Step Right Up: Mirage
Interview with Robin Nydal, Mirage.
“…it was very natural and forthcoming in fact. The songs just would come, the sounds would poke there heads in and make there way on my iTunes and would be in my library wanting me to you know give them some fresh air.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Mirage is the alias for nineteen year old singer-songwriter Robin Nydal who has recently released one of the most formidable pop creations of 2014, entitled ‘Blood For The Return’ (Olde English Spelling Bee Records). The Los Angeles-based musician blends a myriad of influences, ranging from the baroque pop odysseys of Van Dyke Parks, The Beach Boys, The Beatles (‘Revolver’ or ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ era) and The Zombies with glorious shades of psychedelia and prog elements conjuring up the sound of Robert Wyatt and fellow peers such as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear. A timeless sound is masterfully created by Nydal who has been (appropriately) dubbed as a “soft-prog impresario”. Undoubtedly, a kaleidoscope of enchanting sounds are dotted across ‘Blood For The Return’s sphere of sound.
Released in February of this year, Mirage’s lead single ‘Do You Remember’ provided the first glimpses of the soon-to-be-released debut full-length’s highly-anticipated arrival. The opening organ notes could be vintage Lovin’ Spoonful or Mamas And The Papas’ 60’s sunshine pop sound. A vivid sense of nostalgia and heartbreak lies at the heart of ‘Do You Remember’s immaculate wall of sound, as Nydal sings “I will never love again” on the opening verse. The intricate layers of piano, synths and glistening harmonies are a joy to witness. Later, the empowering lyric of “It’s never too later for change” is filtered into a technicolour web of sound, before the refrain of “I’ll always be yours” flows into the forefront of the mix. The closing section finds an up-tempo shift as an infectious groove is formed, where Nydal sings “Get back/Don’t you fall” over stomping piano chords.
The record’s immaculate production, interwoven layers of dazzling harmonies and intricate string arrangements creates a stunningly beautiful opus, where endless moments of epiphanies abound. For example, ‘Poseiden’ dabbles magnificently into electronic, R&B and soul territory. The opening ethereal harmonies and electronic textures exist in a parallel universe of Tom Krell’s How To Dress Well or Dean Blunt. An orchestral pop oeuvre comes into full focus on the song’s bridge and infectious chorus, as Nydal sings of “someone to care for” over a sea of celestial sound. The dynamic range changes yet again, moments later, as a drone-infused psych folk world of sound seeps into your consciousness. Elsewhere, ‘Hubbard’ recalls early Grizzly Bear recordings, where a hypnotic groove of swirling strings and harmonies circulate the atmosphere. ‘Something’ contains an immediacy and directness that recalls similarly compelling adventures as ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ or ‘Yellow House’ (particularly towards the heavenly closing section).
The album’s recordings comprise the singular talents of Mirage, accompanied by cellist Max Whipple, Ari Balouzian (viola/violin), Dash Lefrancis (flutes/harmonies) and Spencer Frazen (harmonies/additional vocals). In the words of Nydal: “this album is a reflection of the other side of love and what it means to fall in and out of it.” The mesmerising refrain of “I loved you” on the achingly beautiful ballad ‘Anne’ conveys the dichotomy of both worlds as light and darkness are coalesced together, beneath soaring strings, fuzzy electronic glitches, softly strummed acoustic guitar and empowering harmonies. Thanks to the New York-based imprint, Olde English Spelling Bee, for releasing such an adventurous and unique work of art from a hugely promising artist.
‘Blood For The Return’ is available now on Olde English Spelling Bee.
Interview with Robin Nydal.
Congratulations Robin on your stunning debut record, ‘Blood For The Return’, it is a shimmering masterpiece full of irresistible pop gems. Like all great works of art, endless details are revealed upon each encounter. Please discuss for me the space and time in which ‘Blood For The Return’ was written and recorded? I feel the title perfectly encapsulates the music as there is both a sense of brooding darkness and everlasting hope embedded in the album’s rich sonic trajectory.
Robin Nydal: The record was recorded and pieced together over a long time using clips of demos/sketches I would make and just have sitting in itunes or my ipod. Yeah, the title basically for me reflects how much of a close knit there is between love and death and darkness and light sort of thing.
One of the great hallmarks of ‘Blood For The Return’ is the complex arrangements where intricate layers of strings and harmonies are effortlessly interwoven in the song’s divine tapestry. Did these songs begin as demos with you at your piano, Robin? I imagine the arrangement and production of the album was quite an intensive period of the whole process?
RN: It was actually the exact opposite, it was very natural and forthcoming in fact. The songs just would come, the sounds would poke there heads in and make there way on my itunes and would be in my library wanting me to you know give them some fresh air. There are some intricate moments but I grew up listening to music made from musicians and educated musicians, so I guess a little of that sixth sense rubbed off on the overall sound of the record.
You are joined by a formidable cast of musicians. The immaculate instrumentation of cello, violin, viola, flute and harmonies creates a timeless sonic backdrop to your bewitching songcraft. I feel the song ‘Hubbard’ — which is the longest cut on the album — epitomises the compelling arrangements dotted on ‘Blood For The Return’, especially on the minor-key bridge section containing heavenly harmonies. How much of a challenge was it to commit these highly imaginative and adventurous tracks to tape?
RN: Well not all of it was done on tape in fact, it was all done on different computers either between Dash and I, or Spencer and I or me and Ari. I would spend a lot of the time sitting on the ideas and go over to Dashes who shares a pad with Max and make new ideas that would reflect a lot of the concepts on the album that wouldn’t end up making it on the record. It wasn’t an effort cause there was never a moment where I was like, “Ok, I’m going to sit down and make a song! Yes!” As opposed to just being kind of burnt out and listening to music and trying to emulate a feeling I would get.
‘Do You Remember’ has a gorgeous 60’s pop feel that brings to mind ‘Odyssey & Oracle’, ‘Smile’, Mamas & The Papas and Van Dyke Parks. Please talk me through this song please? It feels there is quite a lot of wonderful production wizardry (prog-esque backing vocals) employed here and as always, there are seamless array of distinct movements, akin to an orchestral piece, present within this glorious pop gem.
RN: I made ‘Do You Remember’ when Spencer left his microphone at my house and it was raining out and I just started recording it when I was depressed after I looked at a few pictures of my ex and felt unproductive.
What records do you feel found its way into the sonic terrain of ‘Blood For The Return’? When did your obsession with music begin, Robin? What instruments did you first learn to play?
RN: I’ve always been obsessed with music, I’m really into like electronic UK music right now, as well as just stuff on my ipod, The Smiths, Perfume Genius, Morgan Delt, Cliff Dweller…
The album artwork is really beautiful. I would love for you to talk me through the artwork please. Visually, it immediately takes you into a lost era, completely removed from the world outside, similar to that of Mirage’s music.
RN: It’s basically just a portrait of me photoshopped to hell…ha ha. I thought it fit with what the music was trying to say at the time.
‘Anne’ is a delicately beautiful lament that begins with a softly strummed acoustic guitar. I love how the song gradually grows and blooms into something magical and mysterious. Was the choice of instrumentation (in what parts of a song to use a particular instrument and when to add or combine layers) a hard decision to make?
RN: Yeah, I don’t know, I watched that movie ‘Rachel Getting Married’ with Anne Hathaway and I related a lot to her character and thought I should make a song in her honour, I was basically just doing like what Robert Wyatt would sing about Anne Hathaway.
‘Blood For The Return’ is available now on Olde English Spelling Bee.