With a knack for consistently writing “melodic gems” (The Herald) and a growing following across the globe, the “beautifully melancholic” (Press Association) Ally Kerr returned with new instrumental album Soundtracks released on 27 November 2020.
Four albums into his singer songwriter career which has taken him on many adventures across Asia and Europe – including playing in a sandstorm at a festival in Beijing – and having amassed millions of streams globally, Ally Kerr, “one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets” (Daily Record), begins another new adventure – composing emotional, cinematic, orchestral music to compliment his singer songwriter output with the release of Soundtracks.
File under modern classical, contemporary classical or film score – this is emotive and evocative music inspired by past masters such as Ennio Morricone and John Barry, modern greats like Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds, as well as post-rock influences such as Sigur Rós.
The Glaswegian’s music has been aired all over the world thanks to credits including the opening theme song to Japanese TV animation Mushi-shi, subsequently broadcast on Netflix internationally. Kerr has also been commissioned to write music for NHK in Japan and most recently provided music for the popular Netflix show Terrace House (2020).
Kerr has a growing fanbase scattered across the world and continues to record and perform as a singer songwriter, most recently embarking on a second headlining tour of China in 2019 following his latest solo album release. Kerr was the first-ever Scottish singer songwriter to tour China in 2015, following two successful festival appearances in Shanghai and Beijing in 2013.
It was the critically-acclaimed, wide-eyed, innocent, indie pop of debut Calling Out To You (producers David Scott/The Pearlfishers and Duglas T. Stewart/BMX Bandits) that immediately led to interest – from Scotland to Japan.
The album’s inclusion in a major Japanese music magazine’s list of the “Top 20 Albums Ever To Come Out Of Scotland” was testament to the melodic strength of the songs and the album sat alongside the seminal works of familiar names such as Orange Juice, Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian, to the intrigue of curious onlookers.
Kerr was quickly invited out to tour in Japan and one track from the album (The Sore Feet Song) was subsequently used as the theme tune to a major Japanese TV animation, Mushi-shi.
As well as an EP release with Spanish label Elefant Records (Camera Obscura / Lampchop) Kerr followed his debut with another acclaimed album – the bittersweet indie pop Off The Radar (“Outstanding melodies and charm. A pop classic” – Rock Deluxe, Spain).
The album was licensed and led to further shows in Asia (Singapore, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan) and Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands) before the music took another path by working with producer Biff Smith (frontman and writer with The Starlets / A New International).
Keen to nudge him out of his comfort zone, Smith encouraged Kerr to push forward and further develop his songwriting having bonded over a mutual appreciation of string-laden, emotive, cinematic music by composers such as John Barry and Ennio Morricone.
This new attitude, along with piano lessons to help progress his songwriting and arrangements – spurned on by kindred spirit Smith’s vision for what could be – resulted in the grander, lusher, darker, more textured baroque pop / folk-pop of Viva Melodia in 2013 (“A dark, dreamy, captivating album…the melodic gems grow stronger with each listening” – The Herald) and 2019’s Upgrade Me, a natural sequel to Viva Melodia with its lush strings and brass.
Soundtracks takes the cinematic influences found in the last two albums further. The album’s 10 instrumental songs are rich in melody and arrangements; from full orchestral compositions with rasping Hollywood-style brass and bracing percussion to more stripped-back piano songs intertwining with lush strings and delicate woodwinds, through to songs led by solo oboe or harp that build and swell with driving strings and atmospheric, shimmering, richly-reverberant electric guitars.
With no knowledge of writing or reading music, making the album was a huge challenge as Kerr relies on writing each part by ear. He explains: “Two years ago I decided I wanted to write and release much more – and quickly too – and get what’s in my head and what I’m feeling out into the world through music, so I just locked myself away and tried to figure out how I could make it happen.”
“It’s been an incredible experience and I feel I’m only just scratching the surface and have so much more to learn. Fortunately, I’m passionate about that so I became almost obsessed and just as well as it was a mountain I was facing. I’m a bit daft and naïve so didn’t quite realise how much I had to cover when I started out but I’m really proud to have got the songs to a point where I feel they can be released into the wild.”
Although echoes of Belle & Sebastian (the Washington Post described him as “Gentle Scottish folk with a pop tinge. If Stuart from Belle & Sebastian did a solo gig…”) Nick Drake, Neil Halstead, Kings Of Convenience, Grandaddy, Simon and Garfunkel and many other artists resonate, Kerr’s singer songwriter style is singularly distinctive and rooted in an attitude unconcerned by scenes, both local and international.
Kerr has kept a low profile in Scotland in recent years with few live appearances. Broadsheet newspaper The Scotland on Sunday described him as “one of the most interesting and creative musicians working in the country right now” in its rundown of the “Hottest Scottish Talent”.
The List magazine described Kerr as “One of Scotland’s brightest rising stars” and the biggest-selling newspaper in Scotland (Daily Record) said of his last album “one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets offers another magical mix”.
Kerr’s fanbase continues to grow through streaming platforms, word-of-mouth and personal engagement with his audience.
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Assorted media quotes:
“A great songwriting talent from Scotland” – Bob Harris, BBC
“Quietly confident third album from Glasgow pop-folkie……there’s wisps of cinematic wistfulness, there’s a bit of Paul Simon and emotional resilience which hints, quietly, at Ennio Morricone” 8/10 – UNCUT magazine
“Scottish folk with a pop tinge. If Stuart from Belle & Sebastian did a solo gig…” – Washington Post
A luxurious delicacy” – Femme Actuelle (France)
“A dark, dreamy, captivating album…the melodic gems grow stronger with each listening” – The Herald
“A heady combination of guitar riffs and pop melody has seen Ally Kerr become the next big thing on the British music scene” – Time Out Singapore
“Outstanding melodies and charm. A pop classic” – Rock Deluxe (Spain)
“A sparkling tunesmith” – Metro
“Beautifully melancholic” – Press Association
“Kerr’s songs meld the saccharin side of Belle and Sebastian with the kind of melancholy that Paul Simon’s cat must feel at the end of a day’s recording after milk and biscuits. They are beautifully written and wistful” – Sunday Herald
“One of Scotland’s best-kept secrets offers another magical mix” – Daily Record (Scotland’s biggest-selling national daily)
“Simply beautiful tunes” – Music Magazine (Japan)
“Songs to go quietly wild for” – Maverick Magazine
“One of Scotland’s brightest rising stars” – The List
“Sweet pop gems”, “An undiscovered gem” – Sunday Mail (Scotland’s biggest-selling newspaper)