AJANTAMUSIC
The Secret Door
(Stratotester Records)

 

U.K. based drummer / keyboardist Paul Simon is making waves in the synth-rock world with The Secret Door, the latest CD released by his group AjantaMusic. The band also features Paul's brother Robin Simon (guitars) and Gina Watson (vocals). The Secret Door is an excellent spin and is filled with a very upbeat, modern pop sound in the spirit of William Orbit’s early solo works as well as Orbit’s late 1990’s work with Madonna. Both brothers are credited with co-writing the tracks here and Ms. Watson’s vocals are quite alluring to match the sound. A good example where it all comes together is on track 3, called “T.V. Sky”. Several guest artists appear on The Secret Door, including members of fabled post-punk rock bands such as Magazine, Visage and Public Image Limited. Interesting to note that the first AjantaMusic album from 2006, And Now We Dream was completely instrumental and in 2007 the brothers joined forces with Ms. Watson, who clearly brings a lot to the AjantaMusic synth-rock edge. Speaking to mwe3.com about the AjantaMusic albums released so far, Paul Simon explains, "Our three albums are, I hope, a progression. Our first is a travelogue, influenced by the chillout and alternative music scene on Ibiza and our travels round the world as musicians. The second album adds Gina's vocals and our first guest musicians. The Secret Door is more of a return to the city. I live in London although I still visit Ibiza often, where some of the tracks were begun. Jürgen Graf and Matthew Seligman are our principle guest musicians this time out. The artwork for all our albums is by John Mendelssohn from themes I often suggest to him. John lives in LA and is best known as a former writer for Rolling Stone and Creem and as the man who introduced David Bowie to Iggy Pop." Fans of U.K. rock will note that Robin Simon was also a member of both Ultravox and Magazine while Paul Simon gained famed with artists such as John Foxx. Fans of William Orbit, Mike Oldfield’s pop side as well as other cutting edge, contemporary rockers from the U.K. will enjoy the chillout synth-rock meets electro-pop sounds in play on The Secret Door. www.AjantaMusic.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Paul Simon of AJANTAMUSIC


mwe3
: “Snow On The Beach” starts off The Secret Door album. Is there a story behind that track and are there various remixes of that track?

Paul Simon: There are two versions of this track, one on our first, instrumental, album And Now We Dream, and a second with vocals on The Secret Door. Its title came from the actual occurrence of snow on a beach on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Robin and I lived on the island for a while and the lyrics relate to some of our experiences there. Ibiza is a unique, beautiful place and often evokes a feeling of timelessness.

mwe3: What instruments are you playing on The Secret Door and do you have some favorite keyboards and computer programs you use to record with?

Paul Simon: I record on Steinberg Cubase using mostly sounds from within the program. In the 1980’s I used all the original analogue synths and, great as they were, it's much easier and quicker to use soft synths. Minimonsta, RMS Stylus, Absynth and Omnisphere feature, as does my old school Roland XP 50 and my collection of loops. I often use hip-hop sound for the drums.

mwe3: Tell us about the guitars played by Robin. When did you form AjantaMusic with Robin and how do you usually collaborate on a track with him and Gina Watson?

Paul Simon: Robin used a PRS SE, customized by Martin Dixon, for most of our recording. He also used a Blackstar amp and, for effects, a Zoon G2.I NU or a Roland GT10.

AjantaMusic was formed on Ibiza in 2005. I am the band leader and principle driving force in the group. We released our first album, the instrumental And Now We Dream, in 2006. In 2007 we were joined by Gina Watson on vocals and released our second album Above The Cloudline in 2009. The Secret Door is our third album.

On our first album I am the sole composer and continue to be the principle writer and producer. Robin and I began to write together on our second album. We often write separately but then contribute and make changes to the initial ideas to reach a final result. Gina Watson is not a song writer although she does sometimes choose whichever alternate lyrics suit her to sing.

There are full writing credits on all our CDs.

mwe3: How would you compare The Secret Door with the earlier CDs released by AjantaMusic? Are all your CDs in print? Even with all the downloads I hope you’ll continue to press CD. Also can you say something about that cool artwork for The Secret Door CD?

Paul Simon: Our three albums are, I hope, a progression. Our first is a travelogue, influenced by the chillout and alternative music scene on Ibiza and our travels round the world as musicians. The second album adds Gina's vocals and our first guest musicians: Dave Formula (Magazine), Pete Jones (Public Image Ltd), Matthew Seligman (Thomas Dolby, David Bowie), Bruce Woolley (The Buggles, Grace Jones) and harpist Joy Smith (The Radio Science Orchestra). It also contains my first co-writes with Matthew Seligman and Jürgen Graf. It still has a chillout vibe but widens the mix of influences from ‘60s psychedelic rock, 80s electro, 90s hip hop, dance music and ethnic sounds.

The Secret Door is more of a return to the city. I live in London although I still visit Ibiza often, where some of the tracks were begun. Jürgen Graf and Matthew Seligman are our principle guest musicians this time out. The artwork for all our albums is by John Mendelssohn from themes I often suggest to him. John lives in LA and is best known as a former writer for Rolling Stone and Creem and as the man who introduced David Bowie to Iggy Pop.

All our CDs are available on our website www.ajantamusic.com. We are also on all the major download and streaming platforms. I act as the record company, Stratotester Records, and finance our releases via my work as a DJ in London and occasionally Ibiza. I would prefer not to go all digital for my releases, if only for reasons of sound quality. A Wav file beats an MP3 every time. For most of my AjantaMusic/Stratotester Records releases, I still use small commercial studios for final mixing and mastering. The Secret Door was mixed in Pro-Tools.

With streaming rapidly replacing sales, royalty income for independent artists is being decimated.

mwe3: Another track off The Secret Door “Her Colour Is Golden” is a kind of modern day psychedelic track. Where is this magical island that you sing about?

Paul Simon: The backing track for this song was initiated by Jürgen Graf on Ibiza. Back in London I re-recorded drums, bass and additional synth parts, Gina's vocals and Robin's guitar. For AjantaMusic, Robin usually adds guitars after the vocals and when the arrangement and melody have been largely established. He will add eight to twelve stereo tracks of already treated guitar beginning with rhythm then lead guitar, jamming along to most of the track. I then edit and arrange the parts with into the final versions. Often Robin will continue to add new ideas or improve on my edited parts right up to mix time.

I wrote the lyric to "Her Colour Is Golden" based on three merged stories, one about a Spanish girl who danced naked in the sea at sunset on Sas Salinas beach on Ibiza. A second is about a girl called Camela who left Brighton in England as a hippy in the 1970s and still lives on Ibiza. The third is about Marion, another hippy girl from Hebden Bridge, in Yorkshire, close to my home town of Halifax.

Yes, we all saw the sunshine, and Robin evokes the psychedelic state with some ripping lead guitar, playing all the finished leads in one take. I simply rearranged the hooks to best effect.

Although Jürgen Graf (Udo) is originally a heavy metal guitarist, he also plays sitar and has absorbed the ubiquitous Ibiza EDM sound over many years. We share a love of Indian music, as does Robin.

mwe3: When did you start paying music and what kind of music did you and Robin grow up listening to? What were your early music studies like?

Paul Simon: Robin and I began playing music at school. I am the elder brother. We are entirely self-taught from the school of practice, practice and practice some more. We jammed for years with a local bass player friend, Phillip McNally, in the attic of our house. Our early influences were Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc. moving on to the original psychedelic bands, particularly Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, The Doors, Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart. We also loved the Rolling Stones and The Beatles of course.

mwe3: What bands did you play in over the years and what were your early recording experiences like with those bands? When did you first record? I know Robin also has a pretty extensive track record, having been in big name bands including Ultravox and Magazine.

Paul Simon: Briefly, my former credits are Limmie Funk Ltd, Neo, Radio Stars, Cowboys International, Girls At Our Best, The Fallout Club (with Thomas Dolby), The Philistines (with Glen Matlock, Sex Pistols), John Foxx (Ultravox) and Visage (as producer/engineer). For Robin – Limmie Funk Ltd, Neo, Ultravox, Magazine, John Foxx, Visage. See www.ajantamusic.com and www.facebook/AjantaMusic.com for further information.

mwe3: “TV Sky” is a great track from The Secret Door. Is that the single track off the album? What inspired that track?

Paul Simon: "TV Sky", I agree, is the obvious single. Robin wrote most of the lyric and says it's a "surrealistic view of life".

mwe3: “Curtain Call” is interesting in that it was written by you and Matthew Seligman. Tell us about “Curtain Call” and how you collaborated with Matthew on the Ajanta Music album.

Paul Simon: This song is based on a 4-bar bass riff by Matthew that was left over from an earlier track we worked on. I added the rest of the instrumentation and chord structure, the melody and the lyric.

mwe3: What about your Ibiza experience and how it impacted your music. What’s that place like? I know Mike Oldfield lived there at one point. Ajanta Music should make an album with Mike, I’m sure he’d like The Secret Door and some of your instrumental stuff too. Do you know Mike?

Paul Simon: Ibiza is known as the party island. It is a bastion of House music. It also has another side as a former stop on the original hippy trail and was once home to a large community of Vietnam vets. We found it an inspirational place and when this coincided with the rise of the internet as an open music platform we had our outlet.

We don't know Mike Oldfield, but we have been compared to him, especially on our earlier albums.

mwe3: How did you and Robin collaborate on “Mirage”? How would compare your writing with Robin’s approach to song writing in Ajanta Music?

Paul Simon: "Mirage" is mostly a Robin song. He sent me a live guitar and vocal on cassette and I built the track from that. At the outset of The Secret Door, I suggested to Robin we feature the sound of the backwardiser. Robin is a master of the effects board, and it's used to great effect on this track. All his guitar sound comes ready treated; at most, I add delay and panning effects.

mwe3: The lead singer in Ajanta Music, Gina Watson is really great and underrated.

Paul Simon: Gina is a trained opera singer and can sing unfeasibly high parts. Her personal taste in music is for the breaks scene. That's a hip hop influenced genre of house music. She's been with us since 2007. Gina is a great singer and has a great personality and we work well together. On The Secret Door I added or doubled Gina's lower harmonies with my voice, to give a different tone.

mwe3: What are some of your favorite instrumental tracks that you’ve written? How do you compare writing instrumentals, like “Arabella” and with the vocal tracks? Seems like you guys have a lot of possibilities musically. “Arabella” sounds like a Christmas song, perhaps because it has a kind spiritual vibe.

Paul Simon: From our first album I like the original version of "Snow On The Beach", "And Now We Dream", "Heaven Sent" and "Cosmi's Cove". The last track we added to The Secret Door was “Arabella”. It brings a contrast to the vocal takes. The original version was left over from the Above The Cloudline album and had some lyrics. I re-recorded the rhythm section and Gareth Redfern added the theramin-like synth to the chorus riff.

mwe3: “And Now We Dream (Within A Dream)” has a kind of Indian feel and Robin has some great backwards guitars on that track. That “Within You Without You” feel.

Paul Simon: Thank you. Yes we have used an Indian influence on several tracks and it does link back to George Harrison. I have backpacked through India twice and on my first visit went to the then-deserted hillside camp where the Beatles stayed with the Maharishi and wrote much of the “White Album”. Robin makes superb use of his effects on this one, although the solo preceding the last half verse and chorus is a sitar sample I edited and reversed.

mwe3: Explain how you handled the drums and percussion on The Secret Door and do you feel if you had a bigger drum sound, AjantaMusic might be more stadium like?

Paul Simon: On our first two albums I used an Akai MPC 1000 for most of the drums. There are also some Proteus sounds in there and a few loops. On The Secret Door I used a mixture of Cubase drums sounds plus some Indian tabla loops. I also used some old school breaks loops as fills. Recording live drums would take more time and add to the cost of recording.

Perhaps you're right that a bigger drum sound would add to the overall effect. I'll take that suggestion on board.

mwe3: What inspired track 8 on The Secret Door “Scirocco” and how did you come up with the title? It has another great dance music groove. Is there a version of this playing in some disco in Ibiza around midnight? Is “Scirocco” another single release?

Paul Simon: I'm glad you like the groove. Robin read about the Scirocco winds in a world atlas and thought it a metaphor for movement and travel. The track is electro meets funky rock. In the clubs in Ibiza it's strictly house music only. No other genre is played, Strange but true. You might hear our music at some of the alternative places such as Sansara or Kumharas.

mwe3: Speaking of backwards guitars, “Time Is Backwards” is funny. It was another co-write between you and Matthew Seligman that sounds a little like Talking Heads, starting and ending with backwards vocals!

Paul Simon: I like the Talking Heads comparison, thank you. "Time Is Backwards", began with a keyboard sample supplied by Andrew Down of The Pirate Twins. Matthew wrote the bass line and I built up the instrumentation from there, adding Gina and Robin, in that order. I reversed a cut up of Gina singing the verse to create a dreamy intro/outro. "Time Is Backwards" is a phrase Matthew brought in. We co-wrote the lyric in a pub in Clapham, in London. "The hands of time are melting over me" I wrote with Salvador Dali's melting clocks in mind.

mwe3: The CD closing “Bathed In Light” is a collaboration between you and Jürgen Graf. Describe how that track was created and what you both contributed to the track? It has a great looping ending.

Paul Simon: Jürgen has an instrumental band on Ibiza called Sitaram. He plays sitar over prerecorded tracks.

I saw him play "Embracing", as it was then known, and asked him if I could do some more writing on it. I ended up re-recording the whole track, adding the melody, lyric and some new chord sections. Jürgen added new string parts just before mixing. The big riff at the end was added by Robin and I looped it as part of the arrangement. Jürgen and I think it's the best song we have written so far. It stirs the emotions!

mwe3: What about The Fallout Club CD EP of “Dream Soldiers” you’ve released in early 2014. Are the tracks remixes of already recorded tracks and what was it like working with Thomas Dolby and singer Trevor Herion on the track?

Paul Simon: This is a track originally released on my Happy Birthday Records imprint in 1980. I signed Thomas Dolby to my label when he was unknown. Trevor had been the vocalist with my former band The Civilians. I brought Trevor Herion in, Thomas brought Matthew Seligman in. Thomas produced the original release.

I recently re-mastered the original for release on Stratotester Records and decided to add the original demo by Trevor. I also felt I could develop the original in my AjantaMusic style, so I edited the original track and overdubbed Robin on guitar and Gina on backing vocals. I also added a new coda on the fade out. The recording of the original release was very interesting, as I watched Thomas build up the track on the fly using the only keyboard he owned at the time, a Roland Jupiter 4.

Later in the session Les, from the Lena Lovich band brought down his Sequential Prophet 5 for Thomas to finish the synth parts with. We recorded my drums one track at a time for extra separation, i.e. kick, then snare, then hi hat, then any fills/crash cymbals. I used a custom-built Ludwig drum kit with a 24" bass drum and a 6" Black Beauty snare drum.

We recorded at Marcus Music in Westbourne Grove in London. It was the same room in which The Beatles recorded “She's Leaving Home”.

mwe3: Are you planning more with The Fallout Club or concentrating mainly on Ajanta Music and what other musical plans do you, Robin and Gina have for 2014 and beyond?

Paul Simon: My next release is an album by The Civilians, the band I had with Trevor Herion prior to The Fallout Club. I have just finished mastering it and am working with John Mendelssohn on the artwork. Also slated for release is a live album by The Civilians recorded at our final gig at The Camden Palace in London in December 1979. I also have another Fallout Club track from the original sessions which I plan to rework and I am thinking of adding this to a new Fallout Club album which would also feature Robin and Gina.

I have six finished AjantaMusic tracks and another five in progress, three of which originated in Ibiza with Jürgen on keyboards. This will be the fourth AjantaMusic album.

I also have a new electronic rock project in plan with Colin Minchin (One the Juggler) and Pete Jones (Public Image Ltd).

Lots to do, folks! And thank you mwe3 for the interview.

Thanks to Paul Simon @ Ajanta Music

{photo credits: top to bottom}
1 Paul Simon in Alicante.
2 The Simon brothers. Robin [left] and Paul
3 Paul Simon with Thomas Dolby
4 Paul Simon with Midge Ure of Ultravox.
5 Facebook image
6 AjantaMusic. left to right, Robin Simon, Minnie Rusnak [dancer], Gina
Watson, Paul Simon.
7 Artwork for Above The Cloudline
8 Firedancer on Benirras beach, Ibiza.
9 Paul and Robin Simon in London.
10 Sunset 0n Benirras Beach, Ibiza.
11 Artwork by John Mendelsohn
12 Banner image

 

 
   
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