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Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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“It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more.”

—Nils Frahm 

Words: Mark Carry


The first day in July 2016 marked a significant moment in Nils Frahm’s storied career. Accurately billed as “a most ambitious concert”, the peerless German composer performed an enthralling three-hour set in London’s Barbican (as part of Frahm’s curated festival “Possibly Colliding”). Not only was this a celebration of the Berlin-based musician’s cherished songbook – and the boundless, magical force of music as a whole – but a beautiful glimpse into the slipstream of music that would soon surface. Forward eighteen months to the eagerly awaited seventh studio album “All Melody”, which undoubtedly marks Frahm’s most ambitious and captivating work to date. A further evolution of “Spaces” (its predecessor) whose twelve sublime compositions – meticulously crafted by this singular sound sculptor – unfolds a musical experience of remarkable depth and magnitude.

The immense beauty – and immensity – of the far-reaching soundscapes dotted across “All Melody”s musical landscape is a joy to savour. A myriad of sacred tones are effortlessly spliced together like that of the double helix pattern of each DNA molecule found inside our cells. It is as if a towering composition like “Sunson” unfolds, mutates, and transforms before your very eyes: the soaring juno synthesizer is melded gorgeously with the otherworldly sounds of the handmade pipe organ. The seamless array of colours and textures creates an empowering ripple flow of emotions. Choral odysseys dissolve into this vast sea of forgotten dreams. As the piece continually builds, the interlinked rhythms are forever over-lapping; magical moments within moments are captured at each and every pulse.

Modern-classical, dub and avant pop spheres are masterfully blended together on “A Place”. The inner dialogue between the components (choir, strings, percussion, synthesizer, and rhodes) creates a deeply bewitching symphony of celestial sounds. How the female voice is mixed with the luminescent juno synthesizer provides a significant milestone in “All Melody’s mind-bending oeuvre. Gripping dub beats awash with soul-stirring strings. The sonic terrain has expanded, almost exponentially. It feels as if a deep symbiosis exists between all of its vital elements; each one inter-dependent of one another, reacting, breathing and growing as the loop drifts forever into the ether of unknown dimensions.

More breathtaking synthesizer loops fills the human space of “All Melody”, not least the album’s glorious title-track. Thinking back to “Spaces” and the timeless voyage of “Says” felt a vital – almost ground-breaking – moment in Frahm’s ever searching mind. In similar fashion to “Says”, the synthesizer loop of “All Melody” feels as if it could go on forever: letting it live and breathe as long as it needs to. A windswept beauty and total radiance is somehow enclosed within the series of oscillations and hypnotic pulses. The concept of infinity becomes embedded deep within the composition’s framework as the bass marimba and piano swirls into the stratosphere.

The possibilities are endless. “#2” fades in – almost subliminally – as the embers of “All Melody” gradually dissolve. Techno bliss is masterfully etched across the sprawling canvas of synthesizer arrangements, creating, in turn, psychedelic dreams orbiting the furthest reaches of one’s inner consciousness. The seductive techno pattern serves the rhythmic pulse – or vital heart beat – supplying the flow of ambient-embedded rapture to the precious energy flow.

The album’s penultimate track “Kaleidoscope” conveys the visionary nature of Frahm’s music: the pattern of the interwoven elements (choir, organ and synthesizer) is constantly changing; forever in motion and altering in sequence (in turn, generating endless possibilities). The immaculate exploration feels at once ancient and utterly contemporary; a joyously uplifting creation with its dazzling ebb and flow akin to a river finding its sea.

Fundamental Values” shares the rich musical timbre of Frahm’s stunning “Victoria” soundtrack, mapping Victoria’s next steps, as she walks down the Berlin streets to freedom. The pristine instrumentation of cello and trumpet melts alongside Frahm’s angelic piano tones. How the introspective moments of “Human Range” continually blossoms – with ethereal jazz inflections – and continually evolves demonstrates once again the transformative power of the German musician’s divine soundscapes.

All Melody” is a defining record for the ages. This is a journey into sound.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

Congratulations Nils on the latest album ‘All Melody’, which is an utter masterpiece. One of my first thoughts of the album was how it reflects that special “Possibly Colliding” festival in London last year and the album almost epitomizes that entire night with the endless magical moments captured during that particular live performance. And just how the live energy and performances captured in these new recordings too, so it feels like an evolution of ‘Spaces’?

Nils Frahm: Basically yeah, it is a little bit of a more controlled version of the live take and the idea was to just make the music together in a live setting and not just record everything one after the other. In my other studio at home, I was recording more like piano (and next thing, next thing) so it was like all the other records that I’ve done: they were pretty limited in the possibilities of doing it at once. And now with the Funkhaus I had the space to set everything up and just do it (like you’ve seen tonight) and basically just record that and do it every day and just try out things and that was the process: hands on, all the equipment ready basically and then just go with whatever is fun. That was important to me because I knew I would not only like get material for an album out of this but I knew I would also already know my workstation for the shows, which would come later. So, I was basically spending two years within the two U-shaped keyboard towers, practicing; that was the aim behind it.

As a listener, it’s fascinating to think of the sum of the hours and the vast sea of ideas that must have been circulating in your mind over these years. The fact that you’re continually almost going back and refining your ideas where you very much had time on your side, was it a sense that you felt you were re-discovering elements of ideas and then gradually over time it’s almost like a metamorphosis in the sense it’s still ongoing in your head, almost like an infinite process?

NF: Well, the songs I don’t play live: they are done but the songs that I play live will keep on developing and the songs I decide to not play live they are left alone; they’re like what they are. When I bring my studio on tour, I’m doing it on purpose; I have to make it happen every night again as if it was the recording session for the album. So you have the chance to re-do it, re-think it and change it every day and so it does happen: this metamorphosis, it’s mutating basically over every single gig, it’s fun. And after one or two years, the song turns into something finished yet again. This happened with the ‘Spaces’ versions of the songs I had on old albums and they turned into other versions and so on. So, I think I’m not really a composer, I’m more like a musical landscaper and it’s a little bit like a gardener: you just set up a garden and then after one year it looks completely different and then you can just do something else with it. it’s not really the point to finish a song; the point is to show that the song needs the heart and the soul and that it usually the same for the person playing and I think this is what I want to transport in a song, is exactly that essence, it needs a host – every song needs a host, otherwise it’s not a human transmission.

I love the idea that you suddenly have all these new colours you’re working with, it’s immediately apparent – even on the first listen of the album – it’s almost like you have found your voice in one way. For example, the addition of the voices and choral element in particular but in general, it’s more the extremes of the album: the intensity and noise and electronics and like a deafening pitch in contrast to the really quiet, sparse and beautiful piano; you’ve got this spectrum fully there on this record.

NF: Everything I was trying in the last ten years I could do in a much easier and better way in that new building and that new environment and obviously I was basically waiting for that moment to do it just right. I knew that before I didn’t have the possibilities to do that record so I never tried it but I was not able to hide from it any longer because I was at the position where I could afford a studio, where I could afford all these things and so basically it felt like I had no excuse to sit in my bedroom anymore – I’m not playing in front of thirty people, I’m having a thing going here – and now when I don’t go into the studio and make it like really, really good (as good as you can) then I’m hiding from the challenge so I felt like I have to do it, I have to go into the perfect studio and do the perfect sounding album somehow; that’s what I felt like, I have to do it now. That’s the only way I thought about it was just to get all the dynamics in there, get all the ideas recorded in the right way so the sounds and timbres really come out and all of the things I really feel like it’s important for the music also to appear in the music and so that was the idea behind it.

A piece that epitomizes just that is ‘Sunson’. It is these elements of the female voice, electronics, pipe organ and the woodwind and just how such a hypnotic spell is created but it’s more a feeling that the piece could go on forever; it might be eight or nine minutes long but you want it to go on and on as there is so much detail embedded deep within the piece itself.

NF: Thank you, I like that piece a lot because there is so many rhythms inter-linking and depending on each other that all sound weird and funny if they don’t come together and that makes it so interesting. The interplay between the funny sounding little objects flying around just in its combination; they form a whole, they find ground and the chaos forms into a steady flow. I think that it’s not boring to listen to because there’s always something that’s changing because the pieces are like my live shows, I use the filters so there is no loops and there is no chopped parts of anything: everything is a performance. The repetitions don’t feel like staggering repetitions but it feels like an ongoing flow. The first thing that I look out for is like: Is it boring after thirty minutes? Is it boring after one hour? Or can I just go on and on and on? And I’m looking for the things which never go out of juice, like ‘All Melody’ and ‘Says’, these are all basically loops which feel like they could just be there forever and then so not every loop can do that, certain loops don’t have that potential. So, I’m a little bit like a detective for these repetitions which don’t really feel like it’s repeating in a bad way.


That’s exactly as a listener you feel listening to ‘All Melody’ it’s like everything rests on your deft hands and everything is happening in real-time or in the moment. So, you’re waiting for all these moments to come in but I love just how all these many elements dissolve or melt together. And in your head, I can imagine it’s like a symphony and that you’re almost like the conductor in the sense that you have all these different sounds and elements but you have to know when to add, when to leave out, and so on. For instance, the electronics and when some of those low bass registers come in – during a piece – it’s that feeling when it suddenly comes in. In a way, it’s more like the work of an electronic producer that it’s the art of sound is like the bottom line of everything really?

NF: Basically for me I feel like that’s what drives my boat, it’s just to make my speakers in the studio dense with whatever I’m trying there to just get a beautiful sound. I mean I don’t like too pretty and too sweet things, it just needs to have the right balance so I just feel like it’s something that makes you feel addicted. I think music for me has a very animalistic and almost like a tribal spell on me. When I’m deeply in the concert and in the music, I am turning into something that is not exactly civilized; I’m not that polite, well-risen gent who is just like behaving or anything, I’m just going for my tribal instincts basically. I think this is where my ideas come from: it’s from a very non-intellectual route, something which is very ancient which I like to get in touch with. And then afterwards, I think intellectually about what I’m doing and out of the process of reflecting upon it, I also get ideas but what is really important for me is to get into the trance of making music and it happens when I play piano, it happens when I play synthesizers. It’s all the same thing for me because it creates the same family of emotions but obviously it’s a different essential experience for me to play a quiet piano piece and then banging with toilet brushes on the piano, it’s exactly the spectrum between the two which makes it tactile.

I just want to experience physics in all its ways, like from the very tiny wave to the very big wave and everything in between. I think exposing yourself to that for me is where all my next ideas for the next note is coming from. I have to resonate with my instruments, I must have a certain quality of sound, I need a certain tone to get inspired; otherwise I cannot fall into the music. When I’m making music I’m just finding the jump of point from the sound to start my real ideas. It’s a little bit like I cannot work when there is not a certain set of tools is there and then I’m just like no, this is not for me. When a certain thing works (like an instrument is nicely tuned or prepared or sounds really nice) then I get all these ideas but I cannot start with a digital piano and somebody tells me “now compose” then nothing inspires me. So everything that inspires me is purely tone and they almost numb my intellect and activate the animal in me almost.

A beautiful story within this narrative of ‘All Melody’ is how you discovered this little Danish piano. Like you say, I’m sure it must have spoken to you so strongly that you suddenly found inspiration from this instrument, almost like a gateway or a doorway that it suddenly launches all of these ideas and sounds?

NF: It is very important for me to have it with me, to play the sounds exactly on the same instrument I played it for the record. I tried it on other pianos which were a little bit easier to travel with and more stable (and this is a little complicated to tune or they are really hard to tune). But in the end we went for the Danish one because the sounds didn’t sound right on any other instrument, it didn’t feel like I should play these songs on another instrument – on another instrument I should play other songs; songs I write for that instrument. So I think this is the complicated side of my work is that I really dedicate my ideas to a physical set of things (which can be an instrument), I try to understand it, I try to build a relationship and I try to have so much empathy with it (which not always works) but when it works I just get under the skin of the instrument and get inside it and tickle it in a way, which is the only way and I strongly think like that and then I just make that piece and then I decide this is it. Of course there’s many other things I could have done but for me, then playing the piece on another instrument is not always working because I fine-tuned my interaction with it almost to a fair balance that the instrument does a lot of things by itself – I just activate it and I try to open the instrument basically.

And that usually is a different approach to other composers; they basically think of a melody, they write the melody down and somebody has to play the melody. It would be really difficult for me to write a melody and then somebody just plays it in their way because how you play the melody and exactly how is the only thing I care about. It needs to fit the melody, otherwise I don’t care about the melody itself; it just needs to harmonize with how the melody is played and it’s all about how it is played. And so composing for other musicians is a little bit of a bad process for me because I will always try to explain to other musicians how they should play it and I will always feel like, if I could only do it myself. And so you are right, I am a little bit like a conductor and I try to work with sounds I get into and once I feel like I activated the sounds, I am inside the instrument basically; this is the moment where I hit record. And with the other musicians in the session it was interesting because a lot of the things they played was not what I felt I wanted to hear but they played much, much more than I used. So I let them play, I let them play, I let them play and then out of sixty minutes these thirty seconds are just pure magic. I feel like it was still my process to decide for that thing and use it and then to put it there and then so I still had the feeling to get into the skin even of what the other people play. For me it is very important to have control over the sounds otherwise I’m lost basically.

All these elements that are contributed by your friends and this idea that it’s this thirty seconds of magic, I just love this minimal aspect to the music and how it’s almost spliced together. But the subtle detail  inside it all; it’s never like A, B, C but it’s more after repeated listening, there are gorgeous shades of all these different colours (like the bass marimba for example) it feels like a ripple.

NF: The sequencing was very important and I feel only if that is flawless. I’ll give you an image: only if all the ripples on top of the lake disappear you can see the surface of the lake and even if the tiniest ripples are there you can see only the surface of the water. And so for me it needed to come to a point of perfection, otherwise these compositions would not work, they would fall apart: they are only tied together by the marriage of vision of tone, timbre, how it’s played and everything in a wishful way which I cannot explain. But I can only intuitively get there and then I can say, oh this is it, this is what I wanted to do; I had no idea before – I never know what I want to do next – but I get naturally attracted just by accident, by the framework of my tools I set around me basically. Everything which is annoying me like synthesizers which make sounds that are horrible for me, I never use them. I only use instruments which always sound charming no matter what you do with them, anything which can sound like a pain in the ass flies out. And so I have some very funny rules to set up the framework for myself so I know what to do next because I never think of it.


Ancient is a word that epitomizes the song ‘Kaleidoscope’. Again, the sequencing and how it’s there as the penultimate track. It’s the multitude of feelings and this sense of a journey that the listener goes on. The harmony aspect of ‘Kaleidoscope’ creates that hypnotic spell again, there’s almost a symbiosis between all your instruments and the rest of the instrumentation. You feel like there is an energy reacting off all these different layers of sounds and elements.

NF: I know what you mean, I just feel like it is all of these lucky moments and I’m just pretty relaxed when it comes to choosing the right moments. I’m messy basically because I record everything: I record every single show, I have terabytes of music flying around and listening through all of that again and just keeping your head clear and deciding out of forty takes, which take is the right one is the real challenge to be honest. So I basically keep recording and the most of the stuff that I am doing is not right and then all of a sudden – maybe by chance – something really works out well and then just being awake and seeing it happening and like ‘oh this is what I want’. I was trying eight hours and then in twelve minutes; I can use all these twelve minutes, that’s the core of my composition. I could have never planned it but I feel like this is the nice thing you can rely on having the feeling for the right moment in that sense and so I can delete everything else and you will never hear it again, this is it. And this was for ‘Spaces’ already, with Nonkeen and all these projects I had to go through hours and hours of music and deciding to delete all the rest takes a little bit of courage so to say. And I know a lot of musicians who really have a hard time deciding and they just rather keep three, four, five versions and until the end they go back and forth. And for me it’s very easy to know OK, this was a moment, it will be impossible for me to make a better version now that I have this version.

It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more. This is where I have to say that I am not a perfectionist because a perfectionism is only about creating the framework. But when I see like by accident that something just magically worked out and then I try to be humble and be like OK don’t fight with the gods up there and try to do it better because when too perfect lieber Gott böse or the god is angry. So, this is my philosophy. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a jam – completely a jam – and I felt like ‘Ahh what if I do it again?’ but I knew I could never create that energy or that sound again so I mixed just that improvisation basically. I never tried to recreate the patch because it was a complete, complicated, one-in-a-lifetime situation where all the things were doing something crazy. And then you should not waste your time by trying to do it again, it would just be an unpleasant experience. I feel like I know how to keep my workflow joyful that way, I just don’t go down these roads where there’s like sweat and fight and fight and fight. I try to keep myself in a happy place because this is only where I can worship the gods when I am happy with myself or when I am at peace with myself or I make an acceptance at least, I make the better work as if I’m trying to be better, you know that is not a good emotion.

It is that intuitive quality to the music that’s so apparent. I just love how there is this flow of energy within the songs, like the first notes of choir and the silence and sound of people almost coming together. And how ‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’ is like the beginning of the second half, it’s almost like the ultimate DJ mix in some ways.

NF: It’s like this legendary mixtape that somebody put together and found all these moments somewhere and blended them in this magical way and it’s like this tape that somebody has made and you’re just wondering ‘how cool is that?’ And I feel like I have a lot of these tapes at home, made by friends which became legendary mixtapes which I distributed and got an mp3 and all of my friends know them. It’s like these random cassettes, some of them were in my father’s car; just weird mixes, blend of jazz tunes and I just like that idea of hearing many different things interconnecting basically. Or seeing that everything is context when you just put a track after that track, the tracks change basically their identity only because they are next to each other. And when you think that further and think about the playlists on spotify and all the algorithms that are creating music, I mean exactly what is happening there is changing the identity and the core of each track which is inside that playlist. And I think all these things are so important to me and I want to have more control over music. This is why I am just saying this is the album and everyone talks about the album now and I love this because no one talks about one track; it is the album experience and we can look into a pretty deep landscape of music and just get all these ideas from.

This is exactly my point to do something which is in a broader sense inspiring and this is ‘All Melody’ for me, trying to encourage whatever is out there to be original or make the impossible blend. And to showcase that only because it’s different it doesn’t need to hurt your ears; that is also important, it can sound tactile and interesting and delightful even if the music is pretty abstract somehow. And I feel like this is also a challenge for me to make that work, just to make it so attractive even if what I’m making musically there is thinking around the corner a little bit rather than just make it attractive enough so you always want to know it more or something. This is what I associate with my favourite albums of all time: Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack; when these albums came out they didn’t only sound like weird, abstract hard to get stuff, it was different, completely new and in some way what they did there was – and also Air – it was different and like ‘I know it somehow but I don’t know it’, it was familiar in a weird way but totally new and it sounds great. These are the records that I will never forget and there are loads of other great and interesting music and charming music – and I’m like a geek like you of course – not only because a record is recorded bad I dismiss it, that’s totally bullshit, when a performance is great you just deal with whatever recording and so on. When you choose whatever you want to do I felt like let’s try to just get everything a little better on this record, let everything be a tiny bit better, that was my dream.


Another special moment on the album is ‘Human Range’. Again as a listener, it’s full of that surprise element in the best possible way, this idea that you never know exactly what is coming at you (and that’s what defines all these great records). Suddenly there is a jazz and ethereal dimension like an ECM catalogue, but it all makes complete sense. How this track rises and is always building throughout.

NF: That was not a complicated composition because that was a track where I started basically with a piano and I had these chords [mimicking the piano line] and I liked the two chords. And on the piano I didn’t feel like I could make that piece, it felt like it was not necessarily a piano piece. So I thought I would programme a bass – and I programmed it very low and short  [mimicing bassline] – and I liked that, I was sitting in my room and I could hear the reverb of these short bass notes and I felt like, oh this is much more interesting. So basically I sequenced a little bit with the organ and the bass and I only recorded the little percussive sounds of the bass and kept it like that. And then whenever another musician came, I said ‘Let’s improvise something on that’ and so when the choir came, I just composed these chords (like start really quiet and then go loud and so I kept that) and the percussion player and the cello came and the trumpet player came and so on. We talked about the progression each time again and then the last forty seconds I just let them play improvised basically and it all creates this funny little ending.

And every musician played at least twenty/thirty takes before I felt like ‘now I feel it’ because they all played too much, I left these little drops and then somebody leaves a drop here and there but no one should really be in the forefront. So in the end it is all evenly dropping and so everybody felt they should finish the song with their part and they were trying to finish it off. And the last overdub that I have done was trumpet player and I told the trumpet player, ‘Look, you have to finish it off’ it was like we left this carpet, this fluffy nice little sound carpet for you and now tie this red thread in there. And he went into the recording room and played the first take of the day – I may have cut out twenty/thirty percent and moved one or two bits but that was it – and I was so impressed because I had no idea how I should have made that melody with my instruments, I didn’t hear it but he, with his trumpet, could find that spot where he was really leading the whole ensemble and all of a sudden it was like yeah, this is what I was waiting for. So it was one of those happy-go-lucky things that you can’t plan.

The challenge of inter-connecting each piece on the album and piecing together the many sections within a piece, was it a case that a lot was unlocked by improvisation?

NF: I think that’s the more composing part is to leave out what you don’t want to use and what comes before is just some way of improvising or meditating over an idea. It’s a little bit like fishing for the right moment, my philosophy is that a lot of things could come together in a positive way and that is they’re interlinked and then I see it as like these clay with four leaves and you see a lot with three leaves and there’s one with four. And basically I try to realize that in my music is that I just feel like it was the right sound, it was the right moment, the right touch, the right whatever and then maybe there was even a creak in the right moment. Sometimes you have these moments where you feel like ‘Aah! This is it’ and then I can feel like it’s a little bit like a false belief obviously but I feel like these birds are with me, I got a message, I like this and then I feel like I am having a relationship with that idea and with that moment. And then I treasure it and it’s like what I said before, I’m pretty stubborn believing like this is the moment, this is my big fortune just to have that decisiveness. It means that I have to numb myself and to blind myself over other possibilities but on the other hand the essence of why I am so progressive – like always doing, doing, doing – because if I would be hesitant and indecisive about if I should use this or not then I think nothing would get ready and nothing would ever come out. It is fortunately not leaving me and it didn’t leave me on this record like the intuition that I have that material and I’ve worked a long time on it and now it’s time to just go with the best you’ve done. And not thinking like ‘No, I wanted something else, throw everything away’ I think that would have done the material injustice.

Of course, I can say now that the record is completely something else than I expected and on the other hand what did I expect? I expected to hear some tracks that I couldn’t have planned, I expected to hear some tracks that I wanted to record (‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’) and I expected to hear some choir on there because I planned to record choir and so on. So basically it is the record I wanted to make and now in many ways when I play the tracks live, I play them all the time, they become a little bit of a closed body, all of a sudden you really make memories with that song and then the song develops an even broader identity because you feel like you are on the road with it and it’s always there and it’s always a little different (like everybody) and the song becomes a person and even the listeners – after a couple of years when you play the song a lot of times – you play a song and then they clap; it became something, the song has character and so what I really like is just to see how ‘All Melody’ out of this, I really enjoy like knowing when it’s released, it’s there now and then seeing OK it’s two hours ago, by now people have heard it once, let’s see what they say. And already people after thirty minutes are like posting things saying it’s great and I feel like I have listened to it for one and a half years basically and I’m pretty tired of it to be honest and now people hear it for the first time and it’s interesting to see people’s opinions after hearing it one time and how the opinion in maybe five, six, seven, fifteen or twenty years might be completely different. It’s basically like modelling a wine and putting it somewhere and seeing what happens to it. On that level I have a very good feeling with the record because I feel it is absolutely my identity; I can find myself in there. It’s almost like no other record that I have put out, I’m pretty strongly behind this one because I also think that it has humour and it is in a way also sad and melancholic. And in other ways it is exactly these little moments where people walk in and somebody is late and then the choir starts, like all these things I love.

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‘A Place’ has a playful and inventive quality to it where there’s a real bright pop element shining throughout and especially how the female voice is blended so masterfully with the electronic elements. Even if you isolated just that…

NF: I love this. This is what I was hoping for, I wanted to mix natural vocalists with juno sounds basically for that record and this was my moment where I felt like I can only hear synthesizer and them and it was just a beautiful and joyful experience. It feels like the synthesizer changes the voice and the voices changes the synthesizer to a strange degree where it becomes this phenomenon almost. And that was the core of the song and the rest was woven around numberless overdubs and compositional ideas. I had the kick drum in there, I had this going on, I had that going on. That was the song that always got re-shaped and in the end it magically fell into place in its most complex form as it is in the record now because as a composition and as a second song, it has a weird ending and this and that happening and exotic moments with exotic instruments playing exotic things. But I felt like this is something that has to be exactly like that and then it works.

And I tried to play it for the live show but it doesn’t work, it just easily falls apart. It’s not a stable song. Certain musical experiences can be pretty stable and they even sound good from a little radio in a distance and other musical experiences are more unstable and just need to be experienced in a certain way and it plays with something which has to be experienced in the right way then it only reveals something, which I like a lot. If it’s not exactly experienced like it is on the record then it falls easily apart. It’s an unstable, exotic piece which I feel like would stay exactly like that because any other version wouldn’t work. And then there’s other pieces of mine where I feel like yeah this is a good version but I think I could even play a better one someday but I don’t know why and then I keep on playing it. So I basically have two sets of ideas: certain things are basically more constructed and then they are just conserved in this one documented version and that is the piece and other ideas are transformative ideas which I basically meditate over and I feel like I grow on them when I keep playing them.

That must be the joy of playing the live shows when you suddenly have these new songs but also how you incorporate the older songs with the new ones. It must give you a new perspective even on the older songs you play?

NF: You heard ‘Familiar’ tonight, I changed ‘Familiar’ a bit; it was a different sound, I can’t even play it like on ‘Spaces’. I also don’t try, I always feel like I should play it in that moment and don’t try to play it as I remember as I played it.

‘Fundamental Values’ feels like it blossoms gradually as you listen to it. The piano melody feels like it’s a continuation from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack, almost mapping her next footsteps as she walks outside the hotel and starting her new life. It definitely feels like this piece is related in some way?

NF: It was funny because it was basically this one solo piano recording I had from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and I kept it as an idea because we didn’t use it for the film and I kept it as an idea for the album process. And so I tried to replay it and I felt like no I can’t get that thing in there so I’d rather play a different piano on top and I played all the other instruments on top. The core of it is exactly the recording session of the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and so very well heard.

Something that struck me from the liner notes of ‘All Melody’ was regarding the mixing of the album and how you described the need to preserve the essence of the music. I can imagine when you have spent all this time and with the knowledge you have all these magical moments captured, is there almost like a fear that you’re almost going to lose it in the sense that you grasped it one moment and will it be there again?

NF: Exactly. Certain pieces fall apart over time. Certain pieces feel great that night and the next day they already don’t feel that great anymore and you wonder like what did I do yesterday that it sounded different and so on. Other pieces stay only stable over a couple of weeks and then they start to annoy you in a certain way. So, giving me like a long time process was giving me enough time to listen to my own ideas and when I make an album I only listen to that (for that time) and not get confused. I don’t want to enjoy good music (which is other music) because I feel like I only deserve to enjoy when I do great music myself, just to fast basically. And when you lose the sketch or whatever you are working on there is also time to make it better, to mix it or to finish it or to change it and then sometimes you rescue it, you drag it back into a better direction and you make a better take and then you basically wrestle it or you just make it worse with whatever you try to change and you realize when you try it again and when you make it worse again then you know the song wins basically, it destroys you. And sometimes you just get the song in the right direction again and at some point it stabilizes again in a very good situation. When I listen to the album now I feel like I’m happy with everything. It changes for me you know, I’m still having more ideas and that I would like to change things but I know that everything is OK. And this is not always the case when I release an album. Sometimes, only two, three, four weeks later I regret certain things but now I’m really happy.

‘Harm Hymn’ is the perfect closing line for the album. Again, I love how there are these very sparse, introspective moments dotted across ‘All Melody’. Did you envision this harmonium piece to always close the album?

NF: I feel that it is a typical “Nils Frahm song” and I would have missed it if it wasn’t on the album. And if you can put it anywhere then it’s after ‘Kaleidoscope’ because it washes that high tension away and it connects with the last notes of ‘Kaleidoscope’, it has the same pace and breath and then it falls into that in a very good way. This is why I kept the piece, I have other good harmonium pieces I have recorded but it didn’t connect like that and so often when I have so many different songs I’ve done for an album, I still choose the ones that strengthen the neighbouring song, in a way which ends up then being more symphonic or a planned album listening experience. For me it’s very important to see an album as a continuous thing and it is OK to listen to certain songs just by themselves but if you listen to the whole thing it needs to make sense.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.






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March 7, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Chosen One: Colleen

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Interview with Cécile Schott.

This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music. ”

—Cécile Schott 

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Isabel Dublang

Colleen by Isabel Dublang ii

The world-renowned French artist Colleen has crafted one of her most captivating, absorbing and empowering works to date in the form of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. The latest record marks Colleen’s first fully electronic-based album, having departed from the viola da gamba instrument (which was integral to the last two sonic treasures ‘Captain Of None’ and ‘Weighing Of The Heart’). The results are nothing short of staggering whereby Schott’s singular melodies shimmer across the radiant warmth of shimmering electronics and textured rhythms, creating, in turn, eight resolutely unique and stunningly beautiful sound worlds.

The delicate synth tones of ‘November’ immediately transports you to an ethereal dimension that serves the perfect prelude to the album’s lead single ‘Separating’. The gorgeously rich polyrhythms of Schott’s trusted Pocket Piano and Moogerfoogers creates mesmerising soundscapes that encapsulate the French artist’s achingly beautiful vocals. A charged immediacy and striking intimacy exudes from ‘Separating’s  masterfully interwoven sonic tapestries. As Schott sings on the opening verse: “Separating from the world /Is like a drop of rain/Falling to the ocean floor”, it reflects the artist’s emotional response to the inevitability of death and life’s impermanence. The hypnotic refrain of ‘Separating’ emits a healing force as a myriad of utterly transcendent moments continually fill the human space like stars dotted across the night sky.

The stand-out instrumental  cut ‘Another World’ forges a deeply moving journey into the depths of the human heart.  A piece of music such as this truly reflects the singularity of this remarkable musician, forever pushing the sonic envelope and exploring new avenues at each and every turn. The production’s richness and warmth is a joy to savor, which continually evolves and mutates into various shape-shifting patterns (a cross somewhere between Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio productions and Nils Frahm’s synthesizer works). The ambient bliss of ‘Another World’ feels just like that: co-existing in some far-reaching stratosphere of unknown dimensions.

Winter Dawn’ is steeped in the darkness of anguish and pain: “The world had nearly ended and the sky was blue” is sung beneath rhythmic pulses of synthesizers. The glorious rise in the song forms one of the utterly transcendent moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’ as Schott laments “O dear soul, flesh and bones/Love alone is your home” beneath intricately layered and sumptuously crafted electronic passages. The dichotomy of light and dark permeates throughout as Schott pleads “Deep and warm, golden dawn/Shine some more of that light of yours”. An intensely beautiful and soul-stirring tour-de-force.

The gripping heart of the latest full-length comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’. ‘Summer night (bat song)’ is an intimate, heartfelt lament that conveys Schott’s deep love for nature. Lyrically, I feel there’s a closeness with the timeless songbook of Sibylle Baier or Townes Van Zandt in the innate ability to create an entire world – with such striking emotional depth – within a song. A deep sadness is etched across the “descending milky night” of Schott’s masterful poetic prose wherein the metaphor of the bat’s mystical movement conveys the necessity of change. A masterful song-craft.

Nature’s peace flows throughout the sublime ‘The stars vs creatures’. The glistening blue of a kingfisher by a river or the rare sight of a terrific red fox in the early night sowed the seeds for this magical song-cycle. Lyrically, the song feels more like a parable – a message of divine wisdom – that reminds us to savor life and appreciate each moment. The blazing light of hope shines forth like a million stars.

The album closer – and sprawling title-track – is yet another defining moment of this monumental work. This meditative lament casts a spell like no other as Schott’s beguiling vocals ascends into the atmosphere with eternal rays of optimism “so stillness now can reign again”. The extended electronic sections (a key part throughout the record) swells like that of the ocean waves as they traverse the vast human space. As the sun-lit horizon looms in the distance, we – the listener – are reminded just how far the journey has taken us: “I will call you when the sun has reached the final hour”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is a precious and divine work of art. To coin Carl Sagan, music such as this can “break the shackles of time”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.


Colleen by Isabel Dublang iii

Interview with Cécile Schott.

Congratulations firstly Cécile on your truly moving and groundbreaking new album “A flame my love, a frequency”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this latest sonic marvel of yours. This sixth studio album represents something as close to a concept album as you’ve ever done. Rather than having to recount your specific memories of being in Paris – your hometown – during those atrocious terrorist attacks of November 2015, please shed some light on your mindset and outlook when it came to the immediate aftermath of this harrowing experience? For instance, you began to compose and make music again after a (much-needed) silence post these awful attacks, I would love to gain an insight into the feelings, colours, musical language that you soon found yourself heavily immersed in (and what would be the inception of “A flame my love, a frequency”)?

Cécile Schott: In July 2015 I had just finished the Captain of None tour and enthusiastically acquired a Pocket Piano by the brand Critter and Guitari and a Moog filter pedal from the Moogerfooger series called the MIDIMuRF. I experimented throughout the whole summer with the combination of the two and my Moogerfooger MF104M delay pedal (the one I already used on Captain of None), the initial intention being to create rhythms with the Pocket Piano + Moogerfoogers, which would form a kind of basis on which to play my viola. But somehow the two sounds did not seem to “gel” and I couldn’t find the excitement and freshness I had felt when playing the viola on my previous two albums. Instead, I did start to have little kernels of songs born just out of the synth and pedals, and I recorded these initial tests and took notes as I went along. This initial work period was suddenly interrupted by the illness of a close family member whom I had to go and visit immediately in France. I returned to Spain briefly, then went back to France again, and when I had to go back to Spain again, on the way back stopped in Paris on November 13th. So that when I came back, I found myself in the situation where I knew I had to work on a new album, but it felt like both a superficial and impossible task in the light of all the things that were happening on both a personal and more global level. For two weeks our flat stayed completely silent except for the online TV news, even listening to music just felt wrong. However, little by little, I realized that not working was not the solution, and that perhaps working on a new album might be helpful in taking my mind off the things that worried me so much. I felt an intense need for what I could call a joyful sound,and that’s when the basic ideas for the first songs were born: the instrumentals “Another world” and “One warm spark”, and “Separating”. “November” was also created early, as well as the basis  for “A flame my love, a frequency”.

The choice to have “A flame my love, a frequency” as your first fully electronic and keyboard-based album works so wonderfully on so many levels. The stark intimacy of your new song cycles – as your fragile vocals are masterfully embedded in sumptuous layers of electronic tapestries – and the cosmic quality of this latest voyage is further heightened by the minimalist nature of the new music. It’s this sacred space that your songs forever inhabit that makes for such an enriching, empowering and deeply affecting experience for the human heart and mind (which becomes the essence of the new album). Can you trace back to your decision as to remove the viola da gamba from your musical world (for now, at least) and I’d love for you to describe the various electronic instrumentation and studio set-up for the new album?

CS: I think that as a musician who has worked for more than 2 decades now, even if the first 12 years were not professional, I have a pretty fast understanding of when something is working or not. You always have to fully test out your ideas and give them a chance, but there comes a point where if something really feels forced, then you’re just wasting your time and not looking for alternative solutions that might work. I just remember that at one point it dawned on me that perhaps this album would have to exist as a purely electronic album, and because of the gravity of the situation, this drastic musical decision did not actually seem so drastic to me, or at least did not scare me as much as it might have done otherwise. The one thing I knew, from a composition and production point of view, was that if I was going to leave the viola behind for this album, then I needed to make sure I didn’t lose any of the characteristics of my music, which I see as a certain type of asymmetrical song structure, the combination of pop or at the very least melody and experimentation, and a warm sound.

As for the gear, I first saw the Pocket Piano at King Britt’s studio in Philadelphia during the Captain of None tour, and was immediately in love with its small portable size, and I was able to test the MIDIMuRF briefly twice, once again in King Britt’s studio and also at the house of my old friend French musician Dominique Grimaud. The Septavox came later, as I realized I wanted to expand the possibilities already contained in this extremely small but versatile setup. Pretty soon I made the decision that the album would have to be recorded live, because cutting into electronic soundwaves to correct mistakes (something I’ve always practiced in my past albums but always on acoustic sounds) is something that is extremely time-consuming and sometimes bordering on impossible. This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music.

Many melancholic shades and textures shimmer across these new recordings, Cécile but I feel there is an undeniable light of hope and strength and beauty that radiates from the depths of darkness. Aesthetically, I just love how you place several instrumental tracks among the vocal tracks (obviously something not new here) but it really feels like one of those dub treasures from the 60s/70s as one hears these beautiful, transporting instrumental tracks alongside the richly poignant ballads. For example, how the ethereal, blissed-out instrumental ‘Another world’ follows precedes the deeply affecting (and latest single) ‘Winter Dawn’ – and the many intricate arrangements and moments within moments that effortlessly occur – creates such a profound listening experience. I’d love if you could discuss more in detail about these intricate transitions that occur between tracks (and within tracks of course) and the aesthetic quality of “A flame my love, a frequency”.

CS: Thanks for your kind words Mark. Because the subject matter could not be anything other than the very large question of life and death and our fear of death and illness, I immediately felt that this would almost be a concept album, and my feeling was reinforced by the limited instrumental palette – something I’d already tested on Captain of None. The idea in the case of a restricted instrumental palette is not that the songs will be similar, but the reverse: *because* theoretically you are limited in terms of the variety of sound, you cannot hide poor compositional ideas behind a lushness of diversity of instrumental timbres. Instead, the song structure itself, melodies and chords, effects used dynamically to truly shape the direction and mood of the song, the choice to include lyrics or not, and the actual lyrics themselves – everything needs to contribute to the diversity of the album. And to make extra sure that I wasn’t using the same sound combinations over and over again, I kept a precise account of what synth settings I was using (which mode and type of wave), what pedals I was using and what for (just the filter pedal / just the delay one / both, was I using preprogrammed filter patterns, LFO, etc). I really became lost in this electronic soundworld and found it immensely enjoyable, and was surprised at how I did not miss the viola da gamba once: it just felt like exploring a different country and thinking that it was worth a visit in its own right, without comparing it to other beautiful places you’ve visited. Exploring the various combinations was endless, time-consuming too, and not always fruitful, but regularly I found a combination that really spoke to my ears and heart and each time they became a new composition for the album, and little by little I started to get a clearer idea of the tracklisting, which follows a rough chronological timeline: November obviously refers to the worst month of that year, Winter dawn to the subsequent period, Summer night (bat song) already leads to a more peaceful period, and The stars vs creatures and the title track are more about the remaining uncertainty that one realizes will always accompany life, this emotional rollercoaster that life will always be: there simply is no way of evacuating death from life, it is part of it, and we have to learn to live with it.

Colleen by Isabel Dublang iv

The gripping heart of the new album comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’ on side B. ‘The stars vs creatures’ is one of the most profound and moving ballads I have ever heard, one that reduces me to tears upon every visit. Please recount your memories of writing these particular songs, Cécile? The natural world and this magical, otherworldly realm that ‘The stars vs creatures’ inhabits exudes this remarkable source of intense healing. The lyric of “a single one of my feathers is worth a million stars or Venus” represents one of the most magical, celestial moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. 

CS: These were part of the 3 songs that were born with the Septavox during the second half of the making of the album: Winter dawn, Summer night (Bat song), and The stars vs creatures. Summer night (Bat song) is one of the darkest sounding songs on the album, and yet it was inspired by a moment of profound peace: in the summer of 2016 I once again visited my parents in France and was lucky enough to find exceptionally good weather, so spent my afternoons either outside in the garden or inside my childhood bedroom with the windows wide open, giving me a great vantage point to watch birds and do birdwatching-related readings or listenings (something I’d planned on doing for a long time). In the evening after dinner I particularly looked forward to watching the house martins flying high in the sky and sometimes flying right above our house, but the moment I loved even better was waiting for the last bird to fly and for the first bat to appear. There are only two or three bats every night, so seeing them always feels quite special, and over the past couple of years I’ve grown more and more fascinated by these incredible animals, and the fact that they appear right after the last bird seen flying, sometimes within seconds, strikes me as an amazing symbol of a passage from the world of the day and light to a world of night and darkness, which in spite of the commonly associated negative themes is actually brimming with life.

One evening, as I sat in my room, one of them literally nearly flew into my room, and turned around at the last millisecond. I marveled at the dexterity and perfection of its flight, and reflected that I wished that I as a human being were able to do the same thing with my thoughts: just stop them when they’re going in the wrong direction. I knew there and then that I would need to make a song out of that experience, and out of the peace that I felt in that room so loaded with memories.

The stars vs creatures is indeed like another chapter in those reflections on the power of nature and its redeeming beauty: I really do see a kingfisher regularly in a river not far from where I live, and I had a chance encounter with a red fox in Switzerland while birdwatching in a low mountain area – a fleeting second in which I saw him and he saw me and then was gone, a second that filled me with an immense joy that lasted for weeks, the sensation of having had a privileged glimpse into the life of a wild animal where he’s really supposed to be.

Were there challenges posed with the electronic instrumentation and particularly when this provided the sole musical backdrop (excluding your vocals of course)? For instance, I presume some the Moog pedals were used on your previous ‘Captain of None’ tour and I presume you acquired some new equipment to be added to the mix for the new record?

CS: The Moog pedals were really crucial in giving width and analog warmth to the synths, and I used my favourite panning, 50% Left 50% Right, on all stereo returns from the pedals, so that the music sounds like it’s kind of dancing between your ears. I also added my favourite plugins which I’d already used on Captain of None, one is a spring reverb emulation and the other a tape delay.

I must ask you about the gorgeous album-title and how you came about choosing this deeply poignant title (which embodies the music so perfectly)? Also, please talk me through the song itself, it’s one of those meditative laments that maps the impending sunlit horizon. I also love how there seems to be a strong correlation between the album’s title-track and the lead single ‘Separating’, feels like they are sister songs. The title-track reminds me of ‘Lighthouse’, with its hypnotic, meditative feel and the everlasting light of hope that shines forth. Also, this organ sound that melds with your voice creates such a heavenly, soul-stirring sound.

CS: I had the core of that title song early in the making of the album, but the words came to me right towards the end, and in general, this album’s lyrics were hard to write given the serious subject matter. I knew I wanted to stay on a “poetic” (for lack of another word) level because that’s really the only way I manage to write lyrics, and the image of the flame seemed to work for me as a symbol of something that we need to keep alive in times of hardship: some people use a physical flame to represent life or the loved one in times of mourning, but in my title I use the flame more as a metaphor for anything that we hold on to make us survive fear and pain. The frequency was obvious because it’s literally what I did when making the album: I got lost in a world of sound to make myself feel better, and I know that music plays that role for so many people. And since I was in love with the filters’ sound on the MIDIMuRF pedal, I knew I wanted to have a song where the ending would be just that, a play on frequencies appearing and disappearing, with a final resurgence at the end, like a sun coming back from behind the clouds, as a musical symbol of hope.

You must feel deeply proud of this magnificent new album, Cécile. Looking back over the making of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’, I wonder did one song (over other ones) form a gateway into the rest of the album, which allowed you to nearly see the path you were navigating, in a way? Or in some ways, did mistakes or happy accidents occur during any of the sessions that found their way on the final album? 

CS: I actually think the whole process of making an album is a combination of disciplined persistent work and loose explorations where you should just let go and let so-called accidents happen, and electronic music-making is actually the ideal playing field for this approach: there are so many parameters that can change a sound, and with analog gear, there is no way of saving settings, so it’s all about capturing the moment. I take notes because I know I’m going to take the album to the stage later on, so that is also a fascinating activity, learning to know how your machines react to try and replicate something that can be very fleeting. I just loved the learning curve to this project, and I really feel that a new door has been opened in my music-making.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.

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November 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Chosen One: Matthew Bourne

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So all these pieces have come about doing things for other people because for me, music is an extension of human relationships; I don’t think I’d make any music otherwise.”

—Matthew Bourne

Words: Mark Carry


The element of surprise comes with each and every new release from the gifted talents of UK composer and pianist Matthew Bourne. On the back of numerous diverse and ground-breaking musical projects – from last year’s utterly compelling moogmemory album to revisiting Kraftwerk’s seminal ‘Radioactivity’ album in the collaborative voyage of ‘Radioland’ – this month sees Bourne return to the piano instrument with the stunningly beautiful ‘Isotach’ full-length, released on the ever-dependable Leaf Label.

Like the roll of a dice, chance is key to the sonic creations captured on ‘Isotach’. The title-track is a heart-rending, delicate piano piece that forms gentle ripples in the pools of your heart and mind. Later, ethereal cello strings gradually melds with the contemplative piano tapestries; recalling the likes of Sylvain Chauveau or Erik Satie. The following ‘Isothere’ is a deeply immersive experience whose gorgeously sustained piano tones encapsulates one’s inner-most thoughts or faded dreams.

The minimal nature of these quite bare compositions is a joy to savour. A timeless voyage unfolds throughout the skeletal piano motifs and ghostly cello strings, like long-lost artefacts resurfacing from deep beneath the ground. Divine strings ebb and flow amidst delicate piano flourishes on the utterly hypnotic ‘Valentine’ before enchanting piano melodies grace the atmosphere on ‘Duncan’.

Heavenly rapture ascends on ‘Wedding Mala’ with glorious shimmering patterns of cello and piano reflecting the summer light in all its beautiful glory. The piece only lasts barely ninety seconds and yet it’s as if all life’s fleeting moments have been captured. ‘Candela’ is yet another shape-shifting tour-de-force. The depth of human emotion that dispels from Bourne’s minimal framework of piano (with masterful addition of cello) becomes the essence of ‘Isotach’s timeless journey.

‘Candela (for Sascha Heeney)’ is taken from the Isotach album.



‘Isotach’ is out on Friday 18th August via The Leaf Label.




Interview with Matthew Bourne.

Congratulations on yet another exceptional record – on the back of so many diverse and wonderful releases – it’s lovely how ‘Isotach’ sees you return to the piano instrument. Can you recount your memories of making the new album and the moment you realized you’d come back to the piano again and recording these new pieces at home?

Matthew Bourne: I’m not very good at doing two of the same thing [laughs]. I think I do one thing and think ‘Right OK, I think I’ve done that and I don’t want to do the same thing again’. It’s a bit of a running theme, I’ve done a piano record; I did ‘Montauk Variations’ which is the first thing I released with Leaf in 2012: it was very deliberate like a fresh direction if you like. Before that, for my solo piano playing, I used to use a lot of samples (sampled media like clips from television and film, other classical music) and I used to improvise around those. It was a very mixed bag of stuff and I burned out and I thought, right I need to strip back to some sort of essence so I did that record and then I spent a lot of time working in France with a really great saxophonist Laurent Dehors and I just journeyed between that and Radioland, which was the Kraftwerk revisiting that I did with Franck Vigroux and Antoine Schmitt and then the Moog record came in between all those things really.

Working on the Kraftwerk stuff with Franck, it was just synthesizers and I’d already started to do new pieces for the Moog record so really I think I was slowly just doing more synthesizers – and very unconsciously – and it was around last year that I thought I’ve hardly played the piano and so when I was playing the piano, I was very conscious of it and I think I did go through a period where the pieces that are on the record because of other people asking me to do sessions for them – could you record some piano for this track or for this pitch we’re doing and I’d record with just one mic set up and I thought I’d mess around with some stuff and then forget about it [laughs]. And there was one day when I went back into one of the sessions (for Sascha) and I saw all these other pieces at the end and I thought ’wow, what are those?’ and I listened to them and I thought I’ve done this quite a few times over the course of a year or so. And so I went back into all the job sessions that I had done and sure enough I had found a number of pieces which were just sitting there so I gathered them all up and thought there might be something that hangs them all together. The thing that binds them all together is that they were often recorded in windy or rainy conditions up here in the house (which is quite exposed to the elements) so I thought, well that’s a good enough excuse to try and tie them all together [laughs]. I wasn’t conscious of them if you know what I mean; it’s quite a hard one to explain.

It’s funny, for each of the records I’ve done for Leaf they’ve all been very different in terms of their intention I think. With the Montauk Variations record, I consciously wanted to try and do something different and working with Franck; that was a very conscious thing to rework an existing material. With the Moogmemory pieces, I think again I thought well I’ve got to get down to something but I just want to consciously sit and try to make a record so I had to catch it by surprise. And I think with the ‘Isotach’ record I think it’s even more by surprise [laughs] because the moment I try and sit down and consciously say to myself ‘Right, I’m going to make a record’, nothing happens; nothing comes out really, it’s like I have to catch it without me realizing it’s been caught, if that makes sense. Because the more conscious I am, doing something, that something just escapes somewhere and you end up chasing after some kind of weird concept rather than just sitting and playing something. It’s a funny process I found myself engaging with over the years so this is just the latest outcome of that I suppose.

I love the arrangements and particularly how the cello comes in and out at various points, in such a beautiful and minimalistic way.

MB: I mean that came about because I obviously can’t do both at the same time. So I play something on the piano and record it and I immediately listen back and without really thinking about it, I think where can I add some cello? And I just sit and think OK, maybe there and I pick a note and I start to play something. I mean I played the cello before I really played the piano so I started to learn cello before I was good at the piano. I don’t practice the cello as much anymore and it’s an instrument that’s in need of some routine maintenance so there is a non-virtuosic quality going on in this; you know the bow needs to be repaired so a lot of the notes sound quite wispy and ghostly. I also decided a while ago, what was happening to my cello parts weren’t sounding rich or full-bodied like somebody who is a proper cellist so I thought well maybe that’s my angle (which is that I’m not). So, the cello parts that I do, I make sure to try and not be like a proper cellist and accept the instrument as it is and accept the sounds that are being produced. I think I didn’t want a very rich “proper” cello accompaniment either, I think I wanted this strange and in between and fragile and ghostly almost sound.

I think it’s my intention that it just sits behind the piano; it’s there but it’s not there. Again, I try not to plan it out too much, I just react to what I had heard at first and I build up a few layers and then I sit and listen to that and think ‘Yeah OK, that sounds alright’, and then I save it and close the session and that would be it [laughs]. As I say, it wasn’t until I listened back, sometime after, I thought these are OK actually and I think if I thought of it with the frame of mind to try to make a record I may have erased those things and try to make them better or try to do something else with them. I think I just like to let them breathe, much in the same way as I sit and play the piano (when nothing is recorded), I try to do that with the cello parts as much as possible and the fact that I can’t really play the cello to a virtuosity degree meant that the minimal nature of the cello parts were because I can’t really do anything else. When I look at it that way, I’m quite amazed that any music came out of it at all [laughs].

You were on the back of doing the wonderful moogmemory release only a short time before; you must find that taking a break from one instrument and going back to it with a new perspective almost entirely?

MB: It’s like a seesaw because those pieces on the latest album were recorded during the period that I did all the moogmemory stuff – well some of them were – and as I say they were just left and forgotten about. And it was when I had got them all out, I thought, hang on I have hardly played the piano in years if I really thought about it (in terms of the hours spent at the piano keyboard). So, in a way even though that music was made a little while ago, it has the effect of I guess now thinking right, I am going to go back to this instrument. It’s funny isn’t it, work that’s been done in the past like months and months ago has the effect of giving me a bit of a nudge saying ‘Right, it’s time to get back to that now.’ It’s very funny the way recordings for me have functioned. In my house here I am lucky enough to be able to record and not get on anybody’s nerves or not having anybody banging on the wall next door to me. Once things start to happen I guess I don’t get disturbed which is nice really.

Is that a new set-up for you in terms of recording at home because I presume you didn’t record some of those previous albums in a home setting?

MB: Well the Montauk stuff was recorded at Dartington Hall in Devon and well actually all the other stuff was recorded here because electronically I can take a direct audio out from the instrument synthesizers into the digital interface. With the piano on ‘Isotach’ everything was recorded here but yeah it is a very new set-up for me because I’ve never really done, I’ve never had that luxury of being able to keep things set up. And so I moved to where I live now about three years ago and then I think a year or so in I decided right I’m going to buy the piano and owning a few things to record the piano nicely. So, it’s a simple set-up but I guess my issue is that I can’t go and consciously make a record. So a lot of the time I have all this stuff that’s built to capture what I do at any time but I don’t do it at any time [laughs] because otherwise I’d be too conscious of the fact that I’d been recording all of the time so it’s a funny dance that I do with this thing. I have to wait for something to come along really and to catch it by surprise, like something is happening here but that only happens after I’ve done something for a number of times or I’ve amassed a couple of recordings, so actually there is something going on and there is a record; something forming or another project happening but if I consciously go out of my way to do it as I say, it seems false, to me, I mean I wish I didn’t have that. I’ve had this conversation with Nils Frahm about this and he’s the opposite actually, he was saying ‘Well I go into the studio, I turn everything off and I’m not coming out until I’ve got this record’, and to sit and get these pieces together for however much time a week, two weeks and only do that and come out of it and really really craft a record; I wish I had a bit of that but I don’t, I have the opposite; I have to catch it by accident otherwise I feel like I’m cheating or something.

matthew b

It’s cool how the idea of the Piano Day brought about the gorgeous piece of music ‘Isotach’? And other pieces too are dedications to friends and people in your life, it’s lovely how that all worked out.

MB: Yeah, that was interesting because that was the first Piano Day wasn’t it and Nils said it would be cool if you could do a piece and I said ‘Well OK’ and I forgot about it and it was the day before the day itself and I’d been preparing some tiny little loops for a sample CD – of piano loops of all things – and one of the loops was this little motif that the piece is based on. I was just fiddling around with it and I thought ‘Well that might make an actual piece maybe’ and I just found myself musing on it and it was quite late – it was about twelve o’ clock at night and I thought I can’t be bothered actually, I thought I was supposed to do that piece but I don’t know – so then I thought I’d record it really quickly. I threw up one microphone and it was really windy and it was raining outside and at one point in the track you can hear the rain hitting against the window but it sounded louder in the room than on the recording. So that was just the one mic thrown up and then I just played around with it and then as I said before, I listened back and thought maybe I could add some cello to this and so I moved the mic, picked up the cello, added it, synced the parts, listened to it and thought ‘yeah that’s OK’ and then I added a bit of reverb and I made sure that the file was alright and uploaded it to my soundcloud and I tweeted it to the Piano Day thing. All in that entire track took me about half an hour to do so it was really quick.

And that’s kind of how I do most of my work and one of the other tracks ‘Wedding Mala (for Dave & Nichola)’ again, that was their wedding the next day and I thought well I haven’t got them a gift – and I had forgotten that they didn’t want any gift – so I thought maybe I should give them this small musical gesture. So I sat down and again I had to pick a friend up from the train station at about half an hour before he arrived and I thought Oh I’ve got to go drive and get him from town and so I thought I’d just sit down and do something, so I sat down and played this little thing and I thought yeah that’s fine and then I added some cello bits to this and then I thought I’ve got to go, save and close and go to the train station.  Again that was one of those pieces where I didn’t have any time to over think anything and thought I’ve got to do something. And again, I came back and thought actually that’s OK even though it felt really rushed at the time [laughs].

So all these pieces have come about doing things for other people because for me music is an extension of human relationships; I don’t think I’d make any music otherwise. I mean I’m quite content sitting at home playing through classical music and trying to learn pieces and sitting and practicing and figuring things out for my own amusement; I am very happy doing that. But in terms of things that make it out there into the public, they probably wouldn’t make it if it weren’t for Leaf and so I have a very good relationship with Leaf and with Tony and with the guys at the Leaf Label; they’re very kind and patient and then everyone else I get inspiration from. I used to think that I got inspiration from some weird, internal place within me but actually it’s not, it’s all to do with other people. Because the pieces of music aren’t really about anything, it’s just music so I think who can I give this as a gift to; who could I tribute this to; what’s the character of the music?

So that’s why I end up either dedicating them to people or naming them after people because I think well I don’t need it, I could just sit down and make up a piece on the piano but it’s no good to me, I think the more and more I do my music I feel quite comfortable naming them after people. There are a lot of jazz standards that are named after people so I guess there’s nothing new there but I do like the idea of giving the music as a gift where I think there is something being spoken in the music, like I’m going to give that to them. So that’s how that works, usually the dedications happen after the music actually, I don’t sit and think ‘I’m going to compose this piece for a really good friend of mine’ because again, for me that would be over thinking and putting something in the way.

The act of compiling the pieces I suppose must be a fun process in the sense that you’re seeing what matches each one? Because it is true there is very much a narrative running throughout and as a listener you feel they all belong together.

MB: It is quite fun because I think in the way the work has been done and it’s a different process. I think I was concerned because they are all very slow; they all have a kind of rhythm but the pace is very slow so I thought how am I going to find a path through all of these because they’re quite similar? And then what I ended up doing was usually at the end of a piece you can sometimes lead on to the next note of the beginning of the next piece so the start note of piece 2 often is either the same or a step higher or a semitone higher or lower than the other, so it’s as if the end of one piece help lead onto the other or the start of the other can help pick up from where the previous piece has left off, so there seems to be a handing in the baton in a way from the end of one piece to the next. So that’s often my process, I often think well what’s happening at the end of the piece and how does that link up to the start of the next piece?  So it’s often not like this piece is light in character or that’s dark, sometimes it’s just to do with how the end leads on or suggests something. I get them in a rough order, I start looking at those sorts of details in a way to try and glue the tracks together. It’s tricky, I think it’s a very, very hard thing to do. With ‘Montauk Variations’ it was more varied, it got pieces that were quite abstract; inside the piano it’s really percussive and non-tonal and then it’s got pieces that are quite tonal and melodic next to other pieces that are very still and I think there’s like seventeen tracks on that one so that was a lot. This one has ten tracks so it’s a little bit easier but harder in the sense that they’re longer, then slower but it’s a fun challenge nonetheless.

With the moogmemory release and the way there’s no real added manipulation except for the Moog itself, it must have been quite an experience for you to come to that moment where you could actually do that?

MB: That was something that came about quite early. I have a couple of other synthesizers – I don’t have a mass collection by any means – and very early on I tried adding some stuff over the top of it and I didn’t do very much but the sound was different and the feel was different, so I added another layer of something else. And then the more I just sat with the memorymoog and thought well this is an instrument in its own right – a bit like the piano – I decided that I was going to play everything; that everything was going to be played at the keyboard as if I was at a piano. There are a couple of tracks on the record where I do some overdubs, there’s one where I layer up a few things but I try to keep the layering as close to the original pache if you like. So if there was a bassline that I wanted to enhance I would only use the sound that came from that original pache to do it so I wouldn’t try and go off and explore too much and get a whacky or heavy bass sound and so that’s the sound of this pache so can I enhance the bass with that same sound or add something subtle inside the sound?

I try and do that on ‘Horn and Vellum’ where it’s more obviously layered and composed in a sense and again that just came out of me messing around and thought I’m thinking quite big here so I just started fooling around with stuff. But generally everything is played in and I thought well I didn’t know of anyone who had just sat down with an old polyphonic synthesizer and just played it as an instrument rather than program it, it’s quite easy to program things using Midi and things like that and that’s something I’m not that good at or very familiar with so I thought well I’m a piano player really so I should just play this instrument and just play everything in and not to click, just let the instrument generate everything, let the instrument generate arpeggios and rhythms and go with that. It was like a surrender; surrendering to the instrument and surrendering to what it tells you, I think my cello does the same to me; I think because of the way I am and haven’t played it for very long, you’re faced with a situation where you’ve only got what you’ve got to work with so you have to try and be creative with those limitations. If anything I see myself trying to limit myself even more rather than trying to expand what I’m doing.

I think it’s all about finding the right chords or just one chord note and just being happy with that. There is a piece on the record called ‘Valentine’ and that was done on Valentine’s Day. I was doing some work for a friend of mine Dan Berridge who scored an amazing BBC program about Iceland and I was doing the cello parts for that and I was having a break and I started playing this note and I layered up some of these notes and I think the first version of that was just three chords played and that was it and it only lasted for about fifteen seconds [laughs]. And I kept looping it again and again and I thought well actually this works like this but it’s only one chord and I like the idea of being happy with only one chord – even only one note if that ever happens – I’d be very happy to find the right note, in the right way, once or twice.

I know you don’t over think things when it comes to making music but would you have ideas or plans for some future musical projects of yours, especially now when looking back on the string of releases you have under your belt?

MB: I might do something where I combine a bit more; maybe the synthesizers with the piano and a cello. It’s something brewing in my mind that I could combine all of these elements next. Maybe that’s the next thing; it’s not about one instrument or one instrument with a bit of something else, maybe it’s everything in that I have in the house and maybe that’s the next thing that I try and do but I’m not sure.

‘Isotach’ is out on Friday 18th August via The Leaf Label.

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August 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Chosen One: Julie Byrne

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For a very long time – and I struggle with this still – I was searching to feel a sense of belonging.”

—Julie Byrne

Words: Mark Carry

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Buffalo-born singer-songwriter Julie Byrne’s latest sophomore full-length ‘Not Even Happiness’ is a deeply moving and captivating voyage, whose sheer depth is unfathomable. The nine divine sonic creations captured here belong to a cosmic stratosphere; gliding majestically among the white doves and glittering stars. To coin Kafka, ‘Not Even Happiness’ is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self. The spiritual, far-reaching qualities of Byrne’s masterful song-craft brings you, as you are, into a world of aching beauty and sublime transcendence. An infinite source of solace.

Follow my voice, I am right here/Beyond this life and beyond all fear” Byrne sings on the opening heartfelt lament ‘Follow My Voice’. The song – and indeed the album as a whole – details the ongoing search to feel a sense of belonging in this world, “beyond all fear”. The letting go. A mystical dimension permeates the ethereal harmonies as Byrne’s delicate voice melds effortlessly with heavenly, atmospheric instrumentation. On a later verse, Byrne sings “I consciously died, I seen dew on a rose”. The immense ballad feels like a gateway to the rest of the album; a tower of song to unlock the burden of pain. The soul of all natural things.

The closing prayer-like lament ‘I Live Now As A Singer’ emits a kind of catharsis like no other, an indefinable force breathes from deep within. It’s the moment the sunlit horizon is finally reached and the synth arrangements that melt with Byrne’s achingly beautiful voice reduces me to tears. The American songwriter’s honesty and openness creates such a profound impact: “And yes I have broke down asking for forgiveness / When I was nowhere close to forgiving myself”. Byrne’s fragile voice “glides in the light of a red moon” that penetrates every pore and crevice, like a river finding its sea.

Travel and nature are etched across the sprawling sonic canvas of ‘Not Even Happiness’. From sense and observation, songs such as ‘Melting Grid’, ‘Natural Blue’ and ‘Sea As It Glides’ maps the myriad of empowering places and natural beauty that lies therein, (from the Pacific Northwest to the glorious skies in Colorado and the sun-bleached waves in Big Sur). But moreover, this batch of songs chronicles the New York singer’s new relationship with the spiritual life: poetic prose painted across otherworldly dimensions and celestial harmonies echo powerfully this truth. On ‘All The Land Glimmered’ Byrne sings “I’ve been searching God within” on the first verse beneath meditative bliss of gentle acoustic guitar.

One of the great hallmarks of ‘Not Even Happiness‘ is the clarity and visionary quality of the song cycles effortlessly captured by this exceptional talent, transcending space and time with each turn of phrase and sonic pulse. The ability to look inward, deep into one’s own mind and express this through the art of music is in many ways the essence of ‘Not Even Happiness’s infinite power and healing force. A crystalline image of serene beauty is depicted on ‘Natural Blue’ that somehow encapsulates the illuminating light and vast magical power of Byrne’s master-work: “Sun split ember, fields that span both ways forever.” ‘Not Even Happiness’ is an infinite treasure.

‘Not Even Happiness’ is out now on Basin Rock (order HERE).

For all upcoming Julie Byrne EU tour dates (including Whelan’s Dublin on 30th August) please click HERE.


Interview with Julie Byrne.

Congratulations Julie on the latest album ‘Not Even Happiness’; it’s a really captivating and deeply moving album. Musically, there are added layers like string arrangements and ethereal soundscapes that work so well on top of your voice and guitar. I’d love for you to recount your memories of seeing these songs – which I presume began as bare demos – gradually bloom into what they finally became (on the final recordings)?

Julie Byrne: First of all, thank you so much for the kind words and I’m glad that you feel that way about the songs. My main collaborator Eric Littmann and I began recording songs like ‘Morning Dove’ and ‘Natural Blue’ in an apartment that we were living at, in Bushwick Brooklyn but ultimately it felt that this wasn’t the right environment and we ended up scrapping everything that we had done [laughs]. In the meantime we made this plan to move to Buffalo temporarily and return to the house of my childhood – the house I was brought up in after I was born – and we decided that this would be a better environment to move through that process of recording and building a record. So, the bare structure of all of the songs (except ‘I Live Now As A Singer’), it just came from me working independently and then once the songs were finished, they were given to Eric and he’s very much responsible for a lot of the flourishes and the atmospheric elements and also the style of production is all him.

You mentioned ‘I Live Now As A Singer’ and even just the song-title itself, there is a profound feeling emanating throughout and it feels like there is a resolution and a beautiful end to the album; lyrically but also musically with the atmospheric synthesizer and your voice?

JB: That melody came to me and I started singing it as I had it stuck in my head for a long time and Eric helped me put that to music and that was the beginning of that song. And Jake Falby, our friend who plays violin, he came in and helped us construct the bridge that he played on and that was really a mutual effort between the three of us. Then in terms of the lyrical content of that song, I think that how much of the album encapsulates a phase of my life that was very much about looking toward exterior change to resolve whatever heartache I was feeling and doing that chronically year after year after year and still finding no respite. So this song I think maybe marks a transition into a new way of thinking or a new way to address a lot of the pain that I’ve been carrying for so long which is where many of the other songs came from.

Another quality that translates to the listener is this inward feeling or inner peace and a song like ‘Sleepwalker’ depicts that quest to find inner peace; I love how there is so much honesty and it’s so bare, in the best way possible.

JB: For a very long time – and I struggle with this still – I was searching to feel a sense of belonging; everything else but my own experience like my own baseline and so this album has ended up being a process of coming to realize that in order to cultivate a stronger sense of security I needed to really start building that without imagining that it could be given to me through a change of place, a change of work, a change of relationship that it would take so much more than all of those things to actually feel a sense of belonging in my own skin, so that’s where we’re left at the end of the record.

One of my favourites is ‘Sea As It Glides’ there is a particularly healing quality that radiates throughout. The beautiful imagery and poetic lyrics you use – together with the music – feels just like that; sea as it glides and a cosmic feel (like from the early 70’s), there is a certain magic.

JB: That song was really enjoyable to work with because it wasn’t carrying any kind of really significant emotional message, that song is almost like a photograph, this was written on the west coast of the United States in Northern California so it was really trying to encapsulate the feeling of just being in the sun and being at the mercy of the sea; I love that feeling of swimming in the ocean and recognizing its power – it’s no longer abstracted – you’re standing in the crest of a wave, your feet are still on the sand and you’re being tossed around, so that’s where that comes from.

In other ways of looking at the album, it closely resembles a photobook essay where there’s obviously a journey and particularly with references to various place names and places you have traveled and the many beautiful images; the songs allow you to be transported in the same way as a photographic exhibition or photobook.

JB: I would hope it could be that way because I mean those usually end up maybe being my favourite kinds of stories; the ones that bring you, as you are, into their world so if you feel that it does that I take that as a high compliment.

There is a lot of elements of travel and the different places you have been to, I wonder did you find yourself writing the actual songs while you were on tour or moving a lot?

JB: Yes, actually a lot of the songs were written while on tour. ‘Natural Blue’, when I started writing that, I was sitting in the front seat of my friend’s car and we were on a very long drive from Denver to Arcosanti, Arizona. And yeah, you know I mean that’s like a ten-hour drive so a lot of time passed [laughs] and I actually had the space to stretch out and play my guitar while we were on our way there so that’s where that song began. ‘Morning Dove’ was the first time that I went on tour in the UK, I was playing the instrumental part of that constantly. But yeah, a lot of them were written in travel and it’s nice to be able to do that when the inspiration is there because it feels that the spirit of these places are actually being somehow expressed through the melody in a way that it seems it couldn’t happen after the fact. And so it’s a different experience writing while you’re immersed in this place that is inspiring the song itself rather than thinking about it in retrospect, after returning home. That was a really good question, I don’t think that I was asked that before.

I was interested to read that for one of your songs – I believe it’s ‘All The Land Glimmered Beneath’? – is inspired by Frank O’ Hara’s poetry?

JB: Yes, I’m a huge fan of Frank O’ Hara. I can’t remember but I don’t think it’s for the new album. On the first album, there’s a song called ‘Emeralds’; that’s based on a poem that he wrote called ‘Animals’, so basically putting ‘Animals’ to music but I don’t think ‘All The Land Glimmered Beneath’ but I do have a terrible memory, even when it comes to my own work [laughs] because I’ve actually forgotten how to play that song; it’s the only one on the album I don’t play live because I don’t remember how [laughs]. But I love Frank O’ Hara and actually sometimes if someone asks me to sign their record, I’ll write his epitaph on their record because I always thought it was so beautiful, it’s “Be free and live as variously as possible” and I think those are words to live by.

After revisiting the album quite a bit, it was also bringing me back to Walt Whitman and his ‘Leaves Of Grass’ book of poetry.

JB: Yes, yes. ‘Leaves Of Grass’ was fused to my experience of the tour that ‘Sea As It Glides’ came from and it’s my friend David’s favourite poem. So for that song, there are elements of that poem that are woven into ‘Sea As It Glides’ and that’s kind of an homage to Walt Whitman and also to my friend David who I spent four months touring with in 2014 and was the first person that I ever entered the Redwood forest with or ever saw Big Sur.


On a more general note of touring, as you’re travelling now and touring the new album do you find yourself surprised and inspired by new places that you may encounter?

JB: Yes, I’m sure that it will happen. A lot has changed in my working relationship with music from the first album that I released to this album and so it feels like for the past six months that I’ve been touring on this album I’ve been clamouring to meet my new responsibilities that have gone along with working in a new capacity in music. It has required a lot of energy and a lot of mistakes and very valuable lessons and I’m hoping that I’ve gotten to a point where I’m familiar enough with this new way of working in music where I can become less burdened by that stress and just more immersed in the experiences that I’m able to have through touring so that’s my aspiration for this five-week tour that we’re heading out on; the return to that original spirit of mystery and magic and wonder instead of being concerned with accounting and tour managing [laughs] and all of these other things that take you out of that experience.

The opening song ‘Follow My Voice’ is like that perfect first chapter and even those first words that are sung; it really serves like a gateway into the rest of the album. Did this song serve like a door opening for you in terms of creating more songs because it has that feeling that it allowed other songs to start flowing in?

JB: That’s an interesting precedent to write a phrase is that you feel like it’s a point of entrance. I always felt a fondness for that song and then also ‘I Live Now As A Singer’, maybe it is because those two songs in particular, it feels that they have archived a new relationship with the spiritual life and a new curiosity after feeling dis-empowered and heartbroken by daily life for long enough that I’d gotten to a point where I was very interested in studying and pursuing knowledge about what else there was aside from all of these outward and external experiences. So I feel that those two songs in particular embody that sincere aspiration to change and to become more loving and more secure even though it’s a very gradual and difficult process and one which I claim no authority but I look at those two songs more as prayers than as music.

Nature and there’s obviously such beautiful imagery and lyrics to so much of the world and the universe, I wonder did you have a love for nature from a very young age?

JB: Yes, I mean I had the good fortune to grow up in a very green and simple and quiet place, my parents live in the country, maybe like forty minutes from Buffalo, New York, which is a post-industrial place. There is a creek running through my backyard and I’m a lonely child so I feel like a lot of what engaged my attention was my relationship to the natural world and observing wildlife and all of these things from a very young age and just cultivating an early fascination which I think just became comfort. There would be times when I was living in New York, I would be walking down the street and I would feel almost psychically assaulted and just so out-of-place and it took me a while to realize, oh that’s because there’s no trees on this street at all, there is no green space to be seen and just how jarring that feels. I mean I think it’s that relationship to the natural world, it is something that is in all of our biology but it was what I had grown up with and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much an effect it has on my well-being and mental health to be able to commune with nature in that way and how starved I feel without it.

I was interested to read that you were self-taught on the guitar and going back to the ‘Rooms with Walls and Windows’ album and feeling that you are there in the room as you are playing the guitar and singing. How early in your life would you have began writing your own songs and playing the guitar?

JB: Well I always loved to sing and it was never something that I did in any formal venue like I was never in choir or anything like that. I’ve never been formally trained in music theory either so I had a close friend who took acoustic guitar lessons – it was a new elective they were offering at our high school – and so it began with her, she taught me a couple of chords and then I was finally able to accompany myself singing and it went on from there. But pursuing finger style guitar is something that’s very much rooted in my father’s influence, which is his style of playing and because I was self-taught I had developed all of these strange bad habits like I only pick with three fingers which is a bit limiting but I’ve gone too far without learning to have to pick properly [laughs] that I’m on that path now. And the guitar that I play is the one that I inherited from my father so his influence actively lives through that instrument so it’s really such a joy to play that particular guitar and to be able to travel with it and it’s without a doubt my most prized possession.

When you’re so busy touring and everything else, has there been particular music or sources of inspiration that you’ve been inspired by in the last while?

JB: I played a festival in Arizona called Form Arcosanti and I was either introduced to or I had the opportunity to see musicians that I’d been following for a while and that was a very inspiring place with very prolific people. Someone that I had the opportunity to finally see was the composer and cellist – and based in New York City – named Kelsey Lu, her performance was just unbelievable and breathtaking. Other than that I think the things that have actually been the source of inspiration in terms of I guess just reviving because that’s the really important thing when you’re living such a rigorous lifestyle and travel and having moments that give that energy back that has been expended on getting from place to place and performing, so those moments of inspiration have really just been found in hiking: we’ve been integrating a lot of hikes into our tours and we’ve been making them much more of a priority than we ever did in the past. And that’s been a very meaningful change I think in our lifestyle on tour.

‘Not Even Happiness’ is out now on Basin Rock (order HERE).

For all upcoming Julie Byrne EU tour dates (including Whelan’s Dublin on 30th August) please click HERE.

Written by admin

August 15, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Chosen One: Justin Walter

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The music itself comes to light more like finding sea shells on the ocean floor with your eyes closed.”

—Justin Walter

Words: Mark Carry


Angelic piano tones reverberate softly into the ether on the album’s glorious title-track. Gradually, synth bass elements coalesce together: a diffusion of sumptuous layers before heavenly trumpet passages form ripples in the pools of your mind. The immense sonic journey of  ‘Unseen Forces’ is encapsulated in some otherworldly realm; lost to the constraints of time that ceaselessly grows in meaning and significance. Michigan trumpeter Justin Walter has forged another timeless sound world  with his sophomore full length ‘Unseen Forces’ – and follow-up to the sublime debut ‘Lullabies & Nightmares’ – released on the ever-dependable Chicago-based Kranky label.

Divine sonic tapestries are masterfully forged across the album’s nine exceptional tracks, with intricate layers of electronics and trumpet. Walter’s trusted EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) is a rare wind-controlled analog synthesizer from the 70’s that forms an integral foundation to the music’s visionary dimension. The opener ‘1001’ reveals the delicate beauty of these drifting synthesizer melodies that lies somewhere between Boards of Canada and the ECM’s rich discography. Bass notes are masterfully added two minutes in, creating a powerful, unequivocal force, reminiscent of Kranky alumni Tim Hecker or A Winged Victory For The Sullen.

Dark, menacing electronics are fused with radiant light of trumpet melodies on the utterly compelling ‘Sixty’, an exploration into the heart of darkness. The dichotomy of light and dark is forever inherent across Walter’s shape-shifting works where the radiant light of hope glows like stars dotted across night skies. An inner dialogue is created between the electronic and organic components, forming a deeply-affecting experience in the process. Take for example, ‘It’s Not What You Think’. The striking intensity unleashed by hypnotic swells of synthesizers is contrasted with ethereal ambient soundscapes of faded dreams. Music, like the brush strokes of a painter, is constructed by masterful use of texture and colour. As the track builds, the frenetic energy of Colin Stetson and Ben Frost is emitted amidst a dark, repeating pattern.

The album’s penultimate track ‘Soft Illness’ bears the sound of a producer more so than anything else: swirls of noise crafts a captivating electronic sphere of sound. The length of the individual tracks in part B are significantly shortened, further adding to the nearness of the approaching horizon. ‘Following’ is a soul-stirring lament that feels like a lost synth pop gem from another space and time. ‘Red Cabin’ encapsulates the rich textures of dreams, in one aching gradual pulse.

‘Unseen Forces’ is out now on Kranky.



Interview with Justin Walter.

Congratulations Justin on the stunningly beautiful new sophomore release ‘Unseen Forces’, a collection of music that truly transports the listener to another realm. I’d love for you to discuss the making of the new record and particularly how your approach may have developed or changed from that of the remarkable 2013 debut ‘Lullabies & Nightmares’?

Justin Walter: Well first off, thank you. The biggest factor that changed was time. With ‘Lullabies & Nightmares‘ I just went full in and recorded the album in a few months. The process was a continuous push from start to finish that took about 9 months. It should also be noted that I didn’t really have any set voice or aesthetic that I was attached to at that time. Almost all of the work I had been doing with the EVI and trumpet sat as one offs or groupings of songs that happened within a short period of time, sort of like free form journal entries. When ‘Dream Weaving‘ was recorded, which was fairly early on, I decided to try and stick with material that felt along those lines, but it was all still very new to me. I think that ‘Mind Shapes‘ was the last piece I put together and in that there was a strong intent to make something that spoke to the rest of the material on the album. With ‘Unseen Forces‘ though, I spent a lot more time considering the overall meaning of the record. The process for coming up with the material was very much the same, but I wanted to find a cohesive musical language that would be the same throughout, and a more focused emotional message. So it took a lot longer to put together. Mostly because I don’t actually write any of the music.

Please discuss the art of improvisation and the mindset and methodologies you have developed over the years when it comes to creating these otherworldly ambient explorations?

JW: I suppose improvisation isn’t what most people think it is. It’s more like talking. So you have this musical language which you spend years learning and refining, and within itself there can be dialog, but the overall message is just emotional. It happens in real time, and so it’s a journey from one statement to the next and so on and by travelling along you can tell a story of sorts. But if you were to just pull out one piece from the middle it would probably lose all of its meaning. So the language that I have is mostly based in jazz, but over time I’ve also been developing this other language which is based on texture and sequencing. It’s about feel and spacing more than it is about notes and harmony.

Creating these recordings has mostly been the same process over and over. It involves improvisation, but more importantly it requires a strong sense of emotion. And not like crying emotion or anything like that, but just the feeling of yourself in a total way. So it’s always key to be in touch and have an intense sense of yourself when you spend time doing these things. After all, the idea here is to convey through music this story of yourself. So that’s a part of the methodology. The music itself comes to light more like finding sea shells on the ocean floor with your eyes closed. I’m just trying to feel for the good ones and after I collect a bunch I bring them up and see if I actually got anything worth saving. So the feeling and collecting process is very important and after a while you get a little bit better at it, but you still can’t see what you’re doing.

The sonic palette utilized on ‘Unseen Forces’ is your trusted EVI, wind-controlled analog synthesizer combined with electronics and trumpet tapestries that coalesce together forming sprawling soundscapes of utterly transcendent moments. As this new record is even more of a solo effort than its predecessor (with added percussion/drums in places), I’d love for you to discuss the starting points or genesis of these new solo works? Did you have certain reference points in mind? Also, it feels as if there’s this chain reaction of inner dialogue (of the deepest kind) as one listens to the unfolding of the seamless array of patterns inherent in these compositions. Would these tracks be first takes, so to speak? 

JW: One of the shifts I’ve made over the last few years is to see myself as more of a producer, if that’s the right term. I produce myself. Which is weird. So I set out to create and collect all of these sounds, and then I bring them to myself, and I say this one stays and these go. And so for that part of myself that is deciding how to place these things, there was a process of growth and refinement that is still taking place. When A Winged Victory for the Sullen came out with ATOMOS I remember listening to that every day and thinking to myself holly shit. And I realize I’m fairly ignorant when it comes to contemporary music, so I’m not really hip to all that is out there, but I love that record. And so I sat with it for a long time. It was sort of a pointer for me. I’m not sure what process Adam and Dustin use to write music, but it’s spot on and I wanted to bring as much of that language into myself as possible. So that was one starting point in terms of spacing, texture and colour.

Another starting point was Tim Hecker, who creates music that just pisses me off in the best way. These are guys I had never heard of before L&N and they, along with a few others, helped shape my decision making process when it came to the production side of things. In terms of inner dialogue, yes. I spent a lot of time sitting with these songs as they developed and it was very important to me that they told a continuous story. These are first takes and layered first takes. I didn’t re-record anything for this album, it’s all just live recordings. It’s one of the reasons it took me so long to make this record – most of what I do doesn’t work out.

The album’s title-track is one of the pinnacles of this enriching journey. It’s the space and dimension a track such as this permeates and orbits, for me is the towering essence of this beautiful music. Can you recount your memories of creating ‘Unseen Forces’ and indeed how the piece evolved and bloomed into its final entity? The sonic canvas and various components of your sound are wonderfully utilized and expressed here, it’s such a captivating experience. The title too embodies the music so perfectly, is there a story or background to choosing of this particular (song/album) title?

JW: I had gone to Chicago to my friend Erik Hall’s place. He’s helped in recording and mixing this, and almost all of my records. He had just inherited his families Steinway grand piano and we were both fairly excited to be in the presence of such an incredible instrument. It seems ridiculous, but the title track was recorded in three passes, basically back to back with no planning what so ever. I played some open chords, which is what you hear at the beginning of the song. Then sampled and sequenced those chords in a way that was extremely random. We recorded a pass of that sequence and I decided to add a synth bass part with the EVI. That ended up being mostly in 4/4 time because, well that’s what I do. So after that I did a pass with the trumpet. That was it in terms of recording. Now there was a lot of time spent mixing and I did record the sequenced piano track through a tape delay a few months later to have that in the mix as well. I also spent a bit of time adding parts to it and then taking them away, and finally just decided that the best thing to do would be to just leave it as it is. I think that in recording the way we did, there just wasn’t time to think about what to do, and so even though it was three separate passes, it still had the spontaneity of a live performance. There’s playfulness in that that you just can’t write out.

You are part of the immense Sorrow Ensemble, Colin Stetson’s latest project. As you tour on this record and play with these musicians, I can only imagine how inspiring and fulfilling this experience must be? Can you shed some light on the dynamics of this group and what you feel you are learning from Colin Stetson, someone obviously who has served as a long-term inspirational figure?

JW: Well, being a part of this group has been a dream come true. Throughout the span of this project it has always been extremely clear that Colin has had a vision and sense of purpose in choosing to recreate this amazing piece of music. He’s lead the group like general on the battlefield. All of the members are amazing musicians in their own right and there was always an openness to the way we formed and contributed to the orchestration as it developed, but it’s really been a pleasure to work with someone who sees clearly what the final outcome should be. In working with large groups like this it can be easy to sway in the wind a bit in terms of direction, everyone having their own ideas about what should be what, and Stetson has managed this in amazing form and with the best leadership imaginable. It also helps that everyone chosen to be a part of this group has a huge sense of selflessness and are just interested in making great music. So we work together and listen to each other and make it happen.

In the nature of improvisation and the “first thought add ons” (you previously described to me) inherent in your trumpet-based works, I presume quite a significant of happy accidents occur as the album is being made/recorded? I would love to know more about your studio set-up and indeed the challenges you face when it comes to capturing these takes onto the final recordings? Is mixing a part of the process that takes you longer to complete?

JW: Yep. Fail, fail, and fail again. But actually one of the things I’ve come to accept is that I can’t do this every day. You really do need to be in the right space to sit down and get an amazing first take, or be able to see that what you have is something you want to keep working on. Mixing is something I’ve spent a ton of time on. I went from knowing how to record in garage band in 2011 to feeling like there wasn’t that much left for me to discover in protools in 2016. So there was a huge amount of learning that happened over these past few years. I do have a “studio” at home which serves my needs just fine. I have a walk up attic that is very dead in terms of sound bouncing around and so I use that space to mix in. It gets me to about 95%, and the rest I can do in a real studio. Mixing and also sequencing of material is time consuming, you’re making decisions and putting things together that can sometimes feel like you’re playing 6 games of Tetris at the same time. How the side chain compression is working, how the tracks are duplicated and spit up for eq, and how all of the layers are interacting with each other. It’s is a fun game.

The spirit of Arthur Russell and Boards of Canada beautifully drift by on the sublime ‘It’s Not What You Think’, a piece that epitomizes the adventurous spirit of the album but also the sense of new ground and departures from the debut. Please also discuss the sequencing of the record, it works very well how there are several much shorter pieces – or crystallized gems – interspersed with the sprawling ambient cuts. 

JW: I wanted the opening to set the mood for the whole record, to let the listener know that this would be a slower journey. ‘It’s Not What You Think‘ formed over the summer of 2016. It was the final piece of music I put together for this record and yes, BoC. Love those guys. I do love Arthur Russell but honestly it’s been a long time for me. I think I was mostly focused on having this dark and repetitive line that was strong and forceful. Again, when the bass line comes in on ATOMOS it’s like, hell yes. Love that. And so for me this was my reflection of that. It’s less frills and more meat. I also wanted to speak to the vinyl record format, and so bookended each side with two halves of the same piece. “End of Six” and “Red Cabin” originally were one continuous recording that took place at the very end of a 45 improvisation, the Sixth one of that day. The sequencing of songs took a while. There’s room to breathe after the intense cuts, but not in a way that kills the forward momentum. The overall shape of the record is from low to high and back in a gradual way that hopefully lets you listen to the album on repeat without getting burnt out. That was one of my goals.

What do you feel has been the most invaluable lesson you have learned or that previous experiences have taught you? Can you recall your memories of first being given the trumpet and how you feel you have developed your own distinct musical language with the EVI instrumentation that is integral to your solo works?

JW: Definitely that taking time is totally OK. I’ve never really made a living as a musician, I mean there have been stretches were I’m making great money and then it’s all over. So I’ve grown to be OK with that and actually cherish the fact that I don’t have to do this. In no way is it covering the cost of time put in, it’s just about the art. So if it takes forever, it’s worth it. In the end it’s about trying to make something that you yourself find value in, and hopefully other people will find value in it as well. So it’s super important to take as much time as you need. Once it’s out, it’s done forever.

Louis Smith gave me my first trumpet. I was 10. It was actually a cornet. I’ve always been involved in the jazz community as a trumpeter. Currently I play a few nights a week with different groups here in Ann Arbor, it’s great. Everything from new music, free jazz, Joe Henderson, Coltrane, all the way back to Bix and Morton. We cover the whole lineage. With that, I think I’ve settled down into feeling more secure with who I am and were I sit within the community. The music itself is always new and its very nature is exploratory, so there’s always anticipation for me. As far as this project goes, the trumpet has drifted between being something more akin to a layer of sound, and at times a melodic voice. I really don’t think about it too much, it’s just what comes to mind. It wouldn’t make any sense to just start playing bebop lines, I mean, maybe? Not what I’m hearing though. The EVI is a totally different beast and its language and the way I use it to create soundscapes is one that mostly exists here in my house. It seems that over time I’ve become less interested in what the EVI can do and more interested in how I can use what it does to convey emotion. It’s always fun to sit down and play the instrument, but I’ve been spending less and less time just messing around with it in a random way.

‘Unseen Forces’ is out now on Kranky.

Written by admin

August 3, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Chosen One: Tindersticks

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Interview with Stuart A. Staples.

I often say to my kids that the most creative thing that I ever did was to have the bravery to leave Nottingham and go to London: just to take a step because from that step so many things were allowed to happen.”

—Stuart A. Staples

Words: Mark Carry


In the liner notes for the classic Tindersticks debut album (originally released in 1993), founding member David Boulter describes the richness of ideas coming from the group: “We had so much music running through us and so many ideas, we knew we had something bigger to make, and we needed somewhere bigger to make it.” The immense batch of songs – including ‘Marbles’, ‘Raindrops’, ‘Patchwork’, ‘City Sickness’, ‘Her’ and ‘The Not Knowing’ – were recorded in the Stone Room, a studio run by Ian Caple, who helped the band achieve the sound they wanted. Across twenty-one songs, every moment on the debut record felt special. Magic emanated from the rich instrumentation, intricate arrangements and poetic lyricism.  The same can be said for each and every Tindersticks record that followed. This original lineup of Stuart Staples, Neil Fraser, Dickon Hinchcliffe, David Boulter, Mark Colwill and Alasdair Macaulay possessed something utterly unique: a subconscious, deep conversation flows continuously between its members that is more than the sum of its parts. And this breathes deeply into the songs.

Two decades on, Tindersticks have a richness of ideas – echoing what Boulter writes in those liner notes albeit from an entirely different moment in time – that are fully realized on masterworks such as ‘The Something Rain’ and ‘The Waiting Room’ (marking the band’s last two studio albums, respectively). Every moment feels special. An infinite array of inspired moments fill these records that carves out a vast treasure of mesmerising beauty and sumptuous artistic detail. The current lineup – consisting of founding members Staples, Boulter and Fraser alongside more recent additions Earl Harvin (drums) and Dan McKinna (bass) – possess a deep telepathic connection that is not unlike that unique moment in time at the turn of the nineties.

The many projects that are interspersed between the band’s studio albums, from the monumental Claire Denis film scores – 2015’s ‘Les Salauds’ containing a beguiling electronic-oriented sound-world that signals yet another milestone – sound installations (from the Flanders museum in Belgium that is beautifully captured on ‘Ypres’) and this year’s spellbinding film and score ‘Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith’. This singular sound of Tindersticks continues to evolve and develop, forever navigating uncharted territories of both the heart and mind alike, never knowing precisely where such explorations will lead us.

Minute Bodies’ is a deeply hypnotic and immersive film and dedication to the incredible work of naturalist, inventor and pioneering film-maker F. Percy Smith (whose work spanned the early years of the twentieth century). Smith developed various cinematic and micro-photographic techniques to capture nature’s secrets in action (take for example the ‘Fly Acrobat’ film). In the words of Staples (director of ‘Minute Bodies’): “His work transcends the constraints of its time, and how it teaches us about patience, commitment, ingenuity and determination.”

The forming of the edit and its musical score evolved over a three-year period. The recording sessions features French percussionist Thomas Belhom and Christine Ott (piano) with cameos from David Coulter (musical saw) and Julian Siegel (saxophone). The score effortlessly maps the hidden beauties of nature that Smith so masterfully portrays onscreen: a true match made in heaven. The ethereal ‘Percy’s Theme’ opens the score with a beautiful delicacy and immersive quality, which leads into ‘Gathering Moss’ and its luminous dreamscapes with gorgeous female harmonies ascending into the foreground. Eerie drone passages are fused with cinematic flourishes on the epic tour-de-force ‘Magic Myxies’ and the gradual piano pulses of ‘The Strangler’ could be a long distant companion to the band’s ‘Trouble Every Day’ score. The timeless cinematic jazz exploration ‘Scarlet Runner’ echoes the work of Mikael Tariverdiev before the star-lit skies of ‘Percy’s Dream’ (Reprise) drifts majestically into the ether.

‘Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith’ is out now via City Slang.



Interview with Stuart A. Staples.

Congratulations on the ‘Minute Bodies’ score and film; it’s very special. When did you first come across the work of F. Percy Smith and what led you to go about the project in the first place?

Stuart A. Staples: I wasn’t planning to; I just caught a glimpse of his work – well not necessarily his work but this microscopic world – and I wanted to find out more. From that I found out that there was a few things available on compilation DVDs, I got hold of that and just started making music; that was like three years ago so gradually I’d been able to get further and further into the archive and gradually pick up the support of the BFI. It’s been a long process, it was more like a hobby for a while and it finally got finished up like that after three years working on it – not solidly but sometimes it was an antidote to some of the other things I was working on.

As you say, it feels like a labour of love in many ways. ‘Minute Bodies’ in a similar way to the scorework of Tindersticks and many of your projects in the past, they act as a record in itself (in terms of the music). I wonder for the music of ‘Minute Bodies’ and to score the visuals, did you have the film edits in mind firstly or was it more naturally coming together at once?

S.A.S:  I think the first thing I thought was more about people: about musical characters that I knew and I thought that the first steps probably was to get together with Christine Ott who plays the Martenot and Thomas Belhom who is the French percussionist who we work with and David [Coulter] from the band and see what happened. We had a few days together very early on and we prepared some loops and some atmospheres and then I had chosen some parts of the film that I thought were exciting and so I brutally edited something and brutally prepared something. And then we started – we had a few days playing – it went so well that it just asked for more things to happen and I think that was the story of the project really; every time we took a step it asked for something else to happen and that’s what made it like a gradual thing. I think being for the first time in charge of the image as well as the music created this space where the pictures would inspire the musicians and the way the musicians reacted had an effect on the edit so it was always talking to each other that both elements were always having an effect on us.

It’s amazing listening and watching the finished piece, just how much of a dedication it is to F. Percy Smith’s life and work. Originally I presume there were voice-overs and over-dubs and nothing like it is now?

S.A.S: Obviously I think that when you look at the original educational films now, they feel incredibly dated for me but I felt this pure photography of Percy’s and this intimate moment between him and his subjects – whether that was developing frogs or whatever – there was this intimacy and solitude I felt with his photography. And I think taking that away from the educational films and the context and story and the educational element, the images felt free and wanted as well to deal with something today and something that our lives today are seen in a very different way and I think that was an exciting process.


And with the music, I love how it feels like one cohesive whole where the pieces flow into one another. Certain pieces – like the lengthier tracks – like ‘Scarlet Runner’ and ‘Magic Myxies’ continually build and draw a lot of elements as they build.

S.A.S: I think to me I was more or less in the middle of so many great musicians that would be inspired by these great images and I just had to be the guy in the middle directing it: enjoying it but also keeping an eye always on where the direction it was heading in. I think that’s the enjoyable part about what I do really I suppose; I had maybe three days with someone like Julian Siegel, a couple of days with David Coulter as well as the band, there was a real richness of ideas of people taking Percy’s things and the way that inspired them and making something of their own out of it and contributing to the overall colours within the music, it was pretty exciting. And I think it was very different to what we’d done before but I think also as a process you can feel it changing as a band, as a group of musicians as well and playing the score live; it’s not like any kind of music we had to play live before. It’s actually having a great, subversive effect on us I think as a group of people.

It must be very exciting for you and the musicians to be playing the score live at these cine concerts. It’s something new but I suppose in recent years there’s been so many different mediums that you’re loosely involved with alongside music.

S.A.S: I think it’s important when you’ve been making albums and playing music for so long I think it has to find different ways of trying to keep being inspiring. And we have to be with each other and play music together, it would be impossible for us to play music together if we weren’t excited by everybody’s input. So I think it’s before we try and change shape, put yourself in a place where you’re not so comfortable and see where that takes you. And I think that’s been the key to I suppose the second part of our career. We had an original line-up and we came to an end, I think we ran out of conversation and I think a lot of that was to do with a semi-successful band; writing, recording, touring and with the cliché of that kind of turnover. I think with the last ten years it’s all been about not falling into that but actually having the confidence to follow your ideas and to where they take you but not feeling bound by these structures that exist and that has kept us alive and engaged.

It’s fascinating to think of the second chapter of Tindersticks – from ‘Hungry Saw’ onwards – it’s always exciting to discover each new release and the new ideas and directions for each of them. For example, ‘The Waiting Room’ – the last studio album – it naturally evolved on from ‘The Something Rain’ and the films made for each song was also very interesting.

S.A.S: It’s all been good and exciting. I think for this line-up – the second line-up of the band – it took us a couple of albums and we had a hard act to follow as well [laughs]. At the beginning our original band was a really fantastic, subconscious thing to be involved in and I never thought that I would end up in another great band in the way that they worked together. So, I think it took a couple of albums but when we got to ‘The Something Rain’ I think there was something going on between the five of us and again the music became more of the sum of its parts. That led into ‘The Waiting Room’ and working with Claire [Denis] and working for the museum in Belgium [‘Ypres’] there’s just a different kind of breadth to our work so it’s been a good time.


I get the impression that each project and release must feed into the next like how you’re inspired by ‘Minute Bodies’ right now and how that must filter into the next Tindersticks album and so on?

S.A.S: That’s for sure. I think one of the reasons we’re still here and playing together is because of the work with Claire Denis and I think that she has always dragged us away from our thing and made us look into a different place and work in the more extreme parts of what we do. By the time we come back to working on our own music again we’re always changed. I think working on the soundtrack for ‘White Material’ really fed into ‘The Something Rain’ and working on ‘Les Salauds’ have had such an effect on our music; everything is always talking to each other. I’ve got no idea of what the band is going to make next but I’m looking forward to finding out.

The sound installation that is beautifully captured on ‘Ypres’ was another new venture for you and where it was and the history steeped inside it?

S.A.S: I suppose I believe – or maybe I’ve always believed it but just having the confidence to stand by it – if you have a strong feeling for something that you can find a way to make it happen and I think for ‘Ypres’ that was a real example of that for me. I stood in this place and I had this idea but I thought ‘how do I achieve that?’ but I think you have to find the right people to help you; the right people to put these ideas in place and you can actually figure out a way to get to where you need to go. I think ‘Ypres’ in a way was a real lesson that if you’ve got a strong feeling  – even if you don’t know how to make it exist – find a way to get help to do that, it’s a good thing.

It’s always beautiful seeing these long-term collaborations and Claire Denis and Tindersticks is one of those really wonderful stories that started so long ago and continuing with strength and strength. Looking back over the different films and scores, is there similarities or common elements in terms of creating music with Claire for the scores themselves?

S.A.S:  I suppose fundamentally every score has pushed us into different directions. We have this relationship and we have this conversation or narrative going on, I think what the actual ideas have; that’s where the real differences come and I think you can’t help but look at these ideas in different ways. I think for a film like ‘Trouble Every Day’ the ideas came from before Claire had even written it, she was talking about how she wanted to make a film about lovers and why lovers wanted to bite each other. It started off as a very romantic thing for us but I think by the time the film was made tough kind of erotic film really, the score is so romantic it created a very special relationship I think between the images and the music and that’s one example.

With ‘Les Salauds’ – the film before our last one – that was more about the idea of a sailor and when a sailor sees his life as simple and his work is ordered and he doesn’t have any worries but when he puts his feet on dry land that’s when all the complications start. And I think for the main character, the sailor is coming back to Paris to sort out a family problem. I think from that point of view we started thinking about the music electronically so even though it was set in Paris it was for me putting myself into this strange world that I wasn’t sure where I was for ages; I found myself surrounded by machines that I didn’t know how to use. I think that created a strange world within the film and there was a certain uncertainty about it. I think each one has asked for different things and even the last film it’s totally different again. I think it’s how something comes at you and affects you, how she feels about it, how she gets inspired and I think that she’s always open like that.


The electronic elements in ‘Les Salauds’ worked so well, it was so compelling this journey it takes you on. And the ‘extreme’ sounds of the band you have already mentioned, you can really feel that particularly on the band’s last two albums: it may be only thirty or so minutes long but the range of ideas and sonic elements within each song; it’s fascinating just how much happens in that space of time.

S.A.S: I think the work on ‘The Waiting Room’, you just don’t want to deal with anything that you’ve dealt with before and I think that’s hard. I think say for Neil’s guitar on ‘The Something Rain’ we found this great space for Neil’s guitar and a great sound for it: it was very particular and it came out of so much experimentation, we found this one thing that runs through the whole of the album and Neil’s guitar on ‘The Something Rain’ is just so fantastic. But it need snipping off [laughs] because I think you start looking for new things and I think ‘The Waiting Room’ Neil is present as he ever is but it’s just in very different ways, he plays a lot of nylon string guitars; it’s just looking for different colours, different combinations within the songs, different rhythms: you just want to feel as though you didn’t get into this place before.

It’s something that started back in the early days but those spoken word songs like ‘My Sister’ and the sister song ‘Chocolate’ that opened ‘The Something Rain’ and the incredible ‘How He Entered’ are some of the finest of the band’s songs.

S.A.S:  Well they’re both songs by David [Coulter], ‘My Sister’ and ‘Chocolate’ so they’re very much him; his personality whereas I think ‘How He Entered’ to me is more akin to a song like ‘Marbles’ from the early days, I think it had that kind of connection. I think David’s songs and David’s ideas are always very, very particular to me and very, very special within what we do, so it’s like another different angle to come into the big mixture I suppose.

I’d love for you to discuss your studio and it’s obviously the space in which so much of the music has been made and recorded over the years and what makes it so inspiring to record in?

S.A.S: I think the space itself and feeling that you are in a space that is inviting and open to what can happen I think is really, really important. I think gradually along the way I’ve learned about recording and I’ve learned about the elements of recording that I like that I tend to stick to (which is probably a bad thing) to do with microphones because I’d like to make my job as easy as possible in a way because I spend so much time alone, I want to know what I’m going to get if I’ve got an idea and I want to capture it, I want it to be as straight forward as possible in the recording. Having a studio it’s not like having a recording studio to me, it’s a studio that’s there to go to whether you’re recording or not where different things can happen but the space itself is a very special space to me.

In what way do you feel leaving the UK and living in France has helped inspire your music?

S.A.S: I don’t think necessarily about being in France but I do think about leaving the place that you grew up in that becomes the thing that defines you, I think cutting something like that away brings a certain kind of freedom; it brought me a certain kind of freedom. Talking about my studio, I don’t think about it like “this is this place in the middle of France” I just think to me when I am in there I’m somewhere in Europe; I don’t think that I’m rooted into one place. It has that kind of relationship where it feels divorced from everywhere really, it’s just a place of its own. And I think I wouldn’t have been able to find that even if I could have or would have been able to have that in London, I don’t think I would have got to this point in the way I think about what I do .


Going back to the original lineup at the turn of the 90’s, you must have strong memories of forming the band and this group of friends making music and particularly the demos for the debut Tindersticks record and how surprised you were when you heard what you were creating as it’s such a singular sound?

S.A.S: That record has a little story. We made a mini-album with Asphalt Ribbons about eighteen months before and we gave ourselves up to that kind of mentality of the music industry, somebody gave us a little bit of money and we gave it up to a studio and a producer to make this record and we walked away from it feeling deflated I suppose. And then we just moved to London and everything that that entails and we spent individually – especially for myself and David – we spent a long time – years and years – trying to getting people to engage with us in some way and not very successfully at all. I think what happened was after one disappointment after another it was like ‘let’s not try this anymore, let’s just do our own thing’.

I think from that moment and also I got a job at a Rough Trade shop and I was just surrounded by – in the early 90’s – all of this energy in London and lots of small independent labels. It was like let’s just make a single in our kitchen the way we want to make it and we made ‘Patchwork’ in our kitchen and we managed to sell 500 copies and then we thought about what would be next and we made ‘Marbles’ and we sold 1,500 copies and we made everything ourselves. And I think this was all leading towards making our first album and we demoed the first album in that situation (in that kitchen).

The demos, for me, are when the excitement really happens and when we went to make the album; the songs were there, the ideas were there but then working with an engineer like Ian Caple, it enabled us to bring the most out of sounds, the whole thing was elevated and making that record it was a surprise: there was a moment when we collectively looked at each other and there was a bit of a moment of ‘wow this is actually really happening’ [laughs]. You can’t really have those moments twice in your life but I remember it very distinctly.

It’s wonderful to think that the music spans from those early days and so much sparks were happening subconsciously between you all?

S.A.S: I think it was a real moment in time. I often say to my kids that the most creative thing that I ever did was to have the bravery to leave Nottingham and go to London: just to take a step because from that step so many things were allowed to happen but sometimes I think those steps are the hardest to take; you don’t get a direct reward from them but you can put yourself into a situation where things can change and things can happen and it is so important to keep a grasp of that as well.


Another important period was after the band’s hiatus and your two solo albums – both quite different – with some of your finest recordings captured. This must have been a particularly important and creative time for you?

S.A.S: I think they’re both very different to me and I think for the first one [‘lucky dog recordings 03-04’] it’s probably up there as my favourite thing that I’ve ever made. There was a certain stripping everything back to an end of a starting point and that record to me hasn’t got such a connection with ‘The Something Rain’ or ‘The Waiting Room’, it hasn’t got the technique or the confidence but it has desire and it has the ideas; that was a point in time when I think our original line-up of the band got trapped into making music in a certain way and I think that maybe when characters are just together constantly for that amount of time, writing and making music together it maybe becomes impossible to not fit together in a certain kind of way and the more we fit together the more disappointing it was in a certain way.

And I think with making ‘Waiting For The Moon’ it was a very long process and it was very considered but it’s got some really great songs on there I think but at the time I just needed to make something raw and something willing to be ugly; that’s what the idea asked for. It was something that gradually grew in my garage and I think for ‘Leaving Songs’ it was a burst of songwriting, probably the only time that I had written songs of a certain way like that was probably for the second album because all of the songs on the second album were more or less written in a space of six months. Whether it’s ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Talk To Me’, ‘Travelling Light’, ‘A Night In’, all of those songs I can’t really imagine writing that many songs now in a certain period of time but ‘Leaving Songs’ was like that too, I just kept writing them. I just felt like I had to be true to them and maybe get rid of this Nashville thing that has been inside me since I could remember [laughs], it very much helped me to leave that behind so I’m pleased about that.

And there’s certain pieces on ‘Minute Bodies’, particularly the dreamy soundscapes like ‘Gathering Moss’ with the female harmonies, really transports you to that first solo album of yours.

S.A.S: Yeah I can see that. The thing for me about ‘Minute Bodies’ is if I think about that track it was one of the first tracks that we wrote. It was exciting to feel as though it was without a centre; that the centre of the music is the image and the music is kind of like a donut or something, it’s not something solid in the middle that holds it there. I think that’s whats really exciting about ‘Minute Bodies’ it all just holds in the air somehow and that’s pretty exciting.

Is there any records you’re obsessed with lately?

S.A.S: Three years ago I was introduced to Kendrick Lamar by one of my sons, he was playing ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ back to back and I’m surprised of how this guy has had such an effect on me, not going to make music like him but I’m talking about just feeling in tune with the way that he makes music. I think that he’s a very rare artist and that has rekindled a love of a certain kind of music that’s more direct and more about the song and his progression from then has been quite something. I’m glad that’s that’s been in my life the last few years.

‘Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith’ is out now via City Slang.


Chosen One: Heather Trost

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“My first love will always be my violin, but the Hammond chord organ and Davolisint have a beautiful timbre that was really inspiring in the creative process and allowed me to explore some new ideas.” 

—Heather Trost

Words: Craig Carry


This year marks the eagerly anticipated release of “Agistri”, the debut solo album by the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Heather Trost. Best known as violinist and one half of the much-loved and world-renowned duo A Hawk And A Hacksaw (alongside longtime collaborator Jeremy Barnes of Neutral Milk Hotel), Trost has also contributed (in both studio and live contexts) to a wide array of musicians and songwriters in the past, including: Neutral Milk Hotel; Beirut; Josephine Foster; Thor Harris of Swans; and stargaze, the Berlin-based, André de Ridder-led orchestral collective. “Agistri” follows up Trost’s pair of previous solo recordings, the debut 7″ for Ba Da Bing! Records (2014) and 2015’s stunningly expansive and dreamlike “Ourobouros” (Cimotti Recordings), the latter consisting of two epic side-long tracks revealing multi-layered synthesiser-based passages of both quiet intensity and profound beauty.

“Agistri” – released via Living Music Duplication in early June – is named after the Greek Island whose unique Saronic Gulf surroundings provided an early inspiration to the album (Trost first encountered the island while on tour with A Hawk And A Hacksaw in Greece). The spellbinding album weaves its irresistible spell upon the listener from the title-track opener to lead single “Agina”, touching effortlessly upon a myriad of sounds and styles along the way – from Éthiopiques to Brian Wilson and from Van Dyke Parks to the landmark productions by 50s/60s pioneers Spector, Meek and Nitzsche.

Trost’s own stunningly surrealist and poetic lyricism (recalls Lee Hazlewood’s mastery of song craft in being able to imprint such a lasting impression in so few words) beautifully compliments the immaculate musicianship of Trost’s esteemed ensemble, her bandmates consisting of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeremy Barnes on drums and bass, Deerhoof’s John Dieterich on guitar, and Drake Hardin and Rosie Hutchinson of cult New Mexico band Mammal Eggs.

“Agistri” by Heather Trost is available now on LM Dupli-Cation.


Interview with Heather Trost.

Congratulations on the making of “Agistri”, it is such a special and magnificent album. The breathtaking range of instrumentation and ideas for the songs’ arrangements, the poetic and surrealist lyrics and immaculate production makes the album pulsate with so much heart and life. If you could first take me back to the genesis for the making of “Agistri”: When did the writing process begin for this set of songs? 

Heather Trost: Thank you so much for the kind words! I started working on “Agistri” two years ago. I had done two releases under my name, a 7″ and a tape, and I kept writing more songs. I joined Jeremy Barnes touring with Neutral Milk hotel in 2015, and started thinking of songs in the van, and even playing them on a tiny keyboard with headphones. When I got home I would record them in our studio.

When did you first visit or come across the Greek island of Agistri?

HT: I have always loved Greece, and Greek culture, food and music. Jeremy and I were on tour last summer, and we played in Athens. We had some time off, so we took a boat to the closest two Islands, the second being Agistri. It was extremely hot, you could cut the air with a knife. We rented bikes and rode around the island, and then found a totally isolated cove. The island is basically a bunch of huge hills with pine trees, and very arid. It reminded me of New Mexico, except with turquoise blue water.

The songwriting on “Agistri” is so stunning. I love how – on the one hand – there is a kind of purity and simplicity in the lyrics like those classic 60s pop songs (like Spector, Nitzsche or Wilson), while on the other hand there are so many hidden layers to be found and revealed upon repeat listens (for instance: “I’m a castaway / looking for the shore” from “Agina” or “oceans rising all around / ‘Till I float away” from “Agistri”. In terms of writing lyrics, where do you find your inspiration? 

HT: Thank you so much! I’ve always loved the lyrics of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson, they tell a story, but there’s multiple layers. I guess I write a lot of my lyrics thinking about dreams, symbolism and trying to create imagery. I have always loved the writing of Carl Jung, especially his descriptions of his dream life.

I also love the fact that you draw upon the landscape and immediate surroundings a lot (the ocean, the moon, the sun, the desert) for your writing. It brings to mind folk spirits like Sibylle Baier or Vashti Bunyan and how you can transform the everyday into something magical. New Mexico itself must be such a magnificent source of inspiration for you too, as its landscape and history clearly finds its way into your music and songs?

HT: I have always loved the New Mexican landscape, but it took leaving New Mexico to realize it’s grasp on my heart and imagination. It’s incredibly varied, from desert to forest, mountains and endless vistas. I found similarities in the topography of Greece and Spain, but it’s totally unique. There is a lot to draw on from your environment if you look around. I’m lucky in that I love where I’m from and draw inspiration from it.

Growing up, which musicians and songwriters did you most identify with and resonated with you the deepest? 

HT: My dad had a great record collection. We listened to the Beach Boys, Santana, Pink Floyd. But we also listened to a lot of classical music. When I first heard “Surf’s Up” by Brian Wilson, I thought it was the most perfect song ever written. I also really loved Fleetwood Mac as a teen, and Stevie Nicks was one of my first concerts. In high school I was into darker music, Björk, Portishead and Black Sabbath.

“Me And My Arrow” is my current favourite, I love the progression from the verse to chorus (from “And in the morning when I wake up” onwards) and the melody of the song itself is so pristine and timeless, where the rhythm and vocals work so beautifully together. The magic of how those drum and vocal sounds combine together reminds me of groups like The Ronettes or The Crystals. I’d love for you to reflect on the making of this song? It must have been such a lovely moment for you all when listening to this back in its final recorded form?

HT: This song came together pretty fast, but then we did a lot of tweaking and pulling certain things in and out in the mixing stage. It has a couple of organs layered to make this nice staccato chord things, but then becomes really sparse with just a Wurlitzer and voice during the breakdown. Jeremy did an amazing job of adding piano chords, and electric bass. The piano I think adds a nice organic layer to the sound, giving it a classic acoustic feel. I’m also in love with the way our old upright sounds, it’s got a lot of character, and I’m glad it’s on the album.


In terms of the song arrangements, I’d love to first go back to your solo tape cassette release “Ouroboros”. Those two side-long tracks “Berkshires” and “Święta Góra” are so gripping and moving, it brings to mind so many of the great synthesiser-based composers of the seventies and eighties but it also touches so effortlessly upon so many types of music and traditions: krautrock, new age, ambient and electronic. I’d love if you could talk about this project and the making of “Ouroboros”?

HT: These were compositions I worked on while on tour with Neutral Milk Hotel. We were driving through the Berkshire mountains, and it was grey and rainy, and I wanted to try and capture the feeling of those gloomy landscapes somehow. I just found myself adding layers and layers, making it feel like clouds and fog covering a mountain. “Święta Góra” I wrote using an Italian Davolisint, and DX7 which is also prominent on “Agistri”, and layering sounds with a tape echo. I was thinking about a mountain in this piece as well, Šwieta Góra means holy mountain in Polish.

The arrangements on “Agistri” are so diverse and nuanced and yet very tight and finely honed at the same time. Yourself and your band members Jeremy Barnes, John Dieterich, Drake Hardin and Rosie Hutchinson combine to create such a breathtaking sound. It reminds me of the inventiveness from Dieterich & Barnes’ “The Coral Casino” or the songbooks of bands like Lambchop, Camera Obscura or Julia Holter in terms of how you can incorporate so many separate sounds into a single pop song structure. In terms of recording set-up, what was the main instrumentation that you chose to use? How were these songs initially composed, was it simply voice and guitar or voice and piano? 

HT: I started many of the harmonic ideas using a chord organ. I often come up with chords, harmonic movement and basslines before melody and lyrics, but not always. “Real Me/Real You” was composed first with the melody and lyrics. I played the beat on DX7 and then started singing over it. Then I added all the other layers and Jeremy played drums, and Drake added electric guitar. “Abiquiu” was written on piano, and then I recorded it on the Hammond chord organ.

“Agistri” and “Agina” were started by Jeremy and I each playing an organ at the same time, both hammonds, and one of us would play chords, the other coming up with a melody on top, and vis versa. Then John added really great guitar lines on “Abiquiu” and “Agistri”, and of course Jeremy added drums, electric bass and a layer of piano and organ on “Plastic Flowers”, “Agina”, “Agistri” and “Abiquiu”. Drake added guitar, vibes and bass on “Me And My Arrow” and guitar on “Real Me/Real You”. Rosie sang amazing back up vocals, and we did some vocal experimenting on “Plastic Flowers” that came out nicely.

I always love how instruments themselves carry their own unique histories and that sense of identity and complex history is always associated with them no matter what new context they are being used in. I always love reading how musicians – for example Jeremy or Calexico’s John Convertino or Joey Burns – talk about how all these disparate music traditions (whether Portuguese fado or Hungarian folk etc.) find their ways into so many new contexts and sounds. I’d love if you talk about the different instruments as used on the album? What are your own most prized musical instruments?

HT: Sure! I mentioned already the Hammond organs, Wurlitzer and the Davolisint which has a totally unique character, and our upright piano. I also used a DX7 to create some different bass and percussion sounds, as well as an 80s casio to add a shimmer. I also used a mellotron on “Bloodmoon” and “Agina”, the saxophone sample. Also just some nice basic things, guitar, bass. John has this tiny French guitar he used on “Agina”. I also played violin on “Abiquiu”.

My first love will always be my violin, but the Hammond chord organ and Davolisint have a beautiful timbre that was really inspiring in the creative process and allowed me to explore some new ideas.

I love the closer “Three Feathers”, its slow pulse and organic flow is like a desert being slowly enveloped in shadow. It also forms such a touching counterpoint (and closing note) to the more up-tempo and more densely arranged songs. It also ties back wonderfully to your “Ouroboros” work. I’d love if you could talk about the making of this piece? 

HT: I think you described it wonderfully! It was a similar process to “Ouroboros” in that I was trying to make a soundscape that would invoke the listeners imagination to create their own imagery.

What music, books or films have recently inspired you?

HT: I recently learned of an incredible hammer dulcimer player and singer named Dorothy Carter, she has an amazing album from 1978 called “Wailee Wailee”, she has a Sibylle Baier quality, and reminds me a bit of Catherine Ribiero, but she is completely unique. I recently read Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg” (“The Magic Mountain”). I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Mann’s descriptions of place, emotions and time are otherworldly and magical. I have been loving the films of Peter Strickland, especially his Hungarian Epic “Katalin Varga” and “The Duke of Burgundy”, both beautiful films.

“Agistri” by Heather Trost is available now on LM Dupli-Cation.

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June 22, 2017 at 3:39 pm