Interview: Hidden Orchestra

On October 1st you released your second album "Archipelago" on Tru Thoughts and Denovali. What does the name of the album represent?
Archipelago - 'a chain of islands' - refers to the way that the album is an attempt to write a 'proper album' of tracks that are related to each other - so each of the tracks are like musical islands, all built from the same materials (rocks, grass - drums, orchestral textures) but each with their own topography (coastline, size and shape - form and structure), and collected together in a mutual setting (sea, sky - the overall album aesthetic). It can also refer to other things, such as the way the live band interact on stage, or any other meaning that occurs to the listener.
What are the new aspects of Hidden Orchestra that we'll get to find in this new album?
This album features several new guest musicians - most notably Mary Macmaster on harps, Tomas Dvorak (aka Floex) on clarinet, and more extensive use of trumpeter Phil Cardwell.  This is alongside the players from the first album, especially Su-a Lee (cello) and Fraser Fifield (sax and whistles).
Some of the pieces are more developed, and there is more of an emphasis on the orchestration perhaps.

How different was the process of making this album compared to your beautiful debut "Night Walks".
I write all the music alone in my studio, so the process was almost the same - particularly as they were both written over a 6-8 year period, so there was several years overlapping when I was working on both albums at the same time. Therefore there are inevitable similarities - it may even be fair to say that Archipelago is essentially made of material that was not finished in time for Night Walks... The process is essentially just me working in my studio, slowly creating, developing and mixing the material over a long period of time, with musicians dropping in occasionally for short solo recording sessions.

"Night Walks" became a sensation around Europe, getting a lot of attention both for the music and for your live shows. Did you feel any pressure while making "Archipelago", after the success of the debut?
Certainly. This was actually part of the thinking of trying to avoid 'second album syndrome' by attempting to finish the second album at the same time as the first... In the end, it took a couple of years longer - and when in the past you have just been writing music for yourself, just because you want to hear it, it's then difficult not to be aware that some people are probably going to listen to what you are now writing - and it can be hard not to think about that while you are writing it. This can lead to occasional self-conscious moments, and tracks that start ok but don't work out - the best stuff is always when I get lost in the flow of producing the music, following it naturally by instinct, instead of trying to imagine what other people will think about it when they hear the final product...
The music video of "Vorka" is a dedication to Slavo Vorkapic. What is it in his work that made you pay an homage to him with your first ever video?
 I stumbled across Vorkapic whilst reading about film-making techniques, and instantly was captivated by his work. I needed a title for the track I was working on, which was built out of short episodes I wrote for a radio drama layered in a collage over some beats - and so I thought it would nice to make a reference to a pioneer of montage in the track's title. So when it came to making a video for the track, it then seemed natural to connect that reference to the visual form.

How does being from Edinburgh affect your music?
I'm not actually originally from Edinburgh. I grew up in various parts of the South of England, moving around a lot, and have now lived in Edinburgh for 12 years, longer than I have lived anywhere else.
Being here has had all kinds of positive effects on the music - from being away from the melting-pot of London and having the space to develop my own style in relative isolation from other artists in related scenes, to the incredible amount and variety of excellent musicians I get to hear, meet, record and perform with, from all sorts of backgrounds, especially classical and folk.The influence of traditional Scottish music is especially apparent on Archipelago.

Any suggestions for new bands/artists from Edinburgh we should google?
Macmaster/Hay - folk duo featuring my regular collaborator harpist Mary Macmaster - check out the track "Thograinn Thograinn"
Poppy Ackroyd
You've toured a lot with in the last 2 years, doing solo shows and festivals all over Europe. What is the weirdest venue or line-up that you had to go through?
We've been lucky to play in some amazing places - boats on the Seine and the Danube, lakes in Switzerland, a warehouse in Cairo, an old fort on a small French island, numerous converted factories and abattoirs across Europe, lots of nice concert halls and jazz venues, a huge spider-like scrapheap sculpture at Glastonbury, an old London Underground station... The weirdest line-up was probably a support band we had in France, whose amazing live show consisted mostly of rattling chains and throwing pieces of metal across the stage wearing medieval costumes and jumping and shouting a lot - spectacular.
What part does spontaneity play in your live shows? It is jazz, after all.
 Well..... it's not really jazz though - I have no background, training or skills in jazz, nor does most of the live band. There is some influence from jazz, mostly in some of the drum arrangements and doublebass basslines, occasional instrumental hooks - but I would say the influences are much greater from classical, hip hop, post-rock, drum and bass, folk and traditional music. After I have produced the studio tracks as heard on record, I then arrange the parts for the live band to play - even all the drum parts are notated and learnt, which contributes to the way that they inter-lock. So mostly everything is very carefully arranged and orchestrated.
However, there is occasionally space for bits of improvisation in the live show - short solo sections in the drums, or a little cadenza from a guest instrumental player perhaps. Even though the notes are nearly all nearly always the same, there is still a lot of variety between all the live shows, as they depend so much on the energy in the room, and the interaction with the crowd and the space.
Describe what it is that makes Tru Thoughts a label with such a great taste. How do they affect your work?
Tru Thoughts have been great to work with - they are very supportive, offer great distribution, and have the kind of business sense that means they still exist as an independent label after 13 years hard work.. They are also really open creatively to allowing their artists to explore and develop in their own ways.
How do you feel about playing in Athens? What should we expect from the show?
We're very excited to come and do our first show in Greece - especially after it had to be postponed since earlier this year. We're bringing guest trumpeter Phil Cardwell, who features heavily in recent single 'Spoken', and will be playing material from both Night Walks and Archipelago - can't wait!

Hidden Orchestra will perform at Six Dogs on November 10th. Tickets: 15 Euros. Do not miss this show.

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