While Al Shalliker has been part of the prolific live band Watershed, he is striking out on his own with his debut album Silver Linings. With some contemporary alt-folk stylings, he melds classical songwriting influences with something that is uniquely him. The album forms a powerful representation of what he has to offer as a solo artist while connecting with a modern audience. Al Shalliker took the time to talk to us about the album, releasing solo work, musical influences and much more!
OSR: You have been involved in the music industry for a number of years, but what first drew you to music.
Shalliker: Music has always excited me. I retain a vivid memory of hearing Elvis Costello’s ‘Oliver’s Army’ at Plymouth Argyle’s football stadium here in my home town. The game hadn’t started yet and I just remember the music echoing around the terraces and feeling energised by it in a way that I had never felt before. It was 1979 and I was ten years old. Many years later I heard my own music being played at the same stadium which was a nice moment.
I think music and song afford us a freedom of expression not accessible to us in other parts of our lives. When I was around thirteen I found the original early ‘60s vinyl copies of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ my dad had left in a draw. I used to play them constantly and was drawn to Dylan’s use of words and how he delivered them. I’m still just as drawn to great songwriting and expression today.
OSR: You have been the lead songwriter for the band Watershed but what made you decided to release solo music?
Shalliker: I was with Watershed for a long time, I’ve so many fond memories and I’m proud to have played music with all those people. The band never really stopped, life just got in the way.
However, making a solo album there is certainly a lot more freedom in terms of rhythm, tempo and mood. Recording in a band environment is often more formulaic by default. Everyone’s vision of a song is different so with a solo project there is less compromise to be made on the initial vision you had as a writer. With Silver Linings, I was very focused on expressing each individual song in the right way. There is often a fair amount of fine detail in the expression and with this album, I felt I had the freedom to go after it and I’m pleased with what was captured.
OSR: Your debut album Silver Linings contains a mixture of new songs and reworkings of older songs. Why choose to produce this mixture?
Shalliker: With Silver Linings, I wanted to create an open, honest sound, like the sound of an acoustic band sitting in a room together. I had a batch of newer songs that fit in nicely with that vision yet there were also a few I had played previously with Watershed: ‘Where All The Music Comes From’, ‘Plymouth Song’ and ‘Believe In Me’, that were also a good fit. There was also an atmosphere around those songs I felt I hadn’t captured previously. I wanted those songs to sound more honest.
OSR: Is there a theme or backstory to the album?
Shalliker: As the album title ‘Silver Linings’ suggests there is a nod to the difficult times a great many people have been struggling through recently and also that good things can still come through adversity. The ‘Silver Lining’ for me was being able to concentrate more fully on music again but there is a lyric in the title track, “with every silver lining there lies a cloud” and through the pandemic that has felt increasingly apparent.
Maybe an increased awareness of the need for more understanding around mental health could be a silver lining to come out of this pandemic.
OSR: The album features a number of guest musicians, how did you connect with them?
Shalliker: The guest musicians were all friends I had performed with previously, or else listened to over the years. There are some great performances in there. I called people up, sent them demos of the songs and we just made the most of the limited rehearsal opportunities we had. At times things didn’t gel well at all, as due to all the Covid-restrictions the musicians never had the opportunity to sit and rehearse in the same room together, but we definitely ended up in a good place. The collaborations in the studio were actually very funny at times, maybe partly because of all the adversity going on around us in everyday life. I’m very grateful to all of them.
OSR: There is an amazing folk-rock sound to the album but what is the biggest influence on your sound?
Shalliker: If I were to chose a single song written by another artist I wish I could have written myself it would probably be one of Dylan’s. There are so many to chose from but maybe ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ or for pure, bristling energy ’Like A Rolling Stone’. In the run-up to recording Silver Linings, I was listening to Dylan’s ‘More Blood More Tracks’, featuring out-takes from the sessions for his 1975 classic ‘Blood On The Tracks’. I think the stripped-down production may have influenced how Silver Linings was produced. If you listen to Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ it’s a masterpiece but the production remains relaxed and totally authentic. There are other influences too including Paolo Nutini and I’ve been listening to Gerry Cinnamon lately.
OSR: While all the tracks on the album are special, which one would you suggest if people could only listen to a single song?
Shalliker: Maybe ‘The Voyage’, as while it focuses on some of the difficulties we experience as we journey through life hopefully there remains an evocative narrative running through it. I guess if I’m going to be a miserable old **** I may at least be a bit colourful about it.
OSR: How difficult did you find reworking your older songs to make them more relevant to the modern day?
Shalliker: I didn’t find any of the older songs particularly difficult to rework. As a solo project, there was so much less negotiation to be had about how you present the music and also the songs themselves still felt relevant to today and the times we are living in.
OSR: What is the one thing you would like people to feel while listening to the album?
Shalliker: I would like people to be able to absorb some of the words and phrases, interpret them in their own way and hopefully take something positive from them.
As a writer, the moments when you realise the essence of a decent new song is with you are some of the finest. With Silver Linings, I’ve tried to make the songs more accessible so I hope people can connect more with their original sentiment.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
Shalliker: I certainly want to write and produce a second solo album. I found it difficult to write until Silver Linings was complete. I’ve felt like those songs were burning a hole in my pocket. Now I’ve got renewed energy for writing.
I’d also like to get out playing live again as the pandemic recedes. I’ve not quite yet got a pewter tankard and a pheasant hanging from my belt so I consider myself more of an indie-folk or alt-folk artist than a folk singer but I would like to tap more into the folk festival scene if I can.