Chris Cleverley’s attraction to places is magnetic. The subtle changes in accent and language, plus venues and audiences that have their own characters, fascinate and intrigue him. It’s a sensitivity and awareness to the world around him that ripples through his music. Previous album Live From The Glass Isle pulled on the magic of midsummer and Glastonbury. His latest album, Broadcast The Secret Verse, has its creative toes curled around the South West.
“I’m interested in the geography of the UK,” says Chris, who admits without gigging he probably wouldn’t get to see some of the places he’s played. When he can, he arrives early and wanders around to get a real sense of the place. That feeds into his fascination with the regional nuances of culture and the way the characteristics of a place could shape people’s personalities.
“I love that diversity,” he says. “It’s a really cool aspect of touring and noticing those subtle changes from place to place, I try and soak up as much as possible.”
With the whole of the UK to choose from Chris’s album Broadcast The Secret Verse was recorded in Totnes. The ethos behind the recording was to move away from an expensive studio, so he gathered together a few nice bits of equipment and took his pick.
A deep connection
“We were drawn to Totnes,” says Chris. Part of the reason was that it resonated with the themes in the album – a deep connection with nature being restorative and a powerful antidote to some of the more depressing aspects of modern life.
“Totnes is one of the best places to experience that,” says Chris. “It’s got the great town, community and culture there. In five minutes you can be out in the countryside or you can walk along the River Dart and have a swim. There’s Dartmoor and there are places that have captured my imagination.”
Alongside immersing himself in a place, Chris likes recording his albums quickly. The last three have taken between two and seven days – riding the wave of creative quicksilver, or, as he calls it, the ‘golden thread’ that links all the songs. It’s a chance to live and breathe the music. It allows him to get a sense of continuity between the songs without the risk of losing a train of thought.
The new album also points to something of a new direction, with a move away from the folk acoustic fingerstyle guitar that he centred around.
“I reached a stage about the end of 2020 where I felt that I’d done all I could with that style,” he says.
He started experimenting with a few different instruments: synth keyboards, electric guitars and ambient effects, and creating soundscapes and freeform music.
“I felt invigorated and had new ideas floating around. It was a powerful sign that it was a route that I needed to explore,” he says.
John Patrick Eliott produced. “He’s so skilled and experienced in those sonic worlds and he was able to just take those ideas to a new place,” says Chris, who thinks it’s essential to keep changing things up to keep engaged in what you’re doing and “put out into the world work that you’re passionate about.”
If the change in direction of sound came as a shock through the singles, on the album those changes are subtly directed.
The singles he chose to put out were the ones that meant the most to him. And in terms of new style, “I’d like to think people are coming around to it gradually,” he says. “It’s incredible how open-minded people are, and that’s a lovely thing to experience.”
Broadcast The Secret Verse delves into themes and ideas that are close to Chris’ heart. Some of these are subjects Chris hasn’t covered before, like looking at the displacement of people from war-torn countries. Or the climate emergency.
“There’s part of it which is personal, introspective – continuing exploring my own story and the narrative of my own experience, that has been always been present in all of my music,” says Chris. “And then there’s the aspect of the new album which is looking at wider, more overarching societal themes, and that’s something I’ve always liked to do.”
It’s a balancing act, trying to talk about subjects while creating engaging music that people listen to again and again.
“What I wanted to do is try and capture people’s interest and potentially make them think about those subjects more,” he says.
It’s part of the role of an artist to reinforce what people love, and “be a part of the most important conversations and to deconstruct and explore those things and offer perspectives on them that people might find relatable.”
All that while creating uplifting enjoyable music and ‘not bumming people out’.
Chris has learned that people enjoy music in their own way. For some that it is the very real essence of a live performance. For others, it’s the creative delivery of a music video.
Chris has a fine line in videos, and for the singles from Broadcast The Secret Verse he joined with Martin Hyde.
“It’s exciting to work collaboratively with someone outside your discipline and allow them to interpret what you do in their own way and add a new slant to it,” says Chris.
Collaboration is something Chris is keen on.
“As individuals, we don’t always have the answer to everything and having someone can tease your best out of you,” he says. Finding the right people to work with is essential. The collaboration with John Patrick Elliot was ideal – they spent time together and found a lot of their favourite albums corresponded.
Winning Fatea Male Artist Of The Year 2019, gave Chris more confidence in himself as an artist, allowing him to follow his creative instincts.
“Not doing Broadcast The Secret Verse in a professional studio was a real eye-opener for me,” he says. “It was the most enjoyable album I’ve made and I was buzzing and happy the whole time. It felt like such a worthwhile process. A big learning curve for me is finding ways to be able to record in a way that allows you to get the best of yourself.”
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