Interview with Michael Heath

So how did The One Beneath all start?

MH Well, it just seemed to evolve really. I’ve always played and composed but I wanted to, I guess, make it more visible. So, I started to link up with some colleagues and it all grew from there.

How did you get together with Hannah Margaret?

MH Even though we were using some great vocalists like Alice and Jenny, it soon came apparent to me that we needed to think about a signature style, which was really difficult without a ‘resident’ vocalist. So I just put an ad on a musicians’ internet site and Hannah replied. It was quickly apparent she brought an incredible amount to the music: both with her voice and her own compositions.

How would you describe your music?

MH Oh, where do you start? It’s melodic. The words are incredibly important to us. Hannah and I don’t feel it has a particular style. Perhaps it’s our style. Probably a ‘grab-bag’ of everything that has made us want to be musicians in the first place.

If the music is, as you say, the source of your influences, who are those influences?

MH You have to be careful. I can’t speak for Hannah, but one of the most important ‘giants’ for me has always been David Byrne. But we don’t sound anything like him or his earlier Talking Heads material. If pushed, I would have to go for people like Rufus Wainwright, Joni Mitchell and the great songwriters like Cole Porter. The quality of lyrics in any music has always been very appealing to me – and I know it is for Hannah as well. And I guess we like that in our stuff too.

Are you saying it’s more important than the music?

MH Certainly not. But it has to co-exist equally with the melody. Besides, if I ever think of music – I suppose I’m talking about contemporary popular music here – I often find the music and words inseparable.

You use guest musicians rather than have an established ‘personnel’ of your own. Why is that?

MH Lots of reasons. It gives us the flexibility to approach people who we think have a style that suits the song. It also means that we are not tied down to a particular person’s style of playing. I like that. We don’t write one style of music so we need to involve people as and when they fit with what we’re trying to create.

But doesn’t that leave you without a distinctive sound or style?

MH I don’t get that argument. If that was true then artists would sound at the end of the career like they sounded at the start of their career. What’s the point in that? We prefer the core of Hannah and I and, whichever way the music seems to be going, having the involvement of other musicians who bring out the best in it.

Give me an example of what you’re talking about.MH Well, let’s take something like Away From You. When Hannah and I were playing around with the format and the sound of the song, we soon discovered that it seemed to be heading for this wonderful catchy pop ‘feel’. That’s why we approached Dave Nicholls to play the bass for us. He writes some really melodic, catchy bass lines and I new his talents would be perfect for this song.

So, what’s next?

MH That’s such a tough question to answer. We have no plan. As I said at the start, the whole thing just took off naturally, so that’s how I expect it to continue. We are working on some really good new material and we want to release that when it’s ready. Like most song-writers, for every song Hannah and I develop and publish, we throw a certain number away. So, choosing the right material that we are both comfortable with and releasing it when it’s ready is always going to be important to us.