Interview with Phil Wilson aka The Raft

Phil Wilson, aka The Raft is one of our favourite songwriters here at colourhorizon, combining luscious pop songs with a dreampop veneer to make perfect music for summer. There’s a brand new song out called ‘Xanadu’, so to commemorate, we caught up with Phil recently to talk all thing Raft-y! 

‘Xanadu’ is available right here!

I’d describe The Raft as somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen sink, which probably puts you on the landing!! … How would you describe your music?

I think I did spend a lot of years throwing the kitchen sink at it and seeing what would stick, but over the last couple of years I seem to have settled into some kind of style.

A while back I was described  as ‘like Cocteau Twins covering The Sundays with lush, layered Beach Boys harmonies’ and I was well happy with that.

I don’t particularly like being pigeon-holed as one particular genre though and I’ve already got plans in the pipe line for something a bit different. I think it’s important to push yourself as a songwriter otherwise you run the risk of becoming boring and stale.

Your new single, ‘Xanadu’, which is excellent, is out now. Why should we get it?!

Thank you for that, I’m glad you like it. It’s a bit different for me in that it was written over loops of backwards guitar chords. In fact, it’s just the same four chords going round and round and dropping out in certain places. The inspiration behind the song was Linger by The Cranberries if you can believe that. Listen to the two back to back and I challenge you to find any similarities!

It’s turned out to be one of my favourites because I was just experimenting and having fun. Huge thanks need to go to producer, JPedro for making sense of it all and Claire O’Neill for stamping her mark on it too.

It’s actually free of charge! Pricing on bandcamp interests me, what is the thought process behind choosing a price to put on a single, album etc?
I’m on a label called Shore Dive records who decide things like pricing etc so I don’t really know to be honest. We decided to do this one for free as a taster for the new album.

On ‘free’ items do people generally download for free, or make a contribution?

It’s my experience that people usually download for free if that’s an option but the odd person will make a contribution.

‘Xanadu’ is available on bandcamp via Shoredive Records. How did this come about and what difference does a label make?

A mutual friend hooked me up with Nico from Shore Dive when I was looking for people to remix some of the Jellyfish stuff. It turned out he had his own label and liked my stuff so we teamed up together.

It’s been incredibly helpful in terms of getting my music heard and actually out there to people. And Nico is a great sounding-block when I’m faffing over some decision or other! He’s also a great guy and a real music nut which is infectious.

I hear a full length album is on the way…

Yes, we don’t have a specific date yet but it’s out in April on Shore Dive and it’s going to be called Abloom.

OK, let’s back up. Why is the band called The Raft and to what extent is it ‘your’ project

‘The Raft’ was actually the name of my mate’s band many years ago and I just really liked it. They split up before even doing a gig so I asked him if I could nick it.

It’s grown to fit over the years because the way I see it is I’m on this raft drifting downstream and certain people jump on and off as they choose. It was almost a collective at one point but now it’s just myself, JP, Claire and Jeremy.

I write the songs but I’ve never really seen myself as a solo act or anything. I’ve always needed good people around me because I’m a clumsy musician at best!

Give us a potted overview of The Raft’s history and which release are you most proud of?

Gave up trying to be a super star in about 2003 and recorded the first Raft album in my bedroom for fun. This was pre Facebook and everything so I used to make CDRs and sell them in independent record stores and via mail order.

After the debut I was hooked so I just kept on recording albums and releasing them in whatever way I could. And that’s basically what I’ve been doing ever since with varying degrees of success.

There’s two albums I’m most proud of. I did one in 2013 as Wilson&Joy called Love Is Happening and I love it. It was recorded at a defining time in my life so it’ll always be special to me. The other one is my debut which is just called The Raft. The playing is terrible, the singing is terrible and the production is terrible but the songs are great and it showed me that I could actually do it.

In the bandcamp/spotify age how hard is it to make and record music? To what extent does it make the art of making music a hobby?

It’s easier than ever to make and record music because you can get decent results from home recordings these days. I still don’t think you can beat working with an experienced producer in a studio but that’s not as essential as it used to be.

It is, however harder to make a living from selling recorded music but easier to get it heard, so it’s swings and round-a-bouts I suppose.

It’s a cliché but I make music and write songs to fulfil a creative need. My attitude has always been if anything comes of it then great, if not, that’s fine too.

The Jellyfish EPs seem to have been a really focused push by the band, tell us more!

I think the Jellyfish EPs were the first Raft release for seven or eight years so it did feel like a bit of a comeback.

I was just hungry to do it again and I started working with a new producer, JPedro so things seemed pretty fresh and exciting. I also had a better grasp of how to use social media so I was able to get it heard by more people.

It was just good to be back and great that it actually seemed to be striking a chord with people.

Available here!

I see The Raft as fitting neatly into the Liverpool music tradition, in both songwriting and attitudes. Would you agree?

I’m not actually from Liverpool but it is the nearest city to where I am from so I guess it does rub off on me. I think scouse bands have this ability to mix melancholy and optimism brilliantly. Listen to anything by Michael Head, it’ll blow you away.

As to where I fit in, I’m not sure. We’re all the sum of our influences and loads of Liverpool bands have influenced me so I guess it must be in there somewhere.

Any gigs lined up?

I’m currently rehearsing with Claire O’Neill for some acoustic gigs and I’m hoping to do some full band stuff later in the year.

Who are you listening to at the moment? Feel free to name albums you would recommend from bands that need publicity.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t bought any new music for ages. I’ve been listening to an Australian singer songwriter called Hatchie a lot recently and I really like what she’s doing. Other than that, Shore Dive are working with some really interesting bands so their Bandcamp page is worth checking out. And my friend Nax is knocking it out of the park at the moment so he’s worth a look too.

For the tech-heads, which guitars and pedals do you favour?

I’m not much of a tech head but I’ve got loads of chorus, reverb, delay and distortion pedals. I’ve never spent more than about 30 quid on any one though so they’re probably not very good. I find I can usually achieve the sound I’m looking for by blending various ones together, it usually happens by accident and I rarely remember exactly what I’ve done though.

Guitar wise I’ve got a Yamaha acoustic, a Cimar acoustic, a Crafter 12 string acoustic, a Squire Strat, a Squire Jag and an Ibanez bass. I use them all for recording apart from the Cimar because it’s in the loft.

Thanks to Phil for taking time out from crafting pop gems to talk to us, don’t forget to download ‘Xanadu’ and while we’re at it you should all spend a couple of quid on Yesterday, Today, Tonight & Tomorrow which is a tip-top album.

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