Jonathan Powell has just released his critically acclaimed 2 nd album "The Flight & Other Stories" on Still Small Voice. Still only in his early 20s, Jonathan already has a great deal of experience with time studying at the Royal Academy and living, working and performing in Scotland. He is now firmly back home and making a name for himself as one of Wales' finest young song writers.
You studied the viola as a child and went to the Royal Academy at the tender age of 16. What was it like going there at such a young age??
Whilst it was incredible to study under such brilliant teachers and to play and be surrounded by such incredibly talented young musicians, I don't think I made the most of what the Royal Academy was offering me. This was in a big way to do with my age and lack of maturity, but also to do with the fact that I was all of a sudden living away from home, in one of the biggest cities in the world, with a lot of pressure on me to succeed. I don't ever regret having gone, and do wish I'd made more of it, but I also don't regret leaving at 18. I'd had enough of education by then and was headstrong enough to feel I could carve my own way in life.
What impact did the experience have on you?
Living in London, being made aware of the talent that was around, it certainly humbled me. I'd gone from carp in pond to minnow in sea. My great love was chamber music and I played in a lot of different groups, which was great. The biggest thing I learnt was how to write.
You strayed from classical music after a trip to the Edinburgh festival at the age of 18. What happened there? It must have been quite a significant event?!
My friends and I had a great show that we spent a lot of time developing, and when we took it up to Edinburgh it got a really good response. We won two awards and had to put on extra performances due to popular demand. But more than anything I just fell deeply in love with the city. I hadn't applied to any universities like everybody else and I couldn't find a course I wanted to do. So it seemed like a good idea to go and live in a city I had a lot of affection for, and I ended up deeply embroiled in the
music scene up there.
Having started life studying classical music what lasting impact has this had on your song writing?
I think I always approach music, whether it be songwriting or production, with my classical tools close to hand. Harmony, I think, is the one thing that most prominently carries over.
Your influences are quite diverse; Elbow, Bowie, even Gary Barlow! Why these people and how do their influences show themselves in your music??
I think Guy Garvey's lyrical songwriting is utterly beautiful, and it's songwriters such as him, Sam Beam, Sufjan Stevens, John Grant, Jesse Lacey, who have such individual styles, that I try to, not emulate, but help inform me to find my own songwriting style. Bowie is one of the greatest innovators of all time, along with Tom Waits, Radiohead, Talk Talk, John Lennon, and how can you ignore those great pioneers. I look to all of these when thinking about what sound I want for a track. And Gary Barlow is just a great writer of immediate pop songs.
You appeared at this year¹s SXSW festival in America. How was that experience and what did you gain from the trip?
It's probably the best music festival in the world. What I gained more than anything was an idea of how to do it next year. We went out with only a few shows to play, but next year I'm going to make sure that I'm very busy out there, maybe even do a solo tour to lead up to it.
Your songs are at times very personal, especially on your debut album i.e. songs such as "The day you died" and "Chloe". Has there been any emotional fall out from these songs or reactions from those involved?
As a writer quite often you tread a very thin line when you try to write honest material without hurting anybody. Nothing as yet has bitten me too hard, but there are songs that, regardless of how good I think they are, I simply can't put out because it would hurt somebody too much.
Tell us about your new album 'The Flight and Other Stories'. It seems a very ambitious project rather than a straight forward album of songs.
It's always good to have a structure to work with and after Forgive This Day was out I started writing all these story songs. The idea of setting the album out as a book of short stories kind of evolved from the writing. There's a lot of different stuff on there, from country to punk, jazz to pop, but having that structure allowed me to push things stylistically. I don't think I'll ever put a record out that isn't eclectic. I feel that part of my style is the ability to move between styles.
What¹s your take on being a musician in Wales and how do you think it compares to other pars of the UK such as Scotland?
Cardiff is home and there are no better gigs to play than those at home. The musicians in South Wales are as good as anywhere else in the UK and some of the musicians I've worked with in Cardiff are among the finest I've ever worked with or am ever likely to work with. Edinburgh's got a hell of a lot of talented people in it but it suffers from a similar problem to South Wales which is that there is a massive lack of live music venues. In most cities in the UK there is a hierarchy of venues that artists can move up. Where as there is an unfathomable gap between top floor of Clwb Ifor Bach and The Millennium Stadium.
Finally what plans do you have to promote the album and for the rest of 2011?
We're doing a tour throughout summer and beyond; there's the new single 'Brave Captain Mallard'; but also I've got a lot of studio work coming up and I want to start thinking about album number 3. I'm an impatient artist, always more interested in the next project than the one that's gone before. But I'm very proud of this album and it deserves my full attention in promoting it.
22nd June - The Elgin, London
2nd July - Paddle Round the Pier, Brighton
1st August - Monmouth Music Festival
14th August - Miss Peapod's, Penryn, Cornwall.
Forgive This Day (2009)
The Flight (2011)
The Soft Hearted Scientists
Misty's Big Adventure
Jam with RoBina
The Rumble Strips interview
Battle of Land and Sea