Beth Dobson interviews Angus Munro
I was thrilled to talk to Angus Munro, Edinburgh-based piano singer-songwriter originally hailing from London, before his gig at Aberdeen’s live jazz venue the Blue Lamp.
My first introduction to his music was when I heard the title track to his debut album Mirror Man last year, released May 2019, on the radio and jotted down the name as one to play on my own show. Mirror Man is the third track on the album and by the time I had reached it I was completely won over, preceded as it is by another two tracks that completely blew me away- Equaliza and Bleed It Out.
Angus Munro has an amazing voice- as it says on his Bandcamp page, ‘a multi-faceted 4 octave vocal range that can break glass’. He’s been described by Radio Scotland as being ‘the best artist we’ve ever had in session’.
Angus names some of his influences as Ben Folds, The Divine Comedy, Ron Sexsmith, Rufus Wainwright, Ed Harcourt and Scott Walker to name a few. His music has been described as Elton John meets the Darkness and he enjoys the theatre of performing, showing off his very high, seemingly effortless, vocal range. His songs are always about something, including himself.
Did you always want to be a singer?
No, I didn’t always want to be a singer. I knew I could sing, because I used to sing along to my Dad’s records, but in the beginning, I wanted to be a cartoonist, I wanted to draw and illustrate. Then I wanted to be an archaeologist, and then I wanted to be a policeman (laughs). When I was in high school, I really enjoyed drama and I got into performing that way. I had some lessons and asked if I could switch to singing lessons and had two of those, and that was that.
Have you tried to break glass with your voice?
Well, I think it’s actually almost impossible to break glass with your voice, but I’m pretty clumsy. I’ve broken many a glass while washing dishes so it’s almost true.
Do you have a song writing formula that you always follow?
I have a couple of tips and things that work for me. I am also obsessed with how other people write songs. Not just famous people or people who are relatively successful with their own name but those who write pop songs for other people. There’s a guy I love called Francis White, who goes under the name of Eg White.… he wrote Chasing Pavements for Adele and Leave Right Now for Will Young, he’s one of my absolute favourite songwriters, and he has a formula that he uses and you can tell by listening to his songs that he knows that this particular hook works really well because it’s in every tune that he uses.
With me I sort of like to come up with the melody first, and then either go to a book of ideas which I’ve written down, which I do separately, or I find an onomatopoeic or fun word and I sort of use that as an exercise.
I once had a song called ‘Mincemeat’, and I thought that was a really weird and boring idea to write a chorus around and (laughs) it’s a lot of fun actually- I’ve yet to release that one. I wrote it years and years ago. I’ve been relistening to old stuff recently so I might do that again. But yeah, there are different ways to skin a cat and I know what works for me. When I do songwriting workshops I try and figure out what works for other people and introduce my ideas to them, and other people’s ideas and that way helps build their confidence in writing.
How long would you say your album took to write?
My album took a while to write…
Some of the songs were very quick. Others took forever. One of the songs that was very quick was Mirror Man. I wrote that after my Dad died, or when I found out that he’d passed away. It was kind of a lot to take in, so I wrote a bunch of stuff down in a journal I had at the side of my bed and then left it alone. I did all the things you need to do when a parent passes away and then I came back to it later and sat down at the piano and it came out quite quickly. I have another song called Shooting First from my first EP, that was about 20 to 30 minutes it was very, very quick. There are other songs that have taken absolutely forever. Aftershave took a very long time. That is a song based around a woman who I met who had done all these unbelievably fantastic things but had done them in order to escape the death of a loved one. That whole album is about loss. It’s not really the happiest ‘foot in the door’ when you’re introducing yourself with an album, but I dealt with all that stuff. I wanted to make something which was true to me as well as true to the art form. Aftershave took a while to really get right. It can differ, it really depends on the subject matter and it depends on just how you are that day. Some days I can’t write a thing and other days I have difficultly writing down all the ideas that I have.
It’s a very personal album, what’s it like to put so much of yourself out into the public eye?
It’s something that I guess I wouldn’t recommend. I find when you’re writing it is important to put a little bit of yourself in a song’s story but not too much. That said, I did throw caution to the wind and put a lot of myself into a couple of the songs on my album, because I’d dealt with loss. Mirror Man was hard to sing but the more I played it the more comfortable in how I felt about the situation, how I was going to get through it and how it was going to be OK. I was really proud of the melody in that song and I wanted to show that to people. It was kind of a testament to my Dad and others who deal with parents who have passed away while they were quite young. Since the album came out, I still get messages from people telling me how much the record means to them, or how much a song has meant to them. It really makes the whole point of putting myself entirely into a record worthwhile
Do you have a favourite track off the album?
Off the album, I really like Bleed It Out. It’s a really fun song about going to a more hardcore heavy metal concert and just throwing your arms around, because that’s one way that I’ve known friends getting over loss.
What can we expect from your live shows?
It will be an acoustic set from me, some sing-a-longs and I’ll be playing songs off the album, some older stuff that I’ve rediscovered plus songs from the next album … and I’ll likely damage the piano and get into a lot of trouble but that’s for future Angus to worry about.
You did a video on YouTube about how to tie a bowtie. Will you be wearing a bow tie? Do you have an opinion on clip-ons?
Bowties are incredibly hard to tie. I used to use it as a way to get into the zone before a gig because I used to get quite nervous and I’d feel that if I’ve got that under control then I’d got the show under control. I’ve recently stopped wearing bowties because I’ve worn them for a very long time. I do have some I’ve not worn before so maybe I’ll wear one for the Aberdeen show. If it looks good then I’d say totally wear a clip-on but I think it’s worth your time learning how to tie a bowtie. It looks better and it’s quite impressive.
Finally, do you have plans for the future, is there any new music on its way?
Yes, I’ve written another album and it’s ready to go. I’ve got a producer lined up, my band are ready to go. So, I’ll be announcing that in the next couple of months. I’m actually very excited about the project, it’s a bunch of songs that I’ve been dying to record. I’ve been demoing the album for the best part of the year with my band and this is the one where they are 100% on board (laughs). They’ll tell me if songs suck or not and I trust them because I’ve been with them for a decade. They’re pretty much all in agreement that these ones are really good. I’m still writing pieces here and there, but it should be finished soon.
The gig at the Blue lamp was wonderful, Angus has such an incredible voice and is completely mesmerising to watch. I’d highly recommend anyone to listen to his music or catch him live. He’s a great entertainer too. Such an affable person who had us chuckling in between songs with his self-depreciating humour. I fell in love with the album all over again.
Catch him live at The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh – 19 March 2020
Photos by Edward Taylor