Interview: Wake up call: Nick Mulvey

Wake up call: Nick Mulvey

Escaping to the isolation of the countryside led to Nick Mulvey reaching out musically for new album ‘Wake Up Now’.

“This is an album about celebrating life, when life is not just your circumstances, work and family, but the vitality of your being, your aliveness,” says Nick Mulvey of his upcoming second album, ‘Wake Up Now’. Since the release of 2014’s ‘First Mind’, the former Portico Quartet hang drum player and his wife Isadora have moved from East London to an artist’s community in Wiltshire. They’ve also had a baby son, Inka. Nick wrote the songs for ‘Wake Up Now’ in parallel to his wife’s pregnancy. It’s no wonder he feels dizzy with the preciousness of life.

“When my son was born, everything was heightened,” he says. “Songs started to arrive however they wanted to arrive, and I was just as much writing them down as writing them myself,” he tells me. The result is an album which feels very present – not solely in its themes and lyrical content (although current events cannot help but slip in, as in stories of the refugee crisis in ‘Myela’) – but in its brightness and vivacity. “Oh my goodness me, I’m not ok!” sings Nick, leading a choir, on ‘Transform Your Game’. It’s an admittance of weakness, but sung with a celebratory instinct, because it is the realisation that matters. If ‘Wake Up Now’ isn’t simply concerned with recent political events, it instead touches on a more widespread “awakening of consciousness and opening up a new level of understanding,” in Nick’s words.

Nick is a humble man. He speaks calmly and thoughtfully, often pausing for seconds at a time to ensure he is wording his thoughts correctly. Several times throughout conversation, he’ll hold his hands into a prayer-like shape, and bow his head. The first thing he mentions when asked what he misses most since moving away from London? Local yoga classes. He admits he is speaking  “freely” and “openly” today – and that he’s doing so because he is pleased to be able to talk about the world rather than just his personal life.

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“At a certain point, it’s obvious that you don’t live in a vacuum.”

Nick Mulvey

Beginning to write about the world outside of his immediate surroundings was an obvious transition for the guitarist. “At a certain point, it’s obvious that you don’t live in a vacuum,” he says. “For me it’s about daily practices that support you in dwelling in the peace and wisdom that you have inside. It’s about stillness. A lot of this album is about self-enquiry and self-abidance – learning to dwell within your being.”

To practise self-abidance takes time and concentration. Unsurprisingly, Nick sees music-making at the very centre of his meditation. “The guitar, blessedly, has always been a place free from my own intellectual interference,” he says. “I’ve always got a whole world of guitar patterns. I create them very easily – little repetitive cells – and then my melodies will come from them in the spaces the cells supply. Even the melodic shapes give space to the words.”

Nick further developed his practice of self-enquiry and free music-making when he spent time with legendary ambient and electronic musician Brian Eno last year. “Brian was really interested in my guitar playing,” Nick explains. “He instructed me to play, but he wanted me to give over to him the control of when I changed chord. I would play, and of course he didn’t tell me to change for ages. He made me develop a much more ambient, much more environmental approach to the music, where it wasn’t a chord sequence change/ change/ change, like a song. It was more like holding a space.”

“It’s not me standing over here with my opinions. It’s us, and it’s them, as much as me.”

Nick Mulvey

Nick’s music has always had a hypnotic guitar sound. The vocal melodies on ‘Wake Up Now’, and indeed ‘First Mind’ are sweetly catchy and easy to sing along to, but it is the guitar patterns Nick plays underneath which are far more intriguing. Having studied music in Havana, and then ethnomusicology at university in London, Nick has a developed understanding and a vested interest in the musical practices of African and Central and South American music, where rhythm is a far more leant-on feature.

“Brian and I talked a lot about West African musicians. We talked about horizontal music, a continual groove that doesn’t change chord. It’s punctuated by moments of verticality – horn stabs, or a community of the singers singing up words – then it’s back down to the horizontal grooves. He knew that my music works on that premise as well. I’ve always based my patterns on songwriters I grew up with, and the groove-based, minimalist, hypnotic qualities that I’ve always loved.”

Nick says that Brian Eno is “the direct reason why there’s a gang sound on the vocal on the record.” ‘Wake Up Now’ is a record made with baby Inka at Nick’s feet, his wife Isadora on backing vocals, new and old friends featured as co-writers and instrumentalists. “That is why I’ll back this album forever in a way that I wouldn’t really do with my first album,” he concludes. “It’s not me standing over here with my opinions. It’s us, and it’s them, as much as me.”

Nick Mulvey’s new album ‘Wake Up Now’ is out on 8th September via Fiction Records.