Every Thursday, Del Owusu interviews someone on the Fresh On The Net radar. This week he goes closer to home, and interviews Nick Parkinson of Signal Committee…
Hello Nick, how are you?
I’m alright, Del. Just back from Bluedot festival and I have a day off work. I was planning to write a list of things that I might do today but haven’t got round to it yet.
You have been a mod for Fresh On The Net for quite a while now, how did you come to join the team?
Like most revolutions, it started with a protest and ended with a peace treaty.
It started by listening through the posts on BBC Feedback Friday. I came across some great stuff from inflexi0n, Zeropoint Projects, Bulzara, Dirty Freud, Pulses, Popcorn Fiend, Lucas Gil and others.
Meanwhile, we had just submitted our track, Beleaguered, to FOTN – and we were buzzin’ that we’d made the Listening Post. The next week I submitted our track Sterile and had a peep in the ‘full inbox’ where I saw a lot of familiar artists from BBC Feedback Friday. I assumed they’d all make the Listening Post, but not one of them did.
As it happens, our track, Sterile, did make the Listening Post that week, so I could have just stopped there knowing that we were lucky to have a few moderators on the FOTN team into our music. Instead, I started putting together playlists each week and comparing it to the Listening Post. I didn’t know exactly where I was going with it, I just knew it needed doing. I was enjoying finding new music and I was learning a lot by talking to other like minded artists, and seeing how they were promoting their music. Anyway, eventually Tom spotted what I was doing and asked me to carry on doing it – only as an official part of FOTN .
The Eclectic Picks does exactly what it says on the tin, do you have a particular process of picking tracks?
We’re looking for alternative music, which tends to be the kind of stuff that maybe only 5% of people like. Of course 5% of 67 Million people in the UK is a lot. Any genre is fine in principle, it just has to have that ‘alternative’ edge to it.
In terms of the process, I skip through the tracks in the inbox to get a feel for the vibe and vocal style and short list the ones that might fit the Eclectic Picks. The easiest part is skipping through tracks that clearly don’t fit. The hardest part is going through the short list to make the final cut. With each listen through I keep pushing standout tracks to the top of the list. Eventually I will notice an obvious “drop off” in quality between the top say 10-15 tracks and the rest – and that tells me where to cut.
I want people to actually listen to the playlist so I try my best to keep it to 60 mins – but often the submissions are so strong that it ends up at 90 mins.
You’re from Bury, how did it all begin for you?
You’d have to ask my mum and dad that question.
What did you listen to starting out?
I grew up listening to Guns ‘N’ Roses, Aerosmith, U2, Stone Roses, Pulp etc. I wasn’t that adventurous until I went to Uni and suddenly had a lot of spare time on my hands. Once I discovered the Dark Side of Oz, my music collection started to spiral off in all sorts of directions.
Tell us about Signal Committee.
There are four of us, we’re from Bury and we released our debut album in January 2020. The album is quite varied in style: Beleaguered has a dancey indietronica vibe, Sterile is more psychedelic indie rock, The Winter is heavy on guitars and Nothing is dark and abstract. We like albums over tracks, and that was very much our focus when putting it together.
In March 2020 we were getting ready to gig, but then the pandemic came. We couldn’t use our practice room during COVID so we sacked that off and converted my garage to a recording studio. We’ve been writing new music and recording ever since!
You’ve been played on BBC 6 Music, what was that like?
Ace. It felt like a milestone achievement, and it’s a nice “badge” to put on the CV as a “stamp of approval”. In the long run, however, one or two ‘spot plays’ only goes so far and is quickly forgotten. Independent artists need to get regular plays in order for people listening to stop and think “hang on, who’s this by? I’m going to look them up and add them on Spotify, find out who they are etc”. That’s why 6 Music has a playlist for tracks which get regular plays – but getting on that is a much bigger challenge, and is virtually impossible for unsigned artists.
Of course, the times they are a changing so maybe we and other artists shouldn’t obsess over radio attention. I bet more people listen to the radio on Grand Theft Auto than they listen to the radio IRL these days.
You sometimes have guest moderators who come through, how do you usually pick your guests?
The general rule is that they have to have made the Eclectic Picks a few times, or at least once with a track that really stood out. I figure that, if they are making music that fits the vibe of the Eclectic Picks, they’ll probably listen to that kind of music themselves. There have, however, been a few ‘special guest’ curators: Deb Grant (6 Music), John Joseph Blackburn (regular listener), Tom Robinson (the boss) and your good self (Del).
Post-COVID, what have you learned about yourself from the last three years? Have you picked up any new skills?
I’m pretty good at riding a bike with no hands now. It started when I’d come back from my bike rides on Thursday evenings at around 8pm. For some reason all my neighbours would be outside cheering me on as I approached the finish line (my house). I assumed the lack of sport on TV was getting to them, so naturally I had to wave my arms around like I’d just won a stage at the Tour de France.
What are you listening to at the moment?
My fridge. The fan’s broken and I can’t sleep, it’s that loud. In terms of music, I discovered a lot of new stuff at Bluedot Festival which I’m going to listen more closely to: MadMadMad, Beak, TVAM, Snapped Ankles, Nihiloxica, Young Fathers, Skinny Pelembe, Radiophonic Workshop, Erol Alkan and Tinariwen. That should keep me busy whilst the FOTN inbox closes for summer.
What are you looking forward to doing next?
The plan was to release our second album and print lots of 12″ vinyl, but we’re learning to be more pragmatic. Does the mind rule the body, or does the body rule the mind? The former, because Part 1 of our revised plan is to release a new single every 8 weeks or so. Part 2 is to start gigging.
Hopefully we’ll see some FOTN folk at one of our gigs one day, and with a bit of luck we might end up bumping into some familiar FOTN artists along the way.