Alan Pownall is in a happy place. His True Love Stories album is in the bag and on the shelves, and he’s just completed a UK tour with Lissie, finishing with a show in London’s Bush Hall. Perhaps inevitably for a young artist with a sense of folk running through his music, there are comparisons with Noah And The Whale, who he has toured with – and Mumford And Sons, with whom he once shared a flat.
Yet it’s clear early into our chat that Pownall enjoys his life as a solo artist. Having proclaimed that he doesn’t pay too much attention to reviews of the new album, he starts to rhapsodise on the last gig of the recent tour. “It was wonderful, even though it was on the day that England played Germany. It was incredibly hot, and everyone was sitting on the floor. It took a while to get going, which is something I’ve found more with London audiences – they can be quite tricky. It’s not for me to whinge about my audiences though – after all, it’s my responsibility to do something about it! I would say though that somewhere like Manchester, and maybe up north in general, they want you to do well and enjoy the gig above anything else, and that really comes across.”
“It’s not for me to whinge about my audiences though – after all, it’s my responsibility to do something about it!” – Alan Pownall turns performing live around to his way of thinking
Pownall managed to keep up with the World Cup, “in bits of pieces,” while touring. Yet soon we find ourselves talking about less blokish things than football. About the subject matter of his new album for instance. “It is about love,” he admits unsurprisingly, “but it’s not quite so clear cut as that. Ultimately a love shared with someone is that of balance, and the album is about how that balance shifts and changes. I grew up surrounded by women, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. It means though that I was always fascinated by the game of getting a girl, losing a girl, and how you can manipulate that. I was never particularly good at it, I have to say, but it can make people or break people from an early age.”
Does that mean he finds it easier to call on his feminine side? “In some ways, yeah, but in some ways the way I’ve grown up has done the opposite, and made things more masculine. I’ve got eight aunts and three sisters and we’re all close, so it means you have to be the man sometimes. They’re all very different though, so I can identify the things I’ve grown up with – and at times I am guilty at being in touch with it. It’s funny, as men are traditionally not up with talking about their feelings. I don’t really like people who can’t talk about anything, and if I find there’s an elephant in the room I have to blurt it out. I apply the rule to everyone I work with, that if I don’t have a close relationship with them I can’t work with them.”
Being himself is one of the main objectives when it comes to Pownall’s approach to life from day to day, and it comes at odds with one of the more commonly held views of the music business. “One of the reasons I wanted to do music was to bypass the bullshit about doing things you don’t want to do. I don’t like to do things where I have to put on an act, and in that sense music definitely found me. I was thinking at a pretty early age” – he’s only in his early twenties – “‘What do you want to do with your life?’ When you get older and are at the end of adolescence you question these things, and I found I had a real desire to be completely in control.” So how does he see his position now? “I think that often if you write a good song and work hard, you’ll be OK. I never worry about how successful I’m gonna be,” he says with an appealingly airy tone, “as I know it’s all in my power. If I’m not too successful it’s because of something I’ve done. I’ve got friends who are actors, and reinvent themselves, and I just couldn’t do that.”
“I firmly believe in the songs finding you and writing themselves” – Alan Pownall lets the music come to him wherever possible
The songwriting process, then, is totally instinctive for him. “People say ‘How would you describe your music’, but I just sit down and write the best music I possibly can. I might spend the day with my grandmother, mum and younger sister, and I wanted to write a song about women, and I couldn’t do it! It was too conscious, too calculated. I firmly believe in the songs finding you and writing themselves.” He’s equally ambivalent about working with other people. “A lot of artists are bad at letting other people in, but I’m fortunate in that I have an amazing band and producer, and it just happened that way.”
The Mumford connection is often spoken about, especially as Pownall was in a band called Sex Face with Ted from the band. “It was a lot of fun really,” he reminisces affectionately. “We went to school together, and were just like, ‘Let’s start a band’. I didn’t know what I was doing, and we took it really seriously for all of two rehearsals. It’s wonderful to see now how well they’ve done though, and I remember him playing the idea for My Blank Page to me. Now you hear it everywhere! They’ve come out of nowhere, but are so good at what they do.”
Creativity has always been in Pownall’s blood, but initially he took up art. Does that mean he did the striking picture on his MySpace page? “No,” he confesses. “The idea for that came from a Sonic Youth album, dfgdf, where they used a Ray Lichtenstein piece. I thought my songs had a comic book feel, so it’s wonderfully tacky to use it like that.” And the art, how did that progress? “I was working for a fashion designer, and had a basic portfolio, and he recommended I go to a school in Milan. I got there and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but what I realised was that the people there loved it so much more than I did.”
So he changed tack – and here he is, with a first album. “I wanted to find something creative, that desire was always there – the concept of making something out of nothing. Maybe it’s a spontaneous reflection of nature, though that idea sounds rather Bohemian. It suits me, anyway!”
Alan Pownall’s debut album True Love Stories is out now through Mercury, featuring the singles Colourful Day and The Others. He plays a number of small-scale gigs over the summer, details of which can be found on his MySpace site.