No feature on a Barnsley based artist would be complete without a reference to Saxon or the Arctic Monkeys’ connection to Barnsley College, would it? Right, that’s that out of the way.
Del Scott Miller gets around a bit. Aside from paying the rent by teaching guitar and accompanying professional singers, he has, for almost a decade, been the songwriter and guitarist for Mynas, one of the aforementioned town’s (‘tarn’s’, if you’re native) biggest draws. Having recorded two albums with them (the eponymous 2010 debut and ‘The Sober Drum’, released late last year), he’s spent a good slab of 2014 writing, recording and performing solo. During the last twelve months he’s released two E.P.s (‘Lies and Failures’ and ‘The Unfilled Hours’), and is due to release a third over the coming weeks. Given Mynas are so well established, I asked why he feels the need go, albeit on an extra-curricular basis, solo.
I’d be lying to us both if I claimed it wasn’t entirely about ego. Everybody in Mynas is exceptional at what they do, and it’s a genuine pleasure to write for and play with a band like that, but, as we’ve acquired members (the band is currently a six-piece), I’ve written myself into the rhythm section. I’m not whining; Sarah [Evans, Mynas’ frontwoman] is an infinitely better singer than I, but the pull and the challenge of the one voice/one guitar venture was too tempting. Who doesn’t like attention…’
Are the two projects informed by different influences? ‘In part. Mynas takes some of it’s cue from fairly big sounding artists – Elbow, Radiohead, Pixies, there are bits of Ennio Morricone and John Barrie – acts that would sound a bit anaemic if they were stripped. The solo tunes are a lot more folky, especially the fingerstyle guitar – there are bits of Geoff Farina (Karate, Glorytellers), Nick Drake, John Martyn, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson – people who treat the instrument as a band. I listen to a lot of classical guitar, too. That very rigorous approach to that style of composition and that repertoire forces you to practise and play better, to pay attention to detail and dynamics, the sort of discipline that’s not always exercised when you’re in a big sounding band.’
How does gigging by yourself compare to playing with Mynas? ‘I think gigging with any band is a naturally… communal effort; there are a lot of different sounds to soak up any dropped bollocks. Solo, you don’t have that. It’s become a cliché, but you do feel much more exposed, like performing with the lad out. Steve [Booth, Mynas’ drummer] plays percussion for me whenever he can, but there’s still a lot more pressure to it. That said, it can’t help but make you a better player. You have to put in the practise, and that’s never a bad thing.’
After listening to the two E.P.s I’ve mentioned, there appears to be a lot happening lyrically, and there even seems to be a political leaning to some of the songs. Have I misheard? ‘No, I’m definitely an armchair leftie! For better or worse, I’m guilty of writing a song about something that grates on me long before I’ll do anything active about it. As for the lyrics in general, my Dad’s a part time poet – he’s had pieces published in various literary journals and periodicals – so that’s probably where all the syllables come from. I want to reach my last breath knowing I never shoe-horned the words ‘baby’ or ‘yeah’ into a song. That’s the unholy stamp of a lazy bastard, in my book.’
Barnsley is often given short shrift when topic turns to art, music and culture. When I’ve spoken to Barnsley bands after they’ve played here in Sheffield, they give a very lukewarm opinion of the gigging opportunities in the town. What’s your opinion of the music community over there? ‘There’s no denying that it isn’t huge; when you’ve been playing and gigging a while, chances are you’ll have crossed paths or even played with the majority of local musicians. However, there’s a lot of talent around for such a comparatively compact place. There are some hardworking and… genuinely altruistic promoters, too – the most notable being Jason White at Alternative Barnsley. Jason does pretty much everything; writing, reviews, he’s a great promoter, I’ve even known him play bass on the odd open mic night. What might hold the place back is the dearth of venues – The Polish Club [home of Barnsley Rock and Blues] and Opium No.10 [home of Burn Down the Disco] are very gung ho and never fail to make the effort for bands, but, apart from a few open mic and acoustic nights, that’s about the size of it. There are one or two new venues, recently started, but they take a while to settle, if at all. The upshot of all that is there’s a very, very healthy collective DIY mindset, and some great local festivals have been born out of that. That’s the bottom line in Barnsley – have a go yourself, or don’t fucking whinge if it doesn’t get done.’
We’ve already touched on the next E.P. What are the plans for the coming months? ‘Mixing and launching it will take me into November. After that I’ll start recording the the fourth E.P., and Mynas are releasing a mini album, either late this year or early next. And gigging. And writing. Staying off Special Brew long enough to achieve greatness. Or adequacy.’