Ex-member of the Mercury Prize nominated jazz group Portico Quartet, Nick Mulvey is well underway in establishing his name as a solo artist. Only two years after leaving the band, he has toured with such names as Rodrigo y Gabriela, Lianne La Havas and Laura Mvula, and is currently in the process of recording his debut album, from which some singles have already been released and have been picked up by the likes of Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1. We caught up with Nick while he ate a pizza before a show to talk about his solo career so far, his inspirations and his recent tour supporting Laura Marling.
You’ve not been playing as a solo artist very long, how’s it been going?
It’s been two years since I left Portico Quartet, but there was always a bit of solo stuff going on. Because we were really busy with the band, I couldn’t pick it up, but there were always people inviting me to play gigs. So, for two years it’s been my main focus, but about ten years since I first started writing songs. It’s kind of funny, it’s very much a fresh thing, but actually it’s been brewing for a long time. That duality of it being new but old shapes everything.
Would you say that being with the band influenced your solo writing?
Definitely, yeah. I was already into repetition and hypnotic qualities in music, I have been since I was a teenager and that’s part of what made Portico Quartet, but I think that was all cemented through being in Portico. My tunes these days, more often than not, develop texturally. In the first few bars you’ll hear the pattern that loops, then it’ll do that most of the time through the song, but what will happen is I might bring my thumb out and bring it back in, or things get wider and narrower rather than having a middle 8 or a different chord sequence. I do that sometimes, but mostly, like Portico, texture is the thing I vary to create a narrative in music.
Earlier this year you played Glastonbury and Latitude, was that your first time at each of those festivals?
It was at Latitude, but I’ve been to Glastonbury many times as a teenager and then since performing as a professional musician, I’ve probably played it about six times. But Latitude was a first and I had a blast, all summer was great. I think everyone’s had a good summer.
So how did you find the reception at Glastonbury and Latitude?
It was so good. For me, it was really exciting because with Portico, we didn’t really release singles and it wasn’t about a ‘radio thing’, so this summer’s been the first time I’ve experienced that. Like, where you have a tune that gets released with momentum behind it and gets played on the radio, then you go up to places, like a festival in Scotland, and people you’ve never met before come to the gig. Obviously that wasn’t completely new to me, I knew that happened, but it was still a fresh experience for me, and an amazing one! Not only that people come, but they know the music and really care about it, so the whole summer had this nice charm to it. I was going places and people were very welcoming, and knew what I was about.
Which bands did you check out at Latitude and Glastonbury?
There were loads of bands! I saw Goat, they were amazing, I saw The Rolling Stones, Chic, Kenny Rogers… He was so moving, it moved me to tears when he sang ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’, that’s a wicked tune and he was very warm and Texan about it, singing across his microphone. But it’s like, zen Buddhism – “I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in”, like, I am witnessing my own experience witnessing my experience. I was blown away.
How was the tour with Laura Marling?
Brilliant! I got great responses, I saw Laura Marling’s set every night, and I loved the venues. There’s nothing that can impede the performance and the music being perceived. Sometimes they were a bit polite and formal, the acoustics are so good that if you sniff it feels like a statement, but they’ve been a joy to play in. Fundamentally, I was just very flattered to be asked, I really admire Laura. I think she’s an artist who has completely carved out a space of her own terms, she doesn’t ever have to explain herself, it’s just Laura Marling. She’s 24 and she’s on her fourth album, she’s a phenomenon. So, to be invited personally by her meant a lot.
How did you find the reception with her fans?
It’s been amazing! Really amazing. Lots of people want to come and say hello, I’ve been meeting people afterwards, I think the reception’s been really good.
How did touring with Laura Marling compare to touring with Laura Mvula or Lianne La Havas?
It’s amazing how different each tour is. Even a lot of the fundamentals, like, say, with Rodrigo y Gabriela, I was travelling on trains all around Europe, half the time by myself, and I only saw them in passing. They’ve been touring so long that their whole operation has been refined, they just walk in do the soundcheck they need to do and their out, there’s just not that point where you overlap. It’s a bit like that with Laura Marling but to way less of a degree, I’ve hung out with her more. With Lianne La Havas, I turned up to the first few gigs on my own with my guitar on my back, they just laughed at me and said “don’t be silly, get on the bus”! So, then I joined them and we went around Europe, and then it’s the complete opposite because you’re in bunks, in this tiny space, and I was completely in their world, on their terms, with their banter, and we had a great party. They feel like friends now.
Check back for the second part of our interview right here!
Photos by Dan Hess