Knightstown is the solo vocal/electronic project of composer and songwriter Michael Aston. Working closely with his cousin and producer, Thomas Aston, Knightstown honed the project over the course of a year. The end result is a 10-track album that is beautiful, dark and evocative. The self-titled record ‘Knightstown’ is inﬂuenced by left-ﬁeld downtempo and electronic contemporaries, but still inhabits the world of ‘pop’ in its broadest sense. We sat down with Michael for a chat about his music, influences and working with family.
Hey Michael we are loving your beautiful new track ‘first cry’, what were your influences behind the track?
Thank you. Musically the influences are from all over the place, quite a bit of genre-straddling going on unconsciously when I wrote the track I think. Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys’ more unusual songs like ‘Surf’s Up’ with all the crazy chords and harmonic tension. The elephant in the room is probably Bach as it always is for me, with his wonderful bass lines and holding off cadential resolution for as long as possible. Bits and pieces of jazz, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Lately’, maybe some gregorian chant in there somewhere, Arvo Pärt’s musical purity/simplicity.
Would you say your classical education has had a big impact on what you produce? Is there a composer in particular..?
Yes, it has had an enormous impact on the way I write music and approach music. As a teenager I wanted to be a concert violinist while I was doing my violin grades, and then the composing bug overtook me completely when I went to university. The Music BA degree at Oxford was so intense, there was a lot of essay writing, musical analysis and learning how to write Baroque fugues etc – that’s where my love of Bach really took off. Because we were drilled so much on deconstructing music and learning various techniques of composition, it now makes writing and arranging a much-less painstaking process than before. Obviously all the technical musical knowledge in the world counts for nothing if you don’t have an innate creative spark. But having all these ‘tools’ means the trial and error part of the composing process is now much less frustrating than it used to be.
Bach and Beethoven are my greatest musical heroes, hands down. Also a big Stravinsky fan. In the pop world at the moment one of my favourite artists is Laura Mvula, I think she’s a genius actually.
When working on your music you work closely with your cousin right!? Would you say your interest in music has been due to your family?
My cousin Tom is the producer and mixer of the Knightstown record, I am the composer of the songs. We have worked this way for years on various projects, and quite apart from the family connection we’ve become great pals and we have developed a really satisfying working relationship. I tend to send him songs by the bucketful on Logic (lyrics, melody, chords, string arrangements, bass lines, essential structures) and then he weeds out the weakest from each ‘batch’ of demos – after 5 or 6 batches I finish off the chosen tracks and then we are ready to record an album.
How would you like your music to be described?
It’s quite difficult to answer that question without sounding like a pretentious narcissist! I suppose my music is concerned with the spiritual rather than the material, and seeking after deeper meanings and truth rather than being content with creature comforts and surface-level living. I hope that people who listen pick up on these underlying themes in my work. Having said that…I do love a good tune, and melody is really important to me – so I hope that ‘melodic’ is a label used by people to describe Knightstown songs.
If you had to pick one song to listen to everyday for a year what would it be?
Tough question! If it’s a song then at the moment it would probably be ‘Bread’ by Laura Mvula, or perhaps another song of her’s ‘I don’t know what the weather will be’, or maybe ‘As Sleeping Stones’ by my good friend C Duncan. Also I got completely obsessed with an electronic instrumental track by HOME called ‘Resonance’.
From your experience in the industry so far, what is your top tip for anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Someone shared with me recently the sobering industry aphorism: ‘No one cares about your music as much as you do.’ So be prepared to work very, very hard!
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