Daniel, Amateur Ornithologist: “I don’t play by the rules”

Daniel Clifford is the man and the brains behind Amateur Ornithologist, who are releasing their second album ‘Building the Bird’ on the 21st of October. Theirs is an eclectic sound that doesn’t go by any rules, reason enough for me to sit down with Daniel and talk through his musical journey and what’s next for the band!

Hi! Could you introduce yourself and your music?

I’m Daniel, until fairly recently I was the only person in Amateur Ornithologist, but we have now become a seven-piece band based around Tyneside and we make odd pop music.

How did you find the people in your band and how did you decide that they were fit?

Pretty much everyone I have found on Join My Band which is odd because I was in a band years ago and used the website and it’s funny that the website is still around. I put adverts on there and almost everyone that auditioned ended up in the band! I can be fairly hard for everybody to like, some of that is because until the last year I didn’t realise I had autism, but that also means it doesn’t take long for me to know if I feel comfortable around someone. Besides that, I put in the advert that people had to be open to working with all genders and disabled artists which was a sort of self-selection process.

It’s helpful being in a neurodivergent band as we understand each other a little better. There seems to be less tension than I have experienced in other bands, because everybody takes a bit longer to understand what someone else might mean instead of jumping to conclusions. One of the things with the music that I write is that there’s lots of melodies going on, which I think is because of ADHD. I think that makes the music appeal to others with ADHD too so hopefully we appeal to an audience that might not always feel heard. I feel this is an important topic to talk about, because when others did, it helped me.

Who wrote the album, was it just you or the band?

I’ve written the 11 track album, every part on all of the songs, which is maybe a bit odd, because I don’t play any instruments. I’ve done all of it through GarageBand with a midi controller, and I’ve worked with different session musicians to record the album. Each of the session musicians has adapted the things I’ve wrote to their own. Harbourmaster who produced the album recorded all the bass and guitar parts. In the end it was very fun to be around different people.

How are you able to write music without being able to play an instrument?

I get obsessed with certain albums and artists and listen to their music over and over again and pick out what the instruments and the vocals are doing, and because I have done that forever, I got a very intuitive understanding of what a bass might do without having that theory background. I have worked with lots of musicians over the years and would ask them many questions and would watch many YouTube videos. Plus, writing and arranging the first album has taught me lots as well. It’s made this album more satisfying as a listen because the instruments are more in concert with each other.

On the first album Lee Morris wrote the horns and I didn’t tell him what to play but this time around I sat down and I thought of what I wanted the saxophone and the strings to do. It was a learning curve because I haven’t been around many people who played those instruments. Some of the parts I had to run by the musicians playing them and ask if it was actually possible for them to play those parts. I’d arranged parts for the cello and the violin and Maddie ended up playing them on viola, so it sounds different but it’s got a nice sadness to it. Martin / Harbourmaster said that I don’t play by the rules because I don’t have that musical background and I come up with things instruments aren’t ‘meant to do’ but they are able to do, and that’s how I create something different.

What do you prefer, to write on your own or with other people?

I really like writing songs by myself, but I’m quite excited about the prospect of collaborating with the people who are in the band now. The next step is for me to write songs and arranging them as a band and the next step is to co-write with different people in the group. If you write something by yourself you decide everything yourself but when writing with others you get to also utilise their skills. It can be a bit of a compromise but it can lead to interesting things.

Could you tell us a bit more about the zine that will be released with the album?

It’s a 16-page black and white zine with lyrics for the eleven songs plus collage artwork and hand drawn artwork to go with each of the songs and there is also some behind the scenes essays about the process of making the album. Along with the lyrics there’s also the chords of the songs in there. I used to make comic books and I used to run workshops for kids where I made comics and we would run them in schools and libraries and we would make our own comics and print them, so that’s kind of where the idea came from.

Have you played live with your band already?

This is our first line-up with the full band, we have had some line-up changes already, but our first gig is on the 21st of October at the Central Bar in Gateshead and that is the album launch!

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