The firm of Hartshorn, Jackson, Jackson & Warren was founded in the spring of 2023 to compete in the #AlbumWritingClub, an annual contest to write an entire album in a single month, put on by the UK-based label Lights and Lines. Made up of three different musical acts (Andrew Hartshorn, Cosmic Bos and A Sea Warren) with three different styles, they combined to create the album Sound Investments, which launched August 4. The album deals with the serious business of music with humor and depth. I sat down with the senior partners of the firm to discuss the album, the music industry, and the process of collaborating to create an entire record with people you’ve never met.
Nick Jackson (Cosmic Bos): 22 years. Andy actually gave/sold me my first guitar. He has always thought about business. I had a few lessons when I was 14 but didn't agree with my teacher so I taught myself and have never stopped playing.
Al Warren (A Sea Warren): I started playing guitar in 1997. One of my elder brothers had a beaten-up classical guitar and a book, 101 Beatles Songs for Buskers. I learned the opening chords for “A Day in the Life” and was hooked. Within a matter of months, I’d purchased my own guitar, a Tascam 4 track and cheap microphone.
UF: Your flagship product, Sound Investments, was just brought to market. Tell me how the album came together.
NJ: Once we all agreed to do it then the first thing was coming up with the name. We all threw some stupid suggestions in and once one of us (I really should remember who it was, it could have been me) had said about it being our surnames we jumped on the music law firm idea and simply ran with it. The record suits it.
The creation process was interesting as we haven't all actually met in person. Me and Andy see each other on the weekly for music shenanigans and we constantly try and make new music together. Originally when we decided to do this collab with these two legends, we were just thinking of doing an EP, with each of us bringing one song to the table. However, this very quickly changed, as Andrew and Al added two or three tracks each so me and Andy had to pull our fingers out to catch up.
In the end, we had nine beautiful tracks and two stupid jingles that make up Sound Investments.
AJ: I did conceive the radio jingle idea and force it on the other partners. I take full responsibility for that and ask that you do not punish the other partners for my actions, although they did all participate and provide customer claims for the advertisements.
UF: What roles did you play in the creation of this album? To borrow a phrase…
AH: It varied from track to track but various VST instruments. Piano, strings, woodwinds, brass, synths, drum programming. I also wrote the lyrics to “The Canvasser.”
NJ: I play electric guitar throughout it, bass and synth on a handful of the songs, vocals and backing vocals on most of them.
AJ: I play acoustic guitar on a few of the songs and synthesizers on most of them too. We each took the starting point on different ones. “Playing Office” was the one I wrote the basis of. I took the lion’s share of the lyric writing: “Playing Office,” “Insurance,” “Married to the Job,” “Risk/Reward” and “No Notices Given.”
AW: I wrote a few songs (“Dear Friend,” “Represent Me” and “Time and Money”), did a bit of singing, played some guitar and bass, and I also did a little orchestration.
AH: We all played similar roles. Someone originated a track then the others added their parts, the originator then produced and mixed the track.
AW: We were all fairly organized…. My main role in the group is to be the pessimist to Andy Jackson’s optimist.
NJ: The credit goes to all four of us, each of us had a role to play. We knew our strengths and stuck to them. Everyone’s voice is on the record more than once, which was important.
UF: Now that we have the 10,000-foot overview, I’d like to dive deeper into some of the songs on the album. “Playing Office” is the single, and the song that got me personally excited about the concept. It’s filled with references to both the US and UK versions of The Office.
AJ: When we were picking the single, there were only a few choices, with good arguments for “Insurance” and “The Canvasser” being put forward, but “Playing Office” felt like the song that summed up the whole business idea best and we could post Office memes with it, so we went with that.
UF: “The Canvasser” is a great song, a haunting tune in more ways than one. I hear it as being about a musician fruitlessly trying to get somebody’s, anybody’s, attention. Mr. Hartshorn, what inspired you to write the lyrics to this song?
AH: I like your interpretation, which shows it can mean different things to different people, which is always a good sign of a great lyric. The original idea was a simple ghost story of a man canvassing in the street and being ignored but then thinks he sees his ex-girlfriend who died in a car crash some years ago. After sending the lyric and idea to the band, Andy came up with the Sixth Sense idea that the Canvasser was actually the ghost, and I wrote the last line to provide the twist.
UF: Mr. Warren, you’re credited with the lyrics for “Dear Friend.” This song resonates with me because it reminds me of the online “music promoters” that DM me on Twitter far too often. Did any particular person or situation inspire this song? Were you or anyone you know burned by one of these scam artists?
AW: I’ll be honest, I’ve not really been hassled too much by these online promoters. When they do contact me, I enjoy having a little chat with them. I like wasting their time. The real inspiration for me was Andy’s lyric “doing the business and not falling for scams.” I thought I’d elaborate on that a little.
UF: You’re each talented musicians in your own right, with your own distinct styles. You effectively wrote this entire album in a month. How did you get such a cohesive sound across all of the tracks?
AW: No idea, I was slightly concerned that it would sound a little disjointed.
AJ: Because of the time constraints, I think we all played to our strengths, and we listened to each other. I am a huge fan of Andrew and Al. It was an honor to be working with them, so Nick and I put our all into it the same as they both clearly were. So, the simple answer to the question is communication. We stayed open and adaptive as the project evolved.
AH: I think there’s a great respect between all four of us and even though we were recording remotely, we know each other’s work so well that it just seemed to click.
NJ: It all came together very organically, each of us putting our rough mixes of songs into BandLab (a sharing musical tool that we used) and then the others were able to take it away, write and add what they wanted to it and then whoever originally created the piece would take it away and mix it.
AJ: Having a theme helped a lot as well, we could always revert to office jokes and business speak to crack ideas open.
UF: How did you make decisions as a group, especially given the tight deadlines? Was there a team leader?
AH: Final decisions were trusted to the producer of each track. For example, an instrument may have got dropped out for a verse and brought back in later in the track. No one was precious if their part wasn’t playing all the time.
AW: I think we just approached it with a sensible attitude. Our mantra was “If its shite then ditch it.”
AJ: “Bin it if it’s shite” was uttered often. We all wanted the same thing, a masterpiece, so that’s what we made.
NJ: There was no problem if someone wasn't happy with something, they just deleted it. We gave each other space and control to be able to try new things and ultimately it came down to if the producer of that song liked it or not. It was a surprisingly easy process.
We were honest and understanding with each other, knowing that each choice was being made for the benefit of the group and the record. It actually all happened pretty easily. No stress, no arguments, just four musicians trying to help each other, push each other to make the best record we could together... in a month, which is mental.
AJ: It’s about the music, that’s why it works. We all want to make great music and enjoy it, too. Plus, Andrew and Al are both amazing humans as well as talented professionals. And Nick too, I guess. Just kidding, Nick is pure class and puts up with my nonsense like a proper trooper.
NJ: Hartshorn definitely kept us in order. I'm possibly the disorganized one of HJJW but hey, I'm the youngest so at least I'm the coolest.
UF: What’s the best part of the collaborative process?
AW: Being inspired by others.
AH: After working solo for a few years, it’s been great to be involved with such a group of fantastic musicians. Being a non-singer, it’s been great creating songs and adding my parts to others but also hearing new parts being added to my skeleton of a track, taking it somewhere bigger and bolder.
NJ: The best part was simply how much fun it was from beginning to end. The entire process was fun and easy, the way I love to make music. Just getting to work with two other incredible musicians and Andy on a project that a month before we didn't even exist as a band was both beautiful and hilarious.
AJ: It’s the best band I’ve ever been in and we haven’t ever been in the same room together. And it’s just been so funny, I have literally laughed out loud many times because of our band conversations.
UF: What’s the worst part of the collaborative process?
AW: Baring your soul to others is fairly daunting.
AH: Being remote, so not being in the same room when maybe someone tries something, and you go “Yeah, that’s great.” We don’t know what individually we might have rejected.
AJ: The fact we don’t get to do it all in the same room together, that’s my biggest downer. But it does mean when we do all get to meet it will be epic.
NJ: The first time I saw Mr. Hartshorn’s and Mr. Warren’s faces was when we sent the photos in the WhatsApp group for the album cover. I'm very proud of what we achieved in a month without seeing each other. Give us a month in a recording studio together and I reckon we would make something even more special.
UF: There’s a lot of depth but also a lot of humor in this album. Which of you is the funniest?
AW: I wouldn’t consider myself remotely funny. Anyone who has listened to the #MMC podcast hosted by the Jackson brothers will know that they are a comedy duo.
AJ: I guess that Nick and I are the funniest, or at least the most idiotic. Having hosted a podcast for a long time now, we always try and make each other laugh like brothers do.
AH: Andy is so tuned in to everything around him and can quickly give you a humorous take, Puns are his specialty.
NJ: Andy is the lyricist from Cosmic Bos and he is a very intelligent and funny man and portrays that in his vocals like no other.
AJ: I make it my duty to get comedy into music in subtle and not so subtle ways. Music and comedy are born for each other and we need more of it, plus life is crazy and best laughed at.
NJ: Hartshorn and Warren are both well funny on the WhatsApp group.
AW: Mr. Hartshorn is a dark horse though! I think I probably belly laughed at his promo clip the most.
UF: Let’s talk previous experience. Have any of you actually worked in an office? What was your role?
AH: Yes, I worked in finance as a manager for many years and was “married to the job.” Still waiting for my foot stool though.
NJ: For years I worked for a bank in the UK and it was alright. I quite enjoy watching office drama unfold but ultimately it wasn't for me. I spent longer doing artwork for songs and making up melodies and things rather than working. They eventually caught on.
AJ: I’ve done a few things, mainly administrative work, bit of phone work, spreadsheet building, general processing etc. Quick side note, I once wrote a whole musical about office work entitled Office Job the Musical. Ahh, memories.
AW: Yes, for 13 years in total. Starting at the bottom as a data analyst and working up to supervisory roles. I hated it. I finally had a meltdown on the way to work one day…. Drove home and never went back. I have a great job now. I’m very fortunate.
UF: The album has a lot to say metaphorically about music and business. Stripping the metaphors out, what’s your opinion of the current state of the music industry?
AW: I know I’m getting older, and that popular music is not aimed at me, but I’ve not listened to anything released by a major label for years now. Fat, old, bloated rock stars charging the earth for tour tickets is a disgrace. New artists don’t have a hope of being signed by a major unless they have a fan base already. There is no way for artists to organically grow, with support, like in the past.
AH: It remains the same as it’s always been with the major labels with very few making it big, but underneath that there’s a massive movement of really talented musicians who are able to get their music out worldwide.
AJ: What’s going on in the indie scene is far more exciting, as I believe it’s probably always been.
NJ: I follow loads of awesome independent artists that are more than holding their own, that's the route to being a quality musician.
AH: This opportunity just didn’t exist years ago. So more of the iceberg is now visible but the main challenge is getting your music to the right ears.
AW: As much as the independent scene is vibrant it’s also littered with mediocrity. It’s great that you can easily release music to the world, but the amount being released floods the market and dulls everybody’s senses. As an independent artist you need to juggle so many things. Promoter, video editor, social media guru, web designer... the list is endless. It reaches a point where music is not your main focus, and that’s a shame. I’m sure some people enjoy the whole process, but it’s not for me. I’m actually considering going into semi-retirement. I enjoy making music. The rest is just hassle, so why bother?
UF: Do you have any advice for other independent musicians?
AJ: Yeah, come take part in the Monthly Music Challenge with Cosmic Bos. Or any of the other interesting music challenges that are out there. Community is the way to develop your sound, and feedback from peers is vital.
AH: Do what you love, make music for yourself first and believe in yourself. Then hopefully someone will like your stuff and listen or buy your tracks. Don’t get hung up on streaming numbers. It means more to me if one person buys a CD on Bandcamp than getting a thousand streams on Spotify.
NJ: Everyone does things differently. The only advice I have for anyone making music or singing or whatever is to keep doing it, do something that you enjoy doing and if you're having a good time making it, then others will have a good time listening to it. Never stop.
UF: Final question: did you see the memo about putting one of the new cover sheets on the TPS reports?
AJ: Yes, I’ve seen it at least five times now. I don’t want to alarm you, but if you tell me about the TPS reports again I might have to set the building on fire.
Get Sound Investments on Bandcamp.