After 8 years of pursuing a diverse career in the music industry, Andy Wilson-Taylor is once again at the helm of the cinematic rock band Midgar. A composer for TV and film by day, and session vocalist and songwriter by night, Wilson-Taylor has re-kindled his love with larger-than-life, symphonic rock music by creating a long-awaited new album, which pushes the boundaries of Midgar’s signature sound; classical piano and strings colliding head-on with epic, modern rock. With a new album, ‘Unity’, looming on the horizon, Andy joined us for a chat about the gestation period of the album, and what people can expect from the first new material from Midgar for some time, as well as answering the all-important question of whether he’s still a gamer or not?…
After an 8-year hiatus, Midgar returned with the single ‘We Don’t Make The Rules’, and its follow-up ‘Nemesis’ will land shortly: what was the main reason for the hiatus, and were there any nerves at all about, in a sense, relaunching the name Midgar?
Without trying to sound too dramatic about it; my life pretty much fell apart. I went through a pretty big break up which ended up with me having nowhere to live for a while. I fell into a pretty toxic cycle of partying too hard and working too hard at the same time. I wasn’t looking after myself at all. My mental state just deteriorated to the point where all I could think about was the next time I could get out of my mind on drugs and alcohol. I tried – sometimes – to put pen to paper or pick up a guitar but I’d completely wrecked my voice and I hated everything I was writing. I just stopped completely for years and it took a lot of personal growth to get back to making music again, especially something like a Midgar record. So yeah, I was definitely nervous about bringing Midgar back from the dead. It’s so intrinsically linked to who I am that it was almost like I was relaunching myself back into the world. I’m happy to say I’m much better now, life is good and I’ve never been so creatively focused in all my life.
Midgar have always been known for diversity within the music, and this seems to have continued as both singles released so far are, to an extent, polar opposites: ‘We Don’t Make The Rules’ is sweeping and cinematic, while ‘Nemesis’ is quite harsh in places – is this variety indicative of what the forthcoming album ‘Unity’ will sound like? It seems important that you constantly mix things up rather than stay in one place?
That contrast is definitely a taste of what the rest of the record feels like, but it is only that – a taste! I wanted the first singles from the album to feel familiar to people who have heard Midgar before, almost to ease people in to the new, more ambitious and adventurous sound of the album as a whole. There are heavier moments than ‘Nemesis’ on the album, but also sections that are purely orchestral and everything in between. I wanted this album to tell a story and to feel immersive and transportive, which only really works if there is light and shade, good vs evil, and the grotesque and the beautiful along the way.
What was the gestation period for ‘Unity’? How long had you been working on it?
Gestation is the perfect word, when it was done I definitely felt like I’d been through some kind of childbirth! It’s hard to say exactly when it began, as often songs start brewing in my subconscious somewhere well before I’m aware of them. However, I started my official ‘writing’ and ‘exploration’ sessions for this album in January 2020. There are a couple of callbacks on this record to things I’d sketched out over the years previous, the oldest of which is ‘Sunburn’ which uses a verse and a chorus I had on an old voice recording from my phone in 2011. You never know when a little piece of a song is going to come back and find a home. I’d say 95% of the material emerged in the first 8 weeks of 2020 though. I then spent the following months producing and recording it at my studio until it was finally done around autumn time.
‘We Don’t Make The Rules’ has a fantastic sound that highlights so many aspects of Midgar: the orchestral, cinematic parts are huge with fantastic melodies, is this an example of your work composing for TV and film seeping into Midgar?
I like to think of it as ‘all the work I’d never be allowed to do for a client’. I definitely bring skills over from my composition work but the Midgar stuff is such an opportunity for me to indulge myself. There’s nobody to tell me ‘no’ or ‘we want it to sound like x, y and z’. That can be a blessing and a curse, honestly, as sometimes a brief is necessary to stop you going totally in the wrong direction. Sometimes along the way I have to check myself and say, “Is this too much?”
On the subject of ‘We Don’t Make The Rules’, your wife played the main role in the music video; she seemed quite happy after she killed you! Were you constantly checking your food afterward, just in case…
I do pretty much all the cooking in our house. Not because I’m paranoid, but it’s one of my favourite things to do. I made the tofu scramble that went into that fateful sandwich in the video, so I knew it was safe! When writing the script for the video I wanted the last scenes to feel like this big release for her character. The laughter just came naturally; we actually filmed that scene towards the start of the day and I was behind the camera trying to make her feel comfortable. She started laughing at the direction I was giving her but the shot really worked in the edit. It was a happy accident.
‘Nemesis’ also has a striking music video to accompany it. The last few years have given artists so much subject material that you probably could have made the video rival Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ in terms of running times. 2021 doesn’t seem like it will be that much of an improvement on 2020, but do you hold out hope now that more teenagers and young adults are becoming more involved in the world that they have inherited?
It does seem like young people are more engaged with politics than they’ve ever been. I think it’s an enormous privilege for people to have ever felt like they had a choice to ‘stay away’ from politics in the first place. I count myself among that privileged few; when I was at school, though I actually studied politics as an A-Level subject it was much more abstract and not something that felt like it was having a direct impact on my life every day. I was enormously lucky. I think it’s a shame that young people have had to get so fired up – rather than simply enjoying being young – but unfortunately, it’s now necessary to hold people in power accountable for the world they’ve created. I feel so sorry for young people feeling like they’ve had their future taken away from them. I wish it wasn’t like this, but things have to truly break before a new way can be found, and I’m hopeful that a new, politically engaged and educated generation will be the ones to dig us all out of this mess we’re in.
With regards to ‘Unity’, is there anyone else playing on the album with you, or is just yourself?
Everything you hear on the record was played by me, except the bass guitar. Oh and one cello line on the last track, ‘Go, Carefully’. The bass is the work of low-end genius Greg McPherson, of InMe. That band have always been one of my favourites so it was surreal for me to go from standing in the crowd watching them in awe, to having Greg playing on my album. It was especially surreal since he asked me if he could do it in the first place! I was expecting to do it myself, honestly, but I’m so grateful for his work on it as he’s brought such an exciting dimension to the bass playing. It’s full of surprises, intrigue, and interest in a way that I never would have been able to achieve myself. He’s a really creative, unique player and his work on these songs really brings them to life.
Of all the instruments you play, what is the one that you would class as your go-to instrument when beginning new music?
It’s an even split between piano and guitar for me. It really depends. In fact, looking back that might be a fun game to play with this album, “did this song start on guitar or piano?” I think it’s probably 80% piano, but I’m not sure.
With you handling so much of Midgar on your own, can you get too close? Did you find yourself at times having to take a step back?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a big problem with working on something like this solo. You can go crazy over details that just don’t matter at all. I’d say the mix phase is me at my most neurotic. It was important for me to step back, as you say, as often as I could to hear everything with fresh ears. When tracking all the parts I did them as groups of instruments rather than songs, for example, I did all the drums together, then all the guitars, then all the orchestra/post-production bits, etc. This gave me a chance to keep things fresh as I was moving between songs before they had an opportunity to go stale.
The name Midgar is of course Final Fantasy related, do you still play? Do you have time?!
Of course I still play! 2020 was huge as the FFVII remake finally landed. It’s funny, playing that remake was like playing a real version of what it felt like it was to play in my mind, as a kid, back in 1997. I know that doesn’t really make sense… I guess I mean it was everything I ever dreamed it could be, or everything I ever hoped that it was, like I’d imagined it in my mind’s eye. I still play the original too. It’s my happy place. I love playing Doom and Battlefield too. Sometimes Rocket League, but I should definitely be better at that considering how long I’ve played it. I’m always disappointing in that game so I play it less now.
What are your first musical memories? And what was the lightbulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?
I started playing piano when I was 3, so really it’s just been something I’ve always done. I had an unusually diverse musical upbringing because as I was playing Oliver Twist in the school play, I was also being taken to Monsters of Rock at Donington Park in 1994 (now Download Festival) to see Aerosmith, Extreme, Pantera, Sepultura, and a bunch more. I was there with my Power Ranger figurine and under an umbrella to be protected from all the 2 litre bottles of piss being thrown about by everyone in the crowd. It was mental, honestly, that I was even allowed to be there aged 7 but I’ll never forget it.
Personally, who has been the biggest influence on you becoming a musician?
I think I would have always been a musician of some sort, but there was one person who made me step out of the bedroom and take my first steps on to the stage. My dear friend Aneequa coaxed me out onto a stage at an open mic in Surbiton when I was about 17 years old. That moment changed absolutely everything and only a few years later, Midgar was born. I really don’t know where, or who I’d be if that hadn’t happened. It was around that time I was big into Jeff Buckley, too. I’d say his music was a big inspiration and influence to me.
What current social issues are you particularly passionate about?
I think it’s difficult to sort them into separate boxes as social issues, because so many of them are related and joined at the roots. Today’s issues are so intersectional. For example, I really worry about the rise of hard-right nationalism and its drift into the mainstream. Trump, Brexit and even Coronavirus’s un-tempered spread are the direct results of right-wing sensibilities. It seems that unless you’re white, male, and straight, you’re having your rights infringed or even stripped completely and that’s a big concern. Take the UK as an example; decades of failed, violent foreign policy – leading to a refugee crisis in the Middle East – paired with a Conservative squeeze on all public sector funding is the perfect tinder box for anti-immigration sentiment. They make people tired and poor, blame it all on those who look and sound different, or pray to another god, and then reap the profits at the polls by stirring up racial tensions. Division and hatred are the drivers of political leaders’ decisions and it benefits nobody but the very few sitting at the top. Oh, and I’m also a passionate vegan for all the benefits it brings to the climate, the environment, the animals, and my health. But that’s another conversation!
Although 2020 was a year to forget, there was some great music released; what would be your album of the year?
Agnes Obel – Myopia. Or BMTH’s Post Human: Survival Horror. I can’t pick between those two; they’re both really good.
Who would you class as an underrated songwriter?
Jamie Woon. He’s been quiet for a few years but I was lucky enough to play with him – and Jono McCleery – in a basement in Surbiton around 2007, just before the smoking ban came in. His little turns of phrase, lyrical twists and images he paints are just wonderful. I’d love to see the world through his eyes, there’s such beauty in the way he describes things.
What are your plans for 2021 should COVID ever disappear?! Are you working on any new TV and Film projects?
I’d love to take a holiday. I miss travelling, and I hate viewing the world through a collection of screens like we do at the moment. The composition work is pretty quiet at the moment, it’s hard because so many productions are on hold and the teams I work with are running on skeleton crews. I’m working on a secret music project though, which is aimed at TV and film specifically but in an exciting new way. At some point this year I think I’ll start sketching out another Midgar record too.
How active are you on social media and where can people connect with you?
I have a YouTube channel which I’m putting a lot of time into at the moment (in lockdown, who isn’t)… My wife and I were on a show on Channel 4 last year about moving to Europe so we have a few viewers on there who followed us over from the show. I’m on instagram as @awilsontaylor and of course @welcometomidgar and you can find everything Midgar related over on Facebook.
‘Nemesis’ is released February 19th, pre-save here.