Music interview: Simeon Walker: ‘It’s about really valuing simplicity’

Simeon Walker
Simeon Walker
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Leeds-based pianist and composer Simeon Walker launches his debut album Mono with a concert at Holy Trinity Church on Thursday November 30.

A graduate of the University of Leeds, who first began learning piano at the age of seven, Walker’s diverse musical tastes include pop, world music, jazz and classical. “I was interested in lots of styles so I’ve ended up playing in lots of bands, playing a random set of musical genres,” he says.

“I was classically trained, and that’s been very helpful technically and theoretically, but I’ve also got a big interest in jazz, I really like people like Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. I do still play quite a bit of that stuff in all sorts of contexts around the country, lots of different bands and gigs.”

He has also taught music in a number of schools. “I teach primary stuff. My mum is a music teacher, although [at] secondary [schools]. Although I’d love to be able to support myself with purely just music, the way a lot of the modern industry works almost all of the musicians that I know who are making a living from playing music also teach and pass on their skills.

“I teach in primary schools and also I have quite a lot of piano students as well in Leeds, probably about 30 or so private pupils.”

Walker’s album Mono features nine contemporary classical pieces that influenced by the work of German composer Nils Frahm. “He has this ability in his music that I find quite captivating,” says Walker. “Sometimes it’s simple, sometimes it’s complicated. It allows the listener to breathe a little and have a bit of space.”

I want to take people on a journey through their own experience, their own consciousness, their own interpretation of what I play which of course could be wildly different from one person to the next but the music allows that space.

Simeon Walker

It was written last autumn and winter and recorded at home earlier this year. “Really the idea is just having one piano, two microphones and a computer and a system to record it. It’s about really valuing simplicity. I’m interested in the concept of minimalism and creating something that’s hopefully beautiful and engaging and that draws people in but it doesn’t necessarily fill the space with notes.

“There’s the classic Mozart quote that the beauty in music is found in the space between the notes. It’s just allowing people to breathe and hear the music. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I was still writing songs that I would sing but I was never very good at writing lyrics. I’m happy with my singing voice but my lyrics were terrible. By doing this I feel like I’m able to express myself more actually through not having words.

“I want to take people on a journey, for want of a better word, through their own experience, their own consciousness, their own interpretation of what I play which of course could be wildly different from one person to the next but the music allows that space, that freedom for people to engage with it.”

The recordings include several background sounds including cars and birds and noises of the pedals and hammers on the piano itself that Walker was encouraged by the mixing engineer to leave in. “He was saying what comes across for him was almost ‘I’m sitting in your living room listening to you playing the piano and there’s all of the stuff that goes along with that’. Noise from outside and from the piano is natural and he said I shouldn’t be afraid of keeping that in just in the quest for a sanitised recording. Actually those noises added to what was being played.”

The album’s artwork was created by the American artist Gregory Euclide. “The Bon Iver album that he did the artwork for is probably in my top three favourite albums,” says Walker, proudly recalling how Euclide sent him an email “out of the blue” praising an EP he released last year. Through that they built up a rapport and once the album was completed he asked Euclide if he would design artwork for the cover. “He replied within about 20 minutes saying he’d love to do it and it would be an hour. That was a big confidence boost for me.

“He created the whole thing, the actual jacket and sleeve that the vinyl comes in, out of paper and card and made it all to the correct dimensions. All 20 of those [originals] have sold out already. He even asked me to write my name and the title of the album out, take a photograph and send it to him, he did something clever with it on Photoshop and then popped it on the image. It’s very subtle, you can’t see it really clearly, but if you have a little look it’s got my writing on the front of it. The way he goes about it is amazing, in the digital streaming world he really values that physical product. Working with him was an absolute dream.”

Walker is playing eight concerts around the time of the album’s release. In April he’s planning shows in Europe. “There are a number of similar artists who I’m trying to team up with and do some gigs mostly around Germany, maybe Poland and Scandinavia.”

Mono is out now. Simeon Walker plays at Holy Trinity Church, Leeds on Thursday November 30. www.facebook.com/simeonwalkermusic/

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