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Interview with singer-songwriter Martin Stilwell

On the release of his new EP, Music Writer, Matt Jacobson interviews singer-songwriter, Martin Stilwell.

“I really enjoy music where I don’t really know what’s going on or how it’s been made.”

Martin Stilwell’s debut Ep comes after an 8 year hiatus. After fronting Liverpool bands Alterkicks and Dead Cities he has taken a leap of faith and decided to go solo with Bathed in Light.  

With over 20 years of music experience Martin Stilwell has a career history of playing around the UK and Glastonbury and T in the Park. The EP is a wonderful addition to his career. An eclectic collection of home recordings all written by Martin – its alternative pop, electronica and melodic folk and for me – on repeat. Influences could be Neil Young, but it’s full of English filters, vibes and vision, a mixed bag of magic so  ‘make room in your collection for this EP.

I wanted to know more about the man himself, so I interviewed Martin about the early years, the decision to go solo and playing live…

Martin Stilwell – Photo courtesy of Mellowtone Records

The early years – what music first captured your imagination and why?

I used to love bands like Ride and Teenage Fanclub when I was about 12 or 13.  My older brother had a big influence – he used to push loads of indie guitar bands on me.

Did you attend gigs around Liverpool and do you recall any stand out concerts?

I always try to get down to the Smithdown Festival and Africa Oye. Brilliant days out always. Can’t beat the Caledonia pub for the variety of stuff they have on as well. In terms of gigs, I went to see Nick Cave and Warren Ellis at the Philharmonic not long ago and it was absolute perfection.

You have previously been in previous bands, fronting the Liverpool-based outfits Alterkicks and Dead Cities, on reflection, how was this experience and what were the highlights from each band?

Alterkicks was a lot of fun. Favourite gigs in that band were always house parties or festivals with our mates. I remember playing an amazing gig in the basement of the old Spekeland pub on Tunnel road. A couple of the lads lived there at the time. Chaotic but brilliant.

Dead Cities was a different thing entirely, I enjoyed the closeness of the 3 of us and making the record. It just felt right. The album cost a fraction of the Alterkicks one and we had total control. A lot of people still talk to me about that record and I’m really proud of it.

The decision to go solo, why was this and why such a long gap in-between releasing music?

After Dead Cities I was in another band for a bit then I had my son so that’s been pretty all consuming. I love being a dad so that’s OK with me. He’s just 7 now and he’s a little more self-sufficient so I’ve had more time for music over the past year or two. I’m not sure how great I am at collaborating with other people with music at the moment – in a full band sense that is. Seemed like the obvious choice to make music under my own name and just do it on my own. My mate Garvan from Docklands Speed Shop has been helping loads with mixing and advice on how to use Logic. He’s my oracle.

Bathed in Light – Martin Stilwell

The EP, Bathed in Light I feel has sounds and influences such as Neil Young, is this a true reflection and can you expand on the influences for the EP?

I’ve always loved Neil Young so I guess there may be a bit of that in there. For this EP I just wanted to do whatever I felt like and not restrict myself to one thing. I really enjoy music where I don’t really know what’s going on or how it’s been made. I’ve created quite a few of my own samples on this EP, and have nicked a few bits here and there as well. I love the album Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins and the mixture of traditional songwriting with foley type sounds and textures. That said, the EP probably sounds nothing like that to someone reading this.

Are you constantly thinking about writing or do you stop and say time to write a song?

I think about music all day pretty much. I guess I don’t really think about songs that much anymore. I’m more focused on how I might achieve a particular sound or atmosphere. Chords and melodies always seem to come to me – I just want to make sure I have something to say and potentially a new way to express it, whether that’s a 3 min pop song or something instrumental. Having said that though I do spend a lot of time messing around on my acoustic guitar.

Playing live, solo – will this bring more pressure to you?

I haven’t played live in years. I’ll be bringing a few mates with me to perform the EP that’s for sure. It’s a work in progress.

And what next for you?

More music being written and recorded. I absolutely love the process. I’m a bit of laptop geek and love listening to music production podcasts. I only wish I had loads of money to buy everything. I also need to figure out a way of performing the EP live. I may well get my acoustic and head to some of the open mics around Liverpool as well so watch this space. Need to get back on the horse.

With thanks to Martin and Mellowtone records


Matt Jacobson

Explore Liverpool

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