Having grafted on many different paths in his music career, Gavin Kaufman continues to make his mark on the world. We sat down to talk youth, Liverpool, and what it takes to dig deep and stay authentic.
  • SALUTE: Whereabouts did you grow up Gavin? What was it like?
I grew up in Northampton – a large town in the East Midlands of England. It’s hard to know how it compared to growing up elsewhere but it was a diverse place with people from various ethnic backgrounds. Although, like most places, it had its rough areas – I felt relatively safe growing up there. There was a fairly decent music scene ranging from pub cover bands to original bands and venues.
  • SALUTE: How did you get started making music?
My Dad had written songs on-and-off over the years and had a small recording setup at home. I remember running out crying terrified of the squealing noise the Revox reel-to-reel tape machine made as it rewound. I must have been about five or six years old at the time. This was my official introduction to the world of recording. Thankfully he upgraded to a four-track Tascam cassette setup which didn’t scare the hell out of me!! Multi-track recording fascinated me from then on.
My Dad was registered blind and so the best way for him to show me chords on the guitar and the keyboard was via a ‘hands-on’ approach. From then on I learned to play ‘by ear’.
A few years later I started writing and experimenting with recording and had a duo with a friend at school. In this duo I sung and played drums whilst my friend sung and played piano. An early White Stripes/Royal Blood perhaps?! Haha!! I also started venturing out to perform my own songs solo in school concerts.
In 1994 and 1995, at the age of eleven and twelve, I entered The National Youth Rock & Pop Awards with my own compositions. The competition had an impressive lineup of judges and I was thrilled to have made the top-ten both years. The second year I received press coverage from the local newspapers and television news. I was interviewed and filmed at home performing my song entry. Many people at school had seen the broadcast and I suppose this was my first ‘taste of fame’ – be it on a local level.

Gavin Kaufman

In the years that followed I put together my first band and we became well-known on the local music scene in and around Northampton. I sang lead vocals and played bass guitar – since we couldn’t find a bass player. This was a blessing in disguise as it really encouraged me to develop a sense of independence between the vocal parts and playing the bass parts. We performed both covers and originals – playing pubs, clubs, venues and the odd wedding. We recorded three self-penned EPs. It was a great opportunity to develop live as a performer as well as a songwriter; both as a co-writer and as an individual. Also, this band served as an invaluable opportunity to learn and experience the ‘ins-and-outs’ of band dynamics; in many ways – the hard way.

A massive part of my music development took place whilst sitting-in on recording sessions at the local recording studio – The Lodge. I spent a lot of time there around the age of 15-18 where I would setup microphones, operate the 24-track 2-inch Studer tape machine on recording sessions and play on recordings for bands in need of extra instrumentation. Having the opportunity to learn how to operate a 32-channel analogue recording studio was invaluable!! This in many ways set the tone for my future recording approach. Although, soon after digital recording started taking the place of the tape machine I had been blessed with the opportunity to experience the beauty of the analogue world. This, combined with my Dad’s four-track cassette setup, ingrained techniques from the ‘old-school’ way of recording into my psyche – which is still with me to this day. Soon I had a PC with Cubase that enabled me to experiment with digital recording at home and capture my band’s first EP. It was an extremely exciting time in my musical development. I’m so grateful to the guys at the studio for allowing me to express my enthusiasm and get ‘hands-on’ in recording sessions during this period of my life.
By 2002 I was no longer feeling happy within the band and it was at this point that a local Irish band approached me to join them on bass guitar and backing vocals. This was an exciting opportunity for me especially since the first major booking was at an incredibly expensive resort on the beautiful island of Sardinia – where many celebrities holidayed.
On our first visit we spent a month performing covers, traditional Irish reels and original songs to very well-off punters. The sea, the food, and accommodation was stunning!! In preparation for the trip I needed to learn a large amount of traditional Irish reels in a short period of time; which really honed my ear and developed my bass playing. It was an incredible experience for an enthusiastic eighteen year old – but there was something inside of me that felt like I needed to expand into other areas and develop myself in new ways.
Prior to the first Sardinia trip I heard about The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. I applied and was invited to audition which I attended and passed. Now I had a dilemma on my hands; do I stay with the Irish band (who were talking about a possible American tour) or do I follow my inner desires for something new and an opportunity to develop myself in new ways?
This was a difficult decision to make but I decided Liverpool was my next port of call. This decision (and the one to play with the Irish band) caused horrible discord between my old band and me – the band breakup was awful. I learned very quickly why musicians compare a breakup of a band to that of a marriage. The pain of this haunted me for many years to follow. This alongside the recent divorce of my parents, the relocation from our family home and breakup of a relationship that had lasted in total almost two years served as fuel for much of my creative output for the years to come.
  • SALUTE: What was the uni experience in Liverpool like for you?
Although I had experienced some wonderful things during my last two years in Northampton; the intensity of things that led to my parents’ divorce, the split of my band, and that of my relationship, had left me in quite a depressed state. My move to Liverpool was on one hand extremely exciting but also bitter-sweet. I was very excited to immerse myself into my new life, full of opportunity and possibility, but also felt a huge amount of sadness and loneliness due to severed relationships – relationships that had defined my life for many years and that of my sense of self. My move to Liverpool really was the start of my new life.
Something that I haven’t mentioned yet, which was probably one the main contributors towards my depressed state of mind at this time, was the sudden onset of tinnitus and hyperacusis just before joining the Irish band. This was absolutely devastating for me. Tinnitus is a constant high-pitched ringing in the ears (the pitch and type of sound can vary from person to person) and hyperacusis is a reduced tolerance to sound levels. This jeopardised my hopes of embarking upon a career within the music industry greatly!!
Having gone to see a specialist on Harley Street in London and being told that “…you’ll just have to learn to live with it…” almost destroyed me. The world had become an extremely loud place, where there was no more silence and a considerable amount of distortion in my right ear in particular. Performing live without earplugs had now become not only extremely painful – it was most likely detrimental. If I wanted to continue performing live I’d need to wear hearing protection and come to terms with the awful feeling of separation and isolation when doing so. Also, it was very hard to avoid thinking about how I may have been responsible for this damage to my hearing due to the loud noise I’d exposed myself to over the previous years of live performance. Perhaps the tinnitus and hyperacusis would have developed either way but it was very difficult not to feel largely responsible. Anyway, I did choose to move to Liverpool and study at LIPA and grapple with my ear issues head-on!!
Life at LIPA was full of mixed emotions. Firstly, I was studying alongside many extremely talented individuals which inevitably reduces one’s confidence greatly – at least to start with. But this kind of ‘in-house unspoken’ competition served as a positive fuel that encouraged me to dig very deep, further the skills I’d already developed and learn new things. I can’t say the three years were easy because they weren’t – mainly due to the looming feeling of sadness and pain from the circumstances prior to my relocation and the on-going difficulty with my ears.
Also, Liverpool was a very different place to Northampton – I was a southerner living in a very northern city – where I could hardly understand what people were saying haha!! Slowly I got used to performing with custom-molded earplugs and used in-ear monitors when the setup allowed. It certainly wasn’t an easy transition to make but one that was worthwhile – especially if I wanted a future in performing music in loud environments. I got stuck-in and began to excel; especially within the areas of live performance, recording, composition, and music for film & TV. During my three years at LIPA I put together various bands; performing originals and covers in and around Liverpool.
Upon graduating in 2005, and after a pretty intense three years, I was ready to have some fun. It was at this point, myself and a friend from my course, started work on putting together our function/covers band that would enable us to earn our living for the next few years. We played many pubs, clubs, venues, Butlins (and similar), weddings and various other occasions – up and down the country. In this band I sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar. This was a fantastic opportunity to hone my skills as a frontman in varied situations. During this time I also had several other covers bands on the go; including a trio, a duo and playing solo gigs. The trio was a great opportunity to develop my skills on electric guitar whilst singing lead vocals – especially because there’s nowhere to ‘hide’ with only three people in the band. It was at this time also that I put together my original band which became very well known on the local scene and around the North West – due to one song I’d written in particular. This song was a kind of satire about a date I’d been on with a local girl. We’d made a music video for the song which went viral online and led to a sellout show at the then Carling Academy 2 in Liverpool. On one hand, the exposure and success of this song was fantastic, but on the other it meant that people were expecting more of the same. I didn’t feel comfortable writing more songs in that vein just for the sake of it. I didn’t feel authentic doing so and after a period of time trying to change the direction of the band, and after two years together in various forms, I began to realise my desires were leading me towards new things.
During this period of time the previous foundations I’d laid in the world of theatre had led to some fantastic opportunities which I embraced. One of the playwrights I had worked with approached me and asked if I’d like to be musical director for the theatre adaptation of one of his television shows. I jumped at the opportunity and ended up working as musical director and piano player for the show on three separate occasions. This led to another theatre engagement in which I was musical director and composer. Following this show, the director had asked if I would like to work as a composer on a musical he was writing but I declined as I felt I wanted to concentrate on the original band and felt that the style of music within his musical was a little out of my skill base.
  • SALUTE: Why did you decide to go solo?
I decided to go solo because I felt I was unable to be authentic as a songwriter in my band and felt I needed to take the leap and head out into the world as a solo artist. In doing so I’d be able to fully express myself as a writer and try new approaches without as many limitations. I set about recording my first EP at home which I took out to New York in Sept 2009. For me this marked the beginning of a new phase in my life and my trip to NYC gave me a deadline for the completion of the record. I played an acoustic gig whilst there and was asked back to play a gallery opening but the 3000+ miles between Liverpool and New York proved problematic haha!! But it did give my confidence a boost.
At the beginning of 2009 I found myself in a really bad state financially and moved into a house-share on Penny Lane – yes, THE Penny Lane 🙂 It’s basically like any other street with terrace houses – with the addition of several tourists walking up and down taking photos from time to time; looking for ‘the barber shop’. It was at this point that a change started to take play within me. I was beginning to feel like I needed to start digging deeper inside of myself to find out what was ‘really’ going on in there. By the beginning of 2010 this inward journey had become a priority for me and I slowly started to distance myself from my previous life. I had tired of playing the covers gigs (and the over-indulgence that went along with it) and felt like my original music needed to reflect what I was feeling inside. Writing and releasing my songs ‘Fall In’ and ’10 10 10′, in December 2010, reflected these feelings and I finally felt as if I was being authentic as a songwriter – as well as a person.
After winning a competition on the local radio with a friend I was writing with we got to perform at The Mathew Street Festival in August 2010. Unfortunately, the timing was not right as it was at this point I was wanting to prioritise my writing as a solo artist and felt I couldn’t commit to another project; especially after leaving my band with the intention to go solo. This was an incredibly difficult and confusing period of time. It soon became apparent to me that my time in Liverpool was nearly at an end; as I needed to go deeper into myself and explore other places around the UK (and beyond) whilst doing so. I left Liverpool in March 2011 after which I spent time living in Brighton, Hull, London, Cambridge, Bristol and Northampton before moving to Falmouth, Cornwall in September 2015.
I knew that I wanted to put together a full-length album which resulted in releasing ‘Aura Symphonia’ in January 2014. This album was a culmination of songs I’d written throughout my entire journey up to that point – plus several new compositions. I created a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds to spend twelve days in Parr Street Studios in Liverpool; to re-record drum, bass, guitar and piano parts that existed on previous demos I’d recorded. I took these stems and completed the recordings at home in Northampton using Logic Pro 9. During the summer of 2012, and whilst deeply on an ‘inward spiritual journey’, I spent some time volunteering on an organic farm in the beautiful area of Umbria in Italy. It was there that I wrote ‘Keep On Talking’ which appears as the opening track on ‘Aura Symphonia’. After leaving Italy I arranged to spend a week volunteering in and around an old school house in the depths of the stunning countryside in Perth, Scotland. It was October and FREEZING!! What attracted me to that particular opportunity was that they had recently restored a recording studio setup in the main building. I’d arranged with them that in exchange for my labour I’d get a couple of sessions in the studio. It was here that I recorded a lot of the instrumentation for ‘Keep On Talking’. I even played drums on this one 😛 I spent that winter completing the album at home in Northampton and after doing so was completely exhausted and emotionally drained – but extremely proud of my work. Still, my finances were in disarray and it soon became clear to me that I’d need to make it a priority to try and balance things in that area – and in my life in general. I needed to ‘ground’!! In November 2013 I relocated to Cambridge where I worked at Waterstones bookshop and ironically stepped away from my music. This seemed like a rather strange thing to do after the journey I’d been on throughout the previous years but I was exhausted, needed to earn money to survive, get my feet on the ground and wanted to know who I was without music as the priority in my life.
As I stepped away from music (which really began to happen in 2011 after leaving Liverpool) there became room within me for other things to make their way in. It was at this time that Astrology became a big part of my life. I’d had a reading with an astrologer in January 2012 which blew my mind. It explained so much about my internal contradictions and confusions – and why I was the way I was. Of course, I wanted to learn even more about myself and set about learning everything I could about astrology – which eventually led me to offer my services to others as an astrologer from 2015 onwards. My move to Falmouth in September 2015 saw me step further into the world of astrology and numerology; at which point I started running workshops on the subjects. It was in Falmouth that I found a new sense of belonging and began a healing journey. I found community at the health foods shop that I currently work in and felt I was able to safely ‘ground’ after several years on a very challenging, but enlightening, inward journey. This journey served as a wonderful opportunity to go deep into the wounds of my past and build a true sense of self; one that didn’t require the acceptance and acknowledgment of others. When I look back at much of my younger life I realise I’d been trying to gain approval from others in order to feel worthy within myself. After my ‘time out’ period I felt I no longer required this external approval – it was really a matter of ME accepting myself.
  • SALUTE: What gear do you use for production and recording?
I use Logic Pro 9 on my VERY ancient MacBook. I bought it secondhand in 2011 (it’s from 2008) and has been incredibly loyal – I’ve done many recordings on it over the years. It’s now at the stage where the keyboard no longer works (which means the on/off button is defunct) and requires me to use a mini screwdriver to connect two points on the PCB motherboard to get it back up and running – should it turn off haha!! With the limitation of the the processing power comes the opportunity to incorporate techniques I used when I was younger – back in the days of the four-track tape recorder and the analogue recording studio. In fact, having such limitations has inspired me to be more creative with my choices than perhaps I would have been if I’d had a super-powerful recording system. On arriving in Falmouth I began to send my songs into the local BBC Introducing radio show – who have been very supportive by playing my songs many times during my time here. This led to a slot on the BBC Introducing acoustic stage at The Great Estate Festival in June 2017. I spent July making trips back and forth to Brighton and London to rehearse with my new band as I’d been approached to play a show at The Islington in London in August. It was during this period that I finished off the recording to a new song I’d written called ‘Fake It Till We Make It’. On the surface, this song was a little more light-hearted and ‘poppy’ than my previous offerings; such as ‘Broken, ‘Rise Up’ and ‘The Visitors’. It felt right to release something a bit more ‘immediate’ and less intense.
  • SALUTE: How’s it been since ‘Fake It Till We Make It’ was released?
Well, I haven’t officially released it yet. I will do so on 22nd December. I’m wanting to add an acoustic version of the song to go along with the single. But the reaction from people who have heard it so far has been positive – which is nice considering it’s quite a departure from the stuff most people are used to hearing from me. On performing it acoustic for the first time, at The Great Estate Festival, an audience member approached me later in the day requesting my album on the back of hearing it in my set. That meant a lot to me because it’s quite a difficult song to perform live as the recording leans more towards the production value.
  • SALUTE: What do you think of the SALUTE initiative and competition?
I think SALUTE music are offering a wonderful platform for unsigned and aspiring artists to showcase their talents and connect with other music creators – as well as music lovers. It gives independent bands and artists the opportunity to channel their energy into a competition which could potentially make a huge difference in their careers; by making it to the final stages of the competition. The app and online platforms allow for exposure – whether or not entrants make it to the latter stages of the competition – which is great!! It feels like an authentic platform which has been built by music creators and lovers FOR music creators and lovers. I think it’s brilliant, and although I didn’t reach the top-100 myself this time round, I feel grateful to be part of it 🙂
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