English singer-songwriter Mr. Alec Bowman plays sad songs that sound like the feelings old pictures evoke. A photographer and videographer by day, his music captures the blurred backgrounds and soft edges of nostalgia. They’re personal narratives hued with the golden light of magic hour and stories told through a lens he’s experienced, but through which all can see.
I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot, due out March 2020, is his most honest work yet. Produced by Josienne Clarke (Rough Trade Records), the 10-track LP represents both sonic and emotional growth since years performing in the electronic industrial duo Formication and the rootsy outfit The Wild Man of Europe. Says Alec, “Everything I’ve done before has been categorized by being able to hide behind a character.” Here, though, “Every word of it is me. It’s pretty raw and that’s what I intended.”
In fact, I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot emerged almost full-formed after a particularly tumultuous professional and personal patch, Alec realized he needed a new start. This song cycle, he says, “existed entirely in my head and all I had to do was write that down. It’s about taking a step into the unknown and rebuilding yourself in the way that you always thought you could be.”
Musically inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s storytelling, Ruston Kelly’s barebones country aesthetic, Will Oldham and Alastair Roberts’ alt-folk aesthetic, the authentic, unique songcraft of Richard Dawson & The Mountain Goats and his grandfather’s church organ playing, the songs on I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot mirror the straightforward messages within them. And those stories encompass both the fear and boldness of facing 21st century turmoil. “Safe Mode,” for example, likens people to their phones, wishing for the ability to toggle a switch and tune out the world.
Use safe mode, it’s easy that way.
Cut loose and hide away.
Pull the plug and pretend that you can’t hear.
It’s bad advice that won’t save your life, but
I’m sick of losing, losing fights.
Close your eyes and turn away from your fear.
But I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot ends with a speck of hope flashing like an unexpected lens flare. In “Never The End Of The World,” he offers advice and assurance for a better future.
It’s never the end of the world,
it just stops for a minute while you unfurl.
It goes on without you, whatever you do,
So, stand up for something all the way through.
I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot is a record that doesn’t just tell you about struggle, patience, and acceptance; it shows you — without pretence or proselytising — both directly and through metaphor. And like its cover suggests, I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot offers hope for sunnier days ahead. “I found that it’s possible to survive difficult situations,” says Alec. “You can adapt to change and you can come out the other end.”