Graeme JD Ronald: 'This album is tied to the path that I've been trying to establish as an artist, sound designer and writer of scores'
- David Pollock
- 20 December 2019
Former leader of Remember Remember discusses his new project on Rock Action, the soundtrack to Gareth Warland's short film about Danielle MacGillvray
'I'm really grateful to Rock Action,' says Graeme Ronald, the artist formerly known as Remember Remember and the leader of the band of the same name. 'I'm just really grateful about having a label at all, it's a rare privilege to have someone prepared to give you that backing and to produce a physical copy of your music; musicians tend to release their music on Bandcamp or wherever now. I try not to take it for granted, it's amazing to have that kind of support, and they're awesome people as well. It's a good relationship, even with the long distance that now exists between me and them.'
Ronald is speaking on the line from his home in St Louis, Missouri, where he lives with his wife and young son, having moved there from Glasgow four years ago, just before he became a father; his wife is from the city and wanted to be near her family. 'No one knows where St Louis is,' he says. 'It's basically bang in the centre of America.' One by-product of this good news was that Ronald had to shutter the Remember Remember project in 2015, after three well-received albums with Rock Action – the Glasgow-based label which he joined after touring as a live member of the label's founders Mogwai – that saw releases between 2008 and 2014. These had marked him out as one of Glasgow's most interesting young composers of music, and it's why we're so interested in Danielle, his first album under his own name, also out on Rock Action.
'Remember Remember's last gig as a band was in 2015 at the Òran Mór, and it was quite an abrupt end,' he says. 'We had this gig booked, but all of a sudden it looked like it was going to be our last one, although in retrospect I regret making the announcement that the band were breaking up. I dunno, maybe I should have said we're on hiatus? I would love to play with those guys again somehow, it's not impossible. Moving here, the priority wasn't for me to further my career – it's not the place for that anyway, it's not LA or New York. I came here to be a dad, and messed around occasionally with some music in the house.'
It took Ronald three years to earn the right to work in the USA, but afterwards he volunteered in the local radio station and played some low-key solo gigs under the Remember Remember alias. 'Then by some weird act of synchronicity – and nepotism – Franz Ferdinand were in town and I got talking to Paul (Thomson, their drummer) on Instagram,' he says. 'That's how I found myself opening for them at one of the biggest venues for us in St Louis. It just seemed ridiculous, I'm really flukey like that! This all culminated on my birthday – because the first album came out on my birthday in 2008 – so I did this live-streamed anniversary concert from my house. That felt like enough to commemorate it; it felt quite, I dunno, symmetrical.'
Since then, solo Remember Remember activity has gone quiet, but Ronald has shifted towards the other part of his muse; not as an esoteric pop writer, but a sound designer and score writer, which he did for a video games company in Nottingham before he left for the States. He designed an audio Christmas card for Glasgow School of Art (whose Sound for Moving Image MA he is a graduate of) last year, and the new album is a commissioned piece, the soundtrack to director Gareth Warland's short film of the same name about Danielle MacGillvray, a young and active mother living on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides with multiple sclerosis.
'She lives with MS, but she's also a mother and she was formerly a competitive runner and horserider, she's a volunteer firefighter,' says Ronald. 'She's an amazing person who does all this amazing stuff, and the film is less about her illness and more about her persistence in living her life despite that illness. I was recommended to Gareth, and there was a lot about the film that really made me want to get involved. The film is only fifteen minutes long, so it's a good first step for me in terms of writing scores, but with it being set in Scotland and me being so far away, that was also really appealing to me. There was just something that really resonated about your home and how important it is to you.'
The record was entirely self-produced by Ronald in his basement, a mixture of live instrumentation and laptop, and it's a series of gorgeous, ambient instrumentals. 'I wasn't thinking of it being an album when I was writing it,' he says. 'The job was to soundtrack the film, to write music that was appropriate to it and that the director liked and thought was working correctly, that helped to build a story. Although what I wrote at first was really similar to Remember Remember, lots of glockenspiels and bells and whistles, that Steve Reich kind of thing, and Gareth just ripped it to shreds, he said it was totally wrong.'
Ronald jokes that this 'bruised my fragile ego', but he also says it was a good education in writing a score. 'I'd never had someone be critical like that. That's when I realised this is not about me writing whatever music pleases me personally, there's someone else's artistic vision here that I've got to help realise, and someone else's story. It became quite collaborative in that sense, because I'd send him music and he would send me feedback until we arrived at something that we both liked. Having put my ego aside and arrived at the result that way, it meant much better music; or that the music was far more appropriate with a more effective overall result.'
The album itself was a punt, an email with the music in it to Stuart Braithwaite at Rock Action, and an enquiry as to whether he wanted to do anything with them; fortunately he did, an album which represents hopeful new life to what Ronald does. 'This album is tied to the path that I've been trying to establish ever since I got my Masters, as an artist, sound designer and writer of scores,' he says. 'I'd like to continue to make that kind of work, and hopefully it will lead to opportunities to do more work like that. Ideally that's where it will go, keep ploughing that furrow and see where it takes me.'
Graeme JD Ronald's Danielle is out now on Rock Action.