S J Denney is a singer-songwriter from Essex, England. He discovered vinyl versions of The Beatles’ White Album and Neil Young’s Harvest when he was a child and fell in love with music. S J was a choir boy who performed in a variety of locations throughout his area. His next step was to learn to play the clarinet. While music theory provided a solid basis, Denney soon decided to concentrate his efforts on self-learning the acoustic guitar and songwriting.
S J has played in a number of bands, duos, and as a solo performer. These activities have taken him all throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
S J DENNEY: I’m from Essex in the United Kingdom. I first got into music by being a choir boy and learning the clarinet. A few years later, I stumbled across vinyl copies of The Beatles’ White Album and Harvest by Neil Young. These records got me into guitar-based music and I fell into songwriting really quickly after that.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
S J DENNEY: I had formal training on the clarinet and a bit around singing. However, once I’d got enough from music theory to know my way around chords and scales, I got a bit bored. I found the music I had to learn for grades was too formulaic.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘S J DENNEY’?
S J DENNEY: The Beatles and Neil Young were definitely my first influences and I think they’ve remained amongst the strongest too. Other notable mentions would be David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Paul Weller, Talk Talk, George Michael and Jeff Buckley.
S J Denney is just a slightly cooler way of writing my name, which is Stuart Jon Denney. I think I was going for a P J Harvey vibe.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
S J DENNEY: I think the things that will resonate the most are my ear for a melody and relatable story telling. My music is Indie Rock with a twist. That twist spans various genres including folk, Americana, baroque, contemporary and world music. Additionally, I think my musical arrangements are pretty strong and there’s usually the inclusion of a unique instrument that you aren’t expecting. For me, it’s all about keeping the listener on their toes.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
S J DENNEY: I’ve written (and released) music that covers all of these wider themes. Plenty of my songs also look at my personal narrative and that of the people around me. I’m an observer really. Whether I’m surfacing my own feelings or absorbing the mood of my surroundings, I just let the music do the talking. Songwriting is my way of telling myself what’s important to me at the time. I don’t really know what I’m feeling until I sit down and look back at my lyrics.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
S J DENNEY: Music gives me an immense sense of pride and achievement. I don’t think you can put a value on that. Of course, like so many musicians, I put a lot of effort in and see very little remuneration. However, I’m proud of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
I don’t expect something more. If something happens, it will just be a nice bonus.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
S J DENNEY: My creative process has really expanded over the last couple of years. Originally, it would always be a case of picking up the guitar and playing some nice open chords. Then a melody would come really quickly. By the time I was approaching a chorus, the vocals would start to lead the chords to a different place. That’s still the way I write a lot of songs. However, I’ve adopted different methods. Sometimes I write a whole vocal melody and lyrics and then work out the chords. Other times I write all the music first. I really like this approach, as it can take you out of your comfort zone. More recently, I’ve also written the drum beat first. Occasionally, I’ll use the piano as my weapon of choice. Having all these different approaches helps me to be diverse.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
S J DENNEY: On a personal level I’ve had a few setbacks… I didn’t have the best upbringing, which was another reason I chose to express myself through song. I also had a number of health issues, which have largely been resolved. I think this has made me a stronger individual and shaped my outlook on life.
Musically, my biggest challenge has been adapting to a streaming business model. I’ve always been about tangible products where the music and art exist as one. Sometimes I feel a bit sad about how music consumption has evolved.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
S J DENNEY: Without a doubt, my crowning achievements and happiest moments have been getting married and having a son. My family is my world!
In terms of my music, I think my recent run of EPs has been my most fulfilling period. It feels like I’m starting to make the music that has always been in my head.
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Photo credits: Hester Denney