We are huge fans of C Duncan here at Glasgow Music City Tours. The classically trained chamber pop composer known as Chris to his chums arrived fully formed from his west end bedroom “studio” last year with his gorgeous debut album, Architect, which was recorded for a princely £50 and ended up being nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the Scottish Album of the Year Award. This week, he releases the equally rapturous (and inexpensive) follow-up The Midnight Sun so we caught up with Chris for a chat about how he got started in music, his heavy metal teens, his fear of playing live and his love of The Twilight Zone.
“As a very young kid, I started playing the piano and my parents, being musicians, encouraged it. They never pushed me and my brother to play music if we didn’t want to but because we were around it all the time we just naturally picked it up.
“My teens were taken up with heavy metal. I was really into Slayer and a lot of Scandinavian doom metal which is really slow, very heavy…bands like Opeth and Anathema. I was in a band called Gunnera which was named after the big plant that looks a lot like rhubarb. I don’t know why we called ourselves that but it’s a really cool plant. The four of us would get together and rock out after school. We took it seriously but we were rubbish.
“I grew up singing in choirs and I used to write a lot for choirs when I was at the Academy [RSAMD, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland] because I really like the sound of voices together. I’d been recording my own pop music side by side with doing the classical stuff in the Academy. I got to the end of my degree and still loved writing classical music but the pop stuff is very satisfying. I write it kind of in the same way, layer upon layer. I come up with very simple themes and then I change them as I go and that was exactly how I did a lot of my classical music.
“I didn’t do any gigs, I came into it in a different way. The reason I compose is I love writing music but I also like to be in the background so it wasn’t a very natural thing for me to say ‘okay, the music’s done, I’m going to go out and play it now’. To begin with, I hated doing gigs, just because I got so nervous but then I was joined by a friend of mine who was pretty nervous as well and we comforted each other onstage. A third person joined, they were exactly the same, so we were this trio of nervous wrecks but it was good because it meant we weren’t just there being blasé. I had a turning point about six months ago when I started enjoying it and thriving on it.
“We played the Bandstand in the summer with Idlewild and as it was a Glasgow gig I had loads of friends in the audience. I’ve worked in loads of cafes in Glasgow so every second person I remembered serving! It was very strange seeing everyone you’ve ever met in Glasgow in one place watching you onstage.
“It was even more fun writing the second album now I know how to do it, I can spend more time working out the overall sound of the album. It was either going to be an electronic album or a very acoustic one with strings which hopefully now will be the third album. I just wanted to write music that I was having fun writing so I thought I’m going to go for my gut instinct and see how it turns out.
“I get really obsessed with writing music but I can’t do it when other people are around. If my flatmate is up and walking around the flat, it totally takes me out of the zone a lot of the time. So I tend to work very late at night when people have gone to bed and the streets are quiet and there’s nothing else going on. Obviously we get a lot of light in summer and it really messes up my work schedule. People are out and about and there’s so much fun stuff going on outside that you want to take part in and you end up with three or four hours of actual darkness. I need a balance of both.
“I’ve got a slight obsession with The Twilight Zone. I think [series creator] Rod Serling is an absolute genius. They’re all so different, and done in such a stylised way but there’s one episode in particular called The Midnight Sun which the album’s named after. It’s a brilliant story about this young woman who wakes up in an apartment somewhere in New York and it’s getting hotter and hotter. The Earth has moved off axis and is rotating closer and closer to the sun and she and her neighbour are the only people left in this building, everyone else has tried to flee to get away from the sun. They decide to stay and it’s a story about these two people gradually getting more and more delirious, and there’s a twist at the end. It’s typical Twilight Zone.”
The Midnight Sun is released by FatCat Records on 7th Oct. C Duncan plays Stereo, Glasgow on 8th Oct