Words

A kind of Bio

If you’ve heard a track of mine somewhere and are now looking to find out a bit more about me, then hopefully this section will satisfy your curiosity. My name is Russell and as you know, I go by the name of RJ Chevalier. I am based in Central London and music is a hobby which I fit into my spare time. I’m 36 now which is far too close to 40 for my liking, but I’ve never felt fitter and healthier. I work in quite a demanding and fast paced job and I find music a way to take a step back. I’ve always loved trip hop since I first heard the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack coming out of Bristol in the 90s (I am originally from Swindon, a town close to Bristol). I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved slow and soothing classical string arrangements but can’t place my finger on when I was first moved by such pieces. I’ve always been a massive film buff so perhaps the film scores subconsciously captured my emotion and imagination. The piano has also been something which I have found soothing to listen to but I never really thought about learning how to play one until more recently.

In 1996 I went to University and saw some guy trying to be something he wasn’t with an acoustic guitar in his front room at a party. He taught me Em and Am and I was hooked, completely and utterly hooked. Not just the way that it sounded but the way that it felt. My girlfriend was kind enough to buy me a cheap electro/acoustic guitar made by Encore which I still have to this day. I’ve had better guitars since but have got rid of them as this old cheap one still has the nicest feel and a surprisingly nice tone. One day I think I’ll actually hook up the mic and record some live guitar.

My interest in music actually started many years before when in my early teens I got my first computer, a Commodore Amiga 500. The magazine ‘Amiga Format’ had a free piece of software on a floppy disc (remember them!) called ‘Octamed’. It was a basic 8 track recorder using very simple samples. Either way, it enabled my imagination to take flight and I spent hours creating original compositions which my older sister and her friends delighted in teasing me about. They used to say that I was ‘calling the  aliens!’

After Uni I bought a 4 track recorder but never really had the patience to record live so pretty much gave up on recording but continued to strum the old guitar and write songs in my head. I continued for many years until in about 2010 I decided that enough was enough and it was time to learn the piano mainly due to my love of ‘The Heart Asks For Pleasure First’ by Michael Nyman from the film ‘The Piano’. I was convinced that it must have taken four hands to play the piece but I was determined to try as I knew that I had the patience and ear to give it a bash. YouTube was invaluable and I found people who had filmed themselves playing the piece. I started with the left hand and then the right and I clearly remember the struggle my brain had when trying to work each finger independently. However, I enjoyed the challenge and the surprisingly swift progress and after about a week I could play three quarters of the piece at full pace and knew that I had found a new passion. Satisfied that I had taught my fingers how to work, and understanding what chords were from the acoustic guitar, the creative side of me sprung to life with its new found outlet and ‘On Albany’ and ‘Forever Free’ sprang to life. At this point I was using a very old keyboard that I used to call the aliens with which I found in my parents attic but it was good enough at the time.

A few months later a friend at work called Rash (artist name ‘Mister Who’) heard that I dabbled with the guitar and piano and invited me to a studio just to see what would happen. It was quite a nerve wracking experience but I walked away confident that I could do what the engineer was doing based on my interest and previous experience of creating music on computers, albeit with ancient technology. I took the plunge and bought a Mac which came with Garageband and an M-Audio 88 key controller which to this day is still the only hardware that I have. Again, Youtube and Google assisted my education and I soon padded out ‘On Albany” and could not believe how amazing the sound quality was. Obviously listening to that first original now, the quality is awful, but at the time I was amazed when comparing the piece to the Amiga efforts and a few goes at creating music on a Playstation 2!! Another friend who produces Drum & Bass music called ‘Cordaz’, introduced me to Soundcloud.com so I soon set up an account there but had no idea what to call myself. I didn’t want to use my real name and opted instead to use RJ Chevalier which at the time I was using to play online chess with. It is simply my initials followed by my surname in French. I instantly regretted it as it sounded very cheesy, but after a while I grew to like the ring of it and if googled there is pretty much only one of me apart from someone on MySpace who claims to be a self-employed pornstar. Not a great individual to share a title with, but fortunately I think the account is inactive and he is now many pages away from the first hits that Google displays.

Exposing ‘On Albany’ into the public domain was the first time ever that anyone had ever heard a piece of my music other than my long suffering wife who has heard me hum tunes over the guitar for years. I had no idea what to expect, but I was staggered at the positive feedback. Firstly I could not believe that people were listening, but secondly that they were saying nice things. Those early days of Soundcloud were awesome for me as I found a real community of likeminded individuals and I was exposed to their new music too. The words were so encouraging that I was spurred on to create more music. It began to snowball and before long I was lucky enough to be made a Soundclouder of the Day and saw my stats rocket. It was a huge buzz and I must thank David Noel for first of all stumbling upon my solo piano version of ‘Recaptured’, and for then making me a SCOTD. David then asked me to write about my Soundcloud experience and from that I was chosen to be on their tour page which brought me an amazing amount of exposure (www.soundcloud.com/tour. Unfortunately New Soundcloud has taken over and this page is no longer frequently visited). By this point I had created my most popular song to date, that of ‘Just One Day ft Deni Hlavinka’. I don’t know how it worked, but that song just seemed to take off, and I feel mainly because of how gorgeous Deni’s voice is. It was my first real go at playing with vocals on a full length track and I am still massively indebted to Deni for agreeing to join forces. I must admit to having to badger her quite a bit but my persistence paid off and I think due to that, Expat Records came knocking. Deni is an amazing talent and I think you’ll be hearing big things from her in the future.

Slightly before Expat, I purposefully created a kind of Trance track called ‘The Unknown’ which was never really my style, but again, that one took off a little bit on SC and gave me my first taste of interest from a label. It was signed to Point 9 Audio, released and forgotten about. It felt a little contrived as I created that piece for the wrong reasons so that I could tap into the large fan base of trance/house music. It never felt natural and to be honest, the quality of the production was poor compared to real dance music which I still love to listen to from time to time. So, back to Expat. I could not believe that a label was interested so without hesitation I signed up and soon found out a bit about the business side of music. What a pain in the a** is all I can say. Either way, I compiled enough tracks to release the album and could not believe it when I saw my work on iTunes and Amazon. Not having control of the album, I do not really know how well it performs, but just to have it out there is a massive achievement, especially when the physical CD arrived.

A remix EP of Just One Day followed and some awesome remixes by very talented producers resulted. However, I have recently learnt the hard way about the pitfalls of sharing your music with unseen online artists having found that Just One Day has been stolen by another artist and given a new name and a new artist name. I have missed out on thousands of YouTube hits thanks to this thief and feel quite aggrieved, but hey, what can you do? I know who has done it, but it would not be professional of me to mention it here. If he ever reads this, I hope he feels ashamed.

I continued to create music and wandered on finding my feet in my own niche genre which I am still struggling to define. The best I can think of to scoop it up in a neat package is Cinematic Electronica but that sounds a bit convoluted, so perhaps Cinemtatic Chill Out would suit better. Here lies the problem, how do you seek to market such a product all on your own? I am quickly finding out that you don’t. I am very fortunate that I have a small but loyal bunch of very kind people who have said many nice things to me about the sounds that I create, and without their inspiring words I would simply stop making music, or at least producing multilayered pieces. I must admit that as I am still fairly new to the production of the music, I still struggle to find a good flow to my work and it becomes frustrating and tedious. I still love that initial creation, the initial unearthing of something that catches my ear or strikes a string somewhere within. The sound of the piano has the power to touch me and when the right notes are held, something feels good inside. I have been described as an emotional robot by many people in my life, which is true to a certain extent, but music and the creation of it, seems to unlock the feelings that I guess I purposefully keep in and share with only those closest to me. It feels as though I have stolen this quote but if I have it is unintentional, but when a piece of piano music comes to me it is as though it has already been written before as it seems so obvious. The way that I would visualise the feeling of discovery is like that of a sculptor, the finished sculpture is already within the rock, the artist is simply revealing it. That might sound odd, but that is the feeling I get, not always, but at times when I hear the next note before it is played. It just seems so obvious.

I would love to learn more about music and I’d love to become a much better piano player, as recently Tara Minton and I have been working together, and seeing a true professional musician ply her trade makes me instantly envious. Her skills are simply amazing and she talks to me about all of these technical phrases and rules that just sail right over my head. For me, and I think thankfully so, music is still there to be discovered and I think that if I actually set out to learn the theory behind music, it may take away the current mystique that it holds for me. I like how I go on gut instinct and feel rather than basing decisions on what should work as it follows a rule or set practice. I think it was Paul McCartney who said that the more he learnt about music, the harder it was to write a song. I know exactly what he means.

I guess I’ve been rambling on for a while now, but I have actually quite enjoyed it. Thanks if you have read this far, I appreciate your time. If you’d like to know what my future plans are, well Tara and I seem to work well together and it is amazing that someone so talented and educated has seen something in my attributes that suggest that we can create something pleasing to the ear together. We are planning on trying to produce an EP of maybe 5 tracks which will hopefully incorporate her first musical passion which is that of the harp (did I tell you she’s amazingly talented?). I’d like to keep the core sound  which I enjoy creating, but it is clear that vocal tracks tend to be more popular due to the ability to tell a story with words as well as music. I still continue to create sketches of new tracks and when the time allows I flesh them out into short phrases for possible future development, but the self release of Cinetronique has worn me out a bit and I want a bit of a break from it all.

Please do feel free to leave a comment or communicate with me in general as I really enjoy learning a bit about who it is that has found my music. The internet is an amazing place that has allowed me to reach out and find people who like the sound of what my hobby produces. I hope I can continue to create such sounds, and it would be an absolute dream if just one track made its way into a film or TV show so that I could get some assistance with exposure. Ultimately I am a realist and accept that there are hundreds of thousands of people all trying to do the same thing, and most are more hungry than me, but if wealth were measured by the joy that I feel when people tell me how my music has touched them, I’d be a rich man. Cheers.

Russell

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5 responses to “Words

  1. Fascinating stuff, RJ, and very inspiring for those who think you need to be a child prodigy to make great. I wish you all the best with the website and, more importantly, with your career.

  2. Boh Yap

    RJ,

    I’m from Malaysia, yes the other side of the world. I really love and appreciate york work, and reading your blog, am surprised that you are not ‘doing music professionally’ and largely self taught!

    Your music is very moving, emotionally – melancholic yet uplifting, it can be mysterious, flowing, powerful but always inspiring. And your collaboration with the various vocalists are wonderful, I especially like Tara’s voice, clear, expressive and vibrant without being overpowering! Your range of skills are also amazing, you play the instruments, you compose and mix and produce the entire thing (and with just a Mac)!

    And your passion and drive are inspiring.

    PS
    I’m not a musician and can’t play any instrument to save my life. Proffessionally, I’m in IT, amongst other things, I do write code. My passions is in IT, Art and traditional martial arts, and they require a great deal of focus, discipline and practice to excel in. Without passion, it would not be achievable, hence I can identify with your passion and drive.

    Do not feel too negative about your work being ‘pinched’, in the Open Source Software world which I’m involved in, where code is ‘free’, there’s nothing stopping someone from taking the software, modifying it and repacking and selling it as their own. But by putting your work out there, you get exposure and it comes back to you in the form of other work; contracts, projects, collaboration..

    Thank you for your work. Please don’t stop producing music, and may it bring you success.

    • Hey,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my bio and then to be so kind with your words. It is moments like these that makes putting the music out there worth it and it inspires me to continue. I’ve said it before, but those sort of comments are a wonderful currency of their own.

      Thank you.

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