After what may feel half a lifetime away – several music careers have come, gone and had their resurrection in the six years since his last album – Sydney writer, singer and producer Andy Bull is expected to release a new record, his third, late in 2020.
He might worry we’ve forgotten him, but is there ever a bad time to show up with quality pop tunes?
In this interview from 2014, we see that it wasn’t time which was the issue for him then, it was Bull himself. Or at least the artistic ego. Is that a dirty word?
As Andy Bull sees it, the first job, the most important job, when he began when working on his second album was removing Andy Bull from the songs.
This may seem perverse, if not impractical (even Britney Spears makes some contribution to her records you know) but he was serious. And you get a sense of that in the sound of his voice on Sea Of Approval.
Whereas the purity of that voice, along with his almost-too-pretty good looks, was the most noticeable thing about him when he emerged around 2007, this time it occasionally comes through effects which compress and make more machine like. It’s a bold move but a necessary one says the man who produced the record himself.
"I understand I have my voice and that's primarily what people are listening to but I would like to in a way remove myself - me as a person, not as a performer – from the music and let the music breathe without being a tyrant over the top of it,” Bull says. “I want it to be less a vehicle of self-promotion and my ego because part of the good thing with music to me is I get to remove myself from the equation. I want the music and the performer to get bigger and I get smaller.”
A friend of his described this process as "making things a bit more democratic”, or as Bull puts it, “nothing is sacred”. This should not be surprising for a man who has made pop music, soul music and even rock in a relatively short career before the more overt electronic feel of Sea Of Approval which has touches of Pet Shop Boys and Gary Numan as well as his great love, David Bowie.
“Everything is fair game in order to make a feeling in the music, and that includes my voice,” he says. “You shouldn’t worship one aspect of the music over another.”
The separation doesn’t impede feeling, far from it, but it comes with an emphasis on the song and not revelation. For Bull, who searches for metaphors outside his own world and often outside music itself, this ties in with the creation of a kind of character he calls The Actor who represents these songs.
“It might not necessarily be explicit to the audience but for me in order not to feel like I'm duping anybody, making false promises or something, I think of it as like when an actor performs,” Bull says. “They might not be that character they’re performing but it doesn't diminish the value of the character. The actor still has to put themselves into the character and even though the character ends when the film finishes, there is still value in the character because ultimately the character is more important than the actor.”
Get the feeling Bull, who turns 30 later this year and perhaps not coincidentally released the single Talk Too Much this year, thinks about these things a bit more than your average pop singer?
Might explain why he recorded several EPs between his debut and this record, but didn’t release them: he thought the ones with the right feeling were a bit of a mess, and those with everything in place didn’t have the right feeling.
There were also changes in some of his professional relationships, a marriage and a decision to produce himself. Basically, “a lot of directions changed”, including a question about whether he wanted to pursue this career. A question he calls "an indicator of sanity".
"I think you should always be willing, without it causing you to freeze up altogether, to intermittently just check in and ask, ‘why am I doing this, is it worth doing and doing it this way?’,” says Bull. “I wish I'd started being more honest to those questions and answers sooner."