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Spotlight Interview With Miguel Rios

Miguel Rios released a single called "Narcissist" and not only does it have a message to send, but it does so in the form of a brooding folk song with a building platform and a cinematic feel.

The single is incredibly descriptive and paints a dark picture as it feels like your watching an old western film.

The song is stripped down for the most part but let's you really pay attention to the changes and lyrics and I think that's the most important part of the song.

Rios has a way of telling a story and does so with his baritone vocals and deep rooted folk acoustic guitar.

The single is accompanied by another called "Black Dog" which also paints that same dark but exciting and high energy cinematic vibe.

The next upcoming single set to be dropped in January is dubbed "Slaughterhouse Road".

With this string of singles being released we wanted to talk with Miguel about everything.

RAG: Okay Miguel, let's start with "Narcissist". This track has a deeper meaning and a vibe that crosses Neil Young with Nick Drake at times. Where did this track come from?

Miguel: Narcissist is a character in one of Aesop's fables, which are really short stories written around 600bc. He was a nobleman who was obsessed with staring at himself in the lake, one day he falls in and drowns, as he's drowning the lake tells him how sad she is that he is drowning, the reason for her sadness is she will no longer be able to see her own reflection in his eyes. These fables are full of twists, we would think: poor foolish vain man is overcome by magnificent benevolent lake, but what if vanity is in all things, even lakes. That was the inspiration for the song, but the meaning I think is up to what the listener hears. Sonically we wanted a really moody atmospheric almost western film sound, I was very inspired by the sounds of Ennio Morricone in my early life and we lent on that sound for sure, the Mandocello played by Matt Stonehouse really gives the song a great colour.

RAG: The upcoming single "Slaughterhouse Road" was also a song that can really engulf the listener. When is this one releasing?

Miguel: Slaughterhouse Road is the 3rd single it will be out on the 15th of January 2021

RAG: These singles are part of a full length album that's coming out soon right?

Miguel: Yes these singles are from an album called Slaughterhouse Road which will be released February 5th 2021

RAG: What inspired the album?

Miguel: The album was partly inspired by my life growing up in Far Northern Australia. I had an unusual upbringing, like living in a place called Slaughterhouse Road as well as many other places often named with a macabre twist, names like this were quite normal for me but I realize it is pretty strange for most people. The names of places kept recurring throughout the album Butchers Creek is another track inspired by a place where my Grandparents had built a log cabin in the rainforest. I never really thought about where the name Butchers Creek came from until a few years ago, I looked up the history and found out local indigenous people were killed there in a dispute, it made me think about the duality of the place, for me as a small child it was wonderful, but for others it was a place of great suffering.

Other songs on the album are part of my life now as a father - like the World is Spinning faster, I'm constantly battling with the speed at which my kids are growing up, it's beautiful but scary, and a husband - The Cat On Her Shoulder is inspired by my wife's many pets, mainly her Devon Rex cat who liked to sleep on my neck.

The album was made over a 14 day period, but my co producer/engineer Greg O'Shea and I had been discussing doing an album in this way for around 2 years,

So really it was the culmination of years of work and planning. I always wanted to do this type of recording, stripped back in my home studio, but for different reasons I had never done it this way . Originally we were booked to record in March 2020 but the first lockdown happened so we had to cancel that. The set of songs at this point were band oriented, I called Greg and said why don't we make the album in my studio and he said great let's do it. I quickly realised lots of the full band songs wouldn't work in my home studio, so I picked out all the acoustic based songs and added other material that I already had written, I wanted a stripped back lot of songs that would be relatively straightforward to record. Also I lost all my filmmaking work in March and I thought I might not be able to afford this... and besides all studios will be locked down, so all the pieces fell into place for a home recording. I looked at the lock down as a blessing and began to refine my selection and work up the body of songs which were to become Slaughterhouse Road. Having no filmmaking work meant I had much more time which gave me the opportunity to hone and refine the songs, I set up a regiment of getting up at 5am to rehearse and fine tune the production. We managed to get a 4 track tape machine to record to, a 1969 Ampex 440, a beautiful machine, so well made and so full of character. This was loaned to us by Alex Bennet at Sound Recordings which was where we were originally going to record, I am still amazed he let us use it. The Ampex had certain limitations and we used those limitations to guide what we could and couldn't do, it also helped give us an end point to the project. We didn't want to be crippled by the post production process, instead we wanted songs to be so together they would go down in a single take - voice and guitar together - then we had 2 spare tracks for any overdubs.

RAG: We've named a few artists we are feeling on the songs but we'd love to know what artists really influenced you as a songwriter. Can you name some?

Miguel: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash are some of my main influences for songwriting, and more recently I have also been inspired by Nick Cave. Musically I was influenced by artists like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles also AC/DC are one of my earliest and major influences in guitar playing.

RAG: Are you pretty much always working on new music?

Miguel: I'm always working on a number of songs, I have a very rambling song writing style so I pick songs up and put them down again - sometimes for months - until I find the thread of how the song will work. I'm always recording snippets of song ideas or writing down lyrics, I have never had much luck in forcing songs, I wish I could, I would have written more. Also being a parent means my time is spread out, I work late at night and early in the morning. I also have a home studio so I'm always demoing ideas and trying out production sounds

RAG: What does someone like you do when you're NOT working on songwriting?

Miguel: I try to spend as much time with my kids while they are young, my wife works as well so we both share the work at home, I cook, which I love. I love writing so I'm working on numerous story and script ideas. I'm also a filmmaker, which I do professionally so when I'm busy with multiple productions it takes up a lot of my time. At the moment promoting the upcoming release is taking up every moment, trying to connect with people over the world and finding an audience for my music.

RAG: This album feels like its a big undertaking. What kind of advice would you have for up and coming songwriters?

Miguel: It was a big undertaking, especially in terms of planning. I wrote the songs over the last few years, so that part was done. I had a small budget, so I looked at the things I could control and what I had access to as opposed to what I couldn't do. We ended up recording and mixing the album in my home studio. We chose a medium to record to - tape - which would benefit the songs and we also chose high quality mics, a great preamp, a magnificent sounding guitar, excellent players and a very experienced sound engineer, all of these things made up for what we were lacking in an acoustically treated space and any extraneous noise. I also planned out the production schedule as best I could to streamline our time. The other major part was I needed to be able to play all the songs in a single take as we didn't intend on doing drop ins or comping takes together, this took a month of daily practise and refinement. I intentionally finished the songs about 95% of the way in terms of the writing, I liked the idea of having a word or line to tweak on the day, it would keep me on my toes. I would demo the songs and listen back at the end of the day, and make adjustments. The idea was to capture a performance rather than a recital, this was an important distinction. Also when I was practicing I would intentionally not play a fully emotive version of the song, I held back, I wanted to save that raw energy for the recording. So the actual recording was pretty straight forward; everything fell into place, which I think was a result of taking the time to plan it out and thinking about how I wanted to make the album.

Advice I would give is to write as much as you can, everyday, write anything, good stuff, bad stuff in between, doesn't matter. I think reading is important, poetry and stories, they are inspirational, biographies are great inspiration. Find your own voice, with writing this can be tricky, and there is no measure on it, some people can do it right away and others struggle, but if you keep doing it you will find it. I think the other major part of songwriting is to remember it is an expression of the heart and not the head, songs are as old as civilization, so it's not so much learning how to do as unlearning the reasons why we believe we can't do it.

Advice for making an album is firstly make sure you have a good lot of songs – this can take time, but I think it's worth waiting, then have someone you really trust to produce and engineer it for you. If you have a strong production knowledge or sense of how you want the album to sound then make sure you stick to that, there is no telling if your recording will be commercially successful so you should at least stick to your artistic vision, that way you will be happy with what you have done and hopefully be inspired to do more. Be daring with what you do, in my opinion that's how great records are made. For singer-songwriters try and do it in a single take! there is so much life in a single performance. Also, if you can live with them, keep your mistakes.

RAG: What's next for you as an artist?

Miguel: I'm in pre production for my next album, which I have already written. We actually recorded 12 songs for the Slaughterhouse Road session, but there are only 10 songs on the album, we kept 2 for the next album.

RAG: Do you think you will be planning to perform live when the time comes?

Yes, definitely. I will be aiming to do as many live shows as I can to promote the album.

RAG: Before we go, is there anything you'd like to say to fans?

Miguel: Thank you for listening

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