Andy Bull’s sound is definitely unique: a blend of glam-rock, pop and piano rock. His music is inspired by artists like David Bowie and Prince, but also shaped by what he listened to growing up in Sydney’s suburbs.
“Napster was sort of happening, the internet was not quite the place it is now. You couldn’t just stream music; if you wanted to download a song it took a couple of hours. I think it affected my music in the way that I discovered [it] – by accident or I had [it] handed down to me. I guess I didn’t necessarily feel that I had the key to the labyrinth that people have got now with Spotify,” says Bull.
“I think it led me to a certain kind of music; I went to record shops and stuff like that. I was into a lot of soul music, 70s soul in particular. Just because it seemed to me like the most interesting thing you could get at the time. Then, by extension, 90s hip hop that referenced that [70s soul] kind of thing.”
For Bull, releasing his second album Sea of Approval was a return to basics – an album produced entirely on his own. “I want it to feel personal, but maybe a bit cold as well. A bit strange but a bit familiar, a bit futuristic but a bit nostalgic – I wanted to marry polar opposites.
“I put a lot of time into it. I haven’t worked with another producer in about four years and it took me a while to get all the necessary technical skills. If I was working with another producer, I never would have done this record – it would have been completely different.”
Despite his enduring sound, Bull describes the creative process as inefficient, with the song ‘Baby I Am Nobody Now’ taking two months to write. “I think ‘Baby I Am Nobody Now’ was kind of a breakthrough for me on a personal level because I worked on it for a long time. I must have done half a dozen versions at one time but I didn’t want to give up on it because I thought there were some nice lines and stuff like that. It didn’t have a chorus for a long time. Had I been working with someone else I would’ve had to give up on it or settle on one of the versions I didn’t like as much.”
The Sea of Approval Tour will kick off in Brisbane in early September, before going to Canberra, Newcastle, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Rottnest Island, Hobart and Melbourne – giving Bull the opportunity to perform for new live audiences. “We don’t always get to go somewhere, and we’ve had some amazing tours in Brisbane and Melbourne in the past. We don’t often get to go to Perth or Adelaide… it’s going to be quite novel touring outside of the east coast.”
Bull enjoys touring – expressing his love for performing on stage to a welcoming crowd – but has a dislike for the logistics of it. “Hanging out with the band is what makes the tour generally tolerable. Being on stage is the easy part but it’s the getting to and fro – that’s hard.”
And touring, like self-producing an album, is not always easy.
When asked about his worst experiences touring, Bull recalls several early gigs that turned violent, even one where someone was shot in the parking lot just after they left. “In the beginning, when you get support tours… you just do so many shows where there’s no-one there or the booking agent sent you to some regional place where the people drinking at the pub don’t want you there. There was tonnes of that to begin with… People throw shit at you and try to start fights. Any time when someone’s aggressive, I think that’s the worst.”
For the Sea of Approval Tour, Bull promises a dynamic “band show” experience, bringing his music to life. He sees the tour as an extension of the album rather than a performance of its contents. “When we bring it to the stage, I want to re-interpret it. It’ll be a band show,” says Bull. “We play it all and make it comparatively rocky – it’s quite ballsy, the sound of the band. People can expect a compelling, live reinterpretation of the record.
“Actually seeing someone on stage and playing, it’s very live – you can see us playing, see me singing and I think that adds a human dimension that you might not necessarily get on the record because it’s all finely constructed. I love being on stage, and I’m always very happy to see the audience. When you get on stage, people are giving you a lot – you see these faces in the crowd and you kind of feel like they’re opening their hearts, and in return I open mine.”
Andy Bull will be playing at The Metro Theatre on September 13. His album, Sea of Approval is out now. More at andybull.com.au