Monday, May 30, 2011

Paul Miro (Apes Pigs And Spacemen)

Paul Miro is best remembered as being the front man for Apes Pigs & Spacemen. Those who followed the band may be forgiven for thinking the band had simply disappeared without a trace, though the reality is far more complicated than that. Paul is busier than ever these days with his solo career, film projects collaborations and Apes Pigs & Spacemen, I caught up with Paul recently and we left no stone unturned. Enjoy the read and a very special thanks to Paul for taking so much time to answer the questions, this is probably one of the most honest interviews I've done yet.

 1.A few years ago I randomly typed Apes Pigs & Spacemen into Google and was pleasantly surprised to see that not only was there an official site, but Apes were still on the go to some capacity.  Did the band ever officially split up and can you tell us something of the motivation behind ending the hiatus to record the Free Pawn Album?

The band never broke up. We’d spent a frustrating few years in legal hell – I won’t bore you with too much detail at this point, but, essentially, we could not record, release or perform live using the Apes name until certain contractual problems were resolved. That process took a lot longer than anyone could have anticipated.

During this period, Bassist Bart and I had both been building up our own recording studios, working on various projects to bring in some money. Eliminating the need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on residential studio hire in order to make great albums had been a priority of ours since we made Transfusion!.

The idea with Free Pawn was to do everything independently – recording, mixing, mastering, manufacture and online distribution, using the Internet as our main promotional tool – by 2003, Internet speeds were fast enough for album downloads, and networks like Myspace were actually useful for expanding your fan base (hard to imagine, when you look at the sad joke Myspace has since become).

Our hope was that Free Pawn would be the starting point of a relaunch of the band, leading to tours, a raising in our profile, bringing as many of our original fans and many new ones on board. This, of course, would rely on more traditional promotional tools – the printed rock press, radio, etc. We still had (and have) a great deal of support from journalists, and the initial buzz surrounding the impending release of the album was encouraging. Unfortunately, without a considerable promotional budget, it is nigh on impossible to get press exposure. It works like this: the amount you contribute to a publication’s advertising coffers dictates the attention your product will receive in the review pages. And we couldn’t afford to advertise, so we couldn’t get reviews. The ‘unsigned band’ reviews sections were also closed to us because we’d graced the front pages as a signed band in previous times.

2.Was it tough to reconnect with your fans? Obviously you were going to do that record on your own terms and I’d assume a good percentage of your fan base from the mid 90’s were not aware the band was still active?

In short: yes. Without press, we were, and remain, an online entity. If a band is not in the mainstream press, then, unsurprisingly, the majority of fans presume they’ve ceased to exist. So, people have to actively seek us out – in the same way you did! A fair number of people continue to do so, but not yet enough for us to raise money to promote in the press or tour.

3.You followed the album up with a bunch of EP’s Monkey Mettle, Simple Simian, Dirty Monkey and Fives. There is some great material on those EP’s and they showcase several sides to the band, what is your own opinion on those releases and how were they received?

I’m proud of each of the EPs. The thing with the Apes is that we’ve never wanted to be tied to a particular ‘sound’, if that makes sense. It’s always about the songs, and the end recorded result depends on the vibe we had at that point in time.  We started life releasing EPs before albums, and it seemed a logical step to continue releasing EPs between albums. I like the EP format for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is quicker than making an album! Secondly, it enables you to put together smaller collections of tracks that might not fit into the ‘concept’ of an album. Fives, for example, is a nod to some musical legends who have influenced us. It shows the band’s range without being confined to any particular style, and allows for a release that couldn’t be included on an Apes album.

Each of the EPs has been well-received. There’s never one particular favourite amongst Apes fans. Everyone has their personal songs-of-choice, and people’s opinions differ quite widely, so it’s always interesting when reading mail after any release.

We plan to release more EPs. It’s been a while because respective schedules are so ridiculous. There’s also another Apes album in the planning stages – likely to be called Human Zoo. Can’t wait to get chance to complete it, but I wouldn’t dare to hazard a guess as to when that might happen at the moment. Pitchshifter’s Jason Bowld will be playing drums on the new album. He’s an outrageous player and it’s great to have him on board for the project.

4. I’ve been asking a lot of bands this question lately but I’m really interested in hearing the various responses. What is your opinion on illegal downloading of material? Do you see recorded output being a source of revenue for artists in the future and what can be done to make this happen?

This is probably the most hotly debated topic amongst music circles. There are countless articles, studies and debates on the subject. Unsurprisingly, because the only thing certain is the music industry and the way people access music has changed completely and no one knows what’s going to happen. I could write a book on this one and still not have a definitive answer. But there are some serious points I’d like to mention. Firstly, I don’t think illegal downloading, piracy or ‘street sales’ of bootlegs bears as much a responsibility for the decline in music sales as is often argued, though it has definitely had a huge impact.

I gave a series of lectures on Music Industry and Music Technology recently and was shocked to discover that the vast majority (probably 90%) of students I talked to had never purchased any music, either on CD or legal downloads. And these were all either musicians wanting to make a career from making music, or individuals who wanted jobs in the music industry. They all had iPods filled with gigabytes of music, who felt it was their right to ‘own’ whatever music they desired without paying for it. And yet they were all under the impression that, when they signed their major record deals, everyone would rush to buy their music. This naïve contradiction sums up an attitude that has seeped into our culture, and it isn’t likely to be reversed. Speaking as an independent artist who relies on direct-to-fan sales via my website, I have stopped being surprised when people email me asking where they can download my music for free.

I think there are a number of factors that have led to this situation. With constant connectivity, universally available content, fast download speeds and small file sizes, music users were inevitably going to change their listening habits.

Considering all of this, though, people are still currently paying for downloads, albeit in reduced numbers, and there are always going to be people who want to own CD copies of releases by their favourite artists, though this is increasingly becoming a minority sport – CD enthusiasts are inevitably going to go the way of vinyl collectors.

More frightening is the imminent demise of paid downloads, destined to be wiped out by streaming, which, in my opinion, represents the biggest threat to artist/ copyright owner revenue. Basically, recordings generate royalties via two methods: mechanicals (sales) and publishing (broadcast/performance of works).  For a ‘signed’ band, it’s always been necessary to recoup any label investment before the artist starts making any money from the sales of their music. On a major, the ratio would probably be something like 90/10 in the label’s favour, meaning that the artist would be paid 10% of the dealer (not retail) price of the album, once the label has reclaimed any advances. Advances are recouped via the artist’s percentage. To try and make this make sense, I’ll round everything up to decimals. Let’s say an album sells at £10. The ‘dealer price’ on this is probably going to be nearer £4. So, if the artist split is 10%, then they are going to be knocking about 40p off their debt to the label with the sale of each album. So, if a label has invested 100k or so into a band, that would require a shit ton of sales before the artist started to make anything.

With CD sales dwindling, the main ‘retail’ outlet to generate mechanical sales has been paid downloads. But, prices are lower, meaning fewer royalties are generated.  Streaming takes things to another level entirely. Put simply, if you’re an artist who is used to getting ~£7 for the sale of a ~£10 download from iTunes (or ~40p for the sale of a ~69p single), your revenue is being diminished by several orders of magnitude when that same album/song is streamed.
While the figures change in terms of payments depending on if the stream is interactive (Rdio, Spotify, etc) or non-interactive (Pandora), in both cases the payment from streams will have a decimal point and many zeros in front of what a paid download generates. E.g. 40p becomes 0.00001p.
With Amazon launching their Cloud streaming service and iTunes (which accounts for 70% of all online downloads) destined to follow, the future does not look bright when it comes to making a living from selling your music.
I believe there will always be ways for artists to make money from their music, but it is going to be a case of learning to diversify and find different ways to generate income. The idea of ‘getting a record deal’ is not really valid any more. I don’t know what the answers are, but I try every day to pursue new avenues and find different angles to exploit every opportunity.

5.Do you think a band just at the beginning of their career is selling themselves short by offering their material for free? On one hand I guess they are gaining fans that may attend a show or something, but if those fans don’t pay for material in the beginning, they are hardly going to suddenly start paying at a later stage in their career?

I think a lot of what I said in answer to the previous question applies here. Obviously, I don’t agree with giving away music. I think it’s one of the most ridiculous business models ever devised. And, when you think it was industry-led, that makes it even more ludicrous. I doubt, for example that Sainsbury’s is likely to decide to start giving away food because an increasing number of people are stealing from their shelves, in the hope that those not wishing to pay for food might perhaps like to, say, take out an insurance policy with Sainsbury’s.

Giving away a certain proportion of a release for promotional purposes is always going to be necessary, but I think it’s important for artists, especially independent acts, to set a value on what they have gone to great lengths to write, rehearse, record and release and not get sucked into the perception that music is a free commodity. To accept that, then music becomes something for hobbyists with secondary incomes from day jobs, which defeats the whole purpose of wanting to be a professional musician. Okay, major labels may now use the music as a loss-leader, a giveaway to promote ticket and merch sales on tour, but unless your band is on the major touring circuit, then giving away your music, other than to magazines, perhaps a free track here or there for cover mount CDs etc. is counter-productive. Giving away your music does not bring more people to the party. ‘Put it out there and people will come’ is a delusional philosophy. It also devalues the product you are trying to sell.

6.The first couple of releases (Antiseptic EP and Transfusion) were heavily influenced by the grunge sound overall. Obviously you had your own thing going on in the mix there as well, but if I could ask considerately, was there a record company influence to shift your sound in that direction to suit the market at the time or was that who Apes were at that point?

To be honest, here wasn’t much record company pressure exerted on the first releases. We’d toured virtually constantly for a couple of years prior to signing to MFN, and the early recordings were essentially more a reflection of the ‘live’ band sound that we’d developed up to then. So, yeah, it’s where we were at that point in time.

7.Following on from the previous question, the next record, Snapshot was very different, I always felt we were starting to hear the real Apes with that album, would you agree with that? You seemed to totally do your own thing with that record and to be honest I prefer it now over the first.

Snapshot is definitely a more ‘subtle’ album, with many more textures and a wider sonic canvas than Transfusion. I always tend to write songs on acoustic guitar. The song comes first, and then the treatment. On Snapshot, we approached the arrangement more on the basis of what worked for each song, rather than layering vocals over a canvas of riffs. It was easier in some ways because I had taken over playing guitar on Snapshot, so I was in control of how the guitars would sound. More use of acoustic instruments, an array of amps and guitars, plus keyboards and strings. Also, Laurie Jenkins took the drum role on the album. His playing style was far more suited to the more delicate, intricate approach, with far more dynamic range in his armoury than Sam. Definitely more what Bart and myself had in our heads when we first formed the band!

Because it got virtually no promotion, we struggled to get this album out to the wider public, but, of the 30000 or so who did buy it, the general reception was better than Transfusion.

8.What happened after Snapshot? You seem to have gone from being media favourites to vanishing into thin air overnight, what went on behind the scenes?

Haha! Definitely the question I continue to be asked most often! Our problems with MFN started long before the release of Snapshot. In fact, we realised we were in trouble within days of the release of Transfusion. We had a three-album deal, and were the label’s priority act. Part of the agreement was that three singles, featuring tracks not on Transfusion, would be released to further promote the band and keep us touring and expanding our profile up to the release of our second album. Transfusion topped most rock charts across Europe and we had a hectic touring schedule for the months following its launch. The plan was to release the first single after we returned from a long European tour, and a sellout UK tour was put in place to promote the single. Without our knowledge, however, the label decided that the album was selling okay as it was, and rather than ploughing money into the promotion of a single, they decided against releasing it. This meant no radio promotion and no new people finding out about the band. Consequently, we played a sold-out UK tour of major venues and lost money because the audiences already had the albums EPs and whatever merch we had available.

The label then refused to make any further investments in the band, and decided against releasing any singles from the album. This meant we had no money. Press also costs money, and there needs to be something to promote to justify that expense. So, we were starved of funds and press, had no budget for tours and no reason to justify touring. Before the press impetus died, we desperately tried to persuade the powers that be to allow us to record our second album. There are, however, little details called ‘option periods’. In theory, these are there to ensure a band releases an album within a given time period. They can also be used by a label to prevent the release of an album until they are forced to release the funding for it. In our case, the option period was two years, which meant that the label didn’t have to release funding for our second album for two years after the release of Transfusion. And this is what they did.

I sold just about everything I owned in order to fund the recording of Snapshot so it was ready for when the okay was given. Obviously, I expected to get that money back, but, in the meantime, the label had been bought by Zomba, my then publisher. This effectively killed any negotiating power we had, and also enabled MFN to get out of properly financing the promotion of Transfusion. To all intents and purpose, it was merely a methodical case of administrative box-ticking. It was a horrible time, as we knew our album was about to be killed. I was under strict instructions at that time not to say anything critical about the label, with the threat over our heads being, ‘Say anything bad about us and we have you for another album, and we can keep you waiting for three years on that if we like.’

Interviews during that period were difficult, because just about every journalist was in a state of disbelief. ‘This album is much better than your last one. It should be huge. Your label sucks ass,’ kind of thing. I bit my lip and hoped we’d get out of our contract and remain in a position to negotiate another deal based on the strength of the two albums we’d recorded, and the third album we had in the pipeline. We were given no budget to tour Snapshot, so we threw every penny we could muster into a small, self-financed promotional tour, fully expecting a substantial payment from the publisher upon delivery of the album. However, because the publisher now owned the label, they knew exactly what was being spent on promotion, and so knew it couldn’t sell massively. However much of a conflict of interests this was, it meant the publisher backed out of paying due advances.

There then followed an unbelievable saga of crookedness and corruption, legal hell, and horrendous experiences with the taxman, chasing me for huge sums of money that someone had obviously run off with, but which I had never seen. I went bankrupt, had to sell my studio and my guitar collection and didn’t really get out of legal hell until 2003.

9.You have been quite active with your solo career these past few years, you have released two albums, play live regularly and are constantly writing songs for various different projects, how do you get time to fit it all in, do you work around the clock?

I do work virtually constantly. I’ve always been that way. People tend to think that when you disappear from the public eye, you cease to exist. Music has always been what drives me; the same was true before signing a bad record deal, and the same is true afterwards. I am an insomniac; my head is always full of ideas, and I usually work in the studio from around 8 in the morning till midnight, 7 days a week, obviously making time to eat and do gigs!

Having a studio is a huge benefit – I only wish digital technology was at this stage when the Apes started recording! I am known as a workaholic. I don’t do holidays or take breaks. I just see it as who I am. The ideas flow constantly. I do suffer from the typical artistic impatience of wanting to complete everything as quickly as ideas come to me, but, the way I look at it, I have the next three years of recording and writing mapped out, and, once that time has elapsed and those projects have been completed, I will have another bunch of projects in there.

10.You must have written thousands of songs at this point, how do you keep yourself inspired?
I have lost count of how many songs I’ve written. The ‘inspiration’ question is one I’ve been asked a lot. I tried to sum it up in a song a while ago, and wrote, ‘Inspiration cannot help itself and nobody wills their own willingness.’ The simple fact is, I love playing, am constantly writing and reading and discovering new ideas. I get the same kick out of picking up a guitar as I did when I was eleven, and somehow, when I play, something new always seems to happen. I don’t necessarily have any formula for writing. Sometimes I start with a lyric, sometimes a bunch of chords; sometimes a melody or combination of the three. Some songs I write in fifteen minutes, others, I might have music and melodic arrangements for years before I come up with the lyric that I feel suits it. It’s never a case of lack of inspiration – with me, it’s a case of having the time to finish the mass of ideas I already have forming!

11.Can you tell us about some of the recent projects you have worked on? You have done some film work recently and I see Sarah Harding’s name mentioned on your site, can you tell us something about those projects?

As you’ve pointed out, I always have a number of projects on the go. The Sarah Harding thing you mentioned was a film called Bad Day, which she starred in. It’s an independent movie – I tend to write a lot for independent film director friends. The same director used the Apes song
Great Place
in his first film, the Killing Zone, and I’ve written stuff for just about all his other releases. The latest film I wrote songs for was a horror movie called Cut, which has my song Eternal all over it. I’m currently in talks about writing songs for a teen comedy called Ten Year Itch, which looks like being shot in the US later this year. I’ve also got a co-writing credit on the script for the movie.

My most recent release is a collection of ‘library’ music, called Bunch of Punts. It’s predominantly a collection of instrumental works, many of which were written for TV/ ads/ film etc. As an independent, it’s vital to try and get your music used in any way that generates royalties. The return on such tracks is small and probably only one in ten ends up being used by clients, but it’s a handy string to have on one’s bow.

Another imminent release about which I’m pretty excited is the debut EP by The Pacmen, called Byte Me. The Pacmen is a collaboration between Antiproduct’s Alex Kane and myself. It’s been something we’ve talked about doing for some time, but has taken longer to complete than we would have liked due to our respective schedules, and the fact that Alex lives in LA and I live in the UK. Alex was over in the UK at the beginning of 2011, and we managed to get a couple of weeks in various studios tracking his guitar parts and vocals to five tracks, which I’ve now finished mixing and mastering.

Also in the pipeline (though I can’t hazard a guess on a completion date) is a new Apes album, Human Zoo. Writing has already begun, and we’ve brought in Jason Bowld (Pitchshifter) on drums.

12.You still get out and play live regularly, are these predominantly acoustic shows? Do you still enjoy performing live? Those two questions may seem to be contradictory but some acts later in their career see the live work as a necessity rather than something they enjoy.

I love playing, probably more than ever, to be honest. Yes, a lot of my shows are solo acoustic performances at present, and I’ll admit that it took me a while to embrace the format. It was a bit of a shell shock to go from playing big stages in a band to a few thousand people, to playing small venues on my own.

I started playing solo acoustic shows shortly after the release of Snapshot, basically because we couldn’t afford to keep the band on the road. And, at first, I felt a little as if I might be disappointing people who were turning up to see the band. But I quickly realised that the stripped-down, intimate representations of the songs were something audiences appreciated as much, and in some ways more, than watching the band play.

I remember a guy coming up to me at one of my early solo acoustic gigs. I was expecting comments like, ‘It’s not the same without the band; when will the band be touring again?’ Instead, he said it was one of the best gigs he’d ever been to.
  ‘Just me and an acoustic guitar?’ I said.
  ‘Who’s your favourite songwriter?’ he asked.
  ‘Tom Waits,’ I replied.
  ‘Okay. Imagine you heard Tom Waits was playing a bar in your town and you’d get the chance to hear the songs played, close up and personal, just as they were written. And, after the show, you got to talk to him and buy him a pint?’

In the time since then, I’ve grown to love solo gigs, and working on solo material. Of course, there is a degree of ‘necessity’ attached inasmuch as I have to generate income in order to live. But I consider myself fortunate to be making a living doing the thing I love most, which is playing music I’ve written. I’d love to be doing it with a band, and shall continue to work towards a point where that is once again financially possible.

13.B.O.A.T.S is very heavy lyrically, and I personally found them to be a change from what you wrote in general with APES, was this a conscious decision or were you just in need of an outlet to express your feelings as some of it is quite dark?

That’s an interesting reaction to B.O.A.T.S. I didn’t intend it to be a ‘dark’ album; just an honest one. It’s certainly the most personal collection of songs I’ve released to date – the ‘I’ in the lyrics is me, as opposed to a metaphorical character used to help tell a story, which is something I’ve used more commonly in my songs in the past. B.O.A.T.S. started out completely differently from the end result – more quirky and upbeat. Then, I contracted a mysterious illness that nearly killed me. It was a bit like an episode of House – a long stay in hospital with doctors running numerous tests and sticking things in me, prodding, probing, injecting, slicing and trying to find out what was wrong with me, while all the time I became increasingly ill. Unlike a TV show, however, they never discovered what was wrong with me. Eventually, my natural defences won out and I recovered. Definitely what is referred to as a life-changing experience.

Overall, I have become a far more optimistic person, and I no longer worry so much about things I cannot fix. The idea of B.O.A.T.S. then became a journey from dark to light, with days as marks in the sand. It start’s out with a Bad Day, goes through the Same Shit, Different Day, and moves on to My Lucky Day and into The Best Days of Our Lives. Yes, there are some dark moments along the way, but I never intended it to be something that left the listener with an overall feeling of darkness.

14. Have you any plans in the midst of all your projects to release another solo album anytime soon?
Yes, my next solo album is well under way. I’m hoping to have the recording finished by the end of this year, depending on other commitments. The working title is Esperando un Milagro (Waiting For A Miracle). So far, it’s quite a hooky, summery-sounding affair and I’m really enjoying working on it. So much so, that I’m trying to cancel some of the other stuff I have on the go in order to concentrate on it more fully for a while.

15 If were starting your career with Apes again, what would you do differently, and what advice do you have for emerging bands looking to sign with a label?

Haha! 20/20 hindsight and all that. It’s not easy to say. Obviously, if I was allowed to simply wind back the clock equipped with the knowledge I now have, then there is no way I would have signed many of the pieces of paper that got me into a world of trouble.

That said, though, we weren’t naïve or stupid, nor were we fame hungry. There is a point at which a band becomes too busy to do everything required to run a professional show and expand your sales and fan base. You have to delegate the responsibilities of management, promotion, marketing, distribution, tour management, etc. to others. However careful you think you’re being – and we were about as cautious as was possible – there is always the chance that you will discover you’ve made a bad decision further down the line. In hindsight, I would definitely not have assigned certain responsibilities to some of the individuals we chose to look after some aspects of our careers. Legally, I can’t go into any detail, but they know who they are.

One thing that we’d definitely have done differently is signing to a bigger record label. We were offered huge deals, but decided against them because we wanted to start serious touring and releasing albums as quickly as possible. Had we signed with majors, it would in all likelihood have been at least two years before we released anything, and that didn’t fit in with our plan. MFN sold a good used car to us, promising to develop us over three albums over a short period of time, with commitment to release singles from each album, and a ratcheted investment deal that would see the budget allocated for promotion increase with each successive release. It’s always a risk. But, at the time, that seemed the wisest choice to make to get our careers heading in the right direction.

I’m not saying a bigger label wouldn’t have fucked things up just as badly, but the difference would have been that we would have walked away from such an arrangement in a better position with regards to the band’s profile and bargaining power. Also, perhaps fewer crooks would have run off with our money. But that’s another story!

I tend not to dwell in the past. I got ripped off before the Apes, and have been ripped off numerous times since, and, no matter how careful I am, the nature of the business dictates that it will happen again. Those are not the moments to focus on. The odds, as they say, always favour the house, and creatives are hopeless gamblers. My mission remains to find new ways to introduce my music to a wider audience without sacrificing too much of my independence. I’m involved in some really exciting projects at present, feel really proud of everything I’m releasing and attached to. It would be great if more people got to know about what I was doing, but that’s a different game that I continue to find a way to play to my advantage, and has little to do with the music itself.

Please drop by Paul's site which is actively maintained, where you can also buy all manner of Miro/Apes Merch

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