woensdag 2 april 2008

Interview with The Invisible

Interview with The Invisible, 2 April

Amy Winehouse, Róisín Murphy, Matthew Herbert, Foals, Polar Bear, Jade Fox, Ladyhawke, Acoustic Ladyland: all of these names are in some way connected to Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert, and Leo Taylor. Individually they are musicians who honed their craft in the Jazz scene and worked in different bands and with several great artists. Together they make up the band The Invisible. A band who, with their debutalbum titled The Invisible, received some very positive reviews. The three gents are not only characterised by their musical finess, but also because they all somewhat used to operate in the background. So when we had the opportunity to ask Dave and Tom some questions, our first one was how they would describe each other and Leo in just five words.

Dave: Tom is the master of puns/ beard power, and Leo is: grass is greener/grapefruit sour. If I were to sum them both up in five words it would be: absurdly talented, beautiful, funny, inspiring.

Tom: (on Dave) infantile, obnoxious, self-obsessed, humourless and unsophisticated.

This trio, the master of beardpower, the grapefruit sour Leo, and the banal Dave, make music that is a mixture of experimentation, soul, and some intelligence. They are often compared to TV on the Radio, and they resemble somewhat the sound of those mature and experimental indie bands from the New York-scene. The spirit of the jazz and their musical craftmanship are two things that you can find embedded in their debutalbum. Another important characteristic that helped shape the album is, according to the band, being yourself and having an openness to be inspired. And inspiration, naturally, always, always comes when listening to Prince.

IKRS: I’ve heard you guys gush about Prince. Perhaps his music has been lost on the kids these days, what would you say to make everyone a mad fan again?

Dave: Don't fear excellence.

Tom: I find most people either love or hate Prince. But if I had to recommend a starting point for a Purple virgin it would be Sign Of The Times (either the album or the film) and Purple Rain (probably just the album - the film is not great unless you've decided that you're into Prince, in which case it's ace. One to save for later). Both these albums encapsulate everything I love about Prince. He's incredibly dirty and provocative, yet sensitive, honest and emotional. He rocks out but is always ridiculously funky. He plays with our notions of his sexuality and gender while remaining steadfastly confident about both. And the tunes and arrangements are amazing. He just covers so much ground and while both albums still sound new and fresh to me you can here hear the entire history of popular music in there. He's like Little Richard, Hendrix, Sly Stone and Duke Ellington all rolled into one. I don't know if you guessed yet, but I quite like him.

IKRS: Recurring words in your interviews seem to be “openness” and “open-mindedness”; could you describe their meaning to you and the importance of those words?

Dave: In my view, retaining an open mind is central to existing in a fulfilled way, creatively or otherwise. To be open requires courage and faith. You have to be prepared to be vulnerable but, in turn, this is how you are able to connect with yourself and others. In this mode you are far more likely to be nourished and inspired as you go through life, rather than isolating yourself by being closed and driven by fear. If I feel open, I feel free and that's a feeling I value dearly.

Tom: To me, open-mindedness means that you don't allow yourself to be restricted or limited by what you already know, to be open to new possibilities and not afraid of that which is unfamiliar or different. It means that you'll keep learning and developing and finding inspiration in all kinds of places.

IKRS: With that kind of openness you’re bound to get inspired by various non-musical things as well. Could you pinpoint some of those non-musical sources of inspiration, and how those come back in your music?

Dave: I feel like I'm affected by so much stuff outside of music, I'm not sure where to begin. Anything that inspires you will have an impact on your creativity. I find it all filters through somehow. Recently The Wire has been a huge inspiration. I find the writers' commitment to authenticity incredibly moving. I love the depth of the characterization and the way in which such faith is expressed in an audience's ability to engage with stories that never get told in the context of entertainment.

I've also recently finished The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. It's a novel that seems to operate on several levels simultaneously, at times absurdly mundane yet surreal and deeply philosophical as well as historically informative. I also love the paintings of my friend Charlie Mackesy. I love any form of expression that seems to encompass the full range of the human experience, the light and the dark. Hopefully the values that are identified in things which inspire us come out in the music we make. In the words of Charlie Kaufman through Nicolas Cage's character in the film Adaptation: "You are what you love."

Tom: I get very excited and inspired by visual art, particularly graphic design and comics. I guess there are parallels with music in that both mediums deal with form and the arrangement of content to convey an idea or ideas that will cause some kind of emotional or intellectual response in the person experiencing it. I think visual art inspires a different part of my creativity than music, but they are both very closely related. I often think about music in a visual way, for example in terms of structure and texture, light and shade. And different sounds will suggest a certain mood or colour to me.

I also think there are parallels between comic books or graphic novels and pop music in that both offer a framework for the artist to be incredibly creative and profound in a genre that can sometimes be seen as throw-away or unsophisticated. Both these forms can produce works that often say more about our culture and time and in a more direct and accessible way than what may traditionally be considered 'high art'. But mostly what I like is looking at the pretty colours and funny pictures.

The band released their debut album, titled The Invisible, a few weeks back. This album was produced by Matthew Herbert, who owns a record label and is a highly respected artist, producer, and everything really. Herbert always finds a way to get just that sound he is looking for. The band, for example, had to open and shut a creaking door, and drummer Leo Taylor had to drum in a hot air balloon and in the water. As in, with wetsuit and all.

IKRS: What does a day in the life of a Matthew Herbert studio look like?

Dave: The experience of being in the studio with Matthew is defined by some of the characteristics mentioned [in the question about openness]. The first time I recorded with him (on his album Scale); I was struck by how positive and confident he is in the studio. It makes for an amazing atmosphere. There's a strong and satisfying work ethic, a sense of adventure and of endless possibility. There's always a healthy portion of laughter. Limitations are treated as creative challenges and technology becomes an extension of the imagination.

Tom: I think Dave's answer sums this up very well.

The band is about to embark on a European tour. They will, for example, make an appearance at the Motel Mozaique festival in Rotterdam, where they will play in the small room of Watt around half past eleven.

IKRS: Do you like touring? I believe The National’s Matt Berninger once said that grown people shouldn’t be living on buses.

Dave: I have a love/hate relationship to touring. I couldn't do it all the time but after a while, I must confess, I start to miss it a little. It's nice when it's broken up into civilized chunks. And I feel massively privileged and energized by the prospect of playing our own music to audiences round the world. Although I'd agree buses aren't meant for living in, I marvel at the capacity of the human spirit to adapt! The main thing for me is to make sure you're playing music you love with people you love and eating well and moving around a little. And make sure you know your limits.

Tom: Touring has its upsides and its downsides. On the downside you're away from loved ones for long periods and touring conditions can be pretty draining. In some respects it seems pretty nuts to expend so much time and effort for what can often be a half hour gig. Sometimes even less. But the gig will nearly always make it worthwhile. If it doesn't then you need to be asking yourself some pretty important questions about why you're wasting so much of yours and other people’s time doing it. Or earning a lot of money. For me, the pleasure comes from having the luxury to hear the music change and develop night after night. Touring allows that. Hopefully the conditions won't be so bad and draining that any creative impulse dries up.

IKRS: You’re playing the Motel Mozaique festival here in Holland. Help us poor sods out, if you were a visitor, which bands would you go and see?

Dave: Only a handful of these artists are familiar to me so my instinct tells me to go for the stuff I haven't heard before. I think I would adopt the scattergun approach and try and take in as much as possible whilst remaining open to the possibility of being captivated by anything at any moment. I have to say most of the bands capture my imagination by their names alone. I've failed to answer the question. But I'm ok with that.

Tom: Of course, I would start by deciding to see The Invisible and then see what fits around that. I don't really know any of the other bands so maybe it would be a case of choosing the bands whose names you liked the best. I don't know anything about horse racing but that's the technique I use when I'm laying bets. I've never won anything though, so maybe that's not such a great idea.

IKRS: I’ve read that Dave said that songs are never finished and that they are always in motion. In that light, remixes could be an important inspiration point. If you could pick anyone, who do you think would do an inspiring remix?

Dave: We've been lucky to have some amazing remixes so far and they have definitely informed the development and life of these songs so far. It's always really exciting to hear other people rework your ideas. I'd love to hear what James Murphy or Brian Eno or Johnny Greenwood would do to a mix, to name but a few.

Tom: I would have loved to have J Dilla do a remix for us. That would have been amazing. His death was such a tragedy. (J Dilla, or James Dewitt Yancey, was an American hip-hop producer that was seen as one of the most influential in that scene. If you are expecting a brutal rap star dead I will have to disappoint you, he died of the blood disease TTP at the age of thirty-two. –ed)

The debut album of The Invisible has received some raving reviews from, among others, the BBC, the Quietus, Clash, Mojo, and Time Out. And we have been plugging and hyping them for ages! Their mix of indie rock, jazz, funk and maturity makes for a sound that has been sorely missed in Great Britain. The album is available, or you can find the band during the Motel Mozaique festival.

(The first two pictures, as well as the last, are made by Mads Perch. We thank the band and Stacey from Bang On PR)