Behind the Music: Interview with Lee Michael Walton

‘Music has always been a therapeutic tool for me – a vehicle for expressing a really powerful journey of transformation.’

Following the recent release of his single ‘Photographs from Mars’, we chatted with Lee Michael Walton to find out how music has helped him recover from life-altering events, the importance of lyrical metaphors, and why his grandmother features in the new release.

Describe your sound in no more than 5 words: Fusion. Imaginative. Introspective. Passionate. Adaptive.

Who else is involved in your music and what do they bring to the sound? The forthcoming album includes many guest artists, all of which are very fine musicians. The music is an eclectic mix of genres, with me composing for saxophone, violin, guitar, uilleann pipes, a wonderful boy soprano, African drums… I was truly blessed to have such wonderful artists to perform my music and they really captured the essence of what I had in mind. 

What are your biggest musical/non-musical influences? I am greatly inspired by Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tori Amos, Enigma, Elgar, Chopin, Annie Lennox, Karl Jenkins. My non-musical influences include being in remote, beautiful places such as the Gower peninsular in Wales. My perspective always shifts when I’m in such beautiful places and I’m greatly inspired there. I also love being in the ocean and can literally stay in there for hours. Films, conversations and books, especially life stories influence me too. I recently read The Choice by Dr Edith Egar. Wow! What a phenomenal and inspiring lady she is. 

Turning to your new release ‘Photographs From Mars’, what is the story behind the title and the track? The album that this track is from tells a story, in chronological order, like a book. ‘Photographs from Mars’, recounts a time in my life that was pretty wild! I had arrived in London at the age of 20, having lived in Wales, and it was one long party. I use the metaphor of ‘being on another planet’, which I think pretty much describes how I was at the time! I was aware that the album needed humour, and I’m pretty humorous as a person and enjoy a good laugh. I often see the funny side of things which is a great coping mechanism! In this song, my 89-year-old grandmother makes an appearance, wearing her Welsh rugby shirt. You should check out her appearance on the video. She is such a star! She asked me to ‘come back from Mars, to the Welsh valleys, where she can make me a nice cup of tea!’

And out of all the planets, why did you set it on Mars? I am intrigued by this planet and have always been fascinated with the notion of life elsewhere in the solar system. If I was able to go to another planet, I would choose Mars for sure!

‘Music is many things to me, and in a way, it’s difficult for me to convey my relationship with it’

What have been the biggest factors in the change of musical direction this new release brings?  I’m convinced that it was a huge transformational shift following the recovery from my breakdown which instigated the dramatic change of direction. I really feel very different now to how I felt prior to it and I think the music is a reflection of this.

There is a real sense that although the lyricism is humorous at times, it’s incredibly metaphorical too. Was this always the intention and how did it affect the song-writing process? Oh absolutely! It’s completely metaphorical. I really enjoyed the whole process with every track on the album, but this one was especially fun. Also, Mandy Taylor-Haynes – the female vocalist on the track – appeared in my life quite serendipitously. I hadn’t seen her for 28 years and we had lost touch. Then, when I was performing in Wales she was in the audience! I was looking for someone with exactly her voice to duet with on the song and when I saw her, I was of course delighted, but also thrilled that she had the perfect voice for the song and appeared at exactly the right time! 

And on the topic of track development, what led to you including your grandmother in the single? The idea to include my grandmother in the song came after I wrote the song. It’s been quite fascinating writing the whole album to be honest, insofar as the ideas that have come to me are pretty whacky and completely different to my previous experience of songwriting. Much of the time, it’s felt as though I am a transcriber, listening to what wants to come through and then just going ahead with the ideas that pop-up in me!

Why did you choose ‘Photograph From Mars’ as the introduction to your forthcoming album? I think this is one of the most commercial songs on the album and I thought it might be a good way of introducing it. Also, even though the song was written three years ago, with all the fascination around the NASA mission to Mars, I felt that it was like a tap in the shoulder to me, especially at the time when I was considering the first single! 

It’s fair to say that your personal life has been full of dramatic events. What impact do you feel music has had on your recovery from these? Music has always been a fundamental source of inspiration, solace and joy for me. I would even go so far as to say that it is often a spiritual experience for me. There are times when I listen to certain pieces when I feel in touch with sacredness and I am in awe of the transcendental nature of these experiences. Music is many things to me, and in a way, it’s difficult for me to convey my relationship with it. It is indeed profound in nature and expresses what cannot be conveyed in words. It often feels as though I am in the grip of a powerful force, an exciting, exhilarating experience. It was fascinating in the years following my recovery from the breakdown, how dramatically my style of songwriting had changed. It is as though the expansion of my own self, and the rebuilding of my internal landscape after the breakdown, has had a knock-on effect of a new, expansive creative process emerging in me. 

So when did you know that you would use music as an outlet? Music has always been a therapeutic tool for me. What’s different now, with this album, is that there is an authentic story being expressed through it. So, the music is really a vehicle for expressing a really powerful journey of transformation. These are archetypes which are inherent through humanity itself and therefore it’s not entirely personal, but the story of a sacred journey which is shared and celebrated. In telling the story, I honour the huge potential and the blessing we have to support positive change in our own lives and in the lives of others. I would not have survived were it not for the kindness and support of the most wonderful people. 

And finally, what has creating music taught you about yourself? It has taught me that the mind is a truly fascinating, expansive and mystical aspect of our nature. The process of creativity itself fascinates me. Some of the ideas I’ve had for the album emerged in me at the most inconvenient times – such as at 2am when I’m ready for bed, yet had the most intense compulsion to go to the keyboard and play the music that was emerging in me. It’s as though I was under a spell! I believe that the mind is an incredibly expensive thing and the brain is like a vast computer processing data. But, the mind is non-physical and the process of creativity can feel transcendent of the physical world.

Thanks Lee Michael Walton for chatting with Listen to Discover

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