Interview

International Observer/Holiwater Project

International Observer/Holiwater Project

Monday 3rd February, 2014 11:21AM

British musician Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins, emerged out of New Zealand with dub/downbeat project International Observer in the early 2000s going on to release a number of records as well as featuring on local label Round Trip Mars notable compilation series Sideways. Having since moved back to the UK, Bailey is currently back in New Zealand for Splore Festival where he'll perform both as International Observer and with the Holiwater Band. Interested to find out more about the later ahead of the festival next weekend we put a few questions to him over email...

Hey Tom, how are you?

I'm very well, thanks. I arrived in NZ last week and immediately went to Central Otago and cycled the rail trail. So I'm happily exhausted.

Where are you writing from at the moment?

Sitting in Conch Records, Ponsonby Rd, Auckland... catching up with my old neighborhood. The coffee is great, of course.

The Holiwater Band is an offshoot of the Holiwater Project, part of which is focusing attention to the sustainable management of water, how does the band contributes to this....

We first met working on early shoots of the Holiwater Project documentary film being made by NZ photographer Andrei Jewell. We shared a concern for the desperate problems of water conservation around the world - particularly symbolised by the Ganges river system in India. The ironic veneration of the Ganga as the holiest of all water sources to the Hindus, whilst it's being dammed and polluted on an epic scale was the focus of our attention. As musicians, we find the river an endless source of inspiration, too. But it's a mess: approaching half a billion people live on it's riperian hinterland, but it's also now being used as an industrial resource on an unprecedented scale and an effectively uncontrolled sewer for the resultant effluent. By the time it gets to Varanasi, where some of our musicians live, it is technically dead: that is to say that it contains no dissolved oxygen. Rather, it has become a vast anaerobic soup. How are those people, let alone the generations to come, going to survive? Sadly, this story is being repeated around the world as corporations ignore the time-honored relationship of population to water-source in order to expand business profits. The poorest people inevitably pay the price - and in the long term, unrecoverable damage is done to the sustainability of life, health and happiness of the many in order to create the wealth of a few. This is a heavy message, but I feel obliged to speak it clearly: If we don't wake up to the self-made ecological disaster being forced upon us, there will be nothing left to discuss. I would encourage anyone to actively contribute in whatever way they can to prevent the acceptance of this stae of global affairs.

Tell us a little bit about writing the songs for your forthcoming album with Holiwater...

The album was done in various locations because we live in three different countries, so have to be opportunistic about getting in a studio wherever we are. But the bulk of the initial tracking was done in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India in February last year. A couple of tracks (and drum overdubs) were cut in Auckland during our last visit. Then I finished it all off in London and Ariege, France. In terms of the writing, that was done in various ways, too. Much of it arose from long, happy times spent sitting together and trying out ideas. Other pieces were assembled from fragments of recorded melodies, reshaped in the later studio sessions into full works.

How did the different locations influence the sound of the album...

These always have effects on us as individuals. As artists, we must respond to these effects. We now have an affectionate relationship with all the places we have worked in... New Zealand and India being foremost amongst them, I think. Musicians, by the nature of their work, travel a lot - so they can acquire a global perspective. That's become one of our interests: the way traditions from around the world can join and mix into something new.

Has Holiwater been your main focus or are there any other projects you have been working on?

I'm busy with other projects, too. International Observer (also playing at Splore) is always active. I've also been pulled back into sythesiser pop by working with Alex Syntek. This has been a suprisingly fruitful encounter: He got me singing again for the first time in decades... and now I'm about to announce a major tour performing a retrospective catalogue. It starts in midsummer in the UK, then goes to the US and Central America. So there's a varied year of exciting gigs in prospect.

You performance with Holiwater at Splore will feature music from the upcoming album - what else can the audience expect?

I'm sure we'll play some of the new material. But don't forget that it's essentially an improvised music, so it's not possible to predict exactly how we will do it. That's going to be part of the enjoyment for us, too.

Your last International Observer album was released in 2009 – what are your plans (if any) to release another album?

As for International Observers' next album- there are already new tracks recorded, but this year is already turning into a busy one so it may be later in the Northern autumn before I get a chance to do more.

While being in London must be an amazing experience with the scene over there – what do you miss about New Zealand?

I miss the people, the nature, access to open space - which is a rarer experience in Europe, especially London. And of course, NZ has it's own scene in terms of the creative world. I find that disciplines are less segregated here, too. I'm more likely to meet painter's, film makers, writers etc mixing with musicians than in the London music biz which is more monolithic.

Anything else you’d like to add?

No, but I'm seriously looking forward to Splore. See you there!

related gigs
Splore 2014
Fri 14th Feb, Tapapakanga Regional Park, Auckland


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