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Oban musician Andy Bruce has just released his 15th track under his 4Below solo project.
Andy says: ‘I knew right from the start I wanted to record an album of my own songs but it was ambitious undertaking so I decided to break it up in to three parts to give me more manageable goals.’
The alt rock act from Oban uses just a bass guitar in his recordings although sometimes brings in other musicians when playing live.
‘My last band had split up just when we were getting in to our stride as songwriters and I wanted to keep that momentum going but my first few attempts at guitar-based acoustic singer/songwriter type stuff wasn’t great. I wanted to write rock songs.
‘It wasn’t until I took my son to see Royal Blood in concert for his birthday that I got to thinking maybe there was a different approach to the whole solo thing. Through a
lot of trial and error with amps and pedals I managed to get a sound I was happy with and set to work writing songs.
‘I wasn’t really sure if I was up to the task. I’d never been terribly interested in recording either so had to get a laptop and some basic equipment and set about teaching myself how to do that too,’ he added.
The first song Andy wrote was Antidote, and he submitted it to MOJO – an Argyll showcase for all genres of original music which runs an annual music festival in Ardfern – whose organisers were impressed and offered him the headline slot in October 2018 which he agreed to while ‘being painfully aware’, he says, that he ‘only had one song in the bag and would need enough original material to perform at least a half hour set’.
As that gig was only a matter of months away, what followed was a pretty intense period of writing and recording with the fifth and final track being written and completed just days before the event.
After a bit of a break, Andy started thinking about the second EP.
‘I didn’t even have a decent recording mic when we did the first EP and moved around locations where I could get a bit of privacy. So, the first thing I did was to upgrade some equipment, then I fashioned a little recording studio in my spare room, which meant I was able to record more or less when I wanted.
‘A good friend of mine takes care of all the mixing and mastering for me which is a huge part of the 4Below sound and we were gradually improving the process we used.
‘Again I was offered another slot at MOJO 2019 but had much more time to write, record and, amazingly this time, even rehearse the songs before playing them live. There’s a much more polished sound to the second EP,’ he said.
In late 2019 Andy started planning EP3.
‘I did find it increasingly difficult to come up with new ideas for a one-bass-does-all approach. None of us involved in the project are pros and we are constantly learning new ways of doing things and new production techniques.
‘It’s not perfect by any means; there are a few rough edges and things we would have done differently in hindsight but I like the almost punk approach to it.
‘There’s definitely a few quirky bits in EP3 which were a lot of fun to record and produce.
‘So what’s next for 4Below? Well, I wont be writing anything new for a while,’ he said, and added: ‘We had hoped to do a few live gigs, but 2020 had other plans it seems. There’s not a huge demand for alt rock music locally, having said that we came really close to getting a spot at Oban Live in 2019 amassing a staggering 8,383 votes in the Unsigned Local Live vote and were only beaten narrowly in the last few minutes of voting by an unbelievable landslide of votes for a more traditional act.
‘This year would have seen us perform our biggest gig to date in Glasgow at
Grungefest which has now been rescheduled to 2021, like nearly every other music event.
‘I think a lot of folk expect songwriters to have been busy during lockdown given the lack of opportunities to play live but it doesn’t really work like that.
‘The increased pressure to be productive, as well as the stresses and strains of coping with Covid-19, that we all face, doesn’t really lend itself to a creative environment.
‘I did feel like giving up on numerous occasions but at the end of the day I’m really proud of this – 15 songs written, performed and recorded by myself is a great achievement, so I’m glad I stuck it out.
‘If nothing else, the project has put me in touch with other creative songwriters who are keen to work with me on their projects, which is hugely flattering.
‘It also re-acquainted me with some old band mates and we are now looking to release some new music together for the first time in 20 years.’
All three EPs – Alpha, Beta and Gamma – are available on major streaming and download services or download from the 4below bandcamp page.