Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Dan from the band Here’s The Steeple about his music and what inspires him.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Dan. I’m a singer-songwriter originally from Teesside, but now based in Huddersfield. I perform under the name Here’s The Steeple, both with a band and solo.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
I don’t know if there was ever a specific want to do it. I’ve always been surrounded by music, listening to it at home, playing instruments and singing in choirs, so writing songs didn’t feel like a separate part of that, it just felt like an extension of what I was listening to.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
The first songs I wrote were in primary school. I wrote probably a handful or so through secondary, but I started taking it more seriously when I was around halfway through uni. I was a regular at a local open mic that attracted a lot of very talented musicians, most of whom wrote original songs. Writing my own songs helped me feel more a part of that scene.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
My first release was an EP with a handful of original songs. The one I feel most strongly about now is called ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’. It’s about the narratives that are spun by certain people in positions of power and privilege about people without either of those. How they’re often made out to be a threat when, in reality, all they really threaten is the way that we view the powerful.
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
Most recently, we released a song called ‘High Hopes’, which was a delayed single from our album of the same name. It’s essentially about going through a really hard time, and the people who are there to try and help you get out of it.
Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with High Hopes?
I listen to a lot of music that uses orchestral instruments like brass, woodwind and strings to create songs that feel much bigger than a lot of standard pop and rock songs. I really wanted to use these kinds of instruments in my own music. I used all real instruments in the track, rather than MIDI sounds, so the biggest challenge was preparing the parts and sorting out the logistics of who was playing what and when and where we could record them. A lot of the recording was done in spare rooms in friends’ houses, so we spent a lot of time preparing the rooms by hanging up duvets and creating pillow forts for the players to record in.
How many songs are you working on right now?
We’re going to be releasing a 6 track EP soon, but we’re trying to look beyond that as well. We’ve already got plans for a double A-side single followed by a couple of EPs. The band are actively working on about 5 or 6 new songs, while I try to work on a few more before I bring them to rehearsal.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
I go through phases. Our debut album High Hopes, and the upcoming EP So High feature a lot of songs related to some of the issues I and my friends have faced being in our mid-twenties and seeing the differences between the world we were told we’d be living in and the one that we’re actually in. There are songs about moving back home after university; songs about relationships; songs reminiscing about teenage years; songs about managing mental health. I tend to write quite introspectively.
More recently, I’ve carried on with ideas like relationships, mental health, and I’ve gotten on my soapbox a bit more.
What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
I really love the song ‘Spoons’ from the album. It’s a really short song, inspired by a conversation with a friend who I’ve known for a long time about how you use your energy and mental space, and when you know that you’ve used it up and need to rest and gain it back. I love vocal harmony, and this song is chock full of it. I also had some really talented friends to play the wind and brass parts I’d written for the song, so I think it feels really rich texturally, while still managing to be quite chill and relaxing.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
Absolutely! I listen to music all the time. I listen to a lot of quite folky artists, particularly ones who make use of vocal harmonies and orchestral instruments to build rich textures. I listen to a lot of artists like Mountain Man, Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird, Laura Marling, This Is The Kit, Rozi Plain, Rachael Dadd, and Iron and Wine. I could happily talk your ear off about the bands I love.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
For the album, I wrote pretty much everything, including the orchestral parts and vocal harmonies. After the album was launched I was able to get some very talented friends together to form a band. I usually come in with the backbone of a song – the chords and lyrics. I’ll often have ideas of how I would like their parts to go, or how and when to change the textures of our songs, but all of the band provide input and bring ideas to the table that enhance the music.
Do you play any instruments?
In the band, I mainly play guitar, but I also play piano, and I dabble with a couple of other instruments including ukulele and banjo.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
I love performing, particularly with the band. I’ve been performing in choirs since I was around 10 years old, so I feel very comfortable in front of an audience. We don’t have any dates in the diary at the moment, but we have some big plans for next year that will hopefully include more gigs outside of our native Huddersfield.
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Our music is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music and all other streaming platforms.
Are you able to make music full time, or do you have a day job?
I work four days a week as a music teacher, teaching whole classes and individuals in lots of local primary schools.
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
My friends and family are very supportive. They’ve seen and heard what the band can do and they know that the music can take us as far as we want to go.
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
I don’t think I ever expected to hear people singing along to my songs and having the emotional reactions that some audiences have had. I always knew that music could connect people, but sometimes it surprised me just how much.
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?
I wrote a song called ‘Father’s Son’ in honour of my first friend from secondary school to become a dad. We had what we called a ‘dad shower’ for him. I played the song there and it led to a roomful of lads in their mid twenties all bawling their eyes out. I’ve had a few other friends tell me that that one makes them a bit teary.
A few years ago the band supported an artist called Rozi Plain, who’s one of my all time favourites. While we were on stage I looked at the crowd and, with a mix of relief and sadness, couldn’t see her. I then realised that she’s been right at the front for the whole set. I almost passed out when she said how much she’d enjoyed it.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
We’re releasing an EP soon. We don’t have a firm date for it, but if you follow us on the socials, you’ll be able to keep up to date.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
I think the two best pieces of advice I’ve been given are: ‘just do it’ and ‘you have to write a lot of bad songs before you can write good songs’. You don’t have to play every song in public. Songwriting is a skill that takes practice like everything else. Write songs that will never see the light of day. You can try out new things and develop your skills without the added pressure of thinking that people are going to judge your abilities. Aim for discipline rather than inspiration – make the time to write regularly, rather than waiting for something to come to you.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved so far with our music. It’s been a great ride performing music that I’ve written with some of my closest friends, and I hope it continues for a long time. It’s definitely been worth the effort.
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