John Tiller takes influence from Manchester’s rich and diverse musical heritage, incorporating the working-class spirit of his hometown, though not without strong influences across the pond.
About Manchester spoke to Tiller ahead of the release of his debut EP ‘Battle Ready’ on the 25/11.
Would you be able to give us a background of your musical career to date?
I’ve been in lots of different bands, worked in studios and been a gigging musician to earn my keep. Now’s the time to focus on one project for a sustained period of time. The songs on this EP are about deep, weighty issues, things that need to be said.
How would you describe the process of creating Battle Ready?
These songs started as long poems. I have a scratty old notebook that I am constantly scribbling ideas in. I think I’m probably quite unusual in terms of songwriting in that I start with the lyrics first. It’s the most important part of the song to me. Then later I’ll see how these pieces of writing fit into a musical structure. I’ll work out the melody and chord progression, usually on an acoustic guitar, sometimes piano.
A big trigger for me (when writing the title track in particular) was watching the breakdown of public discourse in the UK over the last year or so. Living in Manchester, a vibrant European city, I’ve always felt that our strength is our diversity, our differing opinions and experiences. Battle Ready is an allegory for how far the UK has fallen in terms of the way we talk to each other, and without wanting to get too specific, I think most of us feel sad about what has happened recently and Battle Ready is my comment on that.
You mentioned living in Manchester there, how important to yourself and your music is the city of Manchester?
It’s incredibly important. Everyone who lives here and makes music in the city knows how important Manchester is. When I was a kid and I first discovered Oasis and then later The Smiths, it blew my mind that such amazing stuff could come from so close!
My music tastes have shifted somewhat, but the creative ethos of the city is always with me. We’re very lucky in Manchester to have such a rich history of creative expression. John Cooper Clarke, The Fall, Joy Division, the list goes on! We also have a particular attitude, an identity. For me, London is too big, too impersonal to really have a close-knit scene Manchester’s just right!
If you had five words to describe the EP how would you do so?
Honest, rootsy, reflective, political and melancholic.
Who would you consider your biggest inspiration?
Bob Dylan. Those incredible, world-changing lyrics. The way he intellectualised rock music, his impact on the form really can’t be overstated. Some people idolise The Beatles or Bowie, but Bobby’s my guy.
Where does your passion for music come from?
It’s just the need to create, I think a lot of artists, painters and poets would say the same thing. It helps make sense of the world around me. If it wasn’t music I’d be writing a book or something. Songwriting is special though, it often captures something undefinable. Sometimes you have to work at it for months to perfectly sum up the feeling and get it on the page, or sometimes it just arrives fully formed out of the ether. Spooky eh?
What is the local country/folk music scene like?
It’s great! Manchester is obviously famous for its dance music and rock bands, but because of that, I think perhaps some rootsier stuff can get overlooked. There’s so much talent in the city, and people are starting to realise that, especially with things like Manchester folk festival getting bigger every year.
Where is your favourite venue to play in the city?
I like Night and Day, it has a really important history in the city… and it’s just around the corner from my house, which is a plus!
What advice would you give to a young person hoping to create music and get noticed in Manchester?
Get out there! There are so many opportunities for stage time and so many great musicians to collaborate within Manchester. I always say an hour on stage is worth 100 hours in the rehearsal room. When I first started, I’d play literally everywhere and anywhere that would have me. Also, (and this is crucial) write the stuff that you want to write, not what you think is popular. If it comes from the heart, from an honest place, people can recognise that and they’ll get on board.
Where can people find the EP and see you playing live in the near future?