Here is the second part of our interview with Nick Mulvey, ex-member of the Mercury Prize nominated Portico Quartet and rising solo artist! Part one of the interview can be read here.
You just play solo at the moment, but you have any plans to play with a full band?
Yeah, definitely! I can really begin to hear it now, and when I can start to hear it, I know it’s an inevitability. It’s just a matter of time. But I’ve been really careful not to rush it. Initially I did rush it, I put some instruments around what I was doing and it didn’t improve the impact of the music. It’s taken me this much time to settle with the material, and it’s important that I went through all of that process by myself because I was slightly annoying the other musicians because I was changing shit every night. On a few levels, it was too soon, so that taught me that all error is born from rush, and there’s no need to rush. So, I can hear the band coming nicely. Bandmates are your next bunch of best mates, and there’s no forcing that.
How does the writing process differ when you’re on your own compared to when you were with Portico?
Well, they’re the same in that, in both processes, I sit down and see what comes up, which is crucially different to sitting down and thinking what should I write, or looking outwards first. Always you look in first, and just let it bubble up. Try and put yourself out of the way, and make space for this thing that comes through. But obviously, it’s very different because I’m by myself. Sometimes it’s funny because I feel like I do the same things in both projects in a lot of ways, which is that I make little pieces of code and I repeat them. In Portico, if one of us had a good idea, we’d all latch on, we’d know our parts and it’d be very quick sometimes. So sometimes, I’m writing a song and the irony is I can hear exactly what the guys would do, and sometimes it’s informed my choices in the studio. They’re still an inspiration, but in either project, it’s a process of scraping away to find out what’s there rather than deciding. It’s always more interesting that way, because you’re the first audience member.
Paul Simon talks about being the first audience member and I think that’s a really interesting idea, and it’s quite beautiful. He doesn’t trust an idea unless it surprises him, and it’s always more interesting when it comes from the right brain rather than the left. When I left Portico, I had a bit of money saved up from the touring because we were touring a lot in 2010, and I had a lot of time to make a plan. I knew how I wanted to do it, which was to play my guitar every day for six months. I didn’t want to put any more pressure on it than that, but to do that I needed to get a room, so I got this little writing room and went in there every day for six months. I studied my heroes, and read interviews with Paul Simon, studied his lyrics and his process, and realised how he did it. I got ridiculously into it, and I’m such a boffin about it now.
You’re recording your first album now, how’s that going?
It’s great! Really, really good. It’s been a joy. It’s hard work, but I’ve been building up to it, and working with Dan Carey is wicked, he’s such a good musician and we work well together. We have confidence in each other, so if I’ve got two ways of doing something and I say “should the line go up at the end or down at the end?” and he says “down”, I’ll go with him. It’s essential. It’s kind of like these things have been inside me for a long time, so actually getting them externalised is a relief!
Do you have a pending release date?
It’s kind of anyone’s guess. As soon as someone says something, it tends to move back. My current guess is before summer 2014. It’s so different to say, 10 years ago, how now you essentially have to establish your listenership before you release your first album. Haim, for example, have taken two and a half years to get this first album together, but that’s cool, they’re bang on track. They suddenly realised there’s no limit to the scope of who the album could reach, so they kept building this enormous project that took two and a half years, they’ve already played the Pyramid Stage with Primal Scream and Mumford and Sons and they haven’t released their first album yet. It’s an oven baking process these days, there’s no rush.
The video for ‘Nitrous’ is quite different to what you’d expect from a singer/songwriter genre, how did the concept of that come about?
The genesis of it was that I’ve never really associated with the singer/songwriter bracket, it happens to be that I play music on the guitar and I like songs and I like singing, but raves were my bread and butter when I was a teenager, that’s where I was going. But then, I grew up with such a broad access to music through things like Spotify. It’s like that for all of us; we all know The Beatles, we all know the main ones. We have the shuffle on our iPods that play something from West Africa, then you’re listening to something from America in the sixties, then some techno from yesterday, and then you’re listening to some Chinese music. I don’t think I’m that abnormal in listening to that and it all being quite comfortable side by side, with genre and era being so dissolved by our listening patterns. What I think comes through are the principles of the music we all enjoy, like repetition for me, or tension and release, expectation and fulfilment, humour… These fundamentals in music are suddenly the guiding patterns rather than genre or era. Sorry, that’s a total digression from the video!
The video came about when the label put me in touch with a guy called Alden Volney, who made the Villagers videos which I’d said I liked. He liked the song, and he called me up and said loads of cool stuff down the phone and it was exactly what I was into. He wanted to begin with very physical devices that render sound, so there are big, old school televisions, and reel to reel tapes, and very blocky, physical boxes. The idea was to, through the narrative of the song, transcend that. The screen is playing the pattern, but by the end of the video we go into the screen, into the world of pattern, into the soul of the act, into the idea, then it was going to end in some kind of DMT death trip. It was completely what I was into, I loved it. I knew I could trust him, so basically, he pitched the idea and I said yes!