We chat to multi-talented singer-songwriter, Derek Bishop, as he tells us a little more about his inspiration for his music, how he hopes his songs are a ‘feast for the ears’, his rather unusual penchant for writing songs while on his bicycle, and his ‘Oliver Twist, Mad Max’ flair and style of dressing. Welcome, Derek!
It ‘s refreshing that you say you appear to have had more success since you came out than before. Normally in these sort of things one finds it’s the opposite, and indeed, a lot of entertainers and artists are warned against it for fear it would damage their audience demographic and fan base. What do you think made the difference in your situation?
Well, for one thing, I have been OUT as long as I have been making music professionally. So in my mind there never was a choice to be in the closet. Plus, so much of my music is about experiences a gay man might go through — however I do write them in such a way that I think everyone can relate to the lyrics. Honestly, until I came out, I didn’t have the wealth of subject matter to write about. Being trapped in the closet, you close yourself off to love and life, so there’s very little that you can draw from to put into your art. Once the doors were open, so were the floodgates, and then I felt myself awash with creativity, excitement, and potential.
Your music has been described as 70’s, 80’s, bubbly, fun, vintage, electro-pop, blues and many other styles. What do you think is the appeal of your music, given its wide range and style mix?
I think that is exactly the appeal of my music: the wide range of styles. I think it’s fun for someone to listen to the tunes and hear things that definitely treat their brain to a bit of Déjà vu. On my new album, Bicycling in Quicksand, the influences are extremely diverse. You might hear references to things such as disco, Abba, The Muppet show, Broadway musicals, the Partridge Family, and of course, the best of 80s synthpop. I want the songs to be a feast for the ears, and I want the listener to walk away really feeling like they just been treated something fun and unique.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews you’ve given that to get into the mood, and get into the moment to be inspired, you sometimes like a couple of glasses of ‘whatever’ to get in the mood. I think that rings true for a lot of us with creative thought processes. Tell us a bit more about your song writing inspirations.
Yes, wine definitely loosens up the brain. However, I write so many of my melodies when I’m on my bicycle. Riding a bike gets me out of my head so I’m not thinking about all the things I have to do. As a result my brain is a little freer to be creative. So if a good melody pops in, I pull over and sing it into my phone. Lyrically, it’s a different process. While I often will jot down great ideas for songs, My best ones usually pour out of me as a result to a situation or experience I’ve had. If I can focus in on the theme and what the core of the song needs to be, the lyrics often come together quite quickly. I find those to be my best and tightest songs. The ones I have to labor over, I still love, but they’re usually not my best.
You have a unique look that is unique to the man who is Derek Bishop. Has this look been cultured as a persona, or have you always had this hankering for the unusual and the trendy?
I have always had a hankering for the unusual, that’s for sure. But I also wanted a look and image that worked well for me. I wanted something that I had not seen elsewhere. The way I describe my look is one part Oliver Twist, one part Mad Max: newsboy caps, scarves, and leather pants. Someone told me they thought the album cover looks like Mary Poppins meets the Village People. I’m quite cool with that.
You say you’re a control freak who would love to play all the instruments on track rather than just the keyboard sounds and the vocals. How do you manage to deal with the other parts of the track as it comes together- do you have input into the final polished product? I’m imagining the answer is a resounding yes as an artist’s creation is his baby – but it would be nice to hear your view.
Truthfully, I’ve learned to let go. While part of me would definitely want to control every aspect of the album, I found it to be more artistically rewarding to find other individuals whose talent and creativity I respect. What those other musicians can bring to your songs is often times a feel and sound that you would’ve never imagined. Plus, it’s usually better, because it’s outside the box of what you were thinking. I do indeed have input on the final polish product: I’m there from the beginning to the very end, but usually I’m happily surprised and blown away by what the members of my band provide in terms of unique and great instrumental parts. It’s all those elements that ultimately make the song better.
Like a writer, I imagine there’s a lot of you personally and your life experience in the songs that you write. Is this something you find easy to do when you write your songs or is it sometimes a difficult emotional process?
Writing songs can definitely be an emotional process, but it’s completely cathartic. It’s the best way to process and purge those emotions. It’s like creating snapshot of your life during the time the song was written. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s very rewarding. The subject matter would not be possible if my life didn’t have the bumps in the road that it does. Having everything perfect doesn’t really provide you with a great source material for song writing. As a writer you want to experience life as fully as possible during all the ups and downs. So often, it’s within those crevices you’ll find your deepest and best work.
Derek Bishop — “Baggage” Official Music Video
The interview was done by Susan Mac Nicol