Getting noticed as a singer-songwriter is hard enough in your own country, but if you happen to live 6,000 miles away, launching a new album isn’t without its problems.
However, Al Nero, who trades under the moniker Yip Man, seems relaxed about the launch of his second solo long player ‘Pure Zen, Ken’.
“Well, there’s not much to manage really – I certainly wouldn’t call it a campaign,” he replies, from his home in Shenzhen. “I’m not so hung up on the aftermath of making a record these days – I mean, I still want it to be well-received in the sense I’d like some people to really dig it, but I have little time to worry about how well it does in terms of press, radio, sales – those things are lovely but they’re not the catalyst for making music – if they were I would have packed it in a long time ago!”
Now largely studio-bound, Nero has been making music since his teens, originally in various bands in the north of Scotland, including Le Reno Amps with Scott Maple, with whom he co-founded their label Armellodie and who has recorded both Yip Man albums.
“I really do (miss playing live),” he admits. “Not even in a live show sense, but just in a rehearsing, jamming, making noise sense.” He describes the band with whom he records while back in Scotland as an “absolute delight to play with”. Colin Reid on guitar and bassist David Stephen – “great musicians” – are backed by Neil ‘Waz’ Warrack; “a monumental drummer, like Animal from The Muppets but so musical in his approach”.
“It’s quite a lovely thing to send them some demos and the next time we’re in the rehearsal room they’ve learned their stuff,” Nero enthuses. “They all bring their own little thing to the songs and we mess about with structure, harmonies and the painting on top.
“All my records have been made over what I like to call ‘stolen’ weekends,” he adds. “I demo on my 4-track, send those to the band, we get in a room and flesh them out and then we hit the studio.”
And this trans-continental approach seems to be working, with the follow-up to debut album ‘Braw Power’ again a joyous bundle of infectious hooks and big, brassy choruses.
“It’s just fitting it in and around our day jobs and families that is the hardest part – hence the ‘stolen’ weekends.”
Nero’s day job is at a new Scottish-affiliated International School. “I quite liked the idea of lots of little Chinese kids running round saying ‘fit like?’ and ‘michty aye’ so off I went and here I am.”
Trips home are rare, due to the trip taking the best part of a day and prohibitively expensive – so sadly, we cannot expect any live launch shows.
“I blew the budget for this record on an accompanying mindfulness colouring book,” he laughs, “so the air-fare is just too steep.”
We have to rewind there. A zen colouring book? One in the eye for the streaming generation perhaps, but should we mindfully spoil its pristine pages, or keep it in mint condition for selling on eBay at a future date?
“Haha, well, this is it,” he laughs. “It was all really an elaborate scheme to get people to buy two copies you see? A keeper and a player. I’ll let you know if my ploy has worked and I sell double what the first album did.”
Like many musicians, it is all about the package for Nero. “Once the record is made and I’ve had that glorious moment of holding it in my hands and thinking, ‘yeah I made this’, I’m kinda ready to get on with whatever is next. But if you’re reading this, it is absolutely essential that you buy my new record, pretty please.”
This article originally appeared in the Buchan Observer.