A Conversation with Andy Bull

Living in Sydney, Australia, Andy Bull is becoming a force to be reckoned with–nominated for ARIA 2014’s Breakthrough Artist Release and Best Pop Release. Among those nominated for the awards include Iggy Azalea, Sia, and 5 Seconds of Summer. A retro sound and an 80’s vibe threads through his cords while his lyrics compliment the background with electric energy. Unlike others in the pop genre, his songs are ones you could listen to on repeat and hear another layer of the song with each listen.

Where are you currently residing and explain for us a typical day in your life.

I live in Sydney. Musician life is pretty cyclical, it has these made-up seasons; writing, touring, promoting, brief moments of recovery, etc, and so a typical day varies by the “season”. During writing time, a day is typically pretty long, for me it means a lot of solitude, so much brain strain, working out technical problems and stirring up creative ones. 

What got you interested in music and what (if anything) does your particular sound show about your history?

The interest in music came pretty young, in early childhood. It all seems so vast and mesmerizing; it turns your imagination on. My first attempts to do it myself were in my early teens, mostly just writing on a piano. I think that coming from a piano background probably informed the way I think about writing, particularly in terms of chord progressions and so on. I think I’m pretty traditional in a lot of ways; I feel like I need to be able to play my ideas–to think in terms of songs and lyrics as much as production and ideas. 

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/149106623″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

How would you describe your creative process and how has it changed between your different albums and also between what's to come?

Divergent and circuitous. On a good day inventive, but on a bad day inefficient. I recorded Sea of Approval mostly alone and, since I was using live instruments that have to obviously be played and recorded individually, the process of finishing songs happened layer by layer, especially because I was writing the songs as I went. Mostly I begin by tracking drums, or keyboard, and section by section I try to get the arrangements to travel somewhere, to develop throughout the song. It’s a rabbit hole. I spent a lot of time getting lyrics into a good place too, and that’s always happening outside of the studio, not in front of a screen. Maybe that sounds methodical, but it really isn’t: there’s a lot of going back and forth, adjusting, re-doing, lots of tedious trouble shooting too. It’s quite challenging to write and produce a song in tandem–it’s like leaving on a long trip without a map. Maybe traditionally there’d be more of a streamlined process.

In future, I’d like to spend less time tweaking details and more time coming up with the big picture–maybe moving more swiftly through the tracking process with some help from my live musicians. No process is ideal, of course; I think everything is imperfect, but it’s probably refreshing to vary your style of suffering. I think I’ll continue to produce my own records. 


Describe your experience at ARIA 2014.

It was nice; I was very happy to be nominated and very happy not to be, as far as I could tell, a serious contender alongside Sia, Iggy Azalea, etc, because I really just got to socialize and relax on the night. It may be possible to take a cynical view of proceedings, the TV-broadcast aspect, etc, but I enjoyed the kind of clash of worlds, sitting adjacent to One Direction–who, for instance, described their Australian audience as one of the “first markets” they came to and so on. It reminds me that there is this other side of the music industry that is quite different, and it was fun to observe it.

How and why do you feel so set apart from the other artists who were nominated for Breakthrough Artist Release and Best Pop Release?

Actually, I think everybody who was nominated in those categories might potentially say they are set apart from everybody else; still I don’t know if anybody really thinks too deeply about, since we’re all probably pretty deep in our own worlds. I can’t speak for anybody else, but it looks like everybody’s just working really hard on their own things.

Many artists I’ve talked to don’t like to put a genre on their type of music. What are your feelings on having your music described as alternative pop?

I can understand why artists don’t like to do that–you are always moving away from one thing and towards another.  It’s very unhelpful to describe something like you’ve arrived, in finality. Those terms have an expiration date, which is really every artist’s worst nightmare.

In practicality, there may be a general awareness of where you might play on a festival, who your champions might be, who you might collaborate with, but really it doesn’t help anybody to fixate on that stuff, to say “I am this or that”. Those words come in and out of fashion and mean something different over time anyway.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/99335207″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

How do your live performances compare with listening to your EP online? And what is your ideal performance environment (i.e. the crowd size, ambiance, place etc.)?

The live performances really do something that I haven’t yet caught on record: they are much bigger, louder, pretty electric. Music is so much about context; that’s where much of the meaning is derived from. Without a context, music is just very detailed information that is available on cue, but not anchored in any particular experience.

Actually I think the live show might surprise some people. It’s tougher than you might expect, quite gritty. In terms of performance environment, I guess not too small is best, but I think it’s nice to be somewhere where you can see faces and hear the details. 

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/83472237″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

In what direction are you going to take your music? What should we expect next from you?

I would like to record music that is more band focused, derived more from live band recording, and perhaps more elongated in structure, more meandering, less rush-to-the-chorus etc. Sometimes I feel like I work hard to deliver bang for buck, but what I really enjoy is the long builds: stuff we do more in a live setting–with instrumental sections, long intros and outros, diversions, that sort of thing. All this will come down to scheming up the new process though and keeping the live setting in mind.

If you could receive one gift in celebration of the holiday season, what would it be and why?

I have everything I need, really, but for a new, super efficient, state of the art process, haha.

Andy-Bull-132-Edit copy
Download Andy Bull’s album, Sea of Approval on iTunes
Written By
More from Cristina
A Conversation with Johnny Lewis
Phoning in from Manhattan, Johnny Lewis sat down with Atwood to discuss...
Read More