Singer-songwriter Julian Pitt centers the jangle pop (yet genre melding) band Armstrong. His music has been described as “wistful ballads and sun-kissed melodies that are brimming with emotion” with comparisons to early Aztec Camera. Based in Wales, Armstrong has released two critically lauded albums, Under Blue Skies and Songs About The Weather, with another album, Happy Graffiti soon to be released.
A man from Wales signed to a Canadian Label – The Beautiful Music. How did this intriguing turn of fate come about?
I recorded a set of songs which became the album ‘Under Blue Skies’. I hadn’t recorded anything for a few years and decided to put some of the songs onto MySpace. I can’t remember the exact details but myself and Wally from The Beautiful Music label (TBM) got in touch with each other. Wally was very enthusiastic about the songs and liked the album. I then recorded ‘Songs About The Weather‘ on a 12 track in my house and Wally decided that he wanted to put the album out via his record label. I felt he had a great record label and could see that Wally was a great person who was passionate about music. The rest is history and if it wasn’t for Wally’s hard work promoting my songs at The Beautiful Music (including some of his friends and colleagues), I possibly wouldn’t have continued song-writing (publicly anyway).
What album has held the most significance in your life, be it a favourite record or even one you can’t stand?
The most significant album in my life is ‘Meat Is Murder‘ by The Smiths. I think musically it’s an absolute triumph, great songs, unbelievable guitar playing and riffs. Johnny Marr particularly is a massive hero of mine. Am I allowed more? ‘Jordan – The Comeback’ by Prefab Sprout, ‘Scott 4’ by Scott Walker, ‘Surf’s Up’ – The Beach Boys, ‘White Album’ by The Beatles, ‘Knife’ by Aztec Camera, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ by Stevie Wonder. There’s too many to mention but ‘Meat Is Murder‘ will always be my first choice.
Your music influences include Aztec Camera, The Beach Boys, The Smiths, The Beatles, Chris Montez, Simon & Garfunkel, Red House Painters, XTC, Earth Wind & Fire, Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker, Jose Feliciano, The Isley Brothers among others. Have any other art forms influenced your musicality? Literature, film, paintings foe example?
I think I’m pretty knowledgeable about literature, film and paintings generally. For example, I’ve enjoyed literature by authors like Thomas Hardy or Franz Kafka but I don’t read as much as I’d like to. I do watch a lot of films, I like actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Robert De Niro for example. Comedy is a big influence on my life as well (it’s great to laugh). I’ve also studied History and Humanities and I’m very interested in what is going on in the world. But am I influenced by all forms of art and culture? I probably am but music is my big influence. Music is a subject (or art form) that I really feel I understand and can be confident about when it comes to opinions. I also listen to lots of classical music and have my favourite composers like Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninov.
‘Pilgrim Heart‘, off of your ‘Fragments And Curiosities’ record is quite meaningful lyrically. What’s the story behind the song?
The ‘Fragments And Curiosities’ album is basically a compilation of bits and pieces I’ve recorded. Some of the songs I abandoned due to the fact that I never felt I could recapture the feeling of the initial recordings even though, on ‘Fragments And Curiosities’ the recording quality on some of them is not entirely up to scratch. ‘Pilgrim Heart‘ was a working title and the track on the album is the first and only recording I’ve done. (8 track tape). I think the song ponders the idea that life is a kind of pilgrimage in that it is a journey full of quests and ambitions. Sometimes, maybe one is not aware of the quests or ambitions (or perhaps too aware). This is where the lines ‘I can’t find somewhere to rest my mind‘ comes from. Also, ‘Pilgrim Heart‘ can touch on the fact that a person could be dissatisfied that life in general doesn’t meet up to their expectations (with my line ‘I can’t find somewhere that’s idealised‘). Sometimes, I really like to write lyrics that can be vague and open to interpretation. This is something I was aiming for on ‘Pilgrim Heart‘ but never fully finished and it was never recorded it to its maximum potential. Like some of the songs on ‘Fragments And Curiosities’ , hearing them again on release made me wonder why I didn’t pursue them further.
Is there a song you wish you’d have written?
I could give you a very long list here. How many am I allowed, there’s thousands that I wished I’d written – here goes with 20 songs, from the top of my head, in no particular order:
‘There She Goes’ – The La’s
‘Bigger, Brighter, Better’ – Roddy Frame
‘Darling Be Home Soon’ – Lovin Spoonful
‘This Charming Man’ – The Smiths
‘After The Love Has Gone’ – Earth Wind & Fire
‘Guitar Man’ – Bread
‘So Far Away’ – Carole King
‘The First Picture Of You’ – The Lotus Eaters
‘God Only Knows’ – The Beach Boys
‘In Dreams’ – Roy Orbison
‘Take The Long Way Home’ – Supertramp
‘Lost In Music’ – Sister Sledge
‘Green Onions’ – Booker T and the MG’s
‘Cathy’s Clown’ – The Everly Brothers
‘Regret’ – New Order
‘Ghost Town’ – The Specials
‘Blues Run The Game’ – Jackson C. Frank
‘When You Walk Into The Room’ – The Searchers
‘Love’s Unkind’ – Donna Summer
‘All Of My Heart’ – ABC
What went into recording this latest album? How much time was spent writing, recording etc?
‘Fragments And Curiosities’ is a compilation of songs recorded at different times, some were working demos, other songs were live rehearsal recordings, some were songs I recorded and rejected for the forthcoming ‘Happy Graffiti‘ album. One or two on there just didn’t have homes. How much time spent writing? Sometimes, I can write a song that just happens almost as if I wasn’t involved but just some kind of tool in the process (‘I’ll never lie but one day I will speak the truth’ was that kind of song). Other times, I get a strand of something melodic and I have to work on expanding the song. I don’t write the riffs or proper arrangements around a song until I start actually recording it, but I can usually carry the main melodic tune and work the arrangements out in my head. When I recorded ‘Songs About The Weather‘, I basically recorded a song a week (in one day). Very often, if I have a few songs ready to record, it feels like magic happens and the song-writing really starts to kick in. (Sometimes I’m working on 4 or 5 songs in a batch together).
What is the general zeitgeist that listeners can expect to hear from your new album ‘Happy Graffiti’? Αnd…If ‘Under Blue Skies’ and ‘Songs About the Weather’ were time capsules of certain times in your life, what time would ‘Happy Graffiti’ be encapsulating?
‘Happy Graffiti‘ was at first, going to be called ‘Outside Looking In‘ which is one of the songs I recorded for the album. I thought about ‘Happy Graffiti‘ because I was walking through my hometown one morning and noticed that someone had graffiti’d ‘‘smiley faces’’ around the place which created a different vibe to the stereotypical negative vibes that graffiti reflects generally. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a positive message under each smiley face that would have been good. Anyway, that’s how I derived at the title. I wanted to make a reflective album about growing up, losing touch with friends when you were young and thinking that these friendships and the places you’d go would never end. But they do sadly. For example, when I was a teenager I would hang around with the same friends every Saturday in cafe’s etc and I reflectively think, when was the last time we did that? When it was the last actual time we met up, we didn’t plan not do it a week later. But it just went that way, life moves on without you being aware of it and you do new things with yourself. I’m digressing here, because the album isn’t all about that. Wally at the Beautiful Music has the ‘Happy Graffiti‘ album. I didn’t fully complete it the way I wanted it to be. I may yet go back to some of the songs and finalise them but to me, the songs feel like a canvas where the paint has been dry for too long and it is difficult to apply a couple more brush strokes (if you know what I mean). I think the songs on there are strong though and it was a tricky album for me to record I felt (in a technical sense).
What are your upcoming plans for Armstrong? A tour in support of ‘Happy Graffiti’ perhaps?
I’m not sure whether there will be a tour in support of ‘Happy Graffiti’ (but I never say never). I’m really keen to record another set of songs for another album which may be called ‘Woodstock And Angels‘. I have a lot of songs, bits and pieces hanging around and I still feel that I need to get them out there. I’ve been going through a few songs recently and feel that I have some very strong songs yet to be heard. And like I said, during recordings, more new songs emerge and the process of the need to record them and get them out there just continues.
Photo credits: L Townsend