Richard P. John is a pianist and composer from South Wales, UK. A graduate of the Royal College of Music, London, his fifth album, “The Last Days of Summer” was released on 25th September (2015). His output consists of solo, ensemble, vocal, and choral music. He is currently working on the soundtrack to the movie Wolf Girl – The Princess Mononoke Fan Film, funded with a successful campaign on Kickstarter in 2013. We got the chance to ask Richard a few questions about his new music, his passions, and what he has planned music-wise for the near future!
Could you give us some insight into your musical background? Who or what led you to pursue a career in music? I was a relatively late starter. I had my first piano lesson at 11, after my paternal grandmother bought my grandfather (a keen amateur musician), an electronic keyboard for Christmas. I was glued to it, and once I started lessons I never thought that there would be anything else I’d want to do. I simply thought “this is what I do now”. I’ve never understood why this was, considering a lot of people either keep it as a hobby or just give up. I later studied piano and composition at the Royal College of Music, London from 2000-2004. Since March 2010 I have released five albums of my own solo piano music, the latest being The Last Days of Summer, released last month.
What is life like in Neath, South Wales? Neath is a town on the South coast of Wales, UK with a population of around 20,000 with a wider urban population of around 50,000. Although it’s by no means isolated, it’s far enough away from what one would call a cultural centre so that there doesn’t feel like an immediate competition by those geographically close to me.
Could you tell us about a few of the most exciting or interesting live performances you’ve been a part of? Picking one would be impossible. I’ve done so many types of performances in terms of type of music, audience, place, etc.; they all have their merits. I particularly love working in the theatre. Unlike a solo performance or a small group, I love the feel of so many people involved in making something happen, from the people at the box office, to those at the bar, to those backstage, to those in the pit, to those onstage. It feels like being part of a wonderful machine. And when the curtains open, it’s like transporting the audience to a different time and place, which is something you don’t always feel with cinema. Incidentally, the director David Lynch (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks), often features curtains in his films.
What experiences and events led to the writing and recording of your fifth album “The Last Days of Summer”? Could you tell us about the album’s recording process? How does this new work differ from or expand on your previous releases? Most of the tracks on The Last Days of Summer are rewrites or reworkings of tracks from my piano52project, in which I wrote a piano piece every week for a year. The album takes its title (almost), from The Last Day of Summer, a collection of photographs by the American photographer Jock Sturges. Most of the subjects are adolescents on the cusp of change (mainly that of childhood to adulthood), and my album was written during a time of huge change and shift in polarities in my personal life. The album is a lot more spacious and minimal than my previous music in that the main musical ideas are born out of texture and harmony, rather than melody (as my previous music had been). When it came to recording the album, the whole thing is done in one take and in the order the tracks appear on the album. It just seems to me to produce more of a “live” and honest feeling.
What inspired you to embark on and ultimately complete your “piano52project”? You’re now scoring the soundtrack to Wolf Girl, correct? What is that like? What else does the remainder of 2015 hold in store for Richard P John? I started writing piano52project for reasons of discipline. It’ll sound familiar to a lot of people, but I found myself writing a lot of music which was never completed. Committing myself to writing and posting on the Internet a new piano piece every week for a year taught me that something like writer’s block only happens when you stop writing. There were logistical problems at times (at one point I was without a piano for six weeks), so I often had to catch up. I wasn’t always pleased with the results, but it produced 2 hours of music which was then worked into The Last Days of Summer. Wolf Girl was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. It’s a live action short inspired by the iconic Japanese anime film Princess Mononoke. The trailer has had more than half a million views on You Tube alone, which is pretty good! The thrilling thing for me about film scoring is (hopefully!) underlining and deepening an experience. The music though can’t be something that attracts attention; the drama should speak for itself, although this film is a particular challenge as it is essentially a silent film. After The Last Days of Summer and Wolf Girl, I’m going to be shifting my focus to music for film and concert works.