Andy talks to Miel de Botton about her latest single 'Is It Enough?'
Following the release of the new Miel song, ‘Is it Enough?’ Andy and Miel talk about their body of work together, their process and how it all got started…
What first brought you together?
Miel: You had a great word for it Andy; ‘synchro-destiny.’
Andy: I firmly believe that! I’ve seen it happen too many times to doubt it – sometimes in the most bizarre ways that have come together to influence the next chapter of life.
Miel: I like the way you defined it – ‘we were meant to make music for the world to hear’. Looking at what we’ve created together, that’s definitely been integral to my purpose – I have a lot of songs about the environment, about healing – so much of what we’ve done is intended to go out with a healing message. Interestingly enough, it was my healer that first got me together with you. I’d wanted to make an album of French songs originally – but struggled to find the right person. She told me to come to this particular event – as she knew you, and knew you’d be there – so we’d be able to meet – and the first thing you said to me was, ‘are you ambitious?’
Andy: I remember that very clearly. And I think a thing that marks out your recording career from many people’s is that you see it as an important line of communication to the world – and you’ve stayed close to your vision. I always try to encourage an artist to step outside of their personal world in the smaller sense – to embrace bigger themes, but you’ve done that naturally from the start.
Miel: It’s also a mix, because a song like ‘Yes!’ is more about listening to internal messages – because it’s from my own inner experience – it’s about reaching fulfilment, and something that I want to share because to me it seems important.
What do you think makes the chemistry work between you?
Andy: It’s worked from the beginning, I think, because we were meant to get together to do this, and we both have the right frame of mind to allow it to happen. Had we met fifteen years earlier I might not have been in the right space for it to work.
Miel: There’s a lot of mutual respect, there are many values we share, and the process is enhanced by a strong sense of support.
Andy: When we first worked together, Miel was coming at it as a first experience as a recording artist – so everything was new to her at that point. And I love the nurturing aspect of what I do. I know that people can achieve a lot when they really feel supported and allowed to grow. It’s something that I learned from my own experience – I was a session player for ten years working for other producers before I got into production. And when I worked with producers who made me feel I could really do it, I was always good. The worst position for any artist to be in is where they’re feeling the opposite of that. You have to make people feel like they can do it – sometimes they’ll exceed what they would ever have thought possible.
What would a typical writing session be like?
Miel: I tend to bring a lot of lyrics to a writing session, and Andy sits at the keyboard and plays, and we’ll work up ideas until it feels like we’ve taken it as far as we can at that point – and then we’ll often break and let things really simmer until the next session.
Andy: Songwriting is always different with different people, but Miel will usually come with a lot of words – sometimes that can even be a stream of ideas, sometimes it may not be clear what we’re working with – so we’ll feel our way through and look to identify things for a given section within the lyric.
Miel: Andy is the king of positivity, so he’ll often be looking for that within the words, and conversely, taking out some of the negative phrases – unless that’s what the song needs.
Andy: Miel works collaboratively with a lot of writers and with a process that has created some amazing results, for example the new song ‘Is it Enough?’ co-written with Sam Swallow.
Do you like to road test songs before you record them?
Andy: Generally, we’ll record songs before they go out live, but a unique thing about my working relationship with Miel is that I’ve been at pretty much every rehearsal and every gig that’s been staged so far. It’s very unusual for me to do that, but it works really well – and we’ve created a fantastic team of musicians for the project – so I can see songs develop and grow in that context, and often I’ll contribute during the process. It’s exciting to see ideas that start out as a germ begin to grow and take form.
Miel: Also, as this was all new to me, I would play new songs to family or people close to me and didn’t always get a positive reaction – and then would run back to Andy wondering why that was. Andy would say, ‘I told you not to do that’ – so I definitely learnt to only play things at a certain stage where I’m generally happy with them – and then I can handle the feedback!
The recording studio can be a very exciting place to be – but can also be a very pressured environment. How do you handle studio sessions?
Andy: The new song ‘Is it Enough?’ was originally written and produced by Sam Swallow and it was excellent – but during rehearsals Miel wanted to develop it in some way and we got Mark Jaimes to play some heavy guitar and develop a big solo. So we booked a session at British Grove. In a day we recorded the band and then the string players in the afternoon – and vocals with Miel as well – plus we also filmed it all. I think it was slightly unnerving for Miel.
Miel: Right. I remember feeling really nervous that day!
Andy: Six years ago you might have struggled to do it, but not now – and it’s a mark of development – I really believed I could put you in that spot. It was definitely an exciting day!
Miel: Also, remembering our time in Battersea Studios it was a real hub, with so much going on – just how you imagine a studio environment should be, and that kind of energy can be really stimulating.
What would be a favourite thing in the studio?
Miel: jamming with the musicians, hearing things come to life.
Have you been able to keep your momentum going through lockdown?
Miel: We’ve done two songs, ‘The Immunity Song’ and this one, ‘Is it Enough?’ – and we’re in discussions to put on a gala, hopefully for the NHS at the Palladium. Also, I’ve been thinking about the idea of doing some ‘songs with loved ones’, given how lockdown has brought us all closer together. Also songs to do with transformation. The idea of working with family or friends is that most people only dream of doing this kind of thing, so it would be so good to actually share that. When I speak to people about this world, their faces light up – and it’s obvious how much they’d like to be a part of it.
Just for fun, who would be your perfect musical dinner guests?
Andy: Leonard Cohen, who I went to see on his last tour, along with Miel. I’ve been a fan for a long time – I feel a real resonance and understanding with him.
Miel: Can we share one? We’d both want John Lennon!
Andy: It’s funny, he had a reputation for being a bit unpleasant at times – but anyone who could write like him and had that beautiful depth about them, you’d want to get to know. The same applies to someone like Freddie Mercury – so much depth in his work.
Miel: We’ll need some women, too, no? I really liked Dido’s energy when I saw her, she had a really beautiful, soulful aura.
Andy: I gave her some studio time a long while back before her first success – she was working with Rick Knowles a songwriting friend of mine – she was lovely.
Miel: I’m also a big Barbara Streisand fan.
Andy: I saw her, again with Miel, and she was amazing. She was doing two or three nights at the O2 – and she was well known for actually not performing. The show we saw was only her eighty-third ever show! But her voice was incredible.
Miel: She said she did one show and made a mistake – and didn’t like it – and decided to stay off the stage as much as possible after that – which I think is not a good lesson for other musicians!
Andy: I’d also pick Bob Dylan – I suppose I’m really attracted to words.
Miel: We both also love Van Morrison, but I’m not sure we’d want him coming to dinner! But how about Barry Gibb?
Andy: The world’s most successful songwriter – I definitely think we should invite him along…