Luke Slott Interview

By Martina Johnson

What is your earliest musical memory?
“My dad was a jazz trumpet player and in the summers he used to take me and my brother on an annual road trip to the Clifden Jazz Festival in the west of Ireland. Some of my earliest musical memories are listening to him play at the festival.”
How many instruments do you play and of those instruments, which did you learn to play first?
“I play piano, guitar and trumpet. I started piano when I was about 6, taking lessons with a local piano teacher and then later at the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin. When I was 12 my dad gave me a trumpet and I started doing trumpet lessons with him. I took up guitar when I was 15.”
How did you become more immersed in music?
“Different areas of music developed in parallel for me. Through my piano lessons at the Academy, I was getting acquainted with the great classical composers. Through the trumpet, my dad was teaching me about his jazz heroes like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. And through the guitar I was exploring rock and folk, listening to songwriters and bands like Neil Young and Radiohead, and starting to write songs of my own. I went through a period of listening to nothing but Laura Nyro albums. I learnt a lot about music from listening to her.”
You are now recording your own music as an independent artist; How dod you end up down that route?
“When I was in school, some friends and I had a band called Melaton. We worked really hard at it (we used to rehearse four times a week!) and when we were in our last year of school, we signed a record deal with Sony. At the time, it felt like a dream come true. We released a couple of EPs and toured around the UK and Ireland, but halfway through recording our album, the label had a change of heart and dropped us and we all went our separate ways. Since then, I’ve been making music independently. Even though being an independent artist has its own set of challenges, I’m much happier this way. “

To date you have recorded two albums, can you talk us through both  of their concepts and what inspired the albums?

“The two albums I’ve recorded so far are instrumental solo piano albums. After parting ways with my band and the record company, I wanted to take a break from songwriting and do something different. I began writing music for short films and I also started composing pieces for solo piano. The first 10 piano pieces I wrote became my first album, Don’t Go Back To Sleep. It was my first independent project so that’s when I started figuring out how to run my own business as an independent artist – learning about budgets and CD manufacturing and distribution and all that. Shortly after recording it, I moved to New York with a suitcase full of CDs. When I started selling the CDs around New York, people kept asking me for more, so I bought a second-hand piano and wrote another 10 pieces in my apartment in Harlem, which became my second album, The Home of Laughter. Later, when I came back to Dublin, I started bringing my piano to the city centre and playing on the street. It was hard work hauling the piano in and out of town, but playing my music on the streets of Dublin made me fall in love with my hometown.”
Did you have an interest in religion before being introduced to the Bahá’íFaith?
“I had a totally non-religious upbringing, which was a bit unusual in Ireland since most of my childhood friends went to church on Sundays. My parents came from a mix of Catholic and Jewish backgrounds but neither were practicing so religion just wasn’t on the family radar. My mother taught us very universal principles, to see all people as equal, regardless of race or religion, and to be always open-minded but discerning. Even though I wasn’t raised with any particular religion, I was always curious to learn about different religions and philosophies. When I came across the Bahá’í Faith, I found that the Bahá’í teachings really resonated with what my mother had taught me growing up.
Why did you decide to join the Bahá’í Faith?
“My brother became a Bahá’í first so I heard about the religion from him. I was always put off by people who tried to push religion on me, and the fact that my brother never tried to push the Bahá’í Faith on me actually attracted me to it. When I learned about the Bahá’í principle of ‘independent investigation of truth’, it really resonated with me and I began a personal study of it. The more I researched it, the more I felt drawn to it. I still consider myself very much a seeker. I’m always trying to understand new ways of looking at things, both from the Bahá’í teachings and other perspectives too.”
How has your religion effected the way you create your music, develop and perform it?
“Embracing the Bahá’í teachings brought up some philosophical challenges for me with regard to music. I began asking myself, why am I making music? What’s the purpose of this? I wrestled with these questions for a long time but slowly I began to find a clear sense of purpose for my music. The central theme of Bahá’í life is service to humanity. Whenever I write or play or record, I try to keep that as my central motive – if I can make a piece of music that is potentially helpful to someone, in some way, somewhere in the world, then it’s a worthwhile effort. The Bahá’í Writings also got me back into songwriting after all the solo piano stuff. They deal with all sorts of themes – hope, struggle, joy, change – and there’s a lot of rich poetic imagery in there, so I’ve found lots of ideas for songwriting simply by reading and thinking about the Bahá’í Writings. I also began singing texts directly from the Bahá’í Writings and started an ongoing project of setting Bahá’í texts to music. I’ve released two EPs of songs based on the Bahá’í Writings, Create In Me a Pure Heart and The Light of Unity, and I’m working on a full-length album now.”
What made you think of setting up a kickstarter fund?
“It took me a long time to find the courage to do it. The whole prospect of sitting in front of a camera asking people for money was terrifying to me! For my new album, I had initially looked into borrowing money, as I had done for past projects. I had even made a business plan and started showing it to people, but through several conversations with friends and family, I realised that crowdfunding was the most sensible path for me, for two main reasons: practicality and community. Crowdfunding meant I could avoid putting myself into thousands of pounds of debt and, at the same time, it would help me to build a community of support around the project.”
What was your reaction to how the fund evolved?
“Shock!!! The campaign reached its goal in 24 hours. I was completely blown away by the support. It was very emotional really! It took about a week for the initial adrenaline to subside. I was jittery for days. As the campaign progressed, it kept getting better. There was a tremendous sense of goodwill from supporters all over the world.  I hope my backers know how grateful I am to them.”
How do you intend on using the funding?
“The project has a historical context. Over the next few years, the Bahá’í Community will be celebrating two major anniversaries: 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith; and 2019 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of The Báb, another central figure in Bahá’í history. My original goal was to produce one album of songs based on the Bahá’í Writings, in honour of the 2017 celebration. But by the time the campaign ended, the goal had been doubled, and I now have the funds to produce two albums – one to honour each bicentennial celebration. I’m currently working on the first album, Year of the Nightingale, which will be released in the spring of 2017. The second album will be released in 2019. The funds are being used for studio time, production, musicians, mastering, artwork, CD manufacturing, and of course, shipping the album to all my Kickstarter backers!”
Who will be working with on your new albums?
“I’m working with a very innovative producer, Kelly Snook, who I met while I was living in New York. Kelly is a former NASA astrophysicist-turned-sound engineer. After leaving NASA, she spent several years working as a sound engineer with Imogen Heap, during which she co-created ‘ gloves’, an amazing electronic musical instrument which generates sounds through hand gestures. Kelly is an amazing musician in her own right and has brought so much to the production process. The album is being recorded in several locations in the UK, the US and Ireland, and features musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds – classical, jazz, folk, rock. I met several of them during my time in New York and some of them are old friends from Dublin. Most of the songs on the album are male-female duets, which feature vocals from my sister-in-law Diane Badie. Diane and my brother Mike have just launched a new band called Lesser Pieces, which I’m really excited about. Keep your ears open for them.”
How did it come about you collaborating with them and how have they added to your creativity?
“I met a lot of these musicians through the Bahá’í community. Music is held in very high regard in the Bahá’í teachings so it’s often incorporated into community gatherings as a form of devotion. A lot of the collaboration for these albums came about through meeting musicians and playing together at Bahá’í meetings. They’ve all brought a huge amount of creativity to the songs. We talk about everything together and everyone is free to put creative ideas on the table. The new album is the result of many people’s creative contributions, and it’s all the better for that.”
What obstacles have you been faced with in your career? 
“Having experienced the more traditional model of signing a record deal, I found it challenging to adapt to the new, post-digital-revolution music industry and to change my thinking about how to make and release music. Change is uncomfortable but adapting to new models of making music has been so rewarding. I’m sure those models will continue to change and evolve and I’m learning to embrace those changes! Another challenge is staying creatively focused. Nowadays everyone is bombarded with so many choices and so many ideas, it takes a lot of discipline to stay focused. Learning to focus on one project at a time (which usually means setting aside other ideas) has been an important learning process for me.”
What advice would you give a musician starting their own kickstarters campaign? 
“Preparation is crucial. If it’s your first time, give yourself 4 or 5 months to research and prepare as well as you can. Make a plan for before, during and after your campaign, and adjust as necessary. Focus on building your email list well in advance of the campaign by touring, sharing your music, finding people who respond to what you’re doing and building relationships with them. I found it very helpful to watch YouTube videos about crowdfunding, to ask for advice from experienced crowdfunders and to study projects similar to my own. Humility and gratitude to your backers are very important.”
If you could give any advice to musicians or anyone working in the music industry what would it be? 
“I think the best goal any musician (or music executive) can have is to be of service to people through music – just as much as a doctor, a therapist or a social worker. If that notion were to become gradually infused into the music industry over time, I think it would be a very noble industry, both in art and business. “
What’s next for you?
“Year of the Nightingale comes out in April 2017 and I’ll be on tour for much of the year. After that, I have to get cracking on the 2019 album!”

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