An extraordinary year in many ways. How did it affect you specifically?
In late February, just two weeks before the first lockdown we played a couple of gigs in London organised by Ian from Gare du Nord records & Papernut Cambridge. It seemed like a small step towards attracting a greater audience and building on some of the recent album reviews. But as a result of COVID like so many musicians we were forced into a change of plan; from promoting our last album to creating a new one. We bought some recording equipment and started demoing songs for the next album in our practice room. So overall we’ve changed our music-making process from working on fully-formed songs to creating something in the ‘studio’ on a new palette of instruments that includes new synths and pedals. We’ll go into a proper studio early next year and record what I believe is going to be a great album.
Overall though we’re fortunate that we don’t rely on music for our income and I really feel for those artists who have had to put everything on hold during the pandemic – it’s been a completely devastating year for musicians, venues, engineers and everyone who works in the industry.
Where did music fit in during 2020? Does it seem important?
In the absence of live music, recorded work seemed to take on even more importance for people this year. With much more time spent at home, there were added opportunities to listen to music and discover new artists through word-of-mouth rather than through the live scene. The various stages of lockdown defined the music I listened to throughout the year. For me being confined to the house presented an opportunity to investigate artists I had ignored for too long; in particular going through the work of Alice Coltrane; from her early jazz albums to the more orchestrated albums and then into the transcendental/spiritual later recordings.
Similarly, in the second lockdown, I started checking out Pentangle and solo Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Pentangle are a band I had somehow missed even though I’ve regularly back-tracked through the work of their contemporaries in the English folk scene of the 60s and 70s. This year there was also that brief moment between lockdowns during the summer when the fog seemed to lift and time was spent listening to Guided by Voices and a great debut album (Hit to Hit) from a band called 2nd Grade – just great songwriting in the style of Pavement or Big Star.
What albums resonated this year? Can be old or new.
Like a lot of people, I used the time to finally take out records that maybe had been gathering dust. In particular I re-connected with These New Puritans and their 2013 album Field of Reeds which is an absolutely brilliant work – it clearly rewards repeat listening but needs time and space to work its way into your consciousness. Homegrown from Neil Young is a great listen, possibly one of his best albums and representative of peak-era Neil, it finally got a release after 45 years. Jason Molina’s final recorded work Eight Gates is brilliant too, it’s amongst his finest and most personal work and it’s a poignant and reflective listen.
Other albums that resonated with me included work of ambient sound artists old and new including the latest album from Black to Comm (Oocyte Oil and Stolen Androgens), Ernst Hood (Neighborhoods), Hiroshi Yoshimura (Music for Nine Postcards) and William Basinski who produced another gem of an album (Lamentations). Mary Lattimore’s Silver Ladders is another fine instrumental album that I’m listening to a lot recently.
In Ireland, Wow and Flutter records didn’t seem to put a foot wrong with new work from Department of Forever and Noise Trees. The contemporary classical works of Irene and Linda Buckley continue to impress with Linda Buckley’s From Oceans Floor (featuring larla Ó’Lionáird and the Crash Ensemble) being another highlight of the year. I’d highly recommend contemporary music fans to listen to listen back to John Schaefer’s (New York public radio) hour-long special on the music of Irene and Linda Buckley.
If you had to pick one album to sum up this year, what would it be?
At the moment it’s Black to Comm ‘Oocyte Oil and Stolen Androgens’, essentially dark and brooding but repeated listening reveals the beauty within (check out the track Stolen Androgens). Maybe there’s some light at the end of the 2020 tunnel.
How have you got through the last 7 or 8 months?
As a band we’ve been surprisingly busy. When restrictions allowed we spent a lot of time in the practice room and now have probably about 15 or so songs demoed and ready to whittle down to a reasonable number for proper recording in 2021. During the stricter lockdown periods, we worked on song arrangements with West Cork composer and arranger Justin Grounds by swapping files remotely between our studios. Again, it’s an approach to working that we haven’t taken before and hopefully will yield some interesting results when we re-record and put everything together early next year. We also took the opportunity to release a single this year called ‘By the Time’ which we recorded in our studio and had professionally mastered – for us it’s relatively lo-fi but it captures a moment in time. If you listen closely you can hear noise from the street below.
Are you working on any interesting projects?
Our plan is to put together the best album possible in 2021. It’ll be album number 4 and a progression of the sound palette we used on Before there was Air. It turns out that a lot of the new songs are split into different sections – so a 5 minute song might contain 3 sections one of which is mostly instrumental & the different sections will be recorded separately. So it might be a challenge to record and mix – we’ll see how it works out! Again, we’re interested in creating an album with songs that merge or fit together in some way.
Any hopes for next year?
Just a hope for an effective vaccine, a return to normality, world peace, political stability, the fair redistribution of global wealth and an end to global warming – is that too much to ask? If we can realise our artistic vision for album number 4 it will be an added bonus.