Former Portico Quartet percussionist Nick Mulvey is now due to release his first solo album 'First Mind' three years after he first set out as a stand-alone musician. In that time, he has released two EPs ('The Trellis' and 'Fever To The Form') and took a long break away from the music industry to further study his passion for songwriting.
He's already had a fulfilling journey as a musician, having travelled around the world picking up influences in various cultural genres and even enrolling at a guitar school in Cuba as a teenager. We caught up with him to talk about 'First Mind' (due for release on May 12th 2014), splitting from Portico Quartet and his exciting plans for 2014.
Contactmusic: Hi Nick, how are you doing?
Nick Mulvey: Very good. We're on tour; it's about four weeks in total, the whole thing and we're having a blast! There's a couple of things that are different about this tour for me because we're doing it in B&Bs rather than hotels so we've got quite intriguing venues wherever we arrive.
CM: Your debut solo album 'First Mind' comes out in May, what can you tell us about it?
NM: Well, it's my first solo record; it's been three years since I left Portico Quartet and it's been brewing for that long, but in a way it was also brewing for the six years I was in the band. 'First Mind' is a combination of seven years' worth of musical inquiry. I recorded it last September in South London with producer Dan Carey. He came to my record label where more than once people have said to me, 'You need to meet Dan, you'd get on really well'. I think we're both crazy about music in the same way - the potential hypnotic quality in music we both love - and he's just deeply into what he does. What I enjoyed most about working with Dan was that very quickly did the divisions between artist and producer become irrelevant and kind of dissolved because we're just two musicians. It meant a lot for me to team up and have a buddy in it and to really have another perspective on the process.
He was always very good at helping me realise my vision and we both felt very passionately; sometimes we'd have disagreements and arguments in the studio and both of us would fight out a point. But all that I think is really important.
CM: How long did your album take to record?
NM: We got almost all of it done in a month and most of that we got done in the first two weeks. We kicked off like a firecracker; we had so much focus and that made it a much quicker process. The times when you lose momentum are when you're wondering what to do and, to be honest, I'd done all that already after almost two years' worth of preparation in the form of four or five different recording sessions in which I released two EPs and two singles, so I didn't rush it. When I got to the studio I felt very definitive about it and was ready to go.
I had a clear mind on what I wanted to do from the beginning from my experience in Portico Quartet. When I went solo and I came up with a few core things which I felt that the band members had provided for me creatively, and I looked for those again in my next relationships. For example, in a producer I wanted someone who was very good at making rough, atonal textures because my tendency is to make tonal, smoother sounds. So it was about looking for my opposites, basically.
CM: Would you say this album is a reflection of yourself?
NM: Yeah, definitely. I'm not one of those writers who sit down and look at the state of the world and look outward, I'm more about looking inwards and discovering in those ways. I think anyone who listened to my album would know there was a lot of self-reflection in there.
CM: You last single 'Cucurucu' seems to have been very well received!
NM: I've been a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. It's getting played all the time on the radio which is really cool. Besides the fact that it's got an unpronounceable title, there's a lot of heart and soul in that song and I really put myself out there on it. It's a very intense experience to be up there singing it and I hadn't anticipated how much that would be the case. The very things I was worrying about are the very things that actually are the best things about it, like being up there and being vulnerable has a great reward.
CM: The video is very exotic and people-orientated, what were your thoughts when you set out to film it?
NM: I sat down with a friend and we were just brainstorming the track and thinking about the video. I realised that I wanted wide, panoramic landscapes so we thought, 'F*** it, let's just go for it' and have that kind of space in the video. Plus, the nature of my music is, rhythmically, it's always moving forward; it has motion in the music so I knew I wanted motion in the video. I'm actually old friends with the director James Morgan and once a year he sends round a work group email and it popped into my inbox at exactly the right moment as I was just sitting there thinking about it. He's an amazing filmmaker and photographer, mostly for National Geographic, and I just thought he was perfect. The whole thing really came together well.
CM: Was it a tough decision to move away from Portico Quartet?
NM: It was a big decision in my life because the band was everything at that stage. We lived together, we were touring all the time, it was this thing that we created and had given shape to and I really loved the band. But, in another way, it wasn't a difficult decision at all because it wasn't really a decision, it was just happening. The split was becoming a bit like the elephant in the room because the other guys in the band were really following this path into electronic effects and self-recycling on stage. They would play themselves through looping machines and stuff and I was on the hand drum; I wasn't really following this thing because I wasn't on my primary instrument. The desire to return to my main instrument which is the guitar and singing and lyric-writing was becoming really strong and it was just about getting really honest with each other rather than me making a big decision. Also, when your whole life is based on the continuation of your creative output, when that starts to dry up, you don't really have a choice but to make the changes that need to be done.
The band and I are all still really tight. I was quite proud of us in terms of how the transition went because they understood the most; they knew me the best, they're my best friends and they knew that I needed to make this change.
CM: You learned guitar in Cuba - what brought you out there?
NM: I was just very interested to do that at a young age. In my late teens I knew that I was crazy about music, but I wasn't necessarily sure what route to take. I've never been very good at looking far ahead, I always just look at what I want to do right now and so a mate of mine had just come back from Cuba and he was like, 'Nick, I've found this school and I just thought of you the whole time I was there, you should go to it'. So I turned up there, knocked on the door and asked if I could enrol. I was there for a short period, then when I got to the end of that period I was having a good time so I extended it, and then extended it again and stayed there for quite a while. I just got completely immersed in this different place. I learnt a lot technically as a musician but it was much more about just growing as a person and it really expanded my horizons.
CM: Have you done a lot of travelling?
NM: A fair bit, yeah. Obviously, over the years I've been travelling a lot because of the music but I have been very lucky; I had an amazing trip by myself in Brazil in 2006. That was off the hook, I had an amazing time and I formed the beginnings of a lot of material there that has then eventually become this album, 'First Mind', a long time later. Also, I had a very formative time in Morocco in North Africa and I got really deeply into the Gnawa music which is the traditional trance music there.
CM: You took some time out before you wrote your EP 'Fever To The Form' - what reasons did you have for this separation?
NM: When I left the band I knew that I needed to explore my creativity because I needed to rely on it consistently and not just write the occasional song when the mood hit me, I needed to deliver. I started to examine how songs came because, up to that point, it seemed that they just came when they wanted to. In a manner of speaking, that's still the case but I had to really go into it and that was a real personal journey. Writing a song can actually be really affected by the expectations you put on it. What you want to get out of it can put pressure on the process so I had to let go of any expectation on the creative process and say goodbye to labels, my management and my publisher. I rented a little room in Dalston for about two years and the first six months of which I went into like office hours; having all my instruments and just studying all my heroes - that was the main thing. I'd done a lot of guitar playing, working on my technique, but mostly I looked at songwriting and how the artists that I've always loved went about it. I couldn't watch enough documentaries about them, I read loads of books; I properly geeked out on it, basically, and I wrote 'First Mind' in that time.
CM: Which of your heroes did you study in particular?
NM: To name one name is difficult because people expect to hear that when they listen to my music but I looked at a lot of Paul Simon songwriting techniques and a lot of the big names such as John Lennon and how he uses sweet and sour in his songs. Then I looked at Neil Young and his meditative processes; he's an incredible songwriter in the way he goes about it but I wouldn't say he was an influence musically. The same goes for Prince, Nick Drake and John Martin, and then I looked to David Byrne as I like his songwriting in Talking Heads. Then there was Willie Dixon who wrote a lot of the old blues tunes for the likes of Muddy Waters and he has an amazing use of imagery.
CM: What does the rest of 2014 hold for Nick Mulvey?
NM: The sky's the limit, really! I'm looking forward mainly to my album release on May 12th, then the other key thing at the moment for me and for the rest of this year is that I'm putting a band together. The record I've made is more than just an acoustic guitar and one voice so it makes sense for me to go the same way in the live performance. I wanted to take my time in establishing myself as a solo performer which I have done, but I also want to keep growing and keep challenging myself. It's in the early stages but it will be ready for the summer tour. I do a full UK and Europe autumn tour I think as well. So that's what the plan is.
CM: Thanks very much for doing the interview, Nick!
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