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Livemusic interviews... Nick Mulvey
Livemusic favourite Nick Mulvey has had a triumphant couple of weeks. His debut album ‘First Mind’ landed firmly in the top ten, a headline UK tour announcement swiftly followed, some stunning outings at the BBC’s finest musical outlets in the shape of the Radio 1 Live Lounge and Later with… Jools Holland happened, and then, as if he hadn’t smacked the ball so comprehensively out the park already, Nick confirmed his place amongst the already stunning Pyramid Stage roster at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Let’s not beat around the bush, the guy done good.
We have seen it coming for a hot minute now, but boy, is it ever great to witness in the flesh. Livemusic editor Thom met up with Nick in a glorious coffee spot (in the middle of a thunderstorm) in Stoke Newington the day after his triumphant sell-out show at Village Underground (his first London show with his new band no less) to see how the big time was treating Nick. He was beaming. Read what went down after the three dots . . .
Livemusic: “Let’s start with last night. How was that for you?”
Nick Mulvey: “It was a beautiful experience. Specifically from ‘Meet Me There’ onwards. There was ‘Meet Me There’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Home’ solo and ‘Nitrous’, ‘Fever To The Form’ and ‘Cucurucu’; that run was where I really became present, relaxed. Before that I realised I was saying ‘thank you’ with the sentiment of ‘fuck you’. It was surreal man, a truly amazing experience. Take a look at this man (shows photo of crowd on iPhone) - you know a lot of hard work went into that…
LM: “Where are we then?”
NM: “Yeah where were you guys?”
LM: “We were near the back, I think I can see Luke, there he is, I think that’s him…”
NM: “The round head?”
LM: “Yeah that little potato popping out right there…”
LM: “So you say it got to a stage when you were in the zone so to speak. From a crowd member’s perspective that wasn’t apparent whatsoever. The lighting was the first thing that blew my socks off, it was then when I fully realised the amount of thought that had been put into the entire performance. The mysterious back lit silhouette, but slowly you becoming more present. From the get-go there was something extremely special going on, however, I remember you saying ‘YES’ with real vigour at some point during the set, was that the point when you were fully there?
NM: “Definitely. I am happy that we are in a position where we have rehearsed enough that when we are 80% there, you know, you’re there, you’re present, but just below the point where it feels you are properly opened up but from the outside it still feels like you’re delivering. So, when I say that I arrived there on the fourth, fifth song, I mean I only arrived there in a ‘special’ way. I had that same sensation the other night on Jools Holland. I had to really take a moment the next morning; I woke up ashen, really disappointed you know, and even though there’s a certain self-indulgence to feeling really bad when you probably smacked it, I knew that I was more nervous than 100% relaxed to the point where I didn’t want to watch it back. But I watched it again eventually and realised that it was cool…
LM: “I don’t think there’s anything self indulgent about feeling that way. Jools Holland is some milestone shit…”
NM: “It is. You know, it’s my managers I’m most happy for, I mean it’s all of us, but in their world Jools Holland really means a lot. There is a perfection to it that when it arrives I honestly don’t think I was ready for that platform earlier, even though we have been pushing for it for a long time. For ages they didn’t seem to take more than a glance and at a glance they just saw me as a guy with a guitar. I always thought ‘they’ll get it and when they do it will be the right time’ and I feel like it was.”
LM: “In contrast to a live show, your own show, where you can take your time over things, the production values must be quite a different proposition on something like Jools Holland. How did the experience treat you?”
NM: “It was ridiculously intense. I mean the (BBC Radio 1) Live Lounge was really intense but I just pushed through and found a very relaxed place and was just chuckling around and joking come the end. Jools Holland was the next level. You can’t ‘unknow’ that you are playing to millions of people and that it is a driver for your career, all in one go. so it’s fair to say I was bricking it and it was such sweet relief when I got to the end and got there alright. In the moment it was very dream like…”
LM: “What exactly was going through your mind when you were playing your songs?”
NM: “At that stage I don’t even know what I was thinking…”
LM: “Getting to the bottom of what you were thinking would be a fascinating thing to understand. I’ve seen you play a fair few times now, from the Secret Garden Party, to The Shacklewell Arms and now Village Underground, but getting to the bottom exactly where you find yourself as a performer, while performing would be truly eye-opening…”
NM: “I find you can pinpoint it.”
LM: “Yeah?”
NM: “yeah… the rhetoric is that you often go to a place, an ‘away’ or something, whereas the experience is the complete opposite. You become really ‘present’ in a really relaxed way and there is a real calm alertness to it. Once I have found that place I can acknowledge the front row. It’s miraculous how it happens, you beam and they beam and then it can really happen. That’s when things start to land really beautifully, in the right order, in the right way.”
LM: “On the subject of production values and ‘upping your game’ so to speak, your gig at Village Underground was the first time I had seen you play with your new band. Let’s talk about that as you are very much no longer just ‘a guy with a guitar’…”
NM: “Everything has been spied from a long way off, planned, and talked about with my manager. We’ve been talking about it since October. Over the course of the years we had taken the solo thing as far as we could go with it production wise, the correct set order, caring about every detail, and it took a long time. I quickly went from doing pub gigs to arenas and I was all over the place you know, I didn’t have the right cables, there wasn’t enough electricity in my system to reach the back of the bigger venues. It was like trying to project a film onto a wall that was miles away, so I needed to get these pre-amps to boost my signal and I used to sing away from the microphone because I wasn’t confident and these Mexican sound men would talk to me backstage and say ‘hombre, hombre get on the mic, get on the mic’ and I didn’t believe in myself as a writer so I didn’t dare put my imagery out that big. The internal growth and external growth are so one, you could chart my progression and confidence as an artist in inches to the microphone, I’m there, now I’m on it, now I can tell you how I feel…”
NM: “So two years of all those sides took us to where I felt was the perfect show at the Scala in February of this year and again, I pushed through like I did last night but it was a really great gig, I was in command, gentle but firm command, and you know, nod to the label up here, Mum and Dad down there, it was a lovely moment man. The journey led to the one perfect gig and the next morning I met with my manager Will and he was like ‘right we’ve got to make the move, now we’ve got to change it, it’s now or never, all of these murmurings about a band, we’ve now got to action that process.”
LM: “Full steam ahead…”
NM: “Exactly. But what happens at that stage is there is no grace period for you to find your feet. It took us two years to get that London show, but now you’ve got to get a whole band together, but you’ve got six weeks. We had to really measure it and for the last six weeks I’ve basically done nothing else but work on this. So I rang up Milo (Portico Quartet) and it was really funny man, we met in the pub for a pint and I was just like ‘so, do you wanna be in my band?’ And he was sweet about it and was like ‘yeah man’. We played it down, but I’ve always felt really strongly about our intuition as musicians and know that he knows what I mean about ‘space’. He does these features that I’ve always been drawn to, and, you known, without waffling, there was a miniature healing in that as well, I wanted to tap into the past to move on you know…”
“We went through a process of meeting a bunch of drummers, the fourth one was Dan who I’ve known a long time. He’s Egyptian man, I like him, he used to play with Jamie Woon, and then Chris (keys) was the only player I hadn’t met before but funnily enough felt very much cut from the same cloth. The sweet part, about 10-20 days into the sessions I realised I needed another voice for the parts where I double tracked my voice on the record, and once I realised I wanted that part it was a no-brainer to ask Isadora who sung a lot on the record. It was beautiful man, but obvious.”
LM: “Let’s talk ‘First Mind’. The tone of your debut album is very considered. It’s very precise and really works. My favourite albums ever are those albums that really stay true to one character or personality. Let’s talk about the record, what you were going for and to what extent you feel you achieved it…”
NM: “It’s an interesting question because it’s a funny one reflecting on things after the event because it is very different during it. Tone is a very emergent thing for me, I didn’t know it at the time, I didn’t have that overview or perspective when I was writing. We got to the very end of the album process in October last year, the last emails were going around, and we were gonna go to mastering the next day. But I just knew that I needed one more day in the studio. I already had this pattern in my head called ‘First Mind’ and I had ‘why would we ever second guess when we all know that first mind is best’, but nothing else. I had all the melodies and all of the phrasing, I was just mumbling ‘um diddly um dum’ and I’d had that for a year but I just couldn’t bring myself to write it, still I blabbed to the label about this amazing new song I had called ‘First Mind’ and they got really excited about it. I had this one last day in the studio, and yet, that last song landed me the album title and seemed to sum up certain things that I was searching for. It ended up being track one on the the record so, you know, you can get things that come right at the end that actually end up at the beginning and while it may sound like a tonal thing you have devised, which you have, it often comes about from all over the place…
LM: “I like the whole ‘one last day in the studio’ approach, let’s get stuck in and see what else we can find…”
NM: “It was really strong man, I had to get the Victoria Line down to Brixton and then it’s about fifteen bus stops to Streatham. Everyday was a long commute, however, it was during that final run of fifteen stops that I nailed the lyrics. The pressure of ‘now or never’ pushed me into a first mind sort of state where I was like ‘say what you mean’, so it had a real resonance to it. There is only a long answer to that and I’m the last person to ask in some ways because I’m so involved in it, I’m just making the music I know how to make and it’s only with a bit of distance that I will ever work this stuff out (pause)… to be in the middle is to be unaware of the edge sometimes”
Nick Mulvey’s ‘First Mind’ is out now on Fiction Records. Click here to learn more.
Posted 30th May by Thom
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