Scottish Composer Tim McGowan
Programmer of George's Jungle Radio Station
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Composer, Tim McGowan has received rave reviews for his artistically beautiful New Age keyboard compositions from many independent authorities. Although he has been involved with numerous melodic rock groups over the years, it is Tim's stirring, non-lyrical soundscapes that have continued to define him in the eyes of people everywhere. Drawn from the glacial winters and hyperborean climes of his native Scotland by love, Tim now makes his home in the sunny American state of Florida, where he continues to create his evocative instrumental arrangements. His latest solo effort, "KINGDOM" is receiving air- and stream-play on selected terrestrial and Internet radio stations around the world, winning the composer glowing reviews and numerous fans. Tim's most recent collaboration is a return to his roots, and comes in the form of a melodic rock project called
with noted rock guitarist Kevin Schertell. "GSP" recently spoke with Tim about his musical endeavours.
Tim, thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Thank you for taking the time to conduct the interview George, I have been looking forward to chatting with you.
Let's begin by having you tell the "GSP" audience a little about yourself.
I come from a long line of musicians. Music has always been a part of all areas of my life. My grandmother was a concert pianist, my father a professional jazz musician. My three older brothers are musicians. My parents had a piano in the family home and I wrote my firs song at the age of 6 or 7. I remember when I was a kid that every New Years Eve or any family get together there was always the "It's your turn for a party piece" where each family member was pushed into singing and playing a song individually and with each other singing in harmony. I have to say I have seen some great family parties in my time where the music has flowed way into the wee small hours.
At fifteen years of age I discovered synthesizers and I worked several jobs to not only buy myself my first motorcycle but to also buy my first synthesizer. In fact, I rode to the music store on the motorcycle, bought the synth and rode back home with it strapped to my back using my belt. At around 16 or 17 I went to college and studied the rudiments and theory of music because at that point I wanted to understand what it was I was playing and why certain notes and chords went together. I remember joking at the time that all the notes that didn't really sound as if they fit must be jazz. Through the years I have been musical director for theater productions, session musician, and a full fledged band member of several bands.
What made you decide to move to the United States, and why Florida in particular?
A relationship with an American woman originally brought me here. The weather is beautiful in Florida. Every morning waking up to sunshine and palm trees is a luxury in itself. Scotland is a very beautiful country but I remember leaving my house each morning in the winter and having to push against the wind to get to my car only to find that the doors had frozen shut. When you are carrying keyboard cases in the wind they tend to act as a kite and a few times I nearly took flight myself. I also spent 2 years living and working in Rochester, Minnesota, and although I enjoyed some of my time there as I have many friends, it does get very cold in the winter, much like Scotland.
What musical instruments do you play?
My main instrument is piano/keyboards mainly due to the early start on the piano at home, but I also play guitar, bass, drums/percussion and a few other instruments. My father played drums as well as the clarinet so I guess I inherited my rhythm gene from him. Two of my older brothers are excellent guitarists and when I was younger I used to sneak their prized guitars out of their cases when they were not home and fiddle around with them. It wasn't until later that I bought my own guitar.
Who have been some of your greatest influences musically?
Wow, it is always so hard to answer this kind of question because being around so many musicians at home in different age groups growing up I heard and enjoyed so many different musical styles from classical to rock & roll and everything in between.
My earliest memory with regards to my being inspired to actually play the piano at home was listening to a 7-inch single of a piano player called Russ Conway. It was an instrumental piece called "China Tea" and when I heard it I would sit at the piano and pretend to play along with it. After a few weeks of that, I thought to myself that maybe I had it in me to actually play it.
I later discovered the band Queen due to the fact that my brother was a big fan and I was fortunate enough to see them perform live. Melody and harmony are very important to me in all that I do and listen to, and I remember my Father saying to me if you can whistle it you're half way there. Various bands have caught my attention through the years like The Beatles, Marillion, Ozzy, Whitesnake, and many others who are now considered classic rock.
The music of Jean Michel Jarre set me off down the instrumental road and I would sit for hours and hours with my synthesizer and recreate the sounds and experiment with sound textures. I rarely use standard preset sounds although the piano samples on the Roland Fantom are so varied and useful, but I have done some waveform editing and shaping to get exactly the right tone and color of sound for each project. The music of Kitaro and David Arkenstone all pricked up my ears when I heard them as many people had said my music sounded like them although at that point I had never heard any of their compositions. So I sought them out to see what everyone was talking about.
Where is your personal production studio located?
I'm fortunate enough to have my own personal studio at home and if I have a flash of inspiration everything is right there at my fingertips to get it out of my head quickly. If I wake in the middle of the night with an idea, which is often, I get up and go straight through to the studio and start recording it. I have tons of little snippets which I haven't fully developed in to full blown pieces.
What is the set-up of your studio like?
I use all Roland keyboards exclusively; I have a Roland Fantom S88, Fantom S61, XP60, D50 and JV series. I am also the proud owner of an original Hammond organ which I used to put to good use in the early days while playing and touring with a melodic rock band. I have both analogue and digital recording units. I have a reissue 1962 Gibson SG guitar with racks of the usual instrument and studio processors like V-amp2, compressor / limiters, reverb units, aural exciter / enhancers, graphic equalizers, etc. All the tools needed to satisfy the perfectionist in me.
Before we get on your most recent musical project, Burning In December, please tell me a little about each of your new age instrumental CDs, beginning with the first CD, "FAIRYTALE".
That actually started out with some compositions I had written for a theatre production. I had been musical director with a professional theatre company in Scotland, and at the end of the run of performances I thought I would pull all the pieces together, extend them a little and write a few more to be included. The "FAIRYTALE" CD was born.
Tell me about your second CD, "PRIVATE PLACES".
Again, pieces that I had written for theatre but mostly other ideas that the orchestra in my head had been playing and the only way to get them to stop was to record them. The majority of the tracks were written specifically for this CD with a definite idea of letting ones mind drift off to places that only one could go.
Tell me about your third CD, "CITY OF DREAMS".
I stayed in a small quiet town and I remember when I was a young boy my mother used to take me to the city to visit family members that stayed there and it always felt like a great adventure with all the hustle and bustle of a big city. All of the tracks on this CD started off as instrumental pieces. I let a musician friend of mine that I had worked with in theatre, Paul Keatley who used to be in a British band, The Fortunes that had some hits in the 60s, hear the tracks and he suggested writing some lyrics for the title track. So I gave him a copy of the track and away he went and wrote some great lyrics which summed up what the music was saying to me. It kind of went from there where all of the tracks had lyrics and this was the first of my CDs with me exercising my vocal chords.
Tell me about your fourth CD, "MILLENNIUM".
With this CD I got back to instrumental only. Although I thought the previous CD had turned out well with lyrics, I felt that with this style of music once people had listened to it often enough and knew the words the journey was over, the story had been told and had an ending. Without words, except for the titles, each piece of music could go on and have a different meaning to each listener with their own unique ending each time. This is the first of my CDs that I played acoustic guitar on, a classic 70ís Ovation I used to own which had a beautiful tone.
We are all aware of our own mortality, we have a beginning and an end to our existence here on Earth. Millennium is a celebration of the life we live between these two points in time but when we pass on we live on through what we leave behind. When my time comes I leave a piece of me in my music and I hope it will live on through the next Millennium for people to enjoy and maybe bring a little peace in a quiet moment in their lives.
Tell me about your fifth CD, "FOR HEAVEN's SAKE".
A previous landlord of mine, who also had music run in his family, ended up being a good friend and he used to come over and hang out when he came back from Germany and sit out back by the pool and play guitar and sing. On one occasion he brought his father with him and during the course of the evening he said that my music would be wonderful for his church to play while everyone came in. So I wrote this CD specifically for that and the next time he came over I gave it to him as a gift.
Tell me about your sixth CD, "HOPES & DREAMS".
With "HOPES & DREAMS", I wanted a much more definite Scottish, Celtic sound and the instruments I used throughout the whole album have a more traditional sound but with a non traditional arrangement and feel.
Tell me about your seventh CD, "LADY OF THE LAKE".
I was inspired to write and record this CD for a very special person in my life who enjoyed going out on the lake in the morning in a little boat and just relaxing, drifting in the sun and thinking about "what if". It was in fact a birthday gift and the Lady of the Lake graciously allowed it to be shared with the world.
Your eighth CD, "COLLECTION" contains some of the best tracks from your previous works.
This was initially compiled as a promo to introduce people to my music and ended up being very popular. This is sort of an introduction to all my compositions and anyone that has purchased this CD has ended up purchasing each of the CDs that have the tracks listed.
Tell me about your ninth CD, your current solo release, "KINGDOM".
I have had the privilege of visiting many wonderful places in the world taking in the sights, sounds and history of each and this is my musical notebook of all the good that those experiences and places hold. For the listener it's a journey back to all those places to experience it for themselves. I think it definitely has an adventurous feel to it from the first track where your journey into the unknown kingdom is about to begin. While writing and recording the opening title track, I actually had the visual of sitting on the runway getting ready for lift off, and as the piece progresses, it represents the excitement and anticipation of what is at the end of the flight. The last track, "The Long Journey Home" is the emotions felt again while preparing to return home with all the memories of the adventure and the new found friends you are leaving behind.
Of all these CDs, which stand out as your favourite(s), and why?
Oh, I can't answer that one easily. That is like asking a parent to choose a favourite child. They all have a place in my heart as they are little musical time capsules of periods and experiences throughout my life. Yes, some I see as major milestones on a personal and emotional level considering the subject matter and/or the inspiration behind them but every one of them is a part of me and who I am and what has made me who I am to this point.
Who created the cover art on your CDs?
At the age of 17, I began a career in graphic design which lasted about 7 to 8 years, so I usually put that to good use and do all the CD cover and label artwork myself with the odd exception. For example, the cover photo of "LADY OF THE LAKE" was actually taken by the Lady of the Lake.
Where can your fans purchase your music?
CDs can be purchased directly from my website, www.mcmusicinternational.com as well as many major online music stores like Amazon.com, CDbaby.com, Target.com, TowerRecords.com, VirginMega.com and several others. If downloading is more to your liking then they are also available from my website, Apple iTunes, Napster, MusicMatch, mp3Tunes, Rhapsody, MSN Music, Sony Connect, Puretracks, BuyMusic, DigiPie, EMEPE3, Emusic, Etherstream, Mperia, QTRnote, Audio Lunchbox, MusicNet, Net Music, On-Line Promo, and Rule Radio
Who designed your website, and approximately how long did it take?
My previous work experience in graphic design with the added college time of working with computer graphics and 3D animation came in handy here also. It took a while as there are loads of behind-the-scenes coding for all the instant downloads of most of the CD tracks that are available to buy. When someone purchases a download version of a track from any available CD, an e-mail with a download link is automatically sent to their e-mail in box within seconds. This all had to be done individually for each track. So you can imagine the amount of time that took, not to mention all the original artwork I created for the site.
What's all this business about eating your kilt if someone purchases one of your CDs and doesn't enjoy it?
(laughs) Yes, I stand by my music that's for sure. I put my heart and soul into every track on every CD. There are no time fillers on any of them. If the music is not honest, true and from the heart it is not on the CD. I believe that people who buy my music and come back for more hear, understand and appreciate this. In fact I have many pieces that are unreleased and have never seen the light of day simply because when I wrote and recorded them for a project I felt that they didn't belong with the others to be included on the CD. That doesn't necessarily mean they are not any good, they just didn't fit in with the rest and so remain in my private collection. I am very critical of my own work. My website has over 90 music samples from all of my CDs so people can hear what they are getting before they buy. Everywhere else on the internet that my music can be purchased has samples of all tracks too. If you find a website that doesn't offer samples before you purchase then I want to know about it. If someone who only likes thrash metal ends up buying one of my instrumental CDs then I'm in trouble.
Unless fans of your instrumental keyboard compositions have heard "CITY OF DREAMS", they might be surprised to learn that you actually have quite a good singing voice. Where did you learn to sing?
My mother has a beautiful singing voice, my father had a good voice too, and my brothers all sing so I guess I got a little bit of that gene. Back to the frequent family get togethers when growing up, it was totally unacceptable to chicken out when it was your turn for the party piece. When we were all sitting in the round I used to keep changing seats when it was getting closer to my turn to sing a song but they figured that one out in a hurry. During my school years, I was always being asked by the music teacher to join the school choir but at that time I freaked out at the thought of getting up in front of class and making any sound come out of my mouth. It wore off pretty quick though when I put together my first band, with the intention of just being the keyboard player, but couldn't find anyone brave enough to be the singer. Someone had to do it so.......
You get an opportunity to use your singing voice in your most recent musical effort, which is collaboration with rock / metal guitarist Kevin Schertell on the melodic rock project, Burning In December. This is quite a departure from the evocative keyboard compositions for which you are well known.
Yes, it certainly may take some by surprise who seek it out of curiosity in comparison to what I normally release but it is well publicized that what they are about to hear is Burning in December and not Tim McGowan, New Age composer. For me, I'm getting back to where I started as a teenager, melodic rock. There are just some things you want and need to say about certain situations in the world which can't be said without words. I had to get it off my chest without any room for doubt and this collaboration gave me that opportunity and of course it was a lot of fun.
When did you first meet Kevin Schertell?
It was back in April of 2002. I was vocalist / keyboardist in a band and we were auditioning for a second guitar player. The bass player and drummer had gotten mixed up about the arrangements of what night we were supposed to get together, etc. So, I was the only one that turned up. Unfortunately, the bass player had the only set of keys to get into the rehearsal space, so I thought well let's make the most of a bad situation. In true rock & roll fashion, I remember sitting on the back of a pickup truck and Kevin took his guitar out and starting playing it unplugged. When I heard Kev play "Crazy Train" from Ozzy, I knew right there and then that he was the man for the job. We have been great friends ever since.
What made you and Kevin decide to form Burning in December?
We had this connection because of a similar musical background and musical tastes, we are like brothers but without the family feuding. (laughs) At the time of his audition back in 2002, I had the thoughts and intentions of our collaborating on what has now become Burning In December but due to various reasons didn't come to fruition till now.
Who composed the songs on BID's debut release, "NO WAY OUT"?
Well it started off with four or five songs that I had written on my own and I had planned to write and record a full album's worth. I had asked Kev early on if he wanted to be a part of this project and he said he had some ideas and wanted to team up. It took a few months after that to finally get together. Meanwhile, I had been writing and recording. While I was out of town on a road trip staying in a hotel for a few days and of course being unable to live without my music, I had taken my Roland XP60 keyboard workstation, my guitar, V-amp2 guitar Fx, 16-track recorder and a set of headphones with me. I set it all up in the hotel room and was recording what turned out to be "Wake Up" and "Can You Feel It?" So there I was with the headphones on recording the whole day into night. I was really getting into the groove so much that I started getting carried away putting the guitar part down for "Wake Up" and didn't notice the lady had came in to clean the room till she turned the light on. I about jumped out of my skin and so did she. I don't know what she must have thought of the whole scenario.
The first time Kev came over was in November last year, 2004, and "Sweet Surprise" was born. Thereafter we were so in sync with each other musically the songs were actually coming to us faster than we could record them. We would be writing and recording one song when all of a sudden another idea would pop up and I would quickly write it down so we wouldn't forget it. Once all the guitar tracks were down, I spent many hours, days and weeks piecing it all together with the other parts and writing lyrics and recording the vocals and mixing the final cuts.
In addition to vocals, you contribute both your keyboard and guitar skills to BID. How has your proficiency as a keyboardist enhanced your abilities as a rock guitarist?
Having studied the rudiments and theory of music with keyboards being my main instrument, I was already at an advantage of how things go together musically. The actual physical mechanics of playing each instrument are so very different but working my left hand on piano certainly helped with playing the guitar. I had a strict regime at music school where the first hour or so of each day would be just playing scales and intervals with both hands together and individually. I would then move onto chord progressions using each hand so this constant exercising of my left hand got it up to speed with my right. I was also training my ear to pick apart a given piece of music, breaking it down to individual instrument parts and then recreating it.
How long did it take to record BID's debut release, "NO WAY OUT"?
It took almost seven months from start to finish. There were many long sessions into the wee small hours and many cups of hot tea. Kev will tell you I'm a real workaholic and pushed him hard!!! Just when he thought he had something good, I'd listen back to it and say, "No, Kev that sounds like cannon fodder, let's do it again!!" That particular term he likes to keep reminding me of and I am sure I am going to be reminded of it for the rest of my days.
Do you have any favourite track(s) from "NO WAY OUT", and why?
The song "CAN YOU FEEL IT?" on our album addresses the fact that every single day, 30,000 children are dying as a result of extreme poverty and I would love to see a change. Saturday 2nd July 2005 will be the day the world demands justice. Thousands will gather in Edinburgh, Scotland to spearhead the call to make poverty history in a passionate, peaceful protest during the period of the G8 world leaders meeting. Later the same day, millions will echo that call as they take part in LIVE 8, free concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Philadelphia, brought together in one TV broadcast around the world with some of greatest acts who will take to the stage, including U2, Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters alongside legends Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney.
This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 put an end to poverty. The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if tens of thousands of people show them that enough is enough. By doubling aid, fully canceling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children.
That's what MAKE POVERTY HISTORY is about. Go to the website & join the band of people who are taking action to make poverty history. It only needs to take you a matter of minutes every month, but it will help us to literally change the world. You don't have to be in Scotland to take part help and make a difference. They are not after your money, they are after your voice. I'll step down off my soapbox now.
Which songs from "NO WAY OUT" do you enjoy performing live the most?
We haven't had the chance to perform any of the songs on "NO WAY OUT" live yet as Kev & I alone wrote and recorded the whole album. However, we are auditioning musicians right now, and as soon as we have the right band lined up, we will be hitting the road to promote the CD.
Where can BID's fans purchase "NO WAY OUT"?
Again the same as with my own instrumental releases, the CDs can be purchased directly from the band website, www.burningindecember.com as well as many major online music stores mentioned before. Downloads are also available from all the music download sites mentioned earlier.
Where can fans enjoy seeing BID perform live?
Keep watching the band website for updates on how things are progressing with the live band line up and shows will be posted. We have already had discussions about a possible support tour in Europe and hopefully we can arrange the same for the U.S. and Canada.
Who is the better guitarist, you or Kevin?
I have to say Kev, without a doubt. The guitar is his main instrument and he has certainly put the time and effort in to mastering it. He continually impresses me with his style and skill and I appreciate the fact that together we have produced something I truly believe in.
What other musical projects, besides your solo CDs and BID, are you currently involved with?
I also produce other up-and-coming new young singer/songwriters and bands who have the talent and determination to be heard and I'm sure you are going to hear them.
Do you miss Scotland?
Yes, at times I do. All my family and my friends going back to my childhood are still there. Scotland can be very beautiful in the summer and there are so many places to visit which are rich in history. The scenery, architecture, all the castles are quite breathtaking. The people in Scotland are also the friendliest you are ever likely to meet.
What's ahead musically for composer Tim McGowan and Burning in December?
I want to make one thing perfectly clear to all that enjoy my music and continue to purchase my CDs. There will be definitely be more instrumental releases from Tim McGowan and I plan on writing and recording a new CD later in the year.
Kev and I are very good friends, despite my working his fingers to the bone on this CD, and we are going to continue writing and recording together on the BID project. There will be a follow up to "NO WAY OUT". We had such a great time working together and what we each have to offer to the project comes naturally. We actually already have ideas for the next release. Kevin will also be releasing a solo project of his own later in the year which I will be producing for him and possibly releasing under my McMusic International label.
Tim, Thank you for taking part in this interview. All the best in the days ahead!
Thank you George for your time and support in all that I have done thus far and I must say great questions. You were very thorough and to me this only reinforces the fact that you also throw yourself 100% into what you do and truly have a love for it. All the best to you and your future endeavors my friend.
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