Singer-songwriter John Hickman took piano lessons as a teenager, but did not become a musician until much later in life. Now that he has retired from his career as an aerospace engineer and is living on the Hawaiian island Maui, he has decided to devote his life to writing and recording music. He began playing the guitar in 2005 and writing songs in 2008.
John’s music has an oldschool sound but a modern feel. Influenced mostly by 60s and 70s artists, he explores genres from classic rock ‘n’ roll through folk to contemporary alternative rock. His first album, ‘Remnants’ was released last year, and he’s now working on some new material.
You began pursuing music seriously after retiring. Does your previous job as an aerospace engineer provide any inspiration for your songwriting?
I’ll have to say that it really doesn’t; creating music was a diversion from my day job, and I guess I wanted to put some distance away from it with my music. But I also just never had any ideas from my previous career that I thought would make interesting material for a song.
When did you first start playing and writing music?
I started playing an acoustic guitar in about 2005, and then resumed the keyboard after a long hiatus from my childhood lessons in about 2008. I started writing some songs at about that time, just a couple here and there, and most of those earlier songs haven’t seen the light of day. But there are two songs from 2010 that are on the ‘Remnants’ album: ‘While Everyone was Sleeping’ and ‘Passing Thru’. Most of the songs from that album, however, were written in more recent years, I would say within the last two or three years.
Tell us about your 2016 album ‘Remnants’. What was the path leading to its release?
The songs were written over a period of about six years. They were recorded over a period of about 15 months because I was working on it bit by bit in my spare time, recording vocal and keyboard tracks at home alongside previously generated drum loops, in order to produce demo recordings of the songs. Then I took the demo recordings into the studio (London Bridge Studios, Seattle, WA), where other musicians came in to record real drums in place of the loops and also to record guitar and bass tracks – this effort was spread out over a period of a couple of weeks. Then another couple of months (again, spread out over that period, not continuously) of the engineer mixing the songs up, and then submitting them for my review, and going back and forth with changes. After the mixes were finalized, it took another couple of weeks or so to wait for the recordings to be mastered. Finally, there was CD production, having liner notes printed up, and placed in cases, which took about another month. It’s not a quick process.
Do you have any favourite songs from the album?
I’ll have to admit that I like some of the songs more than others. ‘Cascade’ is a particular favourite because it seems to elevate my mood and be very energetic. I also selected a synth sound for that song that I am particularly fond of. Another favorite is ‘Hello Hello’, an upbeat, Beatlesque song with swirling choruses, which also seems to be a fan favourite. But as a sci-fi fan, I also enjoy the darker, more reflective tone of ‘Remnants of the Human Race’, of a humanoid race facing extinction.
Are you working on a second album?
I am currently working on new material and have recorded about 8 or 10 demos of new songs, but I honestly haven’t settled on an album concept yet for the next release. In fact, I may release an EP of about six songs instead of going for an entire album, but that has yet to be decided. The songs I have so far are similar in style to ‘Remnants’, which has been described as an eclectic style of classic, retro, alt rock.
Who are your biggest influences?
My influences are mostly from the classic rock era, the biggest among them being the Beatles, David Bowie, Styx and Rush. There are many other artists from that era whose music I enjoyed, but those artists are more influential because their styles seem to resonate more with what is coming from within myself when I try to come up with my own ideas. Another reason is that my vocals may possibly have more similarities to those artists than to most others. But that’s not to say that I am strictly limited to classic rock influences entirely; a bit of rebel outspokenness may come through with some Green Day influence in a song or two. I also enjoyed many of the earlier songs of Coldplay (back when they were considered alt rock) with their frequent use of melodic, piano-driven songs that mainly used the guitars only as accents. Being that I gravitate more to the keyboard rather than the guitar, their style at that time provided some inspiration for my writing.
Give us an insight into your songwriting process. Where does the first idea usually come from and how do you develop it into a finished track?
The first idea can just pop into my head unbidden, or it can result from hearing some other sounds (not necessarily other songs, but machinery emits frequencies too) and creating a variation on what is heard. Sometimes I have dreamt of ideas and had to wake up and write them down, for fear of losing them after becoming fully awake. Depending on what the initial idea is, I’ll start with that; if it’s an idea for a verse, then I’ll get that verse set up, then work on the chorus, followed by more verses); if it’s an idea for a chorus, then I’ll set up the chorus, and follow that by coming up with verses that might fit. Ideas for instrumental solos and bridges can come later as things move along. But in all honesty, when it comes right down to it, I just take it as it comes; I’m not a follow-the-directions, paint-by-the-numbers kind of guy.
60s Today is all about innovation in music. Do you believe that music can still be innovative in the 21st century? Or has everything already been done before?
No, I don’t believe that everything that is possible has been done before. There are things we probably have yet to imagine that are waiting to be discovered. Granted, we have come a long way with expanding the realm of digital sounds, so it seems like a new type of sound would not be possible. But in the 1800’s, who would have imagined the electric guitar or a synthesizer and the sounds those could make? That was something was made possible with the advancement of technology many years later. But unlike the idea of space travel in which one could actually see the Moon and possibly imagine traveling there (even though I’m sure many people laughed at that idea at the time), the electric guitar and synthesizer sounds were something that people probably could not even imagine at that time. So I believe that there are always new innovations possible, even if we don’t yet know what they are.
Do you perform live?
I do not currently have a band put together, so I am not performing live at the moment. Right now, I am trying to focus on the creation of new songs for people to hopefully enjoy.
What formats is your music available in?
There are several places where my music can be previewed, streamed or downloaded. A CD can also be purchased – I know it’s old fashioned, but there’s interesting background material along with the song lyrics in the liner notes.
Listen to John Hickman on YouTube and Spotify:
‘Remnants’ can be purchased in the following online stores:
For more information, see John’s website and Facebook page: