Richard Stirton - Middle Ground - Photo by Canton Parker

The first winner of South Africa’s The Voice, Richard Stirton, just released his debut album, Middle Ground, through a record deal with Universal Music. We asked Richard a few questions about his new album, his recent experiences, and how stages are similar to sports fields.

I was somewhat surprised to hear that Richard had been an avid sportsman before his music career, until several injuries slowed his progress.

“The switch [to music] was a relatively easy thing,” says Richard. “I learnt very quickly in my first year at university that I did not want to become a professional rugby player. As much as I loved the team aspect of rugby, and playing every weekend with my friends, I wanted to focus more on my studies and music (about half way through first year).”

On the popular singing contest TV show The Voice, Richard notably sang several alternative arrangements of classic pop and folk songs – such as Disturbed’s version of The Sound of Silence, Chris Cornell’s version of Billie Jean, and Bon Iver’s Skinny Love.

“[My choice of songs] goes back to what resonates with me, what messages I believe in and what experiences I associate with the songs. The arrangements were then relatively simple; it’s just whichever arrangement you feel captures the emotions and message you wish to convey when performing the song. Sometimes the actual creation of the arrangement is quite difficult, but once you’ve got it, you know that’s the arrangement you need. If you are delivering a vocal that you believe in and feel, the listeners will connect with the song emotionally.”

Richard Stirton - Middle Ground - Photo by Canton Parker
Photo by Canton Parker

On The Voice, Richard was coached by The Parlotones frontman Kahn Morbee.

“It was an absolute honour working with Kahn,” Richard says. “He has walked a long road in this industry and he has a lot of wisdom to share. I feel very lucky to have been able to build a relationship with him and call him a friend. He’s a really down to earth guy and he will always be honest with me – that’s what you need from people close to you when you’re in this industry.”

“One word of advice from Khan that resonated with me, is that you may have a big bag of tricks, but it’s using them tastefully that will have a greater impact. In other words, sometimes holding back and not overdoing some aspects of your voice can be more powerful than going out ‘all guns blazing’. This is something I have definitely applied in studio while recording my album.”

“The Voice and the experiences opened my eyes to a lot of different aspects of music, the writing process being one of them. It helped me to deliver a diverse, emotive and honest album. I am exceptionally proud of the album. I think it shows a range of what I can do but also stays true to who I am and the kind of sound I want to be associated with. The messages of the songs are honest and true and the efforts put in by everyone involved are aligned with this. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to record this debut album, with the people I have worked with and the product that has been created as a result.”

His debut album, Middle Ground, was released on Friday (7 October 2016), after a three month long process of writing and pre-production. The competition landed him a deal with Universal Music, who he says has been amazingly supportive:

“It has been a very good experience thus far. They have shown a belief in me that I really appreciate, especially when it came to song selection and the make up of the album. They allowed me to include a few of my originals in my album which is not a common trend for artists who came out of reality TV shows. They genuinely seem to care about their artists and I feel lucky in this regard.”

Richard Stirton - Middle Ground - Photo by Canton Parker
Photo by Canton Parker

“The general theme [of Middle Ground] is based around relationships and the different dynamics and phases or experiences that come with these relationships. The goal of the album is to be able to connect and resonate with people due to its relevant themes. I want to make music with real and heartfelt messages that can resonate with the listener. I believe strongly in what we’ve created with the album, and I look forward to seeing how the listeners feel about it.”

I asked Richard whether the pressure to not let his The Voice fans down, gets to him. “I think the pressure caused me to lift my game and work harder, going back to my competitive side, because I just want to do the best I can.”

That’s right, he brought it back to sports.

“I think sport gave me a work ethic that I now apply to music, pushing myself to constantly be better at what I am doing. I am also very competitive, which I think came from my sporting background. I am no longer competing against other teams or players, but rather myself.”

Richard Stirton just released his debut album, Middle Ground. It’s available on iTunes and Apple Music.