Ian David Green pays tribute to his late father with his debut album Songs of the Sea. Through the tracks of the album, he explores the foundations of what makes us who we are and the bonds we have with others. A deep and sensitive journey, the album takes you from yearning to letting go through the beautiful rhythms of life. We sat down with Ian David Green to talk about the album, phases of life, contributing artists and much more!
OSR: What first drew you to making music?
Green: As a young teenager I started listening to The Beatles (I come from Liverpool, it’s the law!) and Simon & Garfunkel and that inspired me to teach myself acoustic guitar, especially folk-style. But the real light-bulb moment came when I was 16. My dad gave me his friend’s cassette, yes I’m that old, and said try this. It was ‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan. I was blown away. The images and the metaphors and the layers of meaning. I felt like I’d discovered this incredible wandering troubadour who didn’t care in the slightest about the charts or “ooh I love you baby” songs because he had something far more important to say. That’s when I thought wow, you can actually write searing poetry to music, I’d like to try and do that.
OSR: Your new album Songs of the Sea is your first full album but also a very personal one, what prompted you to release it now?
Green: In terms of writing I guess it’s my fourth album, but the others never made it past the demo stage on my own hard drive or the odd appearance at open mic nights. It was always on my mind that I should really try and get some material recorded professionally, but I just never got round to it. As I went through the process of writing and home-recording all the tracks from Songs of the Sea I was able to play them to my dad because his illness took a while to play out, and he told me that he wanted me to share these songs with the world. In simple terms, you could say we made a promise to one another, and that promise was the genesis of the whole project. He believed these songs would speak to people and he wanted me to do something with them.
OSR: As the album pays tribute to your father, did you find it difficult to release something so personal to the world?
Green: I think when I was younger yes, I would have been reluctant to do something like this. But as I have grown older I have tried to challenge my own natural reserve. The simple truth is that these songs speak to experiences and emotions that the vast majority of us will have in our lifetimes. They are not unique, they are more or less universal, and I think that’s how my writing actually addresses them. There’s nothing voyeuristic or overly-revealing in the writing, it’s far more contemplative than that. We can all have these challenges in our lives, every one of us, so why should we pretend otherwise and not be open about it?
OSR: The tracks of the album move through the different phases of life, but what would you like people to experience as they listen?
Green: I would say that during my father’s illness I found it comforting simply to know that what he and my family were experiencing was not unique. It was not something that nobody else could possibly understand. Far from it, in fact. So I suppose that I would want anybody listening to feel that the songs give them space to rest and reflect and perhaps also to find a certain sense of peace, especially if they are wrestling with similar kinds of emotions relating to loss. There are many people, including total strangers, who do understand where you are. They have felt what you feel, and you are not alone.
OSR: There are a number of contributing artists featured on the album, how did you connect with them?
Green: I shared my demos with a couple of friends who release music professionally and they put me in touch with Marty Hailey. He runs his own studio called Metro13 Music and is a bit of a legend on the Edinburgh music scene. Things basically went from there. We discussed the demos and a bit of a plan for the songs and then he raided his contacts book. I was very lucky in that regard, to work with someone who could bring in an array of really talented people. The percussionist, for example, has worked with people like Baaba Maal, who I love, and Utada Hikaru, which blew my mind a bit because I lived in Japan when she became a megastar there. The weird thing is that because of Covid I was never able to meet any of these musicians in person, but I hope one day I can and then I can at least buy them a drink of their choosing.
OSR: You are releasing the album on Bandcamp, is there any plan to release it on other streaming services?
Green: I will release the songs in bursts on my Spotify profile over the next few months as I have some offers of being included in curated playlists, but Spotify is really not a place for independent artists to get any kind of meaningful revenue. I’d need many millions of streams to have any hope of recouping the cost of the album. The figures just don’t add up.
That’s why I’m focusing on Bandcamp, because it’s a simple way for people to own music and ensure that the artist themselves is directly rewarded. If someone listens to me on Spotify that’s very flattering, but it’s unlikely to help me in any other way. If someone takes the trouble to pay for and own the music via Bandcamp, that’s not only a huge practical help it’s also very humbling and rewarding on an emotional level. I can’t tell you how much it means to an independent artist when they see an email come in to say that someone they don’t know has purchased their music.
OSR: While you probably hold affection for every track, is there one that has a special place in your heart?
Green: Wow that’s a tough one. They all mean a lot to me in their own way. ‘Oh Beautiful Heart’ was the first I wrote and actually came to me in a dream; ‘After the Flood’ has my sons doing some soft backing vocals at the end; ‘On Applecross Ridge’ is extremely precious to me, as you might guess when you listen.
On reflection, I’m going to be cheeky and cite two songs. First, ‘The Voyage of the Queen Marie’, because I wrote the melody and first verse in 1997 and then didn’t know what to do with it, and when this album came along it suddenly wrote itself and completely found its home. Secondly, ‘Compasses’, because I think the writing is simple but very strong, trust yourself and find your own light, whatever that happens to be.
OSR: What would you say is the biggest challenge you faced when making this album?
Green: Mostly practical. Selling a lot of stuff to fund it, working within the restrictions of lockdown to get to Edinburgh for a week. On top of that I was unwell with Covid twice in 2020, either side of the recording, and I put my back out a few weeks before I went by playing football when I really shouldn’t, so we had double cushions on the chair when I was sitting and playing!
There was also a degree of challenge in opening the songs up to new ideas musically or in terms of arrangement because they were so personal to me and had been very clear in my head for some time. But it was interesting to work through that and a really valuable learning experience.
OSR: How do you feel your music has evolved?
Green: I think the quality of my writing has probably improved, though others would have to judge that if I fulfil my hopes of putting some older songs out in the future. Over time I’ve also opened up to a bit of electronic experimentation as well, either subtly to enhance the folk sensibility that underpins my songs, or more directly such as in my first official release, an EP called Songs of the Electric Night that I put out in March 2020. It has a very different and somewhat darker sound for me, but still some great lyrics if I say so myself!
On top of that, I’ve learnt a bit of mandolin and banjo in the last 18 months, which all helps with versatility.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the coming year?
Green: Well for now it’s all about trying to share Songs of the Sea and build on the amazing and very humbling reviews I got from backseatmafia.com and folkradio.co.uk. I know there’s an audience out there that will appreciate the album, the challenge is to put it in front of their ears.
I’ll also look to grow my Facebook page, and continue a series I’ve kicked off called “Ian David Green GARAGEBAND”. It’s me and my clones doing cover songs in my garage as if we were a single live band in the same room at the same time. For one song I had six of me playing at once. It’s a bit of a head spin and logistically pretty challenging but it’s a good bit of fun.
Finally, I’ll be looking at the possibility of recording a new album. I wrote it mostly in 2020 and the working title is ‘Songs from the Wheel’. I think it’s got some absolute crackers on it, though why would I say otherwise! All going well, maybe this time next year we’ll be talking about that. I hope so.