Interview: Aidan Tulloch on releasing a new EP between Lent Term and lockdown
‘Somewhere Without Lights’ is the English student’s second full-length EP
For many of us, lockdown was a time for napping, snacking, napping again, and trying to forget the sad fact that Easter Term was cancelled by whatever means necessary (e.g. with naps). But in a small town away from Cambridge, way, way up north in Thirsk (that’s in Yorkshire, for my fellow clueless southerners), second year English student Aidan Tulloch set to work finishing up and eventually releasing his new EP, ‘Somewhere Without Lights’.
The five-track EP which dropped in July is a refreshingly vibrant, honest recollection of pre-university life, “that feeling of looking back at a photo of your sixteen-year-old self and thinking, oh my days, what was I doing?” (Personally, this feeling still persists when I look at current photos, and the walls in Gardies don’t help at all). Aidan’s music-making experience stretches far into his younger years, and he talks through his transition from teenage northerner to Cambridge student; and about being able to use music to document that journey, despite the interruption of, you know, a global pandemic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an English student, Aidan’s racked up his fair share of Camdram credits over the years, and much of his songwriting experience at university comes from composing scores for many of your favourite Cambridge theatre productions, such as The Dazzle, Twelfth Night and Constellations. In fact, the EP’s title track was originally written for the score of Lent Corpus Mainshow, Lovesong. So who knows, the super-thesps among you might even recognize it.
Aidan’s first full-length EP, ‘Figures in a Storm’ was also the soundtrack to his first full-length play, a techno-style adaptation of Sophocles’ Electra, fittingly named Techno Electra, which was performed at Corpus in his first year in Cambridge (and was ‘coincidentally’ directed by the same person from Lovesong – don’t you just love nepotism, no wait, I mean… collaboration?).
Spent in Lent
The tracks that Aidan has released over the course of his time at Cambridge have helped him to keep track (see what I did there) of the experiences he’s had. His standout memories from first year are closely related to the release of his first EP, whilst the completion of his second record offered up a timely sense of closure to a messy and unfinished second year at university:
“It means a lot to me that the music – the last track especially – is something that came out of Lent Term, which looking back was just this term of complete delusion, of thinking there’d at least be another term after it to let loose and recharge, and we never got that. I feel like, even if just for my own peace of mind, it would be nice to do another project in third year that could round it all off”.
Though the writing process began as early as last summer for some of these songs, Aidan worked faithfully (and perhaps at the expense of his lecture attendance record) through two Cambridge terms to keep inspiration flowing at even the most unconventional times. Fun fact: the chorus of his pop/electronic anthem ‘Song for Armaggedon’ was written in the quietest possible corner of a very unquiet Cambridge house party in Lent Term (and you can be sure that’s a Tab exclusive – because it was my house).
And as someone who’s supposedly always audible from within his student house, whether that’s from loud 3 am kitchen escapades poaching eggs in the microwave (this has never been – and will never be – acceptable behaviour) or from sitting on the staircase singing noughties pop throwbacks with his housemates, Aidan has always been happy to perform live in Cambridge. He’s delivered many a set of spoken word poetry at the ADC (the Engling stereotype only intensifies) and performed acoustic sessions of earlier singles in local bars.
“I enjoyed being out there and being seen by people who have no idea who I am as well some of my closest mates, the people who’ve known me basically since Fresher’s Week. It was like finally taking the music out of our little house and into the world.”
Of course, the current situation has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for the singer/poet, who admits: “I am a bit miffed that live performances can’t go ahead this summer. It’s frustrating but it at least takes some of the pressure off. These songs are really production heavy and I want to work out how to do them justice in a live session before I ever went in that direction.”
The (Cam)bridge over troubled water
Live performances may be on hold for now, but Michaelmas 2020 is still going ahead (touch wood), and Aidan hopes to keep writing music throughout what’s sure to be an interesting term. One would think an English course and songwriting go hand in hand in any circumstance, and when I first asked Aidan whether his degree has so far aided his lyrical approach, he said: “Well, I suppose I do like words and stuff…”
But after some consideration, the hard-working Cambridge student inside of him finally came to life, despite months of avoiding all-things-degree and a mountain of summer reading. He continued: “It’s been great being exposed to so many different kinds of literature and ways of constructing characters, emotions, pain and humour. We learn about what the writing says but also how the writing does it.
“Having an essay or two to write every week obviously helps. But it can be hard when some of those deadlines come around and you’d just much rather be spending time making a song or doing something else.” (I can only hope his supervisor doesn’t see this).
The North-South divide gets real
The 20-year-old singer/songwriter proudly hails from Yorkshire and acknowledges that coming to Cambridge was for him, as it was for many of us, an extremely daunting experience: “I was nervous going into it for sure. I come from a background and have a particular identity that’s really quite unassuming. I went to a normal state school in a normal small town.
“Over lockdown, I’ve been stuck [in Thirsk], and I’ve been sat here thinking about what I remember of this place, and wondering, how do I want to remember it?” It was from these questions that he would go on to finalise a collection of songs, honouring his simpler beginnings:
“One of the reasons this record is so focused on Yorkshire might be because I want to make it clear that I’m not any of those negative [Cambridge] stereotypes – like a pro-establishment, upper-class Etonian. I’ve not actually found that to be an accurate stereotype anyway, but it does exist, and I’m obviously not any of those things.
“Cambridge to me is a place I go for eight weeks at a time. I enjoy it, but it doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t change who I am. Yeah, we’re all a part of this big institution, but I want to make sure that that institution doesn’t speak louder than we do. I want to maintain my own voice.”
From the release of this record, Aidan has perhaps found his own sense of emotional release (that’s the last pun, I promise), knowing that his music is authentically and unapologetically his: “Up to a point I’d never listened to the whole EP start to finish, but when I did I just felt so energised and recharged. That’s how I hope people feel when they listen to it as well.
“Playing it all back, the songs just felt so real to me. They’re me, figuring out how I want to tame those memories of the person I was back then. And maybe, after all that, I haven’t learnt anything, but changed everything.”
Featured Image Credit: Aidan Tulloch