23rd September.
Where is the best place to connect with you online? Discover more of your music?
Any last thoughts? Shout outs? Words of wisdom?
Shout out to my fellow label mates at Errant Media. Some cracking music on the Errant Media YouTube page