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Rik Waller Interview

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Rik Waller & Rik Waller's Mighty Soul Band

Here in a personal interview with Roderick Jones, Chairman of The Guild of International Songwriters and Composers, Rik Waller gives a fascinating insight into his rise to fame and details of his new soul band.

The voice of a great singer can never be denied. Rik Waller's Mighty Soul Band is now performing the songs Rik has always wanted to sing, great classics made famous by the likes of Otis Redding, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave and Jackie Wilson to name but a few, along with some stunning new original material. So, forget Pop Idol, he never really wanted the falseness of all that. As audiences young, old and new hear, discover and re-discover the big man with the big voice they will see that he has naturally developed into Rik Waller the Soul Man.

As soul music continues its development from its beginning in the 1950s Rik Waller's Mighty Soul Band is synonymous with the ideals of the roots of this extraordinary music of great passion and vitality in today's music scene on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with the Godfather of British Soul Geno Washington and artistes such as Van Morrison who bring great soul music to British and international audiences, Rik Waller's Mighty Soul Band who have the melody and rhythm of soul in their blood will, without doubt, be a cult act—just like their heroes of soul—for many years to come.

Since reaching the top ten in ITV1’s Pop Idol, along with appearances on BBC’s Top of The Pops and having chart success in the Singles Charts with various EMI releases, Rik has kept himself busy as a media celebrity and working towards his real ambition to be recognised as a great natural soul singer. In September 2005 Rik Waller's Mighty Soul Band's debut album release Innocence will present and contain some of the best classic soul songs ever recorded along with original material that will stand the test of time. Rik Waller will in time claim a unique place in the musical history of soul.

The Interview

"Rik, at what age did you become aware that you had a natural ability to sing, and when and where did your first public appearance take place? "
“I had always been aware in myself that I had the ability, it had just always been hidden away from everyone, it was like “my secret”, something I could do and that gave me a real feeling of freedom within myself, when all other things got too much for me, I would go to my room, put on some music and just sing along. This was all happening when I was still very much a child, of maybe eight or nine, I would spend hours listening to music and singing along. At the age of 10, I found myself singing in the School Choir, the first real time I had ever shared my “secret” outside my own room, it felt good though I couldn’t help but feeling a little exposed, a little out of depth, which for a 10-year old sounds totally ridiculous, I know, but the one thing that stopped me feeling so vulnerable is when I saw the faces of people listening to me when I started my solo. It makes me laugh when I remember what my voice was like back then, the stereotypical choirboy soprano voice, I hadn’t yet had much exposure to gospel style choir, though if I had, I probably would have done it in a gospel style just to shock people even more! The funniest thing was that I hid away this talent I had, for fear of ridicule, I was afraid of myself in a way, I wanted to express all the things I was feeling inside—even at such a young age—but my biggest fear was getting it wrong, a fear that crippled me, apart from the odd occasion when I would pluck up the courage, the result of this was that I spent 4 ½ years very unhappy when I started grammar school, the one thing I used as my means of escapism was deliberately pushed into a corner by people who couldn’t possibly understand me, or maybe didn’t want to—my teachers. At every turn I was discouraged from taking part in things that I enjoyed and instead, trying to find the ever elusive grades that they wanted me to have. I fought back, maybe even rebelled against them by going to auditions for school plays, but I would only ever get choir parts, the older good looking guys would get the decent parts, though I don’t regret that, it taught me a lot about voices and how they worked, being part of the choir helped me understand the theory of harmony, a tool that I still use now.

Moving on, it is fair to say that school wasn’t the best time for me, all the politics of the grown-up world but none of the rules! I found myself at a low that I never thought possible, my “secret” means of escaping was lost somewhere along the way and I felt lonely, that was until one night, my brother and sister came back from the local pub having just won a karaoke competition. I had never really considered doing that kind of thing before but my brother took me along the next week, just to watch him of course!! But I decided to go and do a song myself, just as a laugh, so I asked my Dad if he wanted to do Parklife by Blur with me, so we did it and it was the most amazing thing, I found that feeling again, a feeling of achievement, maybe even pride!! So next, I plucked up the courage to sing a solo, something I hadn’t done for easily five years, I picked The day we caught the train by Ocean Colour Scene—one of my favourite bands at the time. I started a bit nervously, but as soon as I calmed down, I let loose … five years of energy, or maybe even frustration, that had been locked away and never allowed to be used. Let’s just say that there was a stunned silence in the pub, I finished my song, returned to my seat and received my applause gracefully, like I had been doing it for years. It was at that point I thought to myself, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

"What are, if any, the names of any bands you have worked in? "
“For every success story, there are many others that go horribly wrong, and I have actually been in about eight bands in the time, let me see. Distortion—grunge kind of band, around the time when it was cool to play Nirvana songs badly. Trident—went to the audition, did okay, wasn’t really meant to be in the long run, was more rock based stuff, I was probably about 14 or 15, more of a distortion rebound band! Chosen Rejects—we went back and had another go at the Nirvana songs played badly style! Ab Intra—I was more of a roadie / professional clinger-on, just trying to pick up some experience from a band that actually had gigs! Revival—this was potentially the best of the bunch in my early years, I was about 16-17 and went along to see them rehearse in the local pub, when their singer decided to leave they were looking for a new singer, the material was all kind of 60-70’s MoR style stuff with a bit of rock and roll thrown in for good measure, so we got together and it felt good, everyone got along and it worked really well, which is why, to this day, I never understood why the band just folded one day, strange!”

"Are your parents, or any family members, musically or vocally gifted—or talented in any way?"
“Everyone in my family has a talent for something artistic, some more than others, there are those who can sing, there are those who are good artistes and there are those who are really good at both that I feel really jealous of! The one man who has a lot to answer for is my grandfather, William Waller, he was the source of the creative gene, himself a very talented painter and in his day an incredible tenor, his voice would drown out an entire church full of people, a loud booming voice but with a sweet mellow tone, I always remember from an early age styling my voice on his, I never had his power, but I tried to learn his tone, he inspired me to start singing. My father has always had a voice and a talent for harmonies, when I first started, I would sing lead and he would fill in the harmony part. My brother and sister have great voices, my brother quite soft and mellow and my sister a bit of a rockchick, Alanis Morrisette style. We all used to sing together back in the early days before I went for Pop Idol, we still do now actually, when the family has a get-together, we always set up the karaoke system and sing together. It’s still as much fun as it ever was, even though things change, you never stop enjoying the simple things.

” Which artistes have influenced you?"
“Over the years, going from a boy of maybe nine or ten—listening to music that my parents liked or that my brother and sister would listen to, then to being nearly a young teenager when the grunge era was in full swing with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, then progressing on to teen punk when Green Day made their first real appearance in the UK in about 1994. Around 95-96 was a great time for British music and you couldn’t help but be drawn in by the whole Brit Pop revival thing, new bands on the scene like Oasis, Blur, Ocean Colour Scene and comparative veterans like Stone Roses were impossible to ignore, with dance music having been the fashion for the earlier 90s going from underground to real mainstream stuff, but the guitar bands really hit back and brought back some real pride into British music. When I hit the age of about 15- 16, a whole new world of music opened up and new styles and artist that I ever knew existed—Garth Brooks, one of my absolute favourites, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, beautiful in simplicity, just voices, but amazing and full of depth, so many bands from around the world that leave long lasting impressions not only on the individual but in my opinion, the industry, legends like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Freddie Mercury—one of my absolute idols. Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, so many outstanding talents. Bands like Simply Red and Jamiroquai for example. I’d like to think that I’ve always had good taste in music, liking a bit of everything and keeping an open mind to all styles and exploring culture through the different types of music that make up this world.

” How did the Pop Idol auditions come about?"
“It was my Mum who put my name down for the Pop Idol auditions, I didn’t even know that she had done it. I had been to several really big auditions where I had been knocked back simply because of my size, I was very deflated by the whole thing and was beginning to think I would never get anywhere. My mum asked me, even begged me to go, she just had a feeling that this one would be different from all the others and that I would actually get something from it, I think. Looking back, how lucky I was that she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

” How did you feel about the whole Pop Idol experience?"
“It was really fun being part of the whole experience, it gave me the break I had always been looking for in exchange for many sleepless nights and every nerve I had in me. I found that it completely took over my life all the time I was on the programme, even before it was televised, I realised that something huge was about to kick off and that it would change my life completely, whether it be for the better or worse.

” You withdrew from Pop Idol and signed to EMI—what was the story behind that?"
“A very appropriate question to follow up with. Sometimes things DO go bad, that’s the way of the world, but you sometimes ask yourself “What if?” and it is just one of those questions that can’t be avoided. The week after I had progressed through my elimination stage and into the final ten, I’d had a quite a nasty chest infection and I had struggled to be ready for the show, I pushed myself harder than I thought possible and managed to pull off a miraculous recovery, or so I thought. Two days later, my voice is totally gone and I can’t even squeak, let alone sing. So I went to see a voice specialist who sent me to a throat specialist who then put a very long bendy camera down my throat—trust me, It’s true—which has to be one of the most disgusting things I have ever experienced. His diagnosis was that I had torn my vocal cords and that I should be immediately withdrawn from the competition as any attempt to sing would only injure them more. I gave myself a week after this to think about his advice and I came to the conclusion that it was better to save what I had at the expense of dropping out of the show rather than losing my voice forever and never being able to sing again, at the time it was a lot more difficult decision, but with time I realised there was only one option…… Lucky for me, EMI were waiting to sign me anyway, just goes to show, every negative has a positive.

” What benefits, if any, did the Pop Idol experience give you?"
Pop Idol taught me about the business, but not just music, it taught me about television, gave me a look behind the scenes and opened my eyes to the HUGE amount of work that goes in to making these things work. I made a lot of friends, a lot of which I still keep in touch with today and it also gave me that little bit of exposure I had been craving ever since I was just a young boy. I also learned how to look after my voice, how to perform my best and how to entertain, it gave me confidence and made me feel the way that I had always felt when I escaped to my own world when I was younger, though now the fantasy was becoming more of a reality.

” Tell us about the EMI releases and your experiences with EMI. "
“I enjoyed my time with EMI, although I felt sometimes like a product more than a person, the people working close with me were very supportive but I couldn’t help but feel that in the bigger picture, I was rather small and insignificant compared to the likes of Robbie Williams. Working for a major record company such as EMI was also very intimidating, but they gave me what I needed and a fairly loose leash to be creative, even if my ideas were somewhat pushed to the back of the pile at times. The first single I released through EMI was I Will Always Love You, a song they thought I should do as it was such a huge hit when Whitney Houston had recorded it ten years earlier, I always thought from the start that it was dangerous to go down that path but I trusted in the fact that they knew what they were doing, and the song reached No 6 in the UK singles charts on Mothers Day 2002. Something Inside So Strong was my follow up single release and that was also a chart hit, although I would have preferred to release one of the original songs from the album.
EMI and myself parted company on good terms at the beginning of 2003, shortly after I had started to form what would become Rik Waller's’ Mighty Soul Band. I felt more at home with a band around me, so the sacrifice I made wasn’t so great, not for getting what I had always wanted—the BIG band."

"You are still very much in the public eye and still undertake personal appearances on radio and TV. Tell us about this and also the Celebrity Fit Club appearance you made"
“It’s a real shame that some people can always want to break others down. My experience with Celebrity Fit Club was a miserable six months of ritual humiliation. I had taken the project on so I could raise money for charity, their only intention was to get me to crack so their crass project would have a little drama. I raised close to £14,000 for charity, The price I paid for that was six months of misery, but a good trade, knowing that the money I raised did some good. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but better next time. I have also done lots of TV and radio work, though not always having anything to do with music, some of it was quite entertaining. Working with Dom Joly was one of the real highlights. I think there are things that you have to do sometimes just so you can say, “Yes it may be a weird thing to be proud of, but I’ve done it!” Why spend your life being just “normal”.”

"You are currently signed to Red Admiral Records and have a new album coming out in the next month. Tell us about the change in musical direction with this soul/R&B album."
“Soul and R&B have always been a very large part of my musical past. I would spend hours listening to artistes like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Wilson Pickett and countless others, so this album was the perfect way for me to be totally true to myself and do the music that I had wanted to do for so long. Working very closely with Guild of International Songwriters and Composers’ member Terry Daniels, our songwriter, he came up with some really great, classic sounding tunes, I put my little bit of sparkle into them and all the guys in the band have their own little characteristics that come out when they play. Tim Constable, lead guitarist, for example, has moments when his country influences are really evident, it’s the little personal quirks that make the band, and indeed the album, very interesting to listen to.”

"You have a passion for soul music, is this something that you would have liked to have done from the start of your recording career?"
“I think that everything in life is a journey, you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk, same as in music, you have to play to the masses before you can specialise, though I strongly believe that many different kinds of people will like this album, it’s got enough attitude for the kids to like it, classic enough for the older generation to enjoy and it also has a real zest about it—to cut a long story short, this is a great album for those who appreciate musicianship but also those who love catchy addictive tunes, but this is by no means pop.”

"The Mighty Soul Band is the musical force behind your vocals—how do you see the future with regard to you and the band becoming a cult artiste of longevity for the future?"
“I think that you can’t be too obsessed by labels, we are just here doing what we do, bringing music and enjoyment to people. Careers these days are over quicker than a cup of coffee most of the time, the fact that I am still going almost four years on is good and shows that my gambles have paid off, all I can hope is that we continue to grow and become more successful than ever, that is all anyone can hope for, but I know there isn’t a single band in the business who deserve it more than the guys I’ve got here, it’s been, at times, a real blood, sweat and tears project, but as they say, if something is worth having, it’s worth waiting for. The next twelve months will be the real acid test.”

"I see that you are doing some gigs with Geno Washington in the future. This must be a great credit to you and the band to be associated with this legend of soul/R&B? How do you feel about this?"
“This is the most exciting thing to have happened so far in my opinion. Geno is known the world over as a true legend, to get the opportunity to be working on the same gigs as him is a great honour and I am sure I will learn an awful lot from just being around him. It’s not very often for any band that these opportunities come up, so we will be making the most of the gigs we do together and who knows, it may be the start of a beautiful partnership—watch this space!”

"As you have a good team behind you and the band, who work behind the scenes to create success, how do you view their importance to your future?"
“The band has a great team working on their behalf behind the scenes. We have the record company, producers, publisher, publicists, photographers, designers, management, logistics, agency, etc who all give 110% to the band’s recording and performing projects, which is great. You need a strong team in anything you do. As you know, Rod, you yourself set this record deal up with Chris Ashman, Chief Executive of Red Admiral Records, and whilst all of the team surrounding the band work diligently behind the scenes playing an important role for the band’s performing and recording success, it is Chris Ashman at Red Admiral Records who is the “front of the house” person that everyone in the band sees and talks to and we are extremely conscious of the time and effort that the whole team puts in on our behalf behind the scenes to ensure that things are running smoothly. It’s great to know that there is a team behind the band committed to making our performing and recording projects succeed.”

"How do you feel about Terry Daniels and the songs he has written for the band?"
“Terry is a great songwriter, he has written some really brilliant songs that we have been able to use on the new album. I always wanted the album to be mostly original anyway, but to have all the songs come from a member of the band and more importantly a friend is even better. We often listen to the acoustic demo tracks together first and then make comments about tempo, key, lyrics and then Terry goes away and puts something more substantial together using his home studio, then we take it to the whole band and then the magic happens. As I said before, everyone has their own little quirks and working on the arrangements is brilliant, Terry always oversees the whole thing while the others experiment with different ideas, it is a fascinating process to watch and in the end what you are left with is a song that is just amazing.”

Rik Waller’s Mighty Soul Band is made up of eight musician band members, some also doing backing vocals, a female backing vocalist, and myself on lead vocals. Let me tell you about them all! "

Terry Daniels, as I said before, is a brilliant songwriter who takes his inspiration from a wide variety of influences—from classic Motown to Paul Weller. The majority of songs on our new album are written by Terry. Originally from Bromley in Kent, Terry started his music career at the age of sixteen, playing venues all over the south-east of London. He soon realised he not only had a talent for playing but also for writing music and spent many a year sharpening his skills as a songsmith. We got together after he sent me a demo and was invited along to the first band meeting where he became an instant addition! We knew that he would figure very much in the band as a songwriter, providing us with the original material we were crying out for, but it soon became apparent that his skills as a rhythm guitarist would also be called upon—so we asked Terry to join the band.

Tim Constable is the lead guitarist and I would have to say that Tim is one of the best guitarists about—he has a mixture of classic and contemporary styles that work incredibly well together—a real master of his art, sit back and prepare to be amazed! Tim started playing guitar after begging his parents for one for his eleventh birthday. He then set about learning and was heavily influenced by some of the legends from that era, such as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Being the son of an RAF officer meant a lot of travelling and a whole new batch of influences everywhere he went—picking up the best from the different musicians he met. Tim left home at the age of sixteen and started working with bands at US Army bases at various locations in Europe and has been in demand ever since. He has been lucky enough to appear on television and feature in Melody Maker. His experience and myriad influences are apparent in his fine technique.

Ian Woolley—in his time with the band Ian has proved himself to be not only a world class drummer but the real joker of the pack as well! A great guy to be on the road with. Ian’s musical career is too long and lurid to cover comprehensively in a small space but, needless to say that Ian, professionally speaking of course, has been around the block a fair few times! He can boast having toured extensively across Europe and has performed at such venues as the London Palladium, alongside a host of star names too numerous to list. Taking his influences from such legends as Police and Pink Floyd, as well as many other bands, Ian’s style is distinctive yet highly flexible and adaptable. Ian is a truly inspirational player to watch and work with. Recently, he has been in high demand, passing on his wealth of knowledge and experience as a drum teacher, nurturing the next generation. His work-hardened drumming technique is the backbone of the band sound, one of the original founder members and the obvious first choice for drums.

Roger Lewin, who plays piano and synths, is an outstanding player with an abundance of talent, I never fail to be amazed by what this guy does with the keys. Roger is so good … he will set your ears on fire! Born in New York, Roger has had his hands on the ivories since he was four years of age. His style, as you will be able to imagine, is a well practiced one. Roger has had a fairly checkered career, starting off as a solo artiste while studying at Cambridge University. After finishing at Cambridge, Roger put his career on hold for a few years to raise his daughter but, as she grew up, he felt the need to return to music. Starting back at the basics— busking—he was soon being offered work with many bands and performing in piano bars and at weddings, also touring nationally and playing at various concerts. Roger fits in perfectly with everyone in the band—as a person and as an incredible musician.

Sally Maitland, our backing vocalist, joined the band a year ago and has really grown in confidence every step of the way. Sally has a voice like velvet which compliments my vocals perfectly! Sally, who was born and grew up in Ashford, Kent, has always loved performing, she joined a stage school at the age of eleven and, after taking her exams, she went on to college to study Rik Waller’s Mighty Soul Band 6 Member Profile Performing Arts. In Sally’s own words she says “I love to sing and make people smile and have done ever since I was about four years old. I used to put on pretend shows for all my family and get them to watch me.” Talent runs in her family and her love for performing has passed on to her daughter, as Sally explains “I understand how my family felt, as my daughter does the same thing to me—except it’s usually the same song over and over again!” Sally enjoys being in the band and says that the best aspect is “We are like one big family—that is very important to me. As the only female, I am sure I will get all the good jobs in the band—tea making, ironing shirts!” Sally also has many qualifications—including a Degree in sarcasm!

Nick Wyver is the saxophone player in the brass section of the band and he has talent beyond the normal human capacity. He is as multi-talented as they get—not only a saxophonist but he plays clarinet, trumpet, guitar and bagpipes. Born in Sittingbourne, Kent, Nick took a shine to music at a very early age. By the time he was in junior school he was already playing the violin and later joined the secondary school choir. He then went on to learn clarinet at the age of eighteen—teaching himself to play. He soon found himself at Imperial College where he bought his first saxophone with a student grant and joined the college jazz band. Let’s just say that a lot happened for Nick after that—he was in several bands, studied Photographic Science and left with a BSc from the Polytechnic of Central London, then in 1985 he passed Saxophone Grade 8 with Distinction. It was obvious that he had a definite talent. He has also found time to teach, play in even more bands and raise a family. Nick plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone—in fact, pretty much anything that makes a noise!

Ian Jackson, or Jacko, is not only the trombone player in the band but also the musical director—he’s a world class whip-cracker with his eyes sharply focused on the finest of details—but he’s a really great guy! Jacko originates from south London and discovered at a very early age a liking for brass slidy things— trombones! These days he is very much in demand for not only his great talent but also his impeccable attention to detail. With a true calling towards jazz, Jacko always manages to make his arrangements just that little bit classy! Jacko is a true musician, his talent not only for the trombone, also having played bass guitar for several rock cover bands in his time. Jacko lives by the sea with his kayak and Diz—an astoundingly tolerant lady.

Mo, the trumpet player—I’m not sure why he calls himself Mo, I’m not sure he knows either—was born in Gosport, Hampshire, and from a very early age showed a real interest in music, with his first instrument being the bugle at the age of five! His parents soon realised that he had talent and enrolled him in lessons. Mo moved on to the cornet after that and worked his way through brass bands and military bands. With many years experience under his belt, Mo decided to have a change in direction and joined a local 10-piece soul band. In no time he found himself playing along side The Supremes, Sister Sledge and The Three Degrees. Mo has also had the fortune of performing in front of Hollywood stars, music legends and even royalty! With over thirty years of experience Mo is at his best when he is performing soul music and the magnitude for his passion for music is only rivalled by his wicked sense of humour.

Ethan Toomey, bass guitarist, is a selfconfessed south-east Londoner, born in Penge. Ethan has been playing bass for about seven years and came into it by accident, when he heard of a band being formed who urgently needed a bass player. Since then he has appeared in many bands around the Medway towns. Ethan is a recent addition to the band and was lucky enough to fall straight into a record contract. His distinctive style has made an impact with the band’s sound, which can be heard on our forthcoming debut album, called Innocence, released on Red Admiral Records, catalogue number REDAD CDA547. Ethan has been influenced by musicians such as Rocca Prestia, [Tower of Power], and Stuart Zender, and his favourite bass is the Fender Jazz.

They’re a great bunch and we all get on really well together—I have great hopes for us for the future.”

"Well, Rik, that was a very enlightening interview, especially with all the background information, which I think Songwriting and Composing magazine readers will find most interesting. Needless to say, as part of your current success and working with you, the Mighty Soul Band, Chris Ashman at Red Admiral Records and the rest of the team, I look forward to all future developments and continued success."

Roderick Jones The Guild of International Songwriters and Composers—All rights reserved June 2005 Rik Waller / Mighty Soul Band

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