Interview: Findlay Brown

Photograph by Dan Wilton

Findlay Brown grew up in Yorkshire, on a countryside in the middle of nowhere.  Admittedly, he really wasn’t musical or into anything artistic as a youngster; his whole world changed when, at 16 years old, he had an LSD experience at a party, during which the “Electric Ladyland” album by Jimi Hendrix was playing.  It totally blew Brown’s mind; he had no idea that music like that even existed and set out to learn more about it.  His pursuits led him to a psychedelic music obsession and what he calls his own little Summer of Love, throwing himself into the sounds of 1967.  Brown’s grandfather, a famous chef who cooked for the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Queen, gave Brown some Beatles autographs.  He sold those autographs to buy his first guitar.  The Beatles would definitely be proud.

He’s recently released his latest album, Slow Light; Brown says he tried not to have strong expectations for the production of and content on the album because he didn’t want to have any restrictions, he just wanted to be himself.  Brown spent many intense hours in a room with his producer in order to figure out exactly what that meant, and what he really wanted to accomplish with the music.  He drew from various influences when creating the music on Slow Light, including interesting esoteric experiences which resulted from his attendance at shamanic rituals: “There’s a song on the album called ‘All Is Love’ that’s pretty much a direct experience from a ritual I attended with these Colombian shamans.  It was a visionary experience using particular plants.  We were out in the forest, we were having out-of-body experiences, it was very psychedelic.  You kind of get faced with all of your fears, all your demons, all that kind of stuff.  I was connecting with the plants on a very deep level, it’s like they are teachers and they actually start talking to you.  If you think about it, the plants have been around a lot longer than we have, and maybe they are a lot more evolved than we are, if you change your angle and the way you are looking at things.  I asked ‘What am I’ and they just said to me clearly, ‘All is love, and love is you.’ Then I came home and wrote that song.”

Slow Light has brought Brown back to his folk music beginnings: “A lot of the bands I was into were psychedelic at first, but as I followed their careers, they lost the psychedelic stuff and went more ‘roots,’ like The Beatles’ “Let It Be” album where they stripped it all away.  I really connected with the more acoustic stuff.  I’ve realized I really like these mathematical, sort of geometric shapes, especially in minimalist music, these repetitious and cyclical kinds of patterns.  I think that’s what drew me to the acoustic guitar, it’s very repetitive.  When you just have a acoustic guitar, there’s so much space for the voice, it’s just beautiful.  I thought folk was sort old-fashioned and uncool for a while until I realized what it really was. Things changed when I first heard the music of Jackson C. Frank; I ended up trying all these songs I had written with his finger-picking style.  It was a real turning point for me; it seemed to really work with my songs and my voice.”  The change of playing style, along with Brown’s dexterity in crafting lyrical beauty, which he gently delivers with his clear, tender voice, have surely made Slow Light a new classic.

Brown has also become a father since his last album; when asked whether fatherhood has changed his songwriting, he says, “I’m not quite sure actually.  It’s not quantifiable, but I’m sure it’s had a massive effect.  I’m kind of saying the same thing over and over in all my songs, really, but I keep trying to say them in a different way.  With this one, I really wanted to be braver and happier and less judgmental.  Having a son has really helped me in those areas in general in my life.  It’s a bit cliché, but you really have to sort your priorities; how important is having an album, really, when you’ve got this vulnerable, wonderful, magical, enlightened little person to look after? I think spiritually it’s really affected me, having a son, and that affects my music.”

Susan Hubbard

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