martes, agosto 21, 2012

Nicola Hitchcock: Tales from a Blue World.

...That Summer we talked endlessly
always about everything...

In My Memory, DJ Tiësto

If you happen to be in your 20s, you are probably fascinated by the music from the last bit of the 20th century. It comes not as a surprise. An incredible amount of talent and originality gathered around a crowd of young artists who virtually revolutionized the way music was created and the effect it had in people. Many labels were devised in an attempt to classify their musical styles, but often they would escape any definition and step into new frontiers. One of those persons is Nicola Hitchcock. Singer, composer, multi instrumentalist, member of the acclaimed Mandalay duo, and above all, artist.
It’s also more than likely that some of her songs have got to become soundtracks of your own life. "Like her", "You did a good thing" —a song virtually no one I know seems to dislike even from the 1st play— or "All or nothing" have decorated so many chill out lounges, but also so intimate moments that sooner or later you ask yourself about the person behind. So, when I came across her website, got immediately captivated by her sincerity and decided to take a chance and contact her.
My 1st impression was confirmed: A treasure once lost and waiting to shine again in the sun.

—Nicola, in a now famous definition, David Stubbs, from Melody Maker, described your voice as a ‘fantastic kind of static shudder… so scary beautiful as liquid nitrogen sculpture’. Do you agree with that? Hahaha… But in fact, your voice, your lyrics and your whole musical legacy has evolved over time from pure warm folk tunes to extremely sophisticated concepts. Hey, where is the real Nicola?
—I am here! :) There are many different sides to me... I love Soul and Motown, leftfield musicians and composers and also pure pop... My solo album was released in '93 and the songs for that were written in the late 80s and early 90s... My work with Mandalay began in '95, quite a long time later... My focus for my solo album was to make an album of stripped down, very direct songs in the most straight forward way possible and at the time I thought that would be hiring some great musicians and making it a pure acoustic thing... In it's way the album A Bowl of Chalk was kind of minimalistic, as most of Mandalay's recordings were... So there was a vague connection and follow-through perhaps, even though the vibe and sounds were very different (because of the work of Saul, as sole musician/composer of the backing music)... The ethos of Mandalay was always "less is more"... And I continue on with that leaning and favour that approach even now I am back to being a solo artist...
—But what has been the center of gravity of your whole career so far, Nicola? I mean, what is the fundamental question you have tried to address through your work?
—I don't think I have tried to address anything really ... —Nicola hesitates here a bit before going on— Working with Saul —Mandalay's cofounder— was enlightening because he was always very focused about such things... Making the music had to be thought about and constructed and have a clear ethos and to be saying something specific... My only ethos, if I had one, was to make music that was clear and simple... And honest and heartfelt in terms of the lyrics and vocals... only ethos, if I had one, was to make music that was clear and simple... And honest and heartfelt in terms of the lyrics and vocals...

Nicola Hitchcock
—Your collaboration with Saul Freeman in Mandalay yielded your very 1st serious hit and gained considerable success over its seven years lifespan. It has been cited your frustration over Saul’s degree of control over instrumentation, arrangement and production as a cause to its end, but do you still consider it as the right decision after all those years?
—It would have been much more enjoyable and fulfilling for me to have been included in the music and respected for my musicianship and ability as a producer - I never thought it would be otherwise until we got into making the first album with a co-producer and then I was facing a very closed-ranks situation that was very difficult to infiltrate... I don't want to dwell on this now... It's all in the past...
Saul is extremely talented and I still love the work I made with him as Mandalay, his production and arranging skills are awesome, but it was always a very difficult relationship for me both creatively and personally and I have no regrets about leaving.
—Personal misfortunes that hit our lives usually leave a deep mark in everything we do. How those things have influenced your own career?
—Wow.. that's a heavy question. Because I am dealing with artistic expression and emotional honesty is key for me in that, the extreme highs and lows are the times when you feel most compelled to express your feelings... So I guess those are always going to influence the work most heavily... Having said that, my new material is all about the meditative experience, about letting go and the bigger picture... About breathing and being...
—Emotional honesty, a very interesting concept... But let me get even a bit more personal here, Nicola. People often say some particular songs landmark particular moments of their lives. Some bring intense emotional reactions. Which ones are those for you?
—Well... The other night I was listening to "Summer Breeze" and drinking gin with a friend... it just all came together and that song totally hit the mark... Absolute bliss! I heard backing vocals that I'd never heard so clearly before... Genius track :).
—As of lately, one of my favorite songs is from your 1998 album Empathy, "Insensible". Your voice there sends me goose bumps around the middle of the song when it appears naked. What is your own all times favorite work?
—Well actually that song is probably my favourite Mandalay track, along with any of our b-sides, and also "Like her" (which I really wanted to be a single but... ), but my all time favourite at the moment is one of my new songs which will be released on a new EP in the coming months (hint hint!)...
—Wow, that's wonderful news, Nicola! But now that is a particular request: I have suggested music from a variety of artists to listen along while reading many of my tales on this very same blog. Nitin Sawhney, Goldfrapp, Imogen Heap, Chairlift, Zero 7, Massive Attack, Sepiamusic, Beth Orton, and many more. This the beauty of music: You can devise a story that has little to do with the original intention of the music author, and it still works! But odd as it may seem, I have yet to find a good tale to fit any of your songs. Could you recommend any of them as inspiration for a short story about love, loss and hope? That should come as an easy thing since you have written plenty of impressive pieces. Yes, I know some folks at CBS’s CSI came first there…
—Um... If I understand you correctly, I would maybe suggest "You forget" .. ? Or "Safer now" .. ? —Nicola winks at me.
—Okay, that's a deal! Now I would like to turn to your collaboration works. How would you rate the collaborations you have made with the avant-garde scene? People like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brann, Ibizarre, Elswick, the late Hector Zazou… Have they paid off in terms of your own musical evolution? I mean, what is it to work with such immense musical geniuses?
—One of my favourite tracks to date is "Morning" with Sakamoto... Being given that piano piece to compose a melody and lyric too was a true gift. I would LOVE to work with him again but I haven't been able to track him down... I don't know if he has ever heard the track or if he likes it at all... The piece was given to Hector Zazou who passed it to me and later added his own stunning string arrangement (Hector did)... So if anyone out there is in touch with Sakamoto and could ask him what he thought and pass on my contact details... I would be in seventh heaven to work with him again —she grins.
—Yes, I have listened to "Morning" several times now. Not your regular easy-listening piece, but it surely grabs your heart as your voice evolves through the strange and beautiful string arrangements. So I vividly recommend you to let yourself be captured by its delicate textures. So, where is Nicola going? Your own projects for the future, your current interests, the artists you would love to work with, the music landscapes you would like to explore... I mean, where will be Nicola in, let's say, 2020?
... Minimalistic, heartfelt, meditative, sparse...

Nicola Hitchcok on her new EP, Quarterbright

—I am just finishing up a new collection of songs for a 4-track EP release -the songs/production is minimalistic, heartfelt, meditative, sparse-... I would love to work with Elizabeth Fraser (or just meet her and hope that I could speak!) who I saw (twice) at the Southbank centre recently... So moving... She is mega GIFTED to a ridiculous degree... And her band are/were amazing... And as I said, working with Sakamoto again would be great. Also I love Susanna and the magical orchestra -Susanna Wallumrød- I would love to work with/meet her... And to work with Paul Buchannan would be great too. Stephan Micus would be totally inspiring for me to meet and work with, and of course my all time favourite band Esbörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.) though they are sadly no more due to the untimely death of their amazingly talented keyboard player Esbjörn Svensson -their albums are always playing in my flat...
—I must admit, Nicola, that for several years, Cocteau Twins was my cult band, even when no one seems to be able to decode Elizabeth Fraser lyrics...!

Okay... I think I have written down very carefully every hint, every recommendation and every impression. And yes, the ethos of Mandalay is still here... Less is more, and in fact, more and more as new generations discover this musical treasure... But for me it is just time to walk away and thank you for the chat, Nicola Hitchcock, an incredible talented and intelligent artist.

And, as a matter of fact, a very kind one :)

My obvious listen-along recommendations are every title mentioned here. Don't miss "Morning" from her 2005 album Passive Aggressive.

Just give it a little time to make it through your veins and down deep into your heart.