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Chosen One: Colleen

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Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.

“…for this album there would be a general theme of trying to speak about the human brain, the mind and basically things that connect us all; these inner struggles, inner demons – if you want to call them that – and just, in general, the inner human life is so rich and complex and also it’s just impossible to really understand it and that’s what is really fascinating.”

—Cécile Schott

Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Craig Carry

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The Paris-born musician Cécile Schott has been making music as Colleen for over a decade now: beginning with a string of much-loved records for The Leaf Label (debut 2003 album ‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’, 2005’s ‘The Golden Morning Breaks’ and 2007’s ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’, as well as 2006’s ‘Colleen Et Les Boîtes À Musique’, (an E.P. originally created for Atelier de Création Radiophonique as a commission from France Culture). After a four-year break, Colleen made her long-awaited return to music in 2013 with the release of her album ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ via London-based label Second Language, its eleven songs featuring, for the first time, Schott’s own voice as well as a new-found love for Jamaican music and rhythm. Colleen’s hugely anticipated fifth studio album ‘Captain Of None’ has just been released by Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey Records, representing the crowning jewel of Schott’s treasured works of art thus far.

The first glimpses of the San Sebastian-based artist’s new material came during 2013’s ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ tour, in the form of the shape-shifting creations: ‘Captain Of None’, ‘I’m Kin’ and ‘Lighthouse’. The scintillating dub-infused rhythms interwoven with Schott’s mesmerising voice is a pure joy to behold as vast seas of tender beauty ascend into the human space. I was fortunate to witness Colleen’s live performance on two separate occasions during 2013 – Dublin’s Unitarian Church during the early summer and Cork’s Triskel Christchurch in early November – that were dotted with an endless array of utterly transcendent moments created in Schott’s own little corner of the world.

The hypnotic notes of Schott’s trusted treble viola da gamba (a baroque instrument with gut strings) formed the foundation to ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’s sonic trajectory – in accordance with Schott’s use of vocals for the very first time – that would be further explored on ‘Captain Of None’ to wondrous effect. Unlike ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ – which incorporated a wide palette of instrumentation (for instance, the use of organ on ‘Humming Fields’ or clarinet on ‘Moonlit Sky’) ‘Captain Of None’ limits the instrumentation to Schott’s voice and treble viola da gamba (with the exception on the melodica-led, Augustus Pabo-inspired ‘Salina Stars’). The album’s eight sublime creations further evolve, transform and ceaselessly mutate due to the compelling production ideas and wholly unique artistic vision of Schott, who creates, in turn, a sonic marvel of a record. Inspired by Jamaican music, the dub-inspired techniques (basslines provided by a Moogerfooger delay pedal) utilized throughout ‘Captain Of None’ transports the listener to the further reaches of one’s mind: a lost labyrinth of time.

In Lloyd Bradley’s comprehensive history of Jamaican music, ‘Bass Culture’, one particular chapter describes Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio (Schott’s own San Sebastian-based studio has been lovingly dubbed the White Ark). Leroy Sibbles describes Perry as “an explorer going into the future of the music” and I feel those very words epitomises both the ambitious scope of ‘Captain of None’ and the breath-taking inventiveness of its author.

“The naked eye can’t see these things” sings Schott on ‘Captain Of None’s penultimate tour-de-force, ‘Eclipse’, it perhaps best describes the lyrical viewpoint of Schott since she commenced adding voice to her compositions on 2013’s ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, where both realms of the real and the imagined are simultaneously traversed and explored (in a similar vein to Liz Harris’s Grouper guise or Sibylle Baier’s beloved ‘Colour Green’, for instance).

Like a beacon of the night, ‘Captain Of None’ reveals a sense of the vulnerable and the fragile (as well as a sense of the deeply personal) which quietly lie side-by-side with the brave and the permanent. All the while to the pulse of a beautiful, beating heart.

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‘Captain Of None’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

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Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.

Congratulations, Cécile, on the incredible new album ‘Captain of None’, it is very special.

Cécile Schott: Thank you.

First of all, it’s great to see the songs you performed on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ tour – the likes of ‘Captain Of None’, ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘I’m Kin’ – present on the new album and to hear how they have evolved over the past year or so.

CS: Yes, it’s true. It’s actually one of the first albums I’ve done where most of the songs – well, half of the songs on the album – were born as live songs as I was basically preparing the live show for ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. What happens usually when I rehearse is of course I am rehearsing specific songs but there is always a point when, for instance, your hand strikes another chord or maybe you just sing something to yourself and all of a sudden you realize that you have the seed for a new song. And basically the first song that was born that way was ‘Lighthouse’. When I was rehearsing for ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ live shows in 2013 and then the following summer, ‘Captain Of None’ and ‘I’m Kin’ evolved really rapidly as I was rehearsing in my studio, playing around with ideas. So it’s true it’s the first time I’ve been able to play a couple of songs from a forthcoming album before the album is released, basically. It was actually really nice at the moment of recording, I had the body of these three songs and then I was able to give them further clothes by adding little production ideas and having a more complex sound. It’s obviously easier to have a more complex and interesting sound when you are recording because you have more tools at your disposal.

That’s exactly one of the aspects that makes ‘Captain Of None’ such a compelling journey: it is the instrumentation itself and all the different layers. I think too it’s the studio set-up that you have – which you have dubbed ‘The White Ark’ in reference to Lee Perry’s ‘Black Ark’ – I would love for you to discuss the various techniques because it’s obviously an album with so many ideas where there is so many elements happening in the music.

CS: Thank you. Well basically the album is both very cohesive in the sense that there is only one stringed instrument – that’s the treble viola da gamba – and then there’s the voice and these are the two main instruments. On ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ there was treble viola da gamba, bass viola da gamba, acoustic guitar, clarinet, piano, organ, toy gamelan (basically a miniature version of a gamelan), frame drum, floor tom and other bits of percussion, and of course my voice, so it was very varied.

With this album I knew I was going to do something different because I really fell in love with the sound of the treble viola da gamba. Basically, what happened was, when I was making ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, there was a moment when I took the treble viola – and I hadn’t recorded with it yet – and then I changed its tuning and that’s how I first made the song ‘Geometría del Universo’ and then I made a couple of other songs like ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and ‘Raven’ with it. And at that moment I knew I was really onto something because I think it’s a very, very specific sound and it led me to a way of playing that was different. So I knew from that moment that the subsequent album would be mainly focusing on this and on the voice.

Also, at the time of recording ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I was listening with Iker [Spozio] to a lot of Jamaican music and I felt so inspired by it that I also thought that ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ was a very prepared album – in a way it’s a very controlled album in the sense that it was my comeback album, I was trying the voice which was obviously a big, big challenge for me and I was quite worried whether or not I could pull it off – and so I had to control many parameters on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and I think after that I needed to make an album where I could feel free – free to play, free to experiment – so from then on, I knew the album would have a kind of restricted palette of instruments but that it would be counter-balanced with my approach to producing it. And you know that’s where the Jamaican influence comes in big time even though it’s true it doesn’t sound like Jamaican music as such because obviously the instruments are different – my voice is nothing like a Jamaican singer’s voice – the point is not to even imitate the Jamaican music that I am so fond of but rather to take my inspiration from production ideas and the idea of experimenting, of playing with sound and seeing how far that can take you in terms of constructing songs, basically.

The quality of the overall sound as well where there is a very warm and organic sound from the instrumentation you use but I love too how like you mention with ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, on one level the songs are quite longer in the sense that there are extensive closing sections to many of the songs. 

CS: I can talk a bit more about certain things in my set-up that have really led to the sonic identity of the album. For instance, and that’s one of the things I love about trying to develop as a musician, is that sometimes you feel that you want to do something but maybe you haven’t got the right piece of gear to do it – you know, for instance I’m not at all someone who buys lots of gear, it’s something I don’t do. At one point I had a tendency to collect instruments but now I really stopped doing that. But sometimes it’s true that acquiring a new piece of equipment can really make a big difference. I think for this album, two things happened: First, I wanted to have some basslines in my music so I researched what is called Octaver pedals on the internet and I ended up buying one. An Octaver pedal adds another octave below the original sound you are playing, so it gives you a bass sound but with the original sound still present. When I got it and started playing with it, it was like: “Oh I just can’t believe how good this is!” It was giving me a bass sound that was way better than anything I could have hoped for especially because the treble viola in itself doesn’t really have any bass. So the first big change was that I started to think in terms of basslines.

And the second big gear acquisition [laughs] was the Moogerfooger pedal. I basically got this pedal after seeing the Moogerfooger pedals in a video by American musician King Britt and I thought: “wow, these pedals look really cool” so I started to look at demo videos on the internet and I thought: “wow, this looks like something really different”. I already had lots of delay pedals but they weren’t analog pedals, just digital pedals doing emulations of analog delay. So I got one of them and you know again it was a case of not being able to believe the things that it was doing to the sound; it was completely different to everything I had in my array of pedals. So that was the second thing that started to enable different sounds to come into play on the album. And the thing about the Moogerfooger is it’s a pedal that you really have to use as if you were playing live. Basically, I was recording something and I was turning the dials on the pedals or maybe I recorded something beforehand and afterwards I would run the sound that I had recorded through the pedal and I would touch the various parameters that you have on the pedal.

For instance, a song like ‘Holding Horses’, the song is really – apart from the bassline – completely connected with the use of the Moogerfooger; all the different sounds – changes in the sounds you hear – it’s all through the Moogerfooger. Also, a song like ‘Salina Stars’, the melodica goes through the Moogerfooger and it’s what really gives those sounds and likewise for ‘Eclipse’, the voice goes through the Moogerfooger and so that was a really good moment of buying something and seeing that it’s taking you into whole new places in terms of sound, which in turn takes you to a different way of making music.

One of the first things that comes to mind is that the album feels like a live performance in the way that it takes you to the live show itself. In terms of the lyrics, I love how, for example ‘I’m Kin’, I love the beautiful imagery that is drawn from the song itself.

CS: I am a very curious person and I have an interest in so many things and one of those interests is trying to see how humans are connected across the ages, across geographical spaces and how we are connected to animals and just, in general, to the natural world that’s around us. So, I think with ‘I’m Kin’ I was trying to express this feeling of connection to other past ancient cultures including cultures that have completely vanished. I can tell you specifically for instance that the “golden ram from Iraq” is a reference to a statue that’s in the British museum; it’s a statue of a ram, it’s usually called the ‘Ram in a Thicket’ – it’s what it’s officially called, if I remember well – and I remember the first time I saw it, I was thinking wow, this is from the same place that now we only hear about because of the war in Iraq and you know this is like a birthplace and cradle of civilisation which was incredibly important to the development of the arts and so I thought that was quite interesting.

And then, afterwards, basically the song takes you from, first, it’s the connection to past civilisations and then it’s the connection to the animals; so in ‘The Odyssey’, Argos is the dog of Odysseus and when Odysseus comes back from his long journey, no one recognises him because he’s changed so much and there’s only his dog that recognises him. I remember when I read ‘The Odyssey’ I thought that was such a moving passage, I thought that there is no better example of that connection between a dog and his master. And also the next sentence of “the greyhounds hanging from the trees” – I don’t know if you’re going to understand this reference [laughs] – it’s basically a reference to the Spanish greyhounds that are used by hunters and unfortunately the hunters, once their dogs are not useful anymore for hunting or if they’re considered bad hunting dogs, they’re basically left to die in horrible conditions; they’re even tortured. It just meant a lot to say that I felt connected to the fate of the poor animal like that and then it moves onto the elements like “the rocks and the water” and when you tread on something there is this whole hidden world – insects and life underneath – like the song goes from something that is concrete and human to the world of elements and of the tiny, basically.

Again, I think the lyrics are so poignant; they feel almost like parables as you listen to the different songs. 

CS: I think there are various ways of writing lyrics. For instance, I really admire people who can write lyrics that have a narrative content so, for instance, I think a real master of that kind of lyric writing is Townes Van Zandt. When you listen to a Townes Van Zandt song it’s almost like hearing a short story and it works so well and if you had to sum up the contents of his songs they would sound really, maybe cliché but his gift for narrative writing which obviously is infused with a lot of poetry is really, really strong. Or someone like Stina Nordenstam who I think has some songs that really have this sense of mysterious narrative and, unfortunately, I don’t think I am one of those kind of lyric writers. Also, I think I’m very much at the beginning of writing lyrics, you know in total I’ve written very few lyrics but I knew that for this album there would be a general theme of trying to speak about the human brain, the mind and basically things that connect us all; these inner struggles, inner demons if you want to call them that and just in general the inner human life is so rich and complex and also it’s just impossible to really understand it and that’s what is really fascinating. For instance, a song like ‘Captain Of None’ is really about that but the thing is the way I was writing the lyrics I was really trying to stay away from clichés and so when you say a parable, it’s not necessarily that I want the lyrics to be hard to understand and I don’t think that they are but it’s trying to write them in a way that hopefully will resonate with every listener and maybe every listener, when listening to the lyrics, will take something from it and maybe interpret it in his or her own way.

Staying with the song ‘Captain Of None’, I love how both the title-track of this album and ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I think it works so beautifully that each song closes the album as well.

CS: Yeah, yeah I like the idea of maybe keeping the most important thing for the end in a way.

If one lyric comes to mind that sums up nearly the feel of the album would be the lyric “I got lost inside a dream”, it encapsulates the journey as a whole. 

CS: The song is about losing touch with reality and not recognizing or understanding yourself – trying to find rest yet being unable to do so – hence the feeling of getting lost in a kind of parallel reality (a “dream”) which leaves you feeling “Captain of none and nothing”.

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When you listen to the new record too you feel there is a trajectory going back to even your first album and the music boxes; there are textures and nuances present that makes you feel shades of your previous material is somehow embedded in there as well.

CS: Yeah, it’s funny I’m actually quite happy about that because, on the one hand, I’ve never made an album like this one but on the other hand it’s true that some aspects of it go back to the first album and in a way that’s quite nice. I think maybe at one point – I’ve never rejected what I’ve done in the past – but I remember when I was making ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ I really wanted to be able to play without looping because I was thinking “Oh ok, everyone uses loopers, it’s boring; to be a real musician I need to be able to play without any background looping” so I had these kind of ideas in my head and you know I think as an artist, you do go through various phases and it’s interesting how if you let a few years pass you can change your mind completely. Well, I’ve gone back to my initial love of sampling and looping and I think that’s completely fine and also I think one of the effects of Jamaican music is that in a way Jamaican music and especially the dub productions, they really pre-date so much of the music from the end of the electronica and all subsequent electronic music. And one of the things about Jamaican music is that it’s often very basic in terms of the melodic unit: it can be the same chord for five minutes and when I realized that I was never disturbed by that, I thought well it just goes to show that it’s not about whether something is looped or sampled, if it’s a great melodic unit then yeah, it can last for ten minutes for all I know, so I was really glad to be able to just work without any preconceptions of what I should do. And I still really like that first album [‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’] so I’m glad I was somehow able to make the circle form itself.

And what is also wonderful are the sublime instrumental cuts. I know you’ve already mentioned ‘Salina Stars’ and I love how it brings you to the likes of Augustus Pablo and the like.

CS: Absolutely. Augustus Pablo was my reference point to the song, it was almost like a little homage. It’s funny because first I thought I wasn’t going to use the melodica because I thought well that is going to sound sub-par compared to Augustus Pablo’s melodic genius but then I took it out of its case and I hadn’t touched it in years and years and then all of a sudden the song was born. And yeah I’m really glad because I think it adds variety to the album’s sound as well. Before, I said the album is only treble viola but it’s not completely true, there is also the melodica.

Actually another thing, Cécile, I didn’t realize it until recently but if you’d like to talk about first noticing the viola da gamba itself, I think it was in a French film?

CS: I think I was about fifteen when on French TV they showed ‘Tous les Matins du Monde’ by Alain Corneau. I remember watching it and just falling in love with the sound of the viola da gamba. At the time, I think maybe I had just started to play the guitar possibly, but anyway it seemed like something that you would think about but it’s never going to be for you because I don’t have a classical education. At the time I couldn’t read notes on the score and also the viola da gamba is a very expensive instrument; it’s very rare. I mean, you can find a cello quite easily but to obtain a viola da gamba is like a whole different process. So that basically stayed at the back of my mind and later on, when I took up the cello, that kind of went into the foreground a little bit until, in 2005, when I made the decision to order a viola and then so afterwards I had to wait for nine months for the viola maker to make it and then I got it in early 2006. But the treble viola da gamba, I only got it in 2009 and the interesting thing is I just wasn’t using it. I got it precisely at the moment when I went through my blank period of not feeling like making music. But afterwards, when I went back to making music, it wasn’t the easiest instrument to go to because I hadn’t really played it. So, I thought: oh, I’ve ordered the viola and it’s cost me money and it’s just lying there and I haven’t even used it until I had this revelation when I was making ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and I changed the tuning and so that’s the short story about the viola [laughs].

Another thing is how fantastic it is that you have your proper studio set-up – which is really like for the first time – and no longer having difficulties of only recording at night, for example with ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’? So this time for once you had your proper space.

CS: Well I have to say this album has been such a joy to make. All of my previous albums, there’s always been a challenge of some sort. If I think of the second album [‘Golden Morning Breaks’] it was the first time I was recording with real instruments and I had the so-called second album pressure on and the third album ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ that was a really hard one to pull off because I was going for a more minimal sound with the big viola da gamba and for that you need really good microphones, you need quite a good recording technique, so in the end I got the help of my mastering engineer at the time, Emiliano Flores: he’s also a sound engineer so thankfully he helped me to record it. But it was recorded in two weeks in an attic at his parents’ place and then I did some of the additional recording at home but it was far from ideal and kind of rushed. For ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I had the studio but the studio had these terrible doors and windows; you could hear the sound of cars and from people coming by so I had to record the album partly in our flat here and partly in the studio at night. It was just insane and I would be so tired; it is just not good for you to work that way and it’s also quite stressful. One of my aims with this album was: “Ok, this time I’m really going to take my time and just do things well” and I was able to do it thanks to the renovation of the doors and windows of the studio that happened in late 2013. Honestly, it was amazing to go there at a normal time like 3 in the afternoon and just spend the whole afternoon until 8 in the evening recording and there is no noise and there’s light coming through the doors, it was just great you know [laughs]. My first pain-free recording, basically.

At the start of your last tour you had some new songs, I wonder do you have sketches of new songs in your head at the moment or is it too soon?

CS: I have very, very small things but to be honest I’m just concentrating on learning how to perform all the songs from the album – well seven from the eight songs on the album – I’m learning to perform them live because the thing is some of them are really easy because they already existed before the album was recorded; ‘Captain Of None’, ‘I’m Kin’ and ‘Lighthouse’ – these were pretty easy – but the other ones were made in the studio and the thing about using delays is that delay works differently in a studio setting and in a live setting: in the studio it was going into the computer and you’re basically using headphones but then it’s a different bag of tricks when you’re playing through a PA system because then the delay doesn’t react the same way. So I’m having to learn how to change the settings of the delays from how I’ve had them for the recording. And also I have to learn how to perform the songs in one go because obviously on the album, with the luxury of recording, you can always touch up on mistakes and do twenty takes if you need to. So right now I’m mostly concentrating on just that and I have a faint idea of what the next album might be like but I also think I shouldn’t rush.

I love ‘Lighthouse’ which is one of the older songs off the new album. I suppose it shows the inspiration you draw from your surroundings in San Sebastian?

CS: Absolutely. I think in a way ‘Lighthouse’ is a bit different from the rest of the album because I think it’s the only one that doesn’t really fit the thematic unit of the rest of the album because it was made much earlier. The thing is ever since I moved here I’ve always had the idea of having at least one song that would pay homage to the beauty of the landscape here, the soothing quality of it and the magical quality of living by the sea because, in a way, I’m used to it now but I think it’s when I see something like a lighthouse, I don’t know maybe it’s the human element within the landscape of the sea, the flashing lights; there’s something about lighthouses that are very poetic. For instance, I always have this fantasy of one day being able to record an entire album in a lighthouse and at some point it would be something I’d love to do. Also in a way I think the lighthouse flashes, they also have enormous musical qualities – I don’t know if that really makes sense – there is something like a pulse that really speaks to me and you’ve seen this lighthouse anyway, it’s always the same emotion of seeing that landscape and definitely as far as living here is concerned, I actually find it very beneficial to be living in a place where there isn’t very much happening because in a way it forces you to look deeper within you and also gives you more time to work on your own stuff. And that’s the way I feel and I’m glad I lived in Paris for many years – and I probably think it was the right place for me at the time – but actually right now I couldn’t go back to a big city. I think it’s really good to be here and have this balance and also this ability sometimes to completely disconnect from city life, and go to a park or go by the river or sea or go to some hills and completely disconnect and I think that is quite important and quite healthy.

I love your story about when you used to visit the local libraries in Paris, which in turn formed your musical education in many ways? It must have been a whole new world of sounds that opened before you?

CS: I think I’m so lucky that I was able to arrive in Paris at the moment I felt like making music again. Basically what happened from the age of nineteen to twenty-three, I gave up for a moment. From about twenty/twenty-one to twenty-three/twenty-four, I wasn’t sure what kind of music I wanted to make and I didn’t have the tools anyway to do something original and I knew that I wanted to do something by myself. I knew that I didn’t want it to be guitar driven – and I was only playing the guitar at the time – and I think arriving in Paris at that time and having free access to all this music at the time when the internet was barely starting, you know that’s like pre-historic times you know for young people reading this now. I think you have to remember that in 1999 there was no way to listen to things that easily and I think it really formed my whole project of making music in a different way through having access to all this different music.

Finally, Cécile, in terms of Jamaican music, what artists would you recommend?

CS: I’d like to suggest the work of the following people; in terms of producers: Lee Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Scientist, and the recordings that appear on the Wackies label. For interpreters: the early Tappa Zukie and early Burning Spear are favorites, as well as Noel Ellis, Ras Michael, Stranger Cole, Horace Andy… but it’s just the tip of this huge iceberg of excellent music that is the Jamaican music production from the late 60s to early 80s (the period I love the best, with my year of birth – 1976 – being a particular favourite, but that’s just a coincidence!)

 


 

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‘Captain Of None’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

We’re proud to be presenting Colleen (with special guest Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh) live at Cork Opera House on Sunday 3 May 2015. Tickets are €17.50, available at Cork Opera House Box Office (Emmet Place, Cork City); telephone (+353 21 427 0022) or online HERE.

 

Whatever You Love You Are: Cécile Schott (Colleen)

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Cécile Schott reveals the music that has been inspiring her lately. This May marks the release of Colleen’s stunning album “The Weighing Of The Heart” on Second Language.

Words: Cécile Schott, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Records I’ve been listening to:

My boyfriend (illustrator Iker Spozio, who among other things does all my artwork) and I both got heavily into African music from the 70s and Jamaican music from the 70s/early 80s over the past few months. I was already familiar with quite a lot of traditional African music, but didn’t know that Africa had produced so many gems in the 70s, and frankly my mind’s been blown away by the beauty of some of those records. As for dub, I’ve been listening to it for a long time, but it’s one of those areas where you never get to know everything, and with the plethora of reissues these days it’s a never-ending cornucopia !

Some of my favourites:

African Brothers Band (International) – Tribute To Dk

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Alhadji Haruna Ishola And His Apala Group

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C K Mann & His Carousel 7 – Funky Highlife

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Francis Bebey – African Electronic Music 1975-1982

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L’orchestre Kanaga De Mopti

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Lee Perry
It’s too complicated for me to mention one single record as it’s almost impossible to go wrong with Lee Perry, who’s definitely my favourite dub producer.

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Burning Spear – Sounds From The Burning Spear

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The Heptones – Sweet Talking

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George Faith – To Be A Lover

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The Revolutionaries At Channel 1 – Dub Plate Specials

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Prince Douglas – Dub Roots

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“The Weighing Of The Heart” by Colleen is out now on Second Language.

http://colleenplays.org
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

Colleen is currently on tour, to check tour dates please click here.

Colleen’s three classic (and long sold-out) Leaf Label albums – “Everyone Alive Wants Answers”, “The Golden Morning Breaks”, and “Les Ondes Silencieuses” – are currently online at the Beat Delete Scheme website. The initiative entails fundraising to cover the pressing costs for each vinyl. If you wish to see Colleen’s first three LP’s on vinyl once more please click here.

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Chosen One: Colleen

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Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.

“To me, it really encouraged me to keep writing because what I find fascinating about writing is that if you take the same subject, say, the grass in Spring. Well if you are a bad poet you can’t write anything good about it but you can take ten different great poets and they will all have written something amazing about something as simple as the grass in Spring. And so, it just goes to show, it’s the way you do things, and your own way of looking at things which then you have to learn to transcribe into words – or into music – but I think it’s the look of the person that really makes something artistic in a way.”

Cécile Schott

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Cécile Schott is an artist in the truest sense. The Parisienne – now a Spanish resident – has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and compelling sonic creations to have graced this Earth. As ever, the music of Colleen bears Schott’s unique vision and masterful artistry. Ever since first hearing Colleen’s debut album, ‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’ (The Leaf Label, 2003) ten years ago, her music has formed an indispensable part of my record collection. The series of universally acclaimed instrumental opuses recorded for the Leaf label are works of staggering beauty. Like any true artist, their output of work bears their mark. This is certainly true for Colleen, where a divine tapestry of beguiling sound is endlessly created. What I love about Schott’s music – and perhaps this is the ‘mark’ – is the deeply sensual aspect of Colleen’s transcendent music. The intricate layers of instrumentation (bowed and plucked viola da gamba, music boxes and a myriad of other sources) and intricate arrangements truly awaken your senses. It is music to savour. Ten years after the release of Colleen’s debut record, we are fortunate to treasure the newest creation, ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and revel in its artistic brilliance and unwavering beauty.

‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ finds Schott seeking a new musical path. A central question was posed: “How can I incorporate the voice without losing the characteristics of my instrumental music?” What is most impressive to me is not only how the unique blend of delicate instrumental music retained but how all aspects of the music is heightened. A sonic canvas is etched across an immense sea of colours and textures before your very eyes. The songs are woven from the light of dawn that gently flows through the pores of your heart.

In many ways, I feel ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ is a defining moment, not only in Colleen’s songbook, but independent music as a whole. To witness an artist venture down new paths and expand new horizons is awe-inspiring. Music’s endless possibilities are distilled in the album’s eleven transcendent creations. The instrument of Schott’s voice interweaves majestically with the divine instrumentation of plucked bass and treble violas da gamba and the more orthodox sounds of classical guitar, clarinet, piano and organ. Furthermore, rhythm serves a vital role to the new sound captured on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. A gorgeous plethora of percussion, from minimal drum kit and frame drum, to toy gamelan and various bells breathes endearing life to the other worldly song cycles. In the words of Schott: “My music is just about rhythm as it is about melody.” A tremendous sense of joy permeates throughout making for a wholly uplifting and fulfilling sonic odyssey.

There is a lovely correlation between Colleen – and this new musical path – and the works of other luminaries, such as Moondog and Arthur Russell. The inception of ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ was heavily influenced by Schott’s love and admiration of these avant-garde composers; “prompted by my love of Moondog’s records.” Colleen’s music shares the kindred spirit of Moondog and Russell where an undeniable spiritual essence is arrived at. Similar to the unique songcraft of Moondog, an ethereal dimension is wonderfully tapped into by Schott, where the epic and surreal are wonderfully drawn from. A sound is formed that is distinctively Colleen’s. Few others could conjure up such delicate emotion through the art of sound.

‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ was written, played, produced, recorded and mixed in its entirety by Cécile Schott. It simply astounds me how this work can be created solely by one person. The music reflects an artist at the height of her powers where there is a further deepening and refining of her unique songcraft. The songs were captured at home and in a former olive shop (which Schott turned into her rehearsal space), used in the quiet of night once the bustling Spanish life finally ceased. The special spark of creativity is effortlessly captured on these recordings. The resulting body of work possesses an otherworldly realm that transcends both space and time.

Lyrically, themes of the natural world and natural elements form the foundation to the album’s sonic canvas. The lyrics for me reflect haiku-like stanzas, where the refrain of words sung by Schott, offer wisdom and divine inspiration. A kaleidoscope of gorgeous shades and textures are formed of a “moonlit sky”, “lonely fields”, “the moon, the wind” and “the northern sky”. The subject matter was partly inspired by Schott moving away from the city and living in the Spanish countryside, “three minutes walk from the sea, surrounded by hills and mountains…where you can actually get away from civilization really quickly and easily.” Allow your heart and soul rejoice in the triumphant musical landscape.

Album opener ‘Push The Boat Onto The Sand’ comprises Schott’s mesmerising voice and delicate instrumentation of guitar. The refrain of “Push the boat onto the sand” possesses a meditative quality that effortlessly reels you in. A sublime cascade of looped tones and notes swirl magnificently amidst the sand and sea. A beautiful guitar passage ascends to the foreground of the clouds of sound. The closing choral refrain of “O to sail away” shares the spark of Julianna Barwick where raptures of choral bliss forms footprints in the sand.

As I was walking by the Great Bear in the northern sky
I found the seashell missing from the shore below

‘Ursa Major Find’ is my personal highlight on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. In fact, this could be the most formidable creations of Colleen’s songbook thus far. Music as precious as this is rarely found. The breathtaking arrangements of Cécile’s voice, blended with treble viola da gamba, guitar and piano is something to truly behold. A heavenly spectrum of organic sounds and timbres opens up a sea of infinite beauty. The lyrics concern the planet and the Great Bear constellation, where a seashell is “missing from the shore below”. The words mix the real and the imaginary. ‘Ursa Major Find’ makes the impossible happen.

‘Geometría Del Universo’ comprises Colleen’s trademark treble viola da gamba. This solo performance encompasses many worlds of sound, closest I feel to Malian music. I feel the spirit of ‘In The Heart Of the Moon’ by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabeté permeate the song’s headspace of delicate viola notes. ‘Humming Fields’ evokes nostalgia, the passing of time and childhood memories, as a whirlwind of percussion, bells and voice fills your heart and mind. The song could be taken from any one of Moondog’s records. The song’s intimacy and directness is nothing short of magical where I feel the breeze of the wind rustling the reeds. A magical sense of place and bliss of solitude radiates from the compelling instrumentation as Schott’s voice transports you to forgotten dreams.

In lonely fields I’ve been humming
Only the grass overhearing
The cat woke me up with his dreaming

‘Break Away’ distills the essence of ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ where Schott’s voice serves as the glorious instrument that echoes the enchanting sounds of Julia Holter, Arvo Pärt and Moondog. ‘Going Forth By Day’ is sublime instrumental music evoking pastoral landscapes and colours of spring. I love the rhythm (maracas) that serves as the song’s pulse throughout. The use of clarinet breathes new colours and textures to Colleen’s achingly beautiful tapestry of celestial sound. ‘The Moon Like A Bell’ is an ethereal folk gem. The song shares the spirit of Linda Perhacs’ ‘Parallelograms’ where the refrain of “Moon be bright and shine” brings the lament to a fitting close.

‘Moonlit Sky’ is sublime. I love the cinematic quality captured within the recording. The clarinet melody meanders magnificently throughout, resembling the blowing wind in all its power and glory. The arrival of the Farfisa Compact instrument towards the song’s close is the perfect score to the formation of “the moonlit sky”. ‘Breaking Up The Earth’ comprises of bass viola da gamba, voice, muffled floor tom and snare drum. I feel all the elements of Colleen’s artistry is allowed to shine brightly here. The hypnotic rhythms stops you immediately in your tracks. Schott’s voice adds gorgeous ambient flourishes to the three-dimensional sphere of sound.

‘Raven’ is a love song with a gorgeous ebb and flow of viola notes. Schott’s words are simple and direct, yet have an everlasting hold on me. The lyrics resemble a haiku where a wonderfully vivid short story is condensed within the stream of words:

Raven, why stare at me with those eyes?
Don’t you know I love you
Just as you are?

“The time has come to weigh my heart” is a lyric that resonates powerfully on album closer, and title-track ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. The lyrics – inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead – encompass life, death, the after-world and righteousness. A purity is distilled in the words and music that, for me, embodies the triumphant return of the special soul that is Cécile Schott. We are very grateful for your return.

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“The Weighing Of The Heart” is out now on Second Language.

http://colleenplays.org
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

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Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.

I love your new album. It’s such an amazing record. For the records before ‘The Weighing of the Heart’, it was this beautiful instrumental music, but I love how you are able to incorporate your voice so perfectly into the music, while retaining that special sense of beauty. It works very well.

Thank you. Well, basically, I think that was the hardest thing for me to achieve. When I went back to making music – which was about 2010 – I had taken a break for about a year and when I started making music again, I knew that I wanted to incorporate the voice – I knew that – but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. First of all, because I’m not really a singer, well I’m not a singer at all actually. But first of all I had to literally find my voice, so that took me quite some time. And then I struggled with lyrics and also even beyond those two problems of learning how to sing and finding the kind of lyrics that I wanted to have. There was also a problem of fitting vocal melodies into my music. It took me a long time to work on the album because sometimes I had the lyrics but I didn’t have the actual vocal melody to put inside the song. Or it was the reverse, I had the vocal melody that I really liked on some music but I couldn’t see what kind of lyrics to put on there. That really clicked into place quite late, I would say, last summer, you know. I recorded the album from November to January of this year and it’s only in August that I finalized the lyrics. I had things ready in September/October but it was really until the last-minute that I was looking for ways of making everything fit together. It’s true that when I decided to work on the voice, I was aware that there are so many people out there. Actually, it’s the most common combination, you know, in popular music in the wide sense: it’s someone singing and they’re playing some kind of instrument at the same time. And obviously that’s been going on for the longest time in history and I thought, well, if I am going to use my voice now, I have to make sure it’s really, really special and I have to keep the thing I did have which was special in my instrumental music. So I did work very hard in trying to achieve that.

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You certainly achieved it because it is very much away from that popular tradition. It reminds me very much of Moondog. I love for example ‘Break Away’ – it’s just your voice – but it has shades for me of Julia Holter and these wonderful voices, it works so well. It’s amazing.

Thank you so much. I was really worried that maybe it wasn’t going to be accepted by people, but thank you – I’m really glad of your compliments.

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I read that a lot of the music was prompted by your love of Moondog records. You must be a big fan of his work.

Yeah, yeah, I’m definitely a big fan. It’s something that’s been growing on me. His music, I loved it from the start but his output is quite large so I think he’s one of those musicians where you know maybe you, I don’t know – I’m trying to think of when I first heard some Moondog music – and I think it was probably more than ten years ago, but obviously I didn’t buy everything from the start. It’s not like I got the entire Moondog discography. Then I actually read his official biography which was published, I don’t know, maybe three years ago. Actually, I’m always fascinated and motivated by certain musicians – not just their actual music – but also their general approach to making music and almost their philosophy of life. So I think Moondog was very important and also, Arthur Russell, in much the same way. They’re people who had a large output but it was quite varied but it always bears their mark, and you can see that they spend, you know, thousands of hours refining their skills. When you listen to their music you know it’s distinctively theirs, you know, from the first second. For Moondog, I don’t know if you are familiar with his second album for Columbia?

Is that the double-album?

Yeah, now they do release it as a double album. The first one which was very orchestrated and then the second one is madrigals and canons and stuff like that, and it’s him and his daughter, so it’s like these dialogues between his voice and her voice, and all sorts of instruments. The songs are usually quite short – around the two-minute mark – buy they’re like these perfect miniatures, and definitely that record was like a model of what can be done with voices, they’re very melodic and yet it doesn’t sound like a pop form as such. It’s very much, you can listen to it in many different ways and that’s what I like, there’s a very strong melodic appeal but it’s also kind of like an experimental miniature but it’s also very human.

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What you say there, Cécile, to describe those two artists, you can say the exact same for your music. It has a very distinct sound. If you hear for example something off your first album-or any album-you know straight away, oh that’s Colleen, it has its own mark I guess. My favourite song on the new album at the moment is the second song, ‘Ursa Major Find’. I just love how those two lines you sing again and again, it really has a special feel to it.

I’m really happy with that song too and, again, it’s one of those songs that the lyrics are very simple but it took me a while to find out what the lyrics were going to be. So basically I live by the sea and that’s definitely a big influence on my lyrics, just living by the sea. And having moved from a city environment to a smaller place and for the first time in my life actually noticing the natural environment so that was part of the equation in those lyrics. In the other equation is just becoming more aware of the universe, it might sound a bit cheesy but I think it was about two years ago, I watched a series; do you know Carl Sagan?

I don’t actually, no.

He was a popular American scientist and he had this series called “Cosmos” from 1980 which was quite famous and I watched it. After “Cosmos”, I also watched a couple of other series that felt really inspirational in opening up my sense of history and of being “part of the universe” as it were: “The Ascent Of Man” by Jacob Bronoswki (1973) and David Attenborough’s “The Tribal Eye” (1975) and “The First Eden” (1987). It’s all about how the universe was created from scratch and things like that. Actually I got quite into that even though my sense of scientific knowledge is really, really poor but just the little notion of the bigger things around ourselves. So I think, in general, some of the lyrics on the album, they reflect this double interest of the immediate natural world you see, and the sense of wonder of the actual universe around us. I was interested in conflating the two and making the impossible happen. This thing about finding a seashell in the constellation Ursa Major is completely impossible, so that’s how it gets more poetic. It’s definitely not a realistic thing. It’s also more about having images. I also worked really hard in terms of having strong images or like a mini-short story in a way, like those two lines in ‘Ursa Major Find’, it’s like a very, very condensed short story, in a way.

Exactly, because it’s very minimal in terms of the words used but it’s the effect of those words then that makes all that magic happen. Even for me as I listen to it, I feel I am transported to this other universe. It’s really quite something.

That’s great.

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It’s very apparent on the new album, how there is a lovely sense of the rhythm and the wonderful layers of percussion that blends so well with your gorgeous instrumentation.

Well, that was the other thing that took me quite some time, apart from the lyrics and the singing. People perceive my music as being melancholic or even sad at times. I still have feedback on this album from people, that say it’s melancholy etc and from my end I see it as a much more joyful album than the stuff I’ve done in the past. And definitely when I discovered the world of percussion and – just in general – just taking a more rhythmic approach to playing. My aim in that was to try to push myself away from what comes to me more naturally and more easily which is the melancholy stuff. ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’, the album before that, was definitely quite an austere album in some ways, and I definitely wanted to go away from that. At the time of making the album, I just wanted my music to reflect a sense of joy and movement in a way. So I think getting into percussion and into rhythm, it really helped me approach my instruments differently and to step out of my usual patterns. Because I think that’s the thing when you’ve been making music for a long time, and in my case, I am going to be thirty-seven soon, and I’ve started to play the guitar when I was fifteen. So, even though I released my first album ten years ago, it’s actually been twenty-two years that I’ve been making music. So I think you know, you go back to your instruments and you do form the same patterns. As far as I am concerned, a part of me think it’s OK and another part of me thinks you really have to always push yourself to try to find something new. If only because I would bore myself if I was playing the same thing again and again. So, definitely when I started to learn percussion, it mostly started with learning the frame drum. Then all of a sudden, I finally understood how the basic rhythms are put together, and then when I took my other instruments, it just felt immediately natural to play in a more accented rhythmic way. So I think it’s definitely a big step forward and I’m really looking forward to keeping on working in that direction. It’s what I really want to explore further is the rhythm and the use of the voice, that’s definitely the step forward for me I think.

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That’s wonderful. I’m also intrigued further with the lyrics; they’re almost like haikus. They’re very much like words of wisdom where there is very much a sense of the spiritual and the words are very poetic.

Well, thank you very much. Well actually you mention poetry and that’s one of the things I did when I was trying to write lyrics. I was writing stuff but I could see that it just wasn’t very good. I think one of the ways to go forward when you’re having some kind of block is to keep writing and writing and at the same time find inspiration in the best stuff. The idea is not to copy but just to soak up other people’s masterpieces, because I do think that, in a way, afterwards it does tend to rub off on you, even if subconsciously. And so I read a lot of poetry. I did read some haiku, although I’m not a haiku specialist. I am a big fan of Japanese culture in general, so that’s definitely an aesthetic I was already familiar with. Then I read some famous poetry of English-speaking poets and then I read some classics that I have never taken the time to read, like Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves Of Grass’. I read the entire works of Emily Dickinson [laughs]. That took me months and months because that’s actually huge, but it was really worth it. Especially for instance her poetry; my favourite things of hers are the poems where she describes the natural world and animals, and also things to do with the natural elements. To me, it really encouraged me to keep writing because what I find fascinating about writing is that if you take the same subject, say, the grass in Spring. Well, if you are a bad poet you can’t write anything good about it but you can take ten different great poets and they will all have written something amazing about something as simple as the grass in Spring. And so, it just goes to show, it’s the way you do things, and your own way of looking at things which then you have to learn to transcribe into words – or into music – but I think it’s the look of the person that really makes something artistic in a way, if that makes sense.

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Yes, it does. That was lovely. Even, Cécile, the title of the album, ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, it’s something very beautiful having those words together.

Well that’s not from me because that’s actually inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead. So, basically when Egyptian people, mostly people of a certain standard in Egyptian society when they were buried, they usually had a book buried with them. The book was supposed to give them instructions so that they could pass onto the after-world, and so that they could have some kind of after-life. And so one of the first things that they had to do was to go through this weighing of the heart ceremony, where basically there were some kind of scales. On one half of the scales you had the feather of truth or justice (I can’t remember if it was the feather of truth or justice), and then the heart of the deceased person was put on the scales. If the heart was as light as the feather, then they could pass on to the after-world. So, basically it is the test as to how you have lived your life; If you’ve tried to do the right thing, to be a good person. Basically, I thought it was a really, really beautiful metaphor for certain situations in life where you’re faced with difficult events and you try to find the right response and not to get overwhelmed by things. At home, we actually have a really nice edition of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I was reading it and I was really struck by the image itself, you know by the idea behind it and also the words used to express all these steps the deceased has to go through. It really stayed with me and I liked it so much that I chose it as the title of the album as well.

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It’s a title that works perfectly to represent the actual set of songs on the album, too.

Thanks, I haven’t thought of it that way but someone has actually told me kind of the same thing, that they thought also it was a reflection on the balance between the different musical elements and the instruments and the voice on the album.

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I’d be very interested to hear, Cécile, about your long-term interest in ceramics and stone-carving. These are a form of art in itself but I’d love to learn how this feeds into your music, because it must be a nice parallel.

Well actually I stopped making ceramics and stone-carving because basically I took lessons when I was still living in Paris. I was going through a period of having no inspiration at all to make music so I really threw my heart and soul into that and it really, really helped me because otherwise, I would have felt really terrible about not making anything creative. The really interesting thing for me to do was, first of all, I think I learned again how to concentrate on something. Because I think my problem was that my music was kind of successful. In my life I ended up spending way too much time dealing with emails, traveling, that sort of stuff and I just wasn’t concentrating anymore on making music. I think it’s the first thing that was beneficial for me in learning ceramics and learning stone-carving – even at a small level – because, you know, I’m not a ceramist or a stone-carver. You find yourself in a place for two hours, three hours, four hours, and all you do is you throw your ball or you carve your piece of stone. There is no email, no internet, it is just you and what you are doing. It kind of reminded me what went wrong for me, you know, if I’m going to go back to music, that’s just what I have to do, it just has to be me and the music and I just have to forget about the rest. So, that was the first thing and the second thing that was interesting was somehow there are parallels between all art. And that in a way all the ceramics that I did and my carved stone –  which was a bird – well, in a way they are a bit like my music. In music you have melodic lines and you also have texture, either depending on which instruments you are using. With ceramics it’s also the question of line, of colour, of texture and the clay you use. With the bird it is the same; are you going to sand the stone a lot, are you going to keep it rough. So it was just a really nice experience to just try different mediums. In the end I did think: “Well, I do want to go back to making music” [laughs]. That’s what I like the best. But for now that’s probably what I do best as well.

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I’m glad of that anyway. I was very interested to read you were recording the songs themselves at times in a disused olive shop.

Yeah, that’s not a marketing thing, it’s real [laughs]. So, basically, what happened was when I moved here, I couldn’t make music in my flat. I’m a professional musician but my way of doing things is very much DIY because I like working on my own, and to actually get a real, professional studio to myself all the time, you know is obviously beyond my means. So far my way of working was mostly working from home and in Paris, I was quite lucky – at first I didn’t have many neighbours – and the place was quiet and everything. Then that changed and after that I moved here to Spain and over here it wasn’t possible for me to make music in the flat. So what I did was I looked for a space to rent as a kind of rehearsal studio space. The place that I found hadn’t been used in years and it used to be a place where they would put olives and small peppers in brine. And from that place where they would have all the olives and peppers there, and apparently they would distribute these to the local bars. It’s really funny because when the people actually see me opening the doors of the shop – it happens like every week – that someone stops me and says, “Oh, are you from the same family as the man who had the olive shop?” So, apparently it was a legendary place in the neighbourhood.

It’s a really nice place but the problem is that because it is quite old, the doors don’t filter out any noise and it’s quite a noisy town, so that’s why I had to go and record at night because during the day it was just impossible with cars passing by and people walking by. So that was a bit of a challenge. I’m actually looking for another place – it may not be as nice or as pretty as the olive shop – but I just need to find a place to make music constantly. Because of the way I work, I make music all of the time. It’s not like I go into the studio for two weeks and record there. My way of working, ideally I make music and if it’s good I want to record it immediately. So, actually I wasted quite a bit of time because of this noise issue.

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I can only imagine too, it amazes me to think that you write, play, produce and record everything, it’s all just you. Is there a process in your head of how you see how a song starts and ends? It’s amazing because you are obviously behind all the stages of the song.

Yeah, well I don’t know if there is a process as such. It always starts in the same way; just me and an instrument and just playing. If something good happens I have two ways of remembering the stuff that I’ve come up with; I try to record it immediately, even if it’s very sketchy and I also take notes-I have this kind of tablature thing and I immediately try to write down how I actually played the thing. Then I just go back to things and now with the lyrics it’s even more complicated, because I have to think about lyrics. I have to say for this album it really is the first time that it is completely me. The first album (‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’) was just samples from other people’s records, well it was 95% samples. The second album I did everything myself but, on the other hand, it was recorded through my looping pedal so it wasn’t something in terms of sound. I love actually the second album, ‘Golden Morning Breaks’, I think it’s my favourite of the ones I have done. But it wasn’t really, let’s say, a “professional” sound. And then the third album ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ I got lots of help from an engineer called Emiliano Flores who also mastered my first three albums, and we recorded half of the album in his parents’ place in an attic so ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ the really good sound mostly comes from his skills and his microphones.

But then, after that, he sold me a really good microphone and a really good pre-amp. Because I’d been able to observe the way he was recording stuff. Basically, I’m self-taught and it’s very hands-on so I think if a professional engineer saw how I make my records they’d be horrified because it’s not the right way to do things. So, definitely I learned a lot on making this particular album and especially the mixing was extremely hard but in the end it paid off. Finding the balance between the different elements because there is a lot of stereo panning going on and stereo recording that really brought life to the songs. I mean, the songs were there, everything was recorded but paying special attention to the mix. That really transformed the songs. It’s actually something I’m really looking forward to working on – this aspect of making a record – because I think you can go from something that is OK to something that’s much, much better by spending time on that.

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“The Weighing Of The Heart” is out now on Second Language.

http://colleenplays.org
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

Colleen is currently on tour, to check tour dates please click here.

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