Orlando Weeks on moving to Lisbon and creating his new solo album, 'LOJA'

Interview Orlando Weeks: European Union

Having upped sticks to Lisbon, establishing a family and artistic base that’s allowed him to be more creative than ever, ‘LOJA’ is the sound of Orlando Weeks relaxing into a new era.

“I mean, it’s really quite beautiful…” Orlando Weeks smiles. “I was going to sugarcoat it a little bit, but no, it’s gorgeous.” The softly-spoken singer is describing his adopted hometown of Lisbon, a place that seems almost like a character on new record ‘LOJA’. The album takes its name from the Portuguese word for ‘store’ – inspired by an art studio he set up in a shopfront there – and you can practically hear the city in its eleven songs, with their echoes of soaring towers and coastal breezes.

‘LOJA’ feels like a natural progression of Orlando’s solo sound, following the dissolution in 2017 of the band that defined the first half of his career. ‘A Quickening’, his first post-Maccabees effort, was a soft, altogether gentler album, exploring the birth of his son via fluttering synthesisers and hushed songwriting. Its successor, 2022’s ‘Hop Up’, ventured into a glossier, primary colour world of ‘80s-inflected art-pop.

Orlando, though, isn’t just a musician, but a visual artist too; he studied illustration at art college, and makes all of the accompanying graphics for each of his records. It’s a practice that has come to define the way he lives, not least via his current Portuguese base. “We don't have a big apartment,” Weeks explains, “and I make lots of stuff. So we found this – it was being advertised as a shop – and I just went and had a look, and I thought it would be great. I was out of everyone's hair, and I could make all my prints and paintings and drawings. It's the first time I've ever had a studio. It’s totally invigorated my desire to make visual work that needn't be anything to do with a record, and just so happens to be relevant to it, rather than tailor-making stuff specifically to an album.”

When he talks about his current life, Orlando seems to almost visibly relax, smiling at his own fortune to be somewhere so in tune with his creative output. “It's been an amazing change. I feel it's done me wonders, in all sorts of ways – and I have my partner to thank for that, almost entirely,” he says. “There's a song on the record called ‘You & The Packhorse Blues’ that’s about how I am comfortable admitting that I am essentially a packhorse. I'm good at carrying stuff and I can be motivational, but I am a poor organiser and quite easily get stuck in my ways. So if it wasn't for her saying, ‘We’re going now, we’re moving, it’s going to happen’ and kicking me into gear, then I don't think it would've happened. Genuinely, every day I find a reason to count my blessings.”

His son, too, has been giving him an unsurprisingly new way of looking at the world and his surroundings. “I'm in this new place, and I'm besotted with it, but I'm also seeing it through his eyes, watching him,” he enthuses. “We live really close to the Gulbenkian museum. The gardens are amazing and, on my own, I would find them a very nice place to spend time. But the way that he approaches them is that they have magic. So then I feel I want to buy into that, and I'm pulling that rareness of feeling into the way I write the songs. It's all just part of the fervour of all this newness, and play. I found this when my son was born actually, that as exhausted as you are, the energy that you get from new love is extraordinary. I felt the same thing about this new place. I felt energised, and receptive.”

Orlando Weeks on moving to Lisbon and creating his new solo album, 'LOJA'

“The energy that you get from new love is extraordinary.”

It would be another new environment that would then go on to shape ‘LOJA’’s final form. Having originally conducted sessions with previous collaborator Nathan Jenkins (otherwise known as the producer Bullion), Orlando then headed to the Isle of Wight’s residential Chale Abbey Studios with producer Sergio Maschetko – who recorded ‘Ants From Up There’ by Black Country, New Road there – and a handpicked live band of musicians. The album certainly has the feel of being the work of many hands – far more so than Weeks’ unmistakably solitary previous albums. “The goal that I set myself originally was for it to feel a lot more like a band in a room,” he explains. “But to make a great record as a band playing in a room, you need to be a really great band.”

Orlando had assembled a collection of brilliant musicians but, having never played together before, they perhaps weren’t a great band yet. “I think we just bit off more than we could chew, initially, and so that meant the manifesto for the record changed,” he continues. “It wasn't gonna work as a band in a room in a space and a time; it needed to be a bit more produced. I'd come back to Lisbon by that point, and I was living with the recordings and feeling like it wasn’t holding together as a record. Then hearing Ben Howard’s [Bullion-produced] record come out I just thought, ‘Why am I not re-approaching Nathan to help me finish the record?’”

The move back towards something resembling a band dynamic feels like a big shift in his solo material. Following The Maccabees, it seemed as though he was trying to distance himself from that way of writing, whereas now there’s a feeling that he might have made peace with returning to musical collaboration. “Yeah, I think that’s not far off,” he nods. “A responsibility I felt out the back of it was if I’m not gonna be part of a band, then I have to make things that are so specifically ‘me’ that there could be no grey area. I'm definitely more at ease, and feel less like I need to make music that is specifically not anything of the same world, to my ear, as The Maccabees inhabited. I don't need to be so obtuse.”

In a fan Q&A ahead of the record, Orlando was asked if he’d ever consider playing his old band’s songs live again – and, surprisingly, said yes. How does he feel about returning to that material? He smiles. “I would only ever do it if I felt like it would be a good idea, and I’d asked the other boys if they minded, and they didn’t, and so I’ll try it. I may only do it once, but it might be a pleasure, and then I’ll think about whether I want to do it two nights on the bounce, or three nights, we’ll just see. It’s nice not to feel like something is closed off, anyway.”

So where next for him as a solo artist? ‘LOJA’ has moments of grit among the refined, tasteful songwriting that has come to embody Orlando’s solo career – not least in highlight and recent single ‘Dig’, featuring Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale. His intention going forward, he suggests, “is still to remove more gloss, eventually. But once you’ve had a bit of gloss, it's quite hard to turn it down!” he laughs. “I think I still want to try and make a record that sounds like, maybe not a band, but me in a room, or a recording that happens in a space. I’ve not managed that yet, and that is worth pursuing I think.”

The overwhelming sense, talking to the musician, is of a man at peace with his surroundings. He jokes that he’s “gonna get some points on the tourist licence”, but he’s at pains to point out his sincerity when talking about the city he now calls home. “Lisbon has a lot of absurd grandeur, but it isn’t a place that feels stuffy to me,” he says. “So you have this quite vibrant human experience next to really insane, overly embellished [architecture]. It has amazing Metro art in all the stations. People get quite snooty about that kind of thing, but I love it. Maybe if I’m here long enough I’ll get to do some tiles in one of the stations. We’ll see.”

It Takes A Village

There are lots of voices alongside Orlando’s on ‘LOJA’ – here’s a guide to who’s who:

Rhian Teasdale 
Rhian from Wet Leg is the foil to Weeks’ pleading protagonist on thumping lead single ‘Dig’ – Orlando says the track is about an “under your breath half-argument”. Her day job with one of the biggest indie acts around needs no introduction, but neatly she hails from the Isle of Wight, where the bulk of ‘LOJA’ was recorded.

Tony Njoku
Tony’s appearance on ‘LOJA’ follows his EP ‘Last Bloom’ earlier this year, and his guest turns on albums from the likes of Metronomy and PVA. The British-Nigerian songwriter was raised between London and Lagos, and delightfully enough he blended a tie-in Last Bloom perfume to celebrate his EP’s release.

Katy J Pearson
Katy is one of the leading lights of the folk revival in the UK at the moment, and has just announced a new album herself. ‘Someday, Now’ will be her third LP, but most recently follows her re-scoring of The Wicker Man alongside acts like Drug Store Romeos, H Hawkline and the aforementioned Wet Leg.

‘LOJA’ is out now via Fiction.

Tags: Orlando Weeks, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the June 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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