Music Minds: Simon Roth
In Music Minds, we invite artists to come and share the music that has had the greatest impact on them. In the first of the series, esteemed drummer and composer Simon Roth tells us all about the Top 8 Tracks that inspire and beguile him. Some of Simon’s accolades include working with the likes of legendary US saxophonist Chris Potter & Inner City Ensemble, and headlining Kings Place Festival as part of Vula Viel.
The Tracks – Introduced by Simon
It is such a difficult task choosing only a handful of tracks, so I decided to only include music with lyrics in honour of the Songscapes evening. The choices here were formative, either on my shaping as a musician, or towards the formation of Land of If. A lot of instrumental music has also influenced the writing and approach for Land of If, especially albums such as Dave Douglas’ Mountain Passages, Tin Hat Trio’s The Sad Machinery of Spring and Marty Ehrlich’s Sojourn. I’ve also been hugely inspired by all the great musicians and bands in London that I’ve listened to or worked with. I really believe that music and the act of making music is a message, so all of the songs here embody that for me.
Becca Stevens – A Kiss from a Rose
This is a quirky and fascinating cover of an amazing song. I’m starting with it for two reasons. Firstly, the album it’s from, Weightless, was a big inspiration towards me putting Land of If together, in terms of ensemble sound, energy and arrangements, and secondly because the original by Seal is one of the first songs I remember hearing as a child and I’ve always thought it is beautiful and epic. I associate it with really bringing my family together. One of my favourite things in art and music is texture and I love Becca Stevens’ arrangement and the whole sound of this song. The cover totally re-imagines the song and gives it new meaning.
Faithless – Baseball Cap
Listening back to this, it feels very ’90s and of its time, but I still love it! Faithless were and still are such a huge part of my identity as a musician. They were the first band I was obsessed with, and this song is the first piece I ever connected with lyrically. I used to find it really difficult to focus on lyrics in songs, or not think about that much, and I think because the lyrics are rapped it was a clearer way in for me. This was the first time I understood metaphor in song, and I felt like Maxi Jazz (the MC) was literally spelling things out for me. He is an incredible storyteller and was a total hero figure to me as a teenager, and I still feel grateful for the messages that he communicates through his lyrics. I have a super embarrassing story about when I met him, which I kept secret for a long time!
Ben Folds Five – Brick
I used to listen to this song all the time. There’s so much emotion and sadness in it, but it was years later that I found out what the song is about. It seems so obvious now, but what I love is that a song takes on meaning to each person and is shaped by their individual experience. All of the songs I’ve written come from a deeply personal place, but I want them to be relevant to the listener, and at its heart, music is always abstract, so allows for many perspectives at once.
I associate this song with a time in my life when I was a teenager and a close friend of mine had been admitted to the Priory Hospital and was going through an extremely dark period in her life. I used to listen to this and other Ben Folds Five songs on the way to visit her. It was the first time in my life I had consciously confronted and engaged with the fragility of mental health.
Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
This is the opening track from Five Leaves Left, which is to me one of the most beautifully crafted and perfect albums. I remember the summer my brothers and I discovered Nick Drake and this whole album fills me with so many emotions and memories. There’s such an amazing mix of hope and melancholy in this song. The arrangements on the album are immaculate too.
Life in a glass house – Radiohead
Radiohead are my generation’s Beatles, and consistently reshaped music. This song is so often in my head. For me Radiohead’s music epitomises postmodernism, absorbing influences from so much different music and putting it together to create something progressive, experimental and current. It features Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, which gives it a dirgey New Orleans-y depth. The song is epic and hip, and is a tightrope between restraint and release. I’m constantly inspired by how dedicated Radiohead are to their art and by what they’ve contributed to the world of music!
Lux Aeterna – Ligeti
I studied almost all of Ligeti’s music whilst I was doing my degree at the University of York. It is deeply unique and technically marvellous, yet always serving a greater purpose and meaning, embodied by this piece. It is for acapella choir and uses a compositional approach that became known as micropolyphony, which Ligeti pioneered. This essentially means that individual singers sing the same melodies in canons to create dense harmony and clusters. It’s an incredibly powerful and somehow visual effect. I draw on this device in the song Half-light, as a way of wordpainting and representing parts of the text’s meaning.
There’s so much urgency in this song, and June Tabor has so much presence and life when she sings. What I love is that she draws on folklore and storytelling to make her music political and relevant, which is what makes folk music so powerful. It questions our actions and way of living and our relationship with the land beneath and around us. There is a great meeting of anger, love, hope and grace in the song.
PJ Harvey – The Words that Maketh Murder
The June Tabor song is from her album A Quiet Eye and around the same time I was listening to that album a lot, I was also obsessed with PJ Harvey’s album Let England Shake, which had just come out. At first I wasn’t even sure if I liked the album, but something in it made me very curious and I kept listening to it over and over. There’s a vulnerability to how it is recorded which brings out the music’s rawness and message.
* Please join us at Poplar Union for Songscape Sounds Double Bill, on Saturday 4 November at 8pm, where Simon will be unveiling his eagerly awaited new project, Land of If, alongside Norwegian alt-pop group 1816.