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Neil C. Young: “The architecture behind music and expression, that’s what gets my ears going”

An eclectic virtuoso, Neil C. Young is who we’d define as an enlightened musical composer, an experienced instrumentalist able to blend genres and references into new, original material. Based in Manchester, the talented guitarist calls Jazz his home, looking at the contemporary with a flexible and improvisation-driven eye. 

‘ReWorks Vol. 1’ is exactly that, a critical look at some of the hits of the last two decades, reimagined through Young’s instrumental and evocative flair. Featuring four tracks, the record is perhaps not for everyone – due to its sometimes complex formulas – but it’s accessible enough to attract the boldest casual listeners. 

Intrigued by the project, we caught up with Neil C. Young to find out more about his artistry and future goals… interview below!

Hey Neil, how is it going? some of our readers might not be familiar with your project, how would you describe yourself, in a few words?

Hey! Not bad ta! For a bald man, I have average hair! Ha! I think I’m pretty easygoing and laid back, try to see the good side of things.

Your current work is the result of a long journey; What first drew you to making music?

My dad is a musician and he had a piano in the house so when I was little I used to clamber up and play around on the keys and I think that’s what got my ears all perked up!

If you had the opportunity to pick any artists in the world for a collaboration, who would be your first choice? (and second choice, perhaps?)

Herbie Hancock and Daniel Barenboim.

You recently released an evocative EP, ‘ReWords Vol. 1’, an eclectic and virtuoso collection of re-imagined classics. What pushed you to work with existing material, rather than composing brand new one? Overall, what was your intention?

Working and reworking existing material is something that I learnt to do while in my first steps into Jazz, picking up the Real Book and then playing through it on gigs with suggestions on the feel and structural elements being changed as we played so this release is reflective of that and built upon through more detailed arranging work, which I love doing.

The start point is a small musical feature from the original track, more often than not a riff, hook or pattern in the background that I’ve taken and then built a riff or longer line to then generate a new feel and harmony which the melody sits on.

The challenge is to remember what the original message or intention of the lyrics is so as to not treat it as a vehicle for my own musical intentions but as a different perspective on the original message.

I really, really enjoy arranging and finding and developing things that are equally important to the overall but not as obvious.

It seems to us like this is a Jazz record. Very eclectic, but nevertheless a Jazz record. Do you see yourself as a Jazz musician? and does this sonic direction represent who you are musically?

That is a question that has been going back and forth in my mind for a while. Even thinking on it now, I’m unsure! I’m not a player from the Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery line of Jazz but, I am inspired and influenced by them, as I now think more, I think the short answer is yes but there are nerdy details that I get imposter syndrome with!

My musical representation is of many musical influences, particularly composers, writers and arrangers across as much music as possible rather than players, the musical architecture that enables expression, that’s what gets me and my ears going.

Do you feel more confident writing music alone, or within a team?

I enjoy both, sometimes the moment grabs you and you get something cohesive and complete by yourself but, having another ear, voice and brain to take you somewhere else is incredibly satisfying and motivating.

Artistically speaking, what challenges have the last two years presented you with?

Fortunately, there hasn’t been anything too challenging other than the odd blip in motivation and ‘woe is me’ artistic crisis moments which luckily I’ve been through a few times to now recognise as being something that comes with the territory and not dwell on them too long. They’re too distracting, I like playing and creating music way too much to let those thoughts take over!

What are the next steps for your project? Anything exciting on the horizon?

Yep! This is Volume 1. Volume 2 is set for release next February and then Volume 5 is pencilled in for summer. Volume 4 is already out and Volume 3 was a Covid lockdown YouTube solo project.

The reason why the numbers are wonky is that numbers 1 and 2 were originally a commission from 2018 that didn’t really do anything or work under a given pseudonym by the company who commissioned so I couldn’t do anything to get them going but, I have them back and I can now share them as properly mine and the trio’s work.

The numbers may not initially make sense but they do when placed in the order that they were created. (I hope that makes sense?!).


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