Hailing from London, but now finding his feet in Berlin, Alan Bonner is nothing if not a character. Dash Majesty talks with the Berlin based piano-man-slash-night-owl about his musical heroes, songwriting process and latest record Night Music.
Dash Majesty: Alan! Could you introduce yourself?
Alan Bonner: Hello, I’m Alan. I’m a singer songwriter from England, but right now I’m living in Berlin. I sing, I play piano. I wander the globe. I drink too much. I laugh a lot.
DM: Can you tell us why you’ve chosen Berlin as a city to hone your craft in? Is there something that draws you to this specific place?
AB: I lived in London for many years before moving here, and although I love London, I kinda felt stuck in a rut emotionally and professionally speaking, so I decided I needed a change of scene. I was all set to move to Ireland but a friend persuaded me to come to Berlin instead, I had visited Berlin many times in the years before I moved here to play gigs, so I already knew I would love it. It’s a really special place for any artist. It’s really free. You can live how you want and be who you want and make whatever kind of art you want and anything goes. It also has such a fascinatingly-dramatic history and I’m really drawn to that. It’s such an evocative place. Also, Bowie, Nick Cave, and a lot of my other musical heroes have spent periods of time here too.
DM: Is there any particular significance behind the title Night Music for your latest album?
AB: The album is inspired by London and its nocturnal inhabitants. I wrote it over the last year or so I was living there. I started noticing all the lonely disaffected creatures that came out at night – drunks, spurned lovers, prostitutes, lost souls etc. I met lots of these people in bars and on night buses and they told me their stories and they kinda got mixed in with my own. The album has a very nocturnal feel because of this and I’d already written a song for it called Night Music so I thought it made a good album title too.
DM: Which fellow musicians do you draw inspiration from?
AB: The bands and artists I listened to growing up are Lou Reed, Bowie, Elton John, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright, Fleetwood Mac and so on. They are still a big inspiration, but I’m noticing lately that I get really fired up by watching my other musician friends, who are not so well known. People like Pa Reidy from Galway, Valerio Lysander in London, or my friend James Michael Rogers in Berlin. I can sit and talk with these guys about music, or gig with them, or just watch them play – I get super inspired by their thoughts and their work. These people are my friends and they are also a little down at heel like I am, so I get a lot from them as they are in the same boat as me in many ways. Anyone reading this should look them up if they feel inclined.
DM: Which composition of yours means the most to you? Could you tell us why?
AB: Father’s Son from the new record is probably the most brutally honest song I have ever written. I had a difficult childhood, and a very difficult relationship with my abusive father who passed away in 2012. All my pain, grief and anger went into that song. Whenever I play it live I feel really exposed and in the studio I had to do it in one take because I was too emotional to sing it twice, but I have found real catharsis with that song. I was finally able to purge myself and make peace with myself and with my father through writing it, which has been a real healing experience for me.
DM: How has your songwriting process developed over the course of your last three albums?
AB: I’d like to think that my songwriting has gotten better over time. I’m proud of all my albums, but some songs have aged better than others. I’ve tried to push myself with each one and I hope that each record is a progression from the last. My sound has evolved and I’m older and hopefully more mature now than I was when I started out. I am clearer about who I am, how I view the world and what it is I am trying to say through my work and what I stand for as a human being and an artist. I still write from quite an autobiographical place, but with all the madness that is happening in the world right now maybe it’s time to look outward for my next work and do something that is more of a commentary on our times.
DM: What scares you the most about being an independent artist?
AB: Nothing scares me about it, but it can be exhausting at times. Everything falls on your shoulders and I often find myself spending hours emailing venues, or trying to promote myself instead of writing music, which pisses me off. It’s also disheartening sometimes when your work doesn’t reach a wider audience because you don’t have the financial backing of a label, but there are also many positives to being an independent artist as well, complete creative freedom being the most obvious of these.
DM: When creating a new record, do you prefer writing lyrics or the music itself?
AB: I find them both enjoyable. The lyrics usually come to me first, then I work the music to fit to them. On Night Music I wrote all the songs in their most basic form and then worked with my producer, the brilliant Aneek Thapar, on the arrangements, so writing the music was more of a collaborative process this time round, which I love.
DM: You can collaborate with any living artist on your next record – who is it? Why?
AB: Difficult question, there are so many. John Grant would be one of them. I think he’s amazing… or Bon Iver. I’m totally in love with their new records, although I’d probably be too starstruck by either of them. I’d love to work with or tour with Lisa Hannigan; I took my boyfriend to see her play in Berlin recently and got to meet her briefly after the gig. She was lovely and her voice is a thing of wonder. Sorry, that was three!
DM: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
AB: My plan, for the most part of 2017, is to continue promoting and touring the album. I’m doing some European tour dates too and will be playing in Germany in April and Italy in May. After that I have plans to record an EP in Ireland for release some time next year. I’d also love to do something more theatrical, aside from my own music, like write a stage show or a perform in a rock musical like Rent or Rocky Horror or maybe something new. I have a Theatre degree that I never really used but I don’t have an agent so who knows. I always wanted to do something like that. I’m open to many ideas!
Alan Bonner’s album Night Music is out now.