Interview: Uncle John – On new single ‘Ground Zero’ and recording with his niece Jessica Winter

Any self respecting pop aficionado has heard the bitter sweet pop music of cult sensation Jessica Winter … and now it’s time to discover yet another talented musician in the family. Uncle John discusses his production work with his niece, his approach to songwriting and the soon to be released single, ‘Ground Zero’.  

Jess is definitely on some backing vocals but equally I’m doing some high parts that people think are her.’ – Uncle John 

Tell us of a breakthrough moment in your working relationship with producer Jessica Winter.

Uncle John: It’s blood-line synergy. We get each other. If you use a vocoder on our voices, mine sounds like Jessica’s and hers like mine. Weird! She understands totally what I want to achieve with a song. It’s like little lights going off as we work together.

Can you relate a specific moment where this chemistry was at work during the recording of ‘Ground Zero?

Uncle John: With ‘Ground Zero’ I wanted the chorus to be big and anthemic so it matches the lyrics of saying ‘I’ve gotten through this and it’s all ok’. Jess came up with this crazy phased synth bass which just got madder as the song grew in intensity. Once we locked that sound down it was such a moment. I just welled up as the song found its place. It still gives me that feeling when I sing it live.

That bass part is such a signature part of the song. It’s always amazing to hear about sounds long after the initial conception of the song. Am I right in remembering that her voice is used for some of the backing vocals?

Uncle John: Jess is definitely on some backing vocals but equally I’m doing some high parts that people think are her.

Amazing. How does the finished version of the track compare to the demo? Was it an easy process or were some backward steps required to reach a satisfying conclusion?

Uncle John: The demo was just me on the piano. Some of that is on the finished track but way deep. The structure of the song is exactly as I wrote it on piano. Then we took our recorded demo to Octagon studios in Brixton to polish it. I recorded some newer vocals for some parts but reverted back to my original takes as it captured that initial feeling for what I was singing about.

Do you ever consider how the ex-partner which this song considers might feel about your account of events? Has that consideration ever been an issue in other material?

Uncle John: Absolutely, I wonder if they will hear it and identify with it or how it makes them feel. When I write the words they just come but there’s still some editing to protect people along the way.

Some artists who I’ve interviewed have suggested that it’s their song, their podium and their story… that there is no need to edit said story so to speak. Is there a balancing act to be maintained, or does that compromise the artist’s point of view?

Uncle John: It’s my story I guess. I don’t feel I compromise the process by editing where I feel appropriate. I can use less literal language to convey my feelings and also you don’t always want to be so obvious. It’s good to make people think about what you could be saying and they will ultimately have their own understanding of the song. They may like the song but have a different turn of events in their heads.

Well said, one of the tools lyricists gain from are lines which encourage varying interpretations. Do you ever think about furthering your piano prowess or is that not necessary considering the power of inquiry of your records thus far?

Uncle John: My piano playing isn’t the best. It’s pretty rudimental. But it does turn up in a few of the songs. I’m chancing my arm by doing a couple in live sets and would like to commit one as a ballad on record at some point.

Considering the high bar of quality you and Jessica share, it’s not surprising that your playing features in your tracks. Keen to know if there are any boundaries as to what you write about in terms of your life experiences?

Uncle John: It’s odd I’ve never gone to the piano and said I’m going to write a song about X, Y or Z. it doesn’t work like that for me. I’ll start with some chords or rhythm then words literally start to form. Then the seed is there and I run with it and I won’t censor the process. I’ve touched on many topics I’ve experienced. It may not always be obvious but I know it’s there and what it means to me.

And are there any boundaries? Have you written up an idea and either shelved it or decided to obscure the core meaning?

Uncle John: I don’t think I have any boundaries. The cathartic nature of writing tends to do away with this. Of course there’s stuff I wouldn’t readily share but it’s in the songs in some way. And also writing has opened doorways that you think you’ve shut firmly or even aware of as many years have rolled by. I’m not young so there’s a lot of stuff for me to consider.

I’m sure many of your fans appreciate your approach to songwriting as well as the vulnerability you display in your live performance. May the trailer for the ‘Ground Zero’ video out this Friday go well!

Uncle John: Thank you.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ground Zero’ below

The ‘Ground Zero’ music video will be out Friday 3rd June (purchase the single via Bandcamp and other sharing platforms).

Watch John Clay’s video interview with Uncle John on Joyzine’s Facebook page

Follow Uncle John On: Instagram / YouTube

Interview by John Clay:

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