Bill Majoros of The Foreign Films wants to create his own musical world. That sounds like a line out of a PR one-sheet. Yet it is apt to a greater degree than one might think when considering his most recent project, The Record Collector. This epic scale collection is a six-sided, 31-track magnum opus that encompasses the pop music gamut as filtered through an ecstatic, optimistic, and wistful sixties and seventies filter.
The Foreign Films “band” isn’t really a consolidated unit in the traditional sense. It’s more of a musical approach that plays into that very same drive to create a world in a way a movie director might. The songs are little foreign films imported from Majoros’ singular imagination.
The biggest vista on Majoros’ horizon since the beginning of the decade has been an epic-scale expression of that which inspired him to become a musician in the first place; records, specifically vinyl ones. That seemed like a pretty good place to start to realize a lifelong dream of creating a self-defining work, although perhaps not the path of least resistance in the digital age. Yet the seeds of The Record Collector began to germinate anyway.
To overcome the obstacle of its own scale, Majoros wrote, recorded, and released the project in digital form bit by bit, side by side, over the course of a few years. As of June of 2018, the full-fledged 3-disc vinyl incarnation of the album containing all 31 tracks plus a lavish package that includes extras is now available, along with streamed versions and downloadble MP3s. You can also buy the set in CD form at Kool Kat Musik.
I connected with Bill via email, and asked him about the inspiration for such an ambitious project, how he approached bringing it to life, and what it took to do it.
Radio Free Lightning Bug: The origins of The Record Collector stretch back a few years now, and you’ve described it as a lifelong dream. What inspired you to take on such an ambitious project and make it a reality?
Bill Majoros of The Foreign Films: Ultimately my deep passion for music and creative exploration inspired the album. When I was a kid I fell deeply in love with music, it was like a window into another magnificent dimension. I became fascinated with records that take you on a magical journey, often double and triple albums! I simply wanted to create my own musical world, inspired by everything I love.
My 3LP Vinyl Set is the soundtrack of my life. It’s my definitive statement for my creative journey in music. For now. I’ve always loved the saying “follow your bliss” That was my mantra. Music should turn a black and white day into technicolour, it should cast a spell on the listener and sound like pure magic! As we all pass through this temporary world why not create things of beauty? Be kind, help your fellow human and make cool stuff, that’s my goal!
RFLB: You wear your influences on your sleeve on this record. Beatlesque, with dashes of Bowie and (dare I say it) quite a bit of ELO to my ears, such as on “The Sun Will Shine Again” which is one of my favourites. What other musical ingredients went into the record?
BM: I wanted this album to be in the jukebox of my imagination.The music I create is the radio station of my dream world. A songwriter transforms years of emotion and experience into music. Hopefully all the music I feel passionately about subconsciously colours my songs.
Any given song has many influences. Definitely Bowie, Beatles and ELO are ingredients, a little Queen, 10cc, Big Star and Beach Boys as well! All the music I love is filtered through my personal musical, cinematic lens. When I’m playing drums I might think to myself “what would Keith Moon, John Bonham or Ringo do?” Same with guitar! I’m always searching for inspiration. Every song has its own recipe. With luck the various elements create something new, unique and exciting.
A subtle ingredient is my love of female vocalists. The Supremes to Kate Bush; that kind of melodic skywriting is always a guiding star. Classic Soul, British Invasion, 70’s Am Pop, Art Rock, Progressive, New Wave, Indie etc. I love many genres. Past, present and future. I truly hope to be inspired by a new artist tomorrow.
RFLB: Let’s talk about the songwriting process for the album. Did start with the concepts and themes and write songs to support them, or did you find the thread in songs that you were already writing?
BM: I embrace a cinematic approach to song craft; theatre of the mind. It’s a slightly mysterious process. When you let go of the microscopic details larger themes begin to guide the music and lyrics.I’ve always loved the idea of creating something from nothing; ultimately it’s magic realism; inspired by dreams, memory, sorrow, elation and longing.
Thematically, music is emotional alchemy between notes, rhythm, lyrics, atmosphere and people. An exciting idea or theme is like a beacon of light on a dark ocean. It’s a bonfire in the heart of winter. Within that I discovered a threads of continuity and overall narrative. Songs “She Reveals Her Heart” or “A Letter to Our Future Selves” and “Girl by the River” come to mind.
As a writer I sort through my subconscious and dig in the sand of memory; characters and storylines begin to “write themselves”. Ultimately the songs hold the key to the riddles, but that leads to a maze and so on. The beauty is in the mystery. Does a spider know what the web will look like? I’d like to think they’re driven by survival but also sense of strange beauty and creativity.
RFLB: What are some of the themes you can identify now that the album is completed?
BM: There are definitely archetypal themes.The change of seasons, love and loss, characters aging throughout the course of the records, keeping a sense of wonder alive in an often cruel world, etc. It was a process of trusting intuition and combining all the things you love to create something new and exciting.
RFLB: One of the threads to follow in the music seems to be the theme of childhood and nostalgia. That’s certainly reflected in the 60’s and 70’s stylistic references. But what is it about those things that makes for such compelling subject matter, not only to write about but to listen to as well?
BM: Songs of coming of age, love and loss, darkness and light will always be relevant. It only becomes compelling when an artist can re-imagine old ideas through a highly personal point of view. What’s old becomes new. It becomes compelling when the musicians can bring the ideas to life; when they illuminate the musical canvas like a starry night sky.
In an abstract way the songs become the soundtrack of your life. Nostalgia is definitely a big part of it but I’m always looking forward to the next adventure around the corner. The sunrise and sunset are often similar but always new and beautiful, if you’re in the moment.
Musically I adore the sound of records from the 50’s 60s and 70s; The tone, texture and warmth of analog/ vintage recording equipment. On top of that the chemistry between musicians is everything to me. Some of my favourite songs on the album had wonderful input from Carl Jennings, Kori Pop and Rebecca Everett.
As a songwriter certain classic mythology will always be moving. But the old ideas must be tangled up with new ones to create something personal, unique and in the moment. The best modern recordings embrace these characteristics.
RFLB: There’s another side project associated with The Record Collector that’s included in the box set. It’s “Emily Blue and the Star on the Moon” The short story you wrote with Bob Rich.Tell us about that, how does it intertwined with the music?
BM: It was your great pleasure working with Bob Rich. He’s a magnificent writer/novelist. I’d already written the 31 songs on the album but wanted to have a short story to tie everything together, in an almost subconscious way. Another dimension to the dream state. We played creative ping-pong on the novella Emily Blue and the Star on the Moon.The first two chapters are available in the record, the rest online.
We wanted to create a fable in the style of magic realism, like a mix of Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of OZ , The Point and The Twilight Zone. I like the idea that songs can stand on their own but are pieces of a larger puzzle and part of a deeper dream. The surreal tapestry of this fable is interwoven throughout the album.
RFLB: What’s it about and which songs on the record are tied to it the most?
It’s about a girl from Newfoundland (inspired by my Mom) who overcomes epic challenges. Her journey becomes a magical Odyssey. Songs such as “Junior Astronomer’s Club”, “Shadow in The Light”, “Emily Blue”, “Teardrop Town” (with the brilliant Kori Pop) are directly woven into the story’s plot and atmosphere. The characters emerge and a great adventure begins.
I’d love to see this performed as theatrically or even as an animated film.The story and songs dance together beneath a mirror ball in a slightly abstract way: it’s part of a dream sequence. Jenna Gregory and Greg Vickers have brilliantly contributed visually, an illustrated book version coming out next year.
RFLB: You’re the main creative force in the Foreign Films, kind of like a musical director rather than a band member. So, what role did the guest musicians play to impact how the songs came out?
BM: I’m incredibly lucky to have such wonderful and incredibly creative friends! As much as I enjoy writing and playing the instruments, the true magic is in collaboration. There’s nothing I love more than seeing a basic idea bloom into something far beyond what I had imagined. Producer Carl Jennings, Kori Pop, Wim Oudijk, Rebecca Everett, Steve Eggers, Michael Keire, Josh Hicks, Kirk Starkey, etc. brought the songs to a higher level.
RFLB: What’s your basic process to recording and arranging?
BM: Typically I’ll come up with the basics song on piano or guitar. Carl Jennings (Producer/Bass) and I will then schedule it out. His incredibly innovative bass parts steer the ship. My drum and rhythm guitar parts are often influenced by his rhythmic vision. Vocally I love the combination of female and male voices. Magical, ethereal vocals and magical collaboration from Kori Pop and Rebecca Everett illuminate the melodies; like rays of light through cloudy skies.
We were deeply honoured to work with legendary arranger Wim Oudjk. Cellos, woodwinds Brass, pedal steel guitar, sitar, vibraphone, harp, etc. The magnificent musical colours he painted with were truly beautiful. Sadly Wim past away days after finishing the album. Carl was supposed to meet with him in Amsterdam that day. Incredibly bittersweet. It was a magical, emotional and life-changing experience. Absolutely brilliant contributions from my dear friends.
RFLB: The record’s packaging is lavish to say the least and in keeping with the decision to offer the album as three Vinyl discs.
There’s a nostalgic quality to that too, even if vinyl is beginning to make a big comeback. What’s your take on an album art and packaging and how it affects the way listeners approach the songs?
BM: I’m very lucky and deeply appreciate working with such talented visual artists. At its best album artwork can have an incredibly powerful emotional impact; symbolic, conscious and subconscious. For a classic example Dark Side of the Moon has the symbolic power of the artwork resonating in the psyche. The visual art captured the zeitgeist of the moment and the music.
If it had a different cover the music would still be great but takes the visual art takes the imagination to another level.The power of symbols, mythology and harmony are all part of the same thing. If the stars align it can create a powerful spell! A heartfelt thanks to Madoka, Jenna Gregory, Kori Pop, Eddie Edgar and Greg Vickers for putting the whole thing together with great eloquent vision. Absolutely world class visual artists.
RFLB: I’d love to get the story on the albums closer, “Fall of the Summer Heart”. It feels like an epic inside of an epic, at the same time it’s summing up the whole record. Can you talk about writing and arranging it and how are you see it fitting in with other songs on the album?
BM: It was an extremely adventurous musical journey. “Fall of the Summer Heart” was like a deep-sea dive into the imagination, we put a ton of heart and soul into this 14 minute tune!
I’ll start with the origin of the song. I was on tour in the UK with my dear friend Dave Rave. We had the incredible pleasure of playing the Cavern Club in Liverpool! The Beatles opened me up to a universe of music; playing such a legendary venue was mind blowing! What a show!
Literally the next morning I woke up and the song appeared out of nowhere. It came directly from a dream. I mumbled the various parts into my phone and went back to bed exhausted. It’s 8 distinct melodies, rhythms and genres all tangled up together. Once the musical sketch was done it was like “paint by numbers” filling in the details with sonic colours. I wanted it to sound like the imaginary radio playing in my dream.
RFLB: It definitely sounds like a microcosm of the whole record.
“Fall of the Summer Heart” is the final piece of the puzzle within a puzzle. Like holding a mirror to another mirror. It’s the mountain top of the album! It’s a song-cycle, various “mini songs” all in one, with a thematic and sonic thread of continuity. Subconscious songwriting seems to create the kind of magic realism I love in art. I discover more musically from this type of approach. It was technically the most channelling song I’ve ever written and recorded. It’s a complex piece of music with a multitude instruments, atmospheres, time changes and vocals. Having said that everything came together magically. It ultimately felt like nature.
Carl Jennings, Kori Pop, and Wim Oudijk’s contributions were truly magnificent! I like to leave my lyrics open to interpretation but the main themes are archetypal symbolism. Changing seasons, astrology, love and loss, light and darkness, realism and magic; past, present and future.The narrative point of view shifts, very loosely inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses and Oscar Wilde’s short stories. It’s almost as if the main character is drowning, trying to stay afloat, looking for the light of shore within a whirlpool of memories; holding on to hope. Life is flashing before his/her eyes.This recurring dream appears in other songs on the LP as well.
Ultimately the song(s) are often about keeping a sense of wonder alive as we pass through this mysterious life. I put everything I had into this song and the LP. My dear friends take it to a higher level. I’m forever thankful.
RFLB: With The Record Collector being such an ambitious undertaking. How has the process of bringing it from your imagination to the grooves in the vinyl changed you as a musician and songwriter?
BM: I feel like I’ve been to the moon and back. It was a fantastic musical and emotional journey. I’ve summed up my creative life to this point in the LP. Ultimately, music has become a more magical, healing force to me.
Simultaneously this album feels like a swan song and a phoenix. I realized that creating music is a way of reaching for the stars of inspiration and higher consciousness. It’s also a way of dealing with disappointment, death, depression and the cruelty of life.
On a highly personal level, it brings joy to my wonderful mom who’s experiencing health related challenges. If music makes her smile, that’s enough. More generally, I’m truly honoured and humbled that people have been enjoying the triple LP. The feedback and interest is heart warming. I read a review recently that shone a kind light on the music:
“The Foreign Films will stir up emotions you didn’t even know you had”
That’s how creating the record felt.
For more about Bill Majoros and The Foreign Films, check out these links: