INTERVIEW: Stephen Jones talks about Black Reindeer, Babybird and the future

Stephen Jones is a prolific and gifted songwriter who since 1995 has released many albums. As a writer he's penned three published novels and an autobiography, 'Amplified Silence'. As the creative force behind Babybird, Stephen sold over two million records, and scored eight UK Top 40 hit singles. After announcing the end of Babybird in 2012, cult hero Jones became Black Reindeer. Largely instrumental, and consisting of soundtrack-like pieces, it's the sort of music that Jones has always considered to be his personal favourite. I spoke to this underrated genius about the latest Black Reindeer record, the end of Babybird and his next move...

How did these Black Reindeer albums come about? Have you been constantly working on music all year or do any of the tracks originate from old ideas?
Stephen: "They are virtually all new. I think discovering BandCamp started it. The only downside is that it's download only, but I hope to rectify that soon. I am also working on songs, but a lot of tracks suit being voiceless so that's where the split comes."

My favourite BR record is 'A Difficult Third Album'; eclectic, rather insane at times, and utterly brilliant. How would you describe that record in your own words? 
Stephen: "This was the only one to be released as a limited edition CD. It was written around the time of various scandals (Saville, politicians) and it felt like the world couldn't get any darker. Or at least that's what the media like us to believe. So that's where the insanity comes from. But it's also rather beautiful, like the World War One poem where romance is a false hope. And it has songs like 'Broke', or 'Sugarlungs' as it was once known."

Did you plan on releasing eleven albums in the space of a year? Is it something you'd like to do in 2014 as well?
Stephen: "Nope, as with everything in my life, there is no plan. It's very difficult to release things on your own. Without a record company I can just about do it, but there's no real possibility of press (apart from people like yourself) or publicising beyond Twitter. And I don't think that most people who follow me even know that I do music. Very weird. This isn't a rant, I just need to put tracks on a CD, and if what I hope for happens I may stop releasing new things through BandCamp and do it the proper way. But for now I really enjoy having the control - artwork, release dates, etc. even though 11 albums seems a lot, I don't feel like I'm flooding the market, as the albums have a very short lifespan, because the promo is so minimal. Happy days." 

Tell us more about the new 'proper' solo album you've got planned. A return to Babybird territory?l
Stephen: "Not a return, but it will be familiar. I hope to do that in America, as with the last two Babybird albums released on Unison. I've taken my time getting demos honed down to 80 or so tracks and getting the lyrics right. Often with Babybird, minutes before I went into the vocal booth I was making alterations, unsure if it was finished. Because of that, I'm too critical when hearing some of my old songs and can't bear to listen."

'Love Life Love Life' is a magnificent piece of music. Tell us more about that song and how it was created.
Stephen: "Thank you. That was made in my old house, in a basement studio full of tiny body long-legged spiders and a frog. It'll be on the (upcoming solo) album. I got obsessed listening to it over and over, and still love it! I made a good, simple video for it too. All this Black Reindeer stuff got me into making films for YouTube. A lot of YouTube videos of Babybird songs just have a picture up and the song playing, so with limited resources I thought I could make it a little more interesting."

A while ago there was also another Death Of The Neighbourhood record lined up. Is that still going to happen?
Stephen: "Andy Turner of ATIC Records (and AIM, who I did 'Good Disease' with) is a very busy boy, so I'm not sure it will happen. There are a lot of Black Reindeer songs that could have been DOTN tracks though."

After bringing Babybird to an end a few years ago, are there plans for you to play live again as a solo artist? 
Stephen: "Yes. I loved the last Babybird tour, can't believe it's been two years since the last gig. Although a month ago I did two songs at a Sheffield charity event, but that was it. It always comes down to money sadly, but with a new record, there should definitely be more gigs."

Musically what are the best albums and songs you've heard in 2013? Apart from your own.
Stephen: "Macklemore's 'The Heist' is crammed full of ideas - Track 10 about record company percentages is magnificent. Mogwai's soundtrack to 'Les Revenants'. I discovered 'A Winged Victory For The Sullen', which isn't from 2013 but it's great. I like the quiet bit in Miley Cyrus's 'Wrecking Ball', as well as Hammock, The Candlepark Stars, Olafur Arnalds, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Ludovico Einaudi. 

What are your hopes for 2014?
Stephen: "To make sure my little boy and girl get cuddled to death. Black Reindeer on CD and vinyl. New post-Babybird solo album. Finish my third novel. Of course just one of those things would be nice... I'm so fucking lazy."

Cheers Stephen. 

The new Black Reindeer album will be called 'Photo Of The Soul', and can be heard on Jones's Bandcamp page HERE. Below is the twenty track Black Reindeer sampler album, a brilliant thing that can be downloaded for free...


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