Last week, LSi caught up with Nick Mulvey at the Brudenell before the first night of his debut solo tour. Fresh from supporting Laura Marling and with his forthcoming album on the way, we wanted to find out more about Nick’s influences, his musical direction and what he had for breakfast…
You’ve just come back from your tour with Laura Marling – how was it and what was your favourite gig?
Nick: My favourite was the Birmingham NEC – but there wasn’t a bad gig. They were all great. I met Laura when she was doing her Secret Cinema gigs in London in July, where they’d kitted out an old school in East London as a 1920’s hotel. I was doing a performance in the chapel and the next day she asked me to go on tour with her, so I was really flattered. She’s got such a presence.
You did your undergrad in Ethnomusicology at SOAS – did it ever make you think of pursuing that further or has performing always been the thing that drives you?
Nick: I was never going to be an academic. The course is the widest perspective you could take on music. No musical utterance is meaningless – it teaches you that every note is loaded with everything that made it possible, and that was great. It’s naturally affected my approach to writing music, as well as exposing me to loads of different types of music. So my right hand started to change when I was learning a lot of African guitar, and all the different music has filtered in, definitely.
How do you feel your time in Portico Quartet has influenced your solo career so far?
Nick: It’s shaped me, but more than the band just shaping me, as an artist I have the same obsessions and they manifest in different ways at different times – I’m still interested in the very things I brought to the table when I was in Portico Quartet. They were where the hypnotic, trance and repetitive elements of music interface with song and song writing. So the boys in Portico Quartet would be interested in recording the train near our house, taking a snippet of it, putting it in a pad and making it the snare drum. They would do that kind of stuff, and loads of stuff texturally about that, and I would tend towards the vernacular – I was happy to give things a structure that was quite readable. We never decided those roles, it just kind of happened. I think it worked quite well in that we could be quite adventurous but it wasn’t too avant-garde, which was important to us. I’m still interested in those things today – within my set there are a lot of repetitive and hypnotic qualities, but then its all about song as well, and using thinning and thickening of texture as a way of building narrative within music, rather than changes in harmonic structure. Texture over harmony.
Your second EP Fever to the Form came out in June – the video for the title track is from your London gig; similarly the video for ‘Miss Ohio’ is along the Regent’s Canal. ‘Nitrous’ is a lot more produced and the video is quite different to both of these – would you say it’s the start of a change in direction?
Nick: It’s very early days – I’m totally finding my way, so you’d probably have to zoom out from a future date to find any threads of consistency. I couldn’t identify them yet. Maybe I was a bit naïve or unprepared but I was quite shocked to find that I would cultivate the music and deliver something to the label, then be told we’ve got two weeks, a set budget and now you’ve got to produce a film. Obviously that’s where you team up with directors who know how to do that, but that’s an intimate and intricate thing. Maybe other artists who watch more videos than I do, always knew that – to be honest it’s quite an obvious thing but I had my head in the sand about it.
The first very dark Fever to the Form came out of that. The director was a really nice guy but he made this piece I didn’t really like – basically a performance video but with loads of different lighting. Endless emails went around with quite a bit of pressure on deadlines, to the point where I asserted myself and said I need to get into the edit. It was an important moment for me – using the material we had that I liked, we carved something that’s very basic but is true to the song.
What’s your favourite song to perform at the moment?
Nick: There’s not a favourite as such – there are different qualities I like about them, some things I find more challenging. ‘Fever to the Form’ is probably the answer to that; it’s working really nicely. I find that live I actually pull it back quite a lot, I don’t force it – it’s very quiet and then everyone comes in, it’s been quite magic.
Which gig are you most excited about for the tour?
Nick: I’m excited about the whole tour, I’m just very happy to get to this point. I’m really looking forward to the Cambridge gig because it’s my hometown.
What things do you like to do outside of music?
Nick: I like to hang with my friends, go travelling and stuff – but I’m not very good at outside of music. You feel like you’re really boring, but maybe it’s just that everything feeds into music. Maybe I’m being facetious with the word, but there isn’t any outside of music in that regard. Also I’m really boring and just play all the time! I watched this documentary about Jimi Hendrix the other day and he played all the time, he didn’t know what was going on in the world. Everybody gets inspired watching a film about a guy like that; it was permission again if I ever needed it, it just reminded me that all you need to do is just play.
If you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be and what would you cook?
Nick: I would cook spaghetti alla puttanesca, it’s delicious. I’d invite round Patti Smith, Rumi – the 13th century Sufi poet from Afghanistan – amazing guy; I think he’d get on well with Patti Smith, and Frank Bruno. He’s a nice guy.
What was the first record you ever bought?
Nick: The first record I ever bought was ‘Boom Boom Boom’ by the Outhere Brothers. My Mum got upset with the lyrics…
When can we expect your new material?
Nick: I’ve finished recording the album, so I’ve just created more music on record in the last months than I ever have as a solo artist. I feel it’s been a big process for me – recording music deeply affects how you understand the songs and where you’re at. I’ve done more work very recently, in that regard, than I have done up to this point. May is the goal for the album launch; there will be a single in the New Year and a single around Easter. Each of those will have B-sides, videos and artworks, so there’s a lot going on.
You can watch Nick Mulvey’s ‘Nitrous’ below:
Becky Sumerling & Hannah Conway
photos: NME, Newmusic