C Duncan: ‘I’ve become a bit of a control freak’

C Duncan

C Duncan - Credit: Archant

Christopher Duncan tells Alex Bellotti about the success of his debut LP, Architect.

Armed with a record that one critic vaunted for its ‘reverential sense of rapture’, there can’t be a more fitting venue for C Duncan than the Union Chapel. At the very least, after the year he’s had the talented Glaswegian could well use his show on February 19 as a chance to thank the big man upstairs.

Full name Christopher Duncan, the musician picked up a 2015 Mercury Award nomination for his debut record, Architect. It was richly deserved; the critically acclaimed album – a mixture of rich, choral harmonies and lush instrumental folk pop – was the result of a year-long stint Duncan spent recording alone in his Glasgow apartment, around a café job he worked to stay afloat.

“That year was a very strange one,” the 26-year-old says now. “It was great fun and I really enjoyed doing it, but I was isolated for most of it. I’m quite obsessed about writing music and just music in general, so I ended up not going out very much and staying in and working from the mornings until late into the nights just recording everything.”

The songs Duncan produced were in part influenced by his training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he studied composition. From an early age, the musician credits his parents with introducing him to classical music, and having mastered the guitar, bass and drums, when he came to record his own debut he was able to apply many compositional concepts such as layering and minimalism to a pop framework.

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His time at the Royal Conservatoire also gave him a taste of working by himself. Despite being involved in a series of bands during his teens, Duncan admits to preferring to work solo – even if initially he didn’t quite know all the tricks of a producer.

“Half the time it worked, half the time it didn’t and it did get quite frustrating at times, mostly because of my production skills. I was still learning a lot and I think with the album, in the unmastered version, you can tell which songs I started making the album with and which I finished with.

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“I got very used to spending a lot of time just working by myself, and I guess I became a bit of a control freak because you get used to listening to your own stuff played by yourself. That was the reason I didn’t want to do a band thing, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and worry about how to put it together after it’s recorded.”

As much as he stayed at home to make Architect, however, the subject of songs such as Say and As Sleeping Stones also about escaping the city. “It’s a very dreamy lush album and quite a lot is about escaping – not from anything bad in particular, but Glasgow’s quite a wet, grey place. I mean I wouldn’t live anywhere else, but particularly the winters, they start in October and end in May.”

He described the ‘Glasgow sound’ – “which I’ve never really bought into” – as a thing of the past and indeed Duncan’s own interests are a cultural counterpoint to the grey, industrial image which he admits is mostly true of the city. Alongside his music, Duncan is also an accomplished artist, and many of his paintings adorn his music covers and act as backdrops to his live shows.

“When I was making the album, whenever I had writer’s block I’d paint. I’m always doing one or the other, so it made sense to put all the artwork I was doing at the time onto the record,” he says. “I’ve got quite a short attention span when it comes to watching live bands; I’m not very good at watching and listening at the same time unless I have something other than the band to look at. So I quite like the idea of having paintings or films in the background – not to divert attention from the music, but just to offer something different alongside it.”

Beyond a series of European tour dates and the inevitable summer festival circuit, Duncan already has a second record in the bag, having finished recording it in the last few weeks. It should all make for a year that’s at least as successful as the last, providing his prayers are answered.

C Duncan plays the Union Chapel on February 19. Visit unionchapel.org.uk

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