Sunday, August 12, 2012

Candy Strypers -- "Hymn the Girl" (2012)

In her wake I go
But I'm running slow
I won't win this race

I enjoy nothing more than discovering great new music.  By "new music," I mean music that is new to me -- whether it's an obscure single by a forgotten sixties garage band or a recent release by a young musician who is struggling to attract an audience in the increasingly crowded world of online music.

It's a lot easier to stick to the old familiar stuff than to go mining for new nuggets, and I'm a pretty lazy guy.  But occasionally an unfamiliar but talented musician makes it easy on me by knocking on my door and introducing himself.

Paul Hughes (a/k/a "The Candy Strypers")
That happened recently when Paul Hughes -- a self-described "bedroom musician" from Manchester, England -- e-mailed me recently.  He had stumbled across 2 or 3 lines, and discovered that I shared his appreciation for classic pop groups like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, and Big Star.

The difference between us is that I just write about that music, while Paul creates original songs inspired by the jangling guitars and gorgeous multi-part vocal harmonies that made the records released by those groups so wonderful.

Paul calls his one-man operation the Candy Strypers.  You can find his music on SoundCloud, which is an online music distribution platform that allows musicians to upload and distribute their music. 

Click here to go the SoundCloud page for the Candy Strypers.   As you'll see, Paul has uploaded 31 songs, which you can download to your computer or share on Facebook or Twitter.  (Note Paul's description of his music:  "Sunny power pop from a rainy city.")

The Candy Strypers logo
It's very easy to download the songs -- all of which are absolutely free.  All you have to do is click the "download" button that accompanies each song.  If you have iTunes or a similar program, it takes only a few seconds for Paul's song to show up in your music library, and then you can listen to it on your computer or transfer it to your iPod or other music player.  Easy peasy!

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk to Paul Hughes and learn a little more about him and his music:

2 or 3 lines:  Why the "Candy Strypers"?  Where did that name come from?

Paul Hughes:  I just liked the sound of the words together.  I put a "y" in "Strypers" in homage to the Byrds.  Plus if there was ever a Candy Strypers CD, it would be close to the Byrds alphabetically.

2 or 3 lines:  When I was a kid, "candy striper" was the name given to female hospitals volunteers because they wore a red-and-white striped uniform that distinguished them from the nurses and doctors.  I take it that had nothing to do with why you picked that name?

Paul:  No, not at all.  I've heard that, but only after I chose the name.  It's a funny coincidence because my career since graduating from university has been solely in the health-care industry.  Right now I work for the National Health Service.

2 or 3 lines:  So when and where were you born?

Paul:  I was born in Manchester on May 31, 1981 -- so I'm a Gemini like my heroes Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Bob Dylan.

Manchester Town Hall
(Note:  Paul and I are almost astrotwins -- I was born on May 30.  Hey, now that I think about it, we might have both been born on the same date once you take time zones into account.  If Paul was born early in the morning of the 31st, it would have still been the night of the 30th in the U.S.  And if I had been born late enough on the 30th, it would have been the 31st in the UK.)

2 or 3 lines:  You parents were probably exactly the right age to be fans of classic sixties pop music.  Is that how you were exposed to it?

Paul:  Yes, my earliest memories are car journeys with my parents blasting sixties tunes -- the Beatles, Beach Boys, Searchers, Kinks, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Byrds, the Who, the Small Faces, etc.  I think that my entire musical life has been spent trying to find artists who get anywhere near the heights of that era.  Unfortunately, the quality of pop music has dwindled exponentially since then.  

2 or 3 lines:  Your songs are obviously inspired by that music -- especially the vocals.

Paul:  Basically, I'm in love with melody and harmony, and I think my creating music has sort of been a response to that dying off of great guitar pop.  I'm just trying to create music that I myself would get a kick out of.

2 or 3 lines:  So how did you get started playing music instead of just listening to it in the car?  Did your parents sign you up for music lessons?  Or are you self-taught?

Paul:  I played drums in a band at school -- we played a few gigs around Manchester -- after having a few lessons.  I bought a guitar when I was at university and have since acquired a digital piano and more guitars -- I have six-string and 12-string electrics, an acoustic guitar, and a bass -- and I have an electronic drum kit.  I'm self-taught on everything but the drums.

An electronic drum kit
2 or 3 lines:  You call yourself as a "bedroom musician" -- do you literally record your music in your bedroom?  

Paul:  Yes -- I record my music at home, using Logic Pro software on my Mac.  Today, most anyone can record their own stuff if they want to.

2 or 3 lines:  Easy for you to say, Paul.  Maybe most anyone can afford Logic Pro -- it's only $199 at the Apple Store.  But if I want to follow in your footsteps, I'll not only have to figure out Logic Pro --  I'll have to learn to sing and play guitar and drums and keyboards.  Paul, you are the only musician on your recordings, correct?

Paul:  It's just me on my recordings.  

2 or 3 lines:  So how do you put together a finished recording?

Paul:  I usually start with a guitar track, then add drums, bass, vocals, and then end up with up with an extra guitar line or some piano.  I play pretty rudimentary guitar, and I usually have to do take after take on the guitar solos.  So it takes me a while to get a song recorded. 

2 or 3 lines:  About how long on average?

Paul:  It usually takes me two or three evenings to record a song once it's written, or one full day if I have that luxury.

2 or 3 lines:  Some of your songs have horn and string parts.  I assume those are played on a synthesizer.

Paul:  Yes -- I haven't tried to master the trumpet or violin.  But pretty much everything else is real instruments plugged into the computer via a guitar effects box. 

I'll continue my conversation with Paul Hughes in the next 2 or 3 lines.  But now it's time to take a closer look at "Hymn the Girl."

If Paul had been born 40 years earlier and had written "Hymn the Girl" in 1965, I think it could easily have been a hit for a group like the Searchers or the Left Banke or the Hollies.  It may seem quite short at only 1:53, but that length was fairly typical of singles of that era.  

While Paul's affection for sixties pop comes through loud and clear when you listen to "Hymn the Girl," it's too distinctive a song to be anything other than an original.  The classic "British Invasion" bands certainly inspired Paul, but he did far more than just imitate them in this song.

The structure of a classic sixties pop song is often expressed schematically as ABABCAB, where A = a verse, B = the chorus, and C = the bridge (which usually contrasts with the verse/chorus).  

There are a lot of variations on this basic form.  Sometimes, the bridge is instrumental.  And sometimes there's no third verse -- the chorus is repeated once more after the bridge and you're done.  On occasion (e.g., "Can't Buy Me Love") the song begins with the chorus instead of a verse.

The structure of "Hymn the Girl" is interesting because there is no chorus.  It's a slightly more elaborate variation of AABA song structure -- sometimes called "32-bar form" -- which consists of four eight-measure sections (verse, verse, bridge, verse).  

Paul begins with a four-bar guitar introduction, which is reminiscent of the open of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride."  (That's not surprising given that Paul plays that intro on a Rickenbacker 360 12-string guitar, which was made famous by George Harrison and also played by many other sixties pop guitarists.)

George Harrison with his
12-string Rickenbacker 360
Next, there's a verse -- eight bars long, with the same rhyme scheme as a limerick (AABBA) -- and then a second verse.  After that we have an eight-bar bridge, an eight-bar instrumental break, and a repeat of the bridge.

Finally, the first verse is repeated and we're finished.  In other words, instead of the basic AABA form, we have AABCBA.  

I spent some time trying to find an early Beatles song that matched this structure precisely, but finally gave up.  There are several that are quite similar.  For example, the Fab Four's "From Me to You" has an AABACBA form -- the Beatles stick in a third verse after the first bridge and before the instrumental break (which is only semi-instrumental in this song), but finish up by repeating the bridge and the first verse.  And "I Want to Hold Your Hand" comes pretty close as well.  

Here's "Hymn the Girl":

Click here to go to SoundCloud and download "Hymn the Girl."

If you prefer, you can click here to go to the EardrumsPop website, where you can not only download three Candy Strypers songs for free, but also see a virtual booklet with a photo interview of Paul Hughes.

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