Leeds three-piece Noya Rao blew the audience away with a stunning performance supporting Shigeto at the Belgrave Music Hall last month. LSi caught up with keyboardist and producer Tom Henry after the show to find out a bit about the band, their approach to electronic music and plans for the future.
So tell me a little about Noya Rao, where are you from and how did you all meet?
I’m from Newcastle but studied at Leeds College of Music, which is where I met Matt Davis, the drummer. I met Jim Wiltshire, the bassist, through another Leeds-based band I used to be in called Paper Tiger, which was fronted by my friend Greg. We were all focussed on making electronic music, so that’s what brought us together I guess.
Which musical traditions have shaped your current style?
Hip-hop – I have grown up on hip-hop. I used to breakdance when I was younger so I have always been into it. Jazz – I did a jazz degree at LCM [Leeds College of Music]. All sorts really though – Funk, Soul, Motown, anything with a bit of emotion in it really. More electronic stuff recently – Madlib, Shigeto and all that beat making stuff that’s going on at the moment is really cool. I am also part of Ikestra, there are seven of us in that and we mix lots of styles together so obviously that has an impact on what we are doing with Noya Rao.
As a Jazz scholar, which Jazz musicians do you most admire?
I love Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane all the greats really. Robert Glasper was also a big influence; you know just the way he blends hip-hop with jazz. More his earlier stuff though, I am not too big into his new, neo-soul kind of stuff that he is doing at the moment. But yeah, as a pianist, Bill Evans definitely had an important impact on me.
How do you think the Leeds music scene is affecting the country and contemporary music in general?
I don’t know how it is affecting the country, but I know that it is small, but really energetic and a lot of stuff coming from the college. There are loads of wicked bands and musicians coming out of Leeds. Endless amounts really. I think because it’s so small, everyone knows each other and when there is gig and some people know about it, eventually everyone knows about it. That is perhaps an advantage it has over London, you know Leeds is not this huge area to cover; it’s just a small hub of people doing what they want to do.
Musicians and nights often move to London from Leeds and do good things over there so in that sense, I guess it’s influence is spreading.
The way in which you translate your electronic sound to the stage really reminded me of Bonobo. How would you feel with that kind of comparison?
To be honest, I have never heavily sessioned Bonobo – it’s not something I have properly got into before – I don’t know why really. People often go on about him. I know some of his tunes, but I was much more from the proper hip-hop side of things when I was growing up, and Bonobo, in my mind, has always been more on the trip-hop easy listening kind of side of things. But, yeah I think Bonobo is cool and I really like his live shows. I am a firm believer in keeping things live, I don’t like it when there is a backing track or there is sequence stuff going on. I like to see the instruments kept live on the stage. I have always liked that, I want to keep it as band and not have tracks playing just on a laptop.
When is the new record coming out and what should we expect?
We haven’t set an exact date just as yet, but within the year. Expect a whole range to be honest, probably a move towards a more live sounding record as opposed to the more produced style that is on Outer Limits [First EP]. The upcoming stuff is much more collaborative and band orientated. We are using more live drum sounds, getting Jim to record stuff in alongside the synths and old samples, just a lot more recording rather than sampling and programming. We’re also using some vocalists, a bit of spoken word. We will still keep that electronic sound, but approach it together as a live band.