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Erland and the Carnival

Erland and the Carnival

Tuesday 9th August, 2011 9:30AM

Seminal Brit Pop musician Simon Tong - formerly of The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad and the Queen - joins forces with folk fundamentalist Erland Cooper, and on Nightingale continue a musical lineage obsessed with Anglo-history.

Hey, where are you guys at the moment?

Well, I’m currently at a friend of my wife’s party in London, so it’s nice.

You have just released sophomore album, Nightingale. I hear you recorded it in the hull of a war ship?

Yeah, it was a war ship that has studios and offices in it but it was moored on the Thames and through a friend of a friend we found out about this studio in the hull of the ship under water level. When I say 'studio', it was a room that was very damp and we took it over and filled it with our recording equipment. We were looking for somewhere interesting to complete the record and it was free and it was in a really interesting place; bang in the centre of London - it was perfect to create our own little subversive studio in the middle of commuter land. So we commuted every day and we’d get the tube with all the commuters and they’d all go to their jobs in banks or whatever and we’d just slope off into this boat and make strange music.

Did you get an interesting sound considering you were semi-underwater?

Yeah because we were below the waterline we got these strange echos and things. There’s so much traffic on the Thames too that there’s all these noises from barges and tourist boats. When something passes you hear these strange reverberations and echoes which is funny because we’ll be listening to a track we made and we can hear something and we’re like ‘did we make that sound?’ In the end we tried to add these sounds to give the music a strange, ghostly feel.

What were you trying to explore musically on the album?

On our first album a lot of the songs were traditional folk songs that we’d modernized so we wanted to keep to a similar theme with this one, but really early on in the recording process I found this picture that I’d remembered as a child in the seventies. There was a famous house in England where poltergeists supposedly lived, and so it was all over the media in the seventies and there were photographs of her being thrown through the ear or jumping through the ear – depends if you believe in ghosts. It’s what we used for the album cover and it’s her suspended in mid-air. We discovered that quite early on when we recorded and it seemed like such a powerful image. It’s not a concept album but we had this idea of ghosts through the album and we wanted to create this supernatural presence. Rather than any direct concept it’s this idea of the supernatural and it’s quite a powerful thing when you’re a child and you’re growing up; it feels a lot more real and scary. We still wanted to try and weave that childhood imagination into the songs and the feel of the whole record.

The music on the album has this really dark, cinematic element to it. How did you go about translating those ideas into music?

Um, I think we just read poems and books and films. There’s one song in the record called 'Emeline' and the start of it is a cover of the theme song to Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock. It really sets the tone of that mysteriousness. A lot of the action takes place on the docks which means it has this watery feel and of course we recorded it on a ship too which added to the whole watery feel of it. We kind of trawl a lot of old poems and adapt ideas from poems and books. We like the idea of taking things from history and putting them in a new setting; into the 21st century. You're still keeping the essence of something that’s old but really taking it into a completely new environment.

What draws you to these poems or literary works?

I suppose it comes form the folk music tradition really. In the folk music tradition in Ireland and England and Scotland you kind of have songs that are passed down for hundreds of years and I’m sure it’s the same in New Zealand and Australia. You have people who came over and brought songs and things with them and tell them to their children and their children’s children. Some things get lost over time. The words might change and the melody might change and their own personality gets added to it and it continues to warp and change. So that was the idea behind the album; to take something and and just slightly change it and put it in a slightly different context. We are essentially a folk band even though we are electric, we don’t sound like a folk band but we take a lot of traditional folk ideas. I suppose we’re quite open about our influences – I’m sure there are a lot of musicians who wouldn’t want to admit they pinched something from somewhere but we’re quite open and admit we took that from there and that from there and mixed it all up.

And so you released Nightingale a few months ago, what have you been up to?

Yeah we’ve toured the UK and went over to America to do SXSW and that whole kind of thing and played some gigs in New York and then a lot around Europe and Germany and Holland and Switzerland so we’ve been on the road. Me and the singer Erland are doing this side project which happened realy quickly actually. In February we started it in our spare time and it’s almost finished. Erland is from the Northland which is this island at the top of Scotland – probably the most remote part of the British Isles – and we really want to do a record about these islands, so it’s like a musical travelogue, which we’re really pleased with. It’s a continual process, even though you finish an album you keep recording and keep writing. There are no full stops.

-Courtney Sanders

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