With approximately 20 years as the frontman for Watershed, give or take a few years, Al Shalliker is now embracing a solo project. Based in the UK, Al combines elements of folk, indie-rock and pop in his music. We speak with this acoustic-inspired artist about his debut album Silver Linings, musical inspirations and future plans.
Why did you choose to become a musician?
Music has always excited me and is truly immersive, it can take you somewhere else. I retain a vivid memory of hearing Elvis Costello’s ‘Oliver’s Army’ at Plymouth Argyle’s football stadium here in my home town. The game hadn’t started yet and I just remember the music echoing around the terraces and feeling energised by it in a way that I had never felt before. It was 1979 and I was 10 years old. Many years later I heard my own music being played at the same stadium which was a nice moment.
What inspires you to make music?
I think music and song afford us a freedom of expression not accessible to us in other parts of our lives. It allows us to communicate in a different space and I guess I’m driven to try and share insight and observations on the world in order to feel grounded myself. When I was around 13 I found the original early ‘60s vinyl copies of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” my dad had left in a draw. I used to play them constantly and was drawn to Dylan’s use of words and how he delivered them. I’m still inspired by great songwriting today.
What can you tell us about your album Silver Linings?
As the album title, ‘Silver Lining’ suggests there is a nod to the difficult times a great many people have had recently and also that good things can still come through adversity. The silver lining for me was being able to concentrate more fully on music again, but there is a lyric in the title track, “with every silver lining there lies a cloud” and through the pandemic that has felt very obvious.
Silver Linings is my first solo album and after many years of both performing and recording within a band structure, a solo project offered a lot more freedom in terms of rhythm, tempo and mood. With Silver Linings, I was very focused on expressing each individual song in the right way and as a result, I feel every song has its place on the record. There is often a fair amount of fine detail in the expression and with this album I felt I had the freedom to go after it and I’m pleased with what was captured.
Did you face any challenges when recording the album?
Initially, I was fortunate enough to be able to set up a home studio and the whole album was produced at home, but the pandemic meant my access to advice from friends and other musicians who knew how to use the software were limited. I watched a lot of YouTube videos.
There were also points during the recording process where things didn’t gel well at all. The guest musicians on Silver Linings were all old friends I had either performed with previously or else had watched perform but due to the Covid-restrictions, there were very limited opportunities to rehearse. The musicians never had the opportunity to sit in the same room together but we definitely ended up in a good place. In fact, the collaborations in the studio were a lot of fun, maybe partly due to the adversity going on around us in everyday life. I’m grateful to all those people.
If you could change one thing about Silver Linings what would it be?
I’m really happy with Silver Linings but if I could have added violin to a couple of the tracks that may have been nice. I’ve always found violin a very beautiful sounding instrument in the right hands but finding South West England’s answer to Stephane Grappelli during a global pandemic was never going to be easy!
Do you believe your music now differs from your work in the 1990s and early 2000s?
In many ways, Silver Linings feels like a summing up of all the music and writing I’ve been involved with so far. As a writer, the moments when you realise the essence of a decent new song is with you are some of the finest. I increasingly find I want to retain as much of that as possible by creating an open and honest sound allowing people to connect more with that original sentiment.
What advice do you have for emerging artists?
The best advice I could offer is don’t be deterred from your own individual expression. My previous band Watershed once played support to the great soul singer Geno Washington. Geno had been listening from the side of the stage and after the show he was talking about some of the songs towards the end of our set that had made more of an impression on him. He said, “that’s your sound and it’s got something, stick to it, nobody else can have that”. It’s good advice.
How would you describe your sound?
I’d call it alt-folk or indie-folk. I haven’t quite got a partridge or a pewter tankard hanging from my belt yet so to call myself a folk singer could be misleading.
Of all your albums which do you feel is most representative of you as a person?
Silver Linings is by far the most representative of me as a person. I performed and recorded with the band Watershed for many years, have many fond memories and am proud to have played music with all of those people. However, recording in a band environment is more formulaic by default. This is the most honest record I’ve ever made.
Do you have any future plans?
I certainly want to write and produce a couple more solo albums over the next few years. I found it difficult to write for a while until Silver Linings was complete. I’ve felt like those songs were burning a hole in my pocket. Now I’ve got renewed energy for writing. I’m also looking forward to getting out and playing live again as the pandemic recedes. I’d quite like to tap into the folk festival scene.