These days, anyone with an acoustic guitar and an internet connection can pass themselves off as a singer/songwriter. With a seemingly endless abundance of ten-a-penny musicians clogging up gig listings, SoundCloud and even the high street, it has become increasingly difficult to find recognition amongst the masses. However, real talent has a habit of rising to the top, and the recent successes of Simon Maddison – also known as SILENT CITIES – are a case in point.
With this talent comes a real sense of individuality, a stamp that helps Simon to characterise everything he does. The stark, chilling imagery of 1920s expressionist German cinema (think Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari) is a perfect fit with the trademark Silent Cities sound: glassy, bruised and melancholic. There’s a Jeff Buckley-esque lilt to it as well, which draws in those who are perhaps put off by this visual construct. Simon’s striking falsetto singing style and refreshing humility in the face of praise have also helped win him the attention of a host of radio presenters, as well as his outside-the-box songwriting, which holds a flagrant disregard for the blueprint strictly adhered to by many of his contemporaries.
This approach made things quite difficult for Simon when he first started his foray into music. “I found working with bands really hard at the start, trying to get that style that I wanted because it was just weird shit, really.” Spurred on by the drummer of one of the many outfits in which he first cut his teeth, Simon started a project entirely of his own making back in 2010. “I felt I wanted to do something where it was just me and no-one else but I’d try to have a big, big sound. There are a few artists like that: Bradford Cox from Deerhunter, who was one of the big influences.”
Taking its name from a track off Patrick Watson’s Just Another Ordinary Day LP, Silent Cities began as a series of bedroom experiments that provided Simon with the creative freedom he had long desired. “I’ve never been able to write with other people, I’ve always had to be very introvert with it,” he explains. “I’ve got all my equipment set up and I’ll just go in and sit down and have a little muck around. A lot of it just came from that really, just random sounds, random sections that slowly amalgamate.”
After about a year Simon was able to turn these experimentations into his first release, the Dream EP and, although it fit much more firmly within the confines of the folk aesthetic than his later work, it still exhibited early signs of his unorthodox approach to music. “I try not to be like anyone else but it is quite challenging. I think that did trigger the more leftfield approach; I didn’t want to be twee at all,” admits Simon.
It was around that time that Silent Cities began its fruitful relationship with the multi-faceted Rebel Soul enterprise. “They’d been going for about a year or two,” recalls Simon, “but they were just starting to get into the wild stuff with Brazilica and the Voodoo Ball and all that.” Under their stewardship Simon was able to flourish, and he soon found himself in the midst of a whole network of like-minded creatives. “It’s given me the insight into [the process of] how to work as an artist. It’s not all competitive; it’s a community that benefits the arts in all forms.”
As Simon integrated himself into this community he gradually began to open up the Silent Cities project to other musicians. “It’s taken me ages to get a group together,” he explains. “People have been saying for ages that I need to get a backline but I didn’t want drums and guitars and a typical kind of set-up.” The kind of backline Simon required came in the form of Luke Moore (Operation Lightfoot) on cello and Chris Cousineau on percussion. “I think they bring something to it, but largely I like to keep control of it,” Simon remarks. “From past experiences I know I need to be the one in control, but I do allow open discussion so it is a democracy in the group – I think even they see themselves as sessions musicians who are slowly coming to join the fold.”
With Luke and Chris on hand to add colour and dimension to Silent Cities’ live show, Simon sought the help of Mario Leal to do the same in the studio. Working with the highly-revered producer – best known for his disparate work with Mumford & Sons and the Tea Street Band – Simon was able to refine his sound on the Eigenlicht EP. “Mario is like an artist in his own right in the studio.” notes Simon. “He’s into Boards Of Canada and stuff like that – a lot of really wild, wacky stuff – and he’s just kind of bringing the two sides together.”
With his debut album Mdina – named after Malta’s “silent city” – in the works, Simon is looking to further his studio experimentation with Mario, whilst trying to ensure his music remains accessible. “It will go a bit leftfield, but at the same time it will be quite a commercial album,” he explains. “We’ve filtered it down to about six tracks, but then we’ll have interludes between them, which is going to be mainly written by Mario but using me and all the stuff I’ve got in the studio.”
As well as working on his debut LP, Simon has been busy working with the formidable songstress Natalie McCool on a joint venture alongside the award-winning film company Clockwork Arts. “We’re combining both our sounds down the middle: no-one is overbearing, so I’m really excited about that,” Simon adds, evidently enthused about the collaborative process. “The video itself is going to be really surreal and trippy.”
Silent Cities play Sound Food And Drink on 18th October, as part of the Oxjam Liverpool Takeover.