Algernon Doll, moniker of Ewan Grant, just released the début Camomile, a cathartic journey through a difficult year dealing with the mentally debilitating toils of extreme anxiety disorder and bipolar. A really emotive and gloomy release, that grabbed me so much. Therefore, I needed to know more. And so, nosy time with Fab and Algernon Doll.
You went from punk, hardcore scene to a more melancholic and lo-fi experience. Was this change of direction a natural evolution, or more a sudden and conscious twist?
To say it was an evolution is a little disrespectful to punk and hardcore. I was kind of forced to change my musical style as every time I would get excited and throw about my guitar like an idiot on stage I would feel on the edge of a panic attack. It’s maybe more difficult to portray as vast a range of emotions with hardcore as it’s inherently an aggressive style of music. When I lost a few of my close friends I was far too depressed to be just solely angry at what happened so it’s a bit like painting the shades of grey and adding different stylistic tints rather than just using black and white. Youth is very black and white, when you lose your innocence you need more to work with to explain things to yourself.
Always talking about your musical background – have you played in some bands before landing to your solo project? what do think you’ve learnt from your past musical experiences?
I’ve played in a bunch of pretty terrible hardcore bands, done some ambient collaborations too. I’ve learnt that if you’re playing with as much passion as you felt when you wrote the song, it’s difficult for the crowd not to take something from you. I’ve also learnt that killing your emotions and nerves with alcohol before a performance may make it easier but it definitely doesn’t make you play better..
I imagine you have been surrounded by music since you were a small child, as you come from a family of musicians and composers. Music must have been a big part of your life so far. Have your family determined somehow your current music influences?
I’m sure they have although the only thing that really comes to mind, that I share a love for with my parents, are the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. My mum and I both love John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album and it has a special place in my heart for that. It’s pretty hard not to take something from the Beatles though.
Let’s talk a bit about Camomile, which I really appreciated for its emotional impact and power. Anxiety and bipolar disorders are really strong themes, especially when they come from your own experience. Could we say that music has been a medium to face these demons?
Thank you, I appreciate that. The thing is that when you suffer from these disorders they control your life. It would have been impossible to write an album that didn’t have those themes. It definitely helps me understand them and vent. I’ve always appreciated honesty in music so I don’t leave much out.
As a song-writer, you have covered the instrumental aspect as well as the lyrical one. Was the instrumental side of Camomile reflecting and emphasising the themes you covered?
Yeah, I think when you listen back to it there’s almost always an underlying drone in the background like a creeping anxiety that’s getting the better of you. The crescendos are also intended to feel like breaking points where you’ve reached your limit of suffering and helplessness. There were times that I used to feel like accepting my body shutting down as it was easier than living with these problems ever day.
I was listening to a lot of Grouper and Fugazi at the time…I don’t really know what to make of that combo.
Is there an established framework or formula to the songwriting process? Or will you let anything fly at first?
I try to let anything fly and not discriminate or else I’d probably ignore a lot of worthy ideas then I structure it pretty classically. Sometimes I used a few Roy Orbison type structures.
You have supported Franz Nicolay (Against Me), Chris T-T, Esperi and Willis Earl Beal. What’s the most memorable live performance so far?
I think every time I play at Book Yer Ane Fest in Dundee it’s the most special to me as it’s for Safe-Tay, a charity really close to my heart, and I’m very proud to be able to help raise funds so that people don’t have to lose friends the way my friends and I did. My album launch was also really special, it still baffles me that people want to hear me play my music and it makes me ecstatic that I get to do that for them.
Nosy time. Could you unveil us your musical guilty pleasures?
I love Toto! They are brilliant, the key changes n aw. THEY DON’T HAVE A BAD SONG! Also, I really like that first Panic At The Disco record. I think it was unfortunately lumped in with a scene of posery kids but when you give it a listen it’s incredibly well written and executed!
In your opinion, which is the best song to wake up to in the morning?
“Lovin’ You” by Minnie Ripperton as it has lovely birds chirping which is pleasant or “Dead” by Napalm Death….because it’s so short and I can go back to sleep for a bit.
Which are the main appointments in your agenda for the rest of 2012?
I’m just giving my next album a listen through, mastering and doing some art for it. I have a couple of secret Xmas gigs too. Apart from that I have to work hard to afford to buy people presents this year.