Let’s start with a bit of background. How did you get interested in playing music, what is your musical background and briefly what is the musical path that has got you to where you are today?

I was always interested in music from a very early age. My parents like dance and I was encouraged into dancing from about the age of 7 or 8. This love of rhythm grew and at age 10 a friend at school got an electric guitar for Christmas. He said that I could be the drummer in his band as he noticed that I always like tapping along to songs.

So, I pestered my parents and eventually got my first drum kit. At that time there really wasn’t a path for learning rock music and so it was all self-teaching – playing along to my favourite bands, like Guns ‘n’ Roses and Metallica. My teenage years opened my mind (and ears) to new genres and I found myself falling in love with R.E.M., Cowboy Junkies and Janes Addiction to name but a few, giving me an appreciation for subtle dynamics, new musical forms and technical aggression.

Then, after a succession of office jobs that I simply didn’t want to be doing, a friend asked if I could teach him how to play the drums. So by accident, I fell into a career of music education, leading to more personal studies in music and rhythm and giving me a more solid future as a full-time musician. This alongside playing for a host of different bands gave me a fantastic musical foundation and a huge amount of real-world experience.

I now find myself immersed in a world of music education, production, songwriting, studio recording, live performance, management and creating music & sound for film.

Although you are from the UK, you are now based in Berlin. How did that come about and what are the differences between being creative in the two places?

I met my German wife in the UK at a friends wedding – in fact, the very friend I mentioned earlier who, at age 10, convinced me to buy my first drum kit and be in his band. He also married a German lady and we had discussed moving to Berlin all together – we had fanciful conversations about opening a music studio together; this all before he was sadly taken from us at the incredibly young age of 38. You could say that this guy is not only one of the main reasons why I got into drumming and music in the first place, but also why I ended up in Berlin.

Up until moving to Berlin I was living and working in Swindon. I had had some minor success with a local band, which unfortunately broke up in 2007 after an 8-year stint. After that, I felt a little suffocated by the town and imagined that I could probably have a safe, but possibly very routine life if I stayed. I also had some vague plans to move to Los Angeles sometime in the first decade of the 2000s, but after meeting my wife plans changed and we decided to try Berlin for 6 months… that was 10 years ago.

I have met some incredible musicians in my time here, from all over the world and I absolutely love the huge diversity of style, backgrounds and culture which all blend to make some amazing musical projects. I have played for a lot of artists making a wide variety of music, such as Synthwave, Industrial Rock, Electronic Goth and Harp Jazz!

I guess that, as Berlin is renowned for being a musical hub, it attracts many creative people from all over the world with so many amazing and unique ideas… I love that about being here.

Although you have presented the details of Mr Dog The Bear fairly obscured, you have been using that as a creative outlet for many years now. How did the project come about, are there other musicians involved and why the anonymity?

I first came up with the idea of writing and producing my own music, as a way to have unlimited creative freedom behind the drum kit. Having found a creative home in Berlin and having achieved my teenage dream of becoming a professional session musician, I got to experience the realities of such a job. 

It’s paid work, sometimes very well paid, but, the trouble with being paid is that you are working for someone, so counter-intuitively, the job of a session musician really isn’t a creative one as you may expect. Most of the time quite the opposite in fact.

The people paying you, more often than not, have definite ideas about what they want from a hired gun, and so I find myself either being a fill-in for another drummer – therefore having to play pre-existing parts as close to, if not exactly the same as, the original composer of the part – or, if I am hired to record an original piece for a song-writer, they usually have a drum part in mind and so, again, I have to copy programmed parts or loops which they have in their mind.

This can be somehow frustrating and not exactly how I had imagined it would be; there’s often very little room for creativity as a session musician. So I created a fake band: “Mr Dog The Bear”. *(Named after a soft toy which I still don’t know if it’s a dog or a bear).

As MDTB started out as a fake band to promote my work as a session artist, I decided to release the first record anonymously and only take the credit for the drums.

Is the music you make conceptual? And if so, what does it all mean?

Because the first record was an experiment and a lie, I soon found myself trapped: I didn’t want to release it under my own name or take credit for the music. I find it incredibly hard to promote myself. I also had very little confidence in my music. So there was born a concept within the music itself: Lies. The first song I made was called “Honeytrap”. The entire first album, “Sharks and Butterflies”, has a story to tell about living with, or being caught in, a lie.

Has the sound change at all from one release to the next and is there a conscious plan being followed or is it more about reacting to the world around you and releasing music when the time feels right?

I always like to write music that challenges both myself and hopefully the listener. I’m the kind of person who gets bored very easily and so I try to write interesting yet accessible songs. I guess I can’t really describe what I produce as pop music, but it does tend to have a conventional & contemporary feel. There’s never any real concrete process though. I like things to be organic and develop naturally.

That being said, with each release, (I hope that), I try to improve both in my song-writing and also my production and mixing skills. MDTB has become a game to see how far I can take it – I strive for new levels in quality overall with each release.

And even though it’s mostly a solo effort, I also crave working with others – so, another challenge has been how to battle my lack of self-confidence and balance that alongside working with some of the most talented people I know. I collaborate more than occasionally with singers and musicians from around the world. The musicians I have worked with over the past 5 or 6 years have been incredible and really made my songs and this whole journey into something special.

It’s funny though, that the whole thing started as an Anti-Session Musician project and then I go and ask session musicians to take part! I am fully aware of the irony in that and so, when I ask anyone to be a part of MDTB, I insist they have 100% creative freedom. I love other peoples magic and I am constantly excited to hear what they will send back!

And I am forever thankful to each and every one of them.

Each record has a definite concept or story behind it. The second record, “Ghosts”, was developed because of a story I read about the actress Famke Janssen.

After reading this story it made me start to question things about the human psyche, fame and self-perception;

What did this story mean? Like, what actually happened?!

Maybe it was some stalker who left the book by her bed?

Maybe it was some supernatural haunting? 

Maybe Famke Janssen is schizophrenic and had no idea she had put the book there herself?

Or maybe it was just a publicity stunt?

Who knows… But still, the mystery was quite intriguing…  

The third record “Transhumanism” was written alongside work on my first movie soundtrack.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8240382/ The release of the Berlin-based feature film “Symbiotic” has been delayed due to Corona, but the music was finished over a year ago. The film’s subject matter also inspired me to ask questions about the (not too distant) future of the human race and how technology is changing us all, from social media to Artificial Intelligence, fake news – even things like the Re-Face app -https://hey.reface.ai/ -, which seem amusing on the surface, but make you wonder where reality and the uses of such technology are heading…?

In 2020 I released two records; one the official soundtrack of the movie and two, being my third album “Transhumanism”. I even found out when researching this topic that there is even a transhumanist political party in the U.S. – https://transhumanist-party.org/ (!)

You have a new EP out, Animus/Anima, what can we expect from that release?

As mentioned before, I have collaborated with a host of incredibly talented musicians from around the world. Most of my music is instrumental as I am an absolutely terrible singer. Animus/Anima is a collection of all the songs I have made in the past 6 years featuring vocals. The lead track “World Looks Sideways” is a brand new track which is taken from my fourth full-length release “The Night Moving Company”, (the title of which comes from another very interesting story), which will be coming out in December 2021.

During the day, you are a music tutor but do you play live anymore?

In short: No. Well, very very occasionally. I am still officially a member of one band here in Berlin, but gigs are few and far between… and especially since Corona hit, the live thing for me is pretty much gone.

How did lock down affect you creatively and were there any silver linings to be found during those isolated and separated times?

Lockdown has been incredibly hard. Especially with a young family and a business to balance… Also, the lack of social interaction has been super tough. Even though Mr Dog The Bear is a mostly solo project, I still need interesting input to have any interesting creative output. Not being able to interact with anyone, to have real-life experiences and funny moments, to be inspired by other people or to even just hang out in the pub and talk bullshit for a few hours, I have found myself, (like I am sure most people have found this past two years), isolated and a bit depressed.

This didn’t help my self-confidence. My latest record was very hard to write and complete. But, silver linings: I have had more time to spend on my song-writing and mixing skills – so, I would say that I am extra happy with my upcoming album. And I think that, in all honesty, one of the reasons I am finally breaking the anonymity of MDTB is because I have finally found peace with what I do.

I make songs that challenge me. I make music that is born from the mysteries of being human and the questions that we all ask ourselves. I could be deeper and talk more about my questions of the inner workings of the human mind, but I’d bore you… But maybe if you want to spend a few hours in the pub over a pint sometime?

And where next for Mr Dog The Bear and you yourself, both creatively and personally?

Honestly, I don’t know. I need to be inspired again. So, if you hear of any little known intriguing mysteries out there that can make my brain race, let me know.

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