INTERVIEW: Haiku Salut | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s a wonderful thing when you think a band have hit their peak and then they wrongfoot you by taking things up a level. So it is with Haiku Salut, the trio of multi-instrumentalists (Gemma and Sophie Barkerwood and Louise Croft) whose forthcoming third album There Is No Elsewhere is their warmest, most complex and most quietly thrilling yet.

The band have recently signed to neo-classical label PRAH, run by Stephen from Moshi Moshi, so I wondered what prompted the move to a label which is doing some really lovely work right now with releases like the Group Listening album.

Sophie Barkerwood: “Ian (Watson) at How Does It Feel To Be Loved? was both our label and our manager. As our manager, he thought it would be a positive move to see if anyone else would be interested in releasing our third album. We approached Stephen from Moshi Moshi, we’d met him when we won the Green Man Rising contest in 2013, and he asked our thoughts on signing to his neo-classical and electronica label and we said yes! We have some very interesting and experimental label siblings which feels nice.”

And did signing to PRAH have any impact on how the album sounds? Did it encourage you to explore other directions and were there any other conscious decisions about how to approach this record?

Gemma Barkerwood: “The album was already written, recorded, mixed and mastered by the time we started talking with Stephen.”

SB: “We wanted to write something warm and upbeat, a celebration. A lot of the songs were written through a period of turmoil (more politically and environmentally rather than personally) and it was nice to get together and write and rehearse. In a way it was a kind of escapism but it was also our response to that too.”

As well as the surprise inclusion of lyrics for the first time, one of the most notable things about this new album is the gorgeous brass arrangements, which saw the trio work with the Glastonbury Brass Band. Were the songs written with brass arrangements in mind or did it happen more organically?

GB: “We’d written some simple brass into two of the tracks, and once we developed a sense of what the album was about we thought it was fitting for it to be performed by a brass band, so we took what we had written and gave it to Glastonbury Brass band, who fleshed it out and made it glorious.“

SB: “We have always had it mind that we would like to work with a brass band, the last track on our very first EP has multi-tracked brass on it which was intentionally recorded in that way to create that warmth and depth.  The two tracks on this one seemed to need that collective euphoria and with the album increasingly showing itself to be one of celebration and belonging, it seemed like the perfect thing to do.”

As your music becomes more expansive and the productions more ambitious, it occurs to me that you’d probably be ideal candidates for writing soundtracks – is that something you’d like to tackle one day?

SB: “We’re going to be composing some music for a play about Ada Lovelace which is due to premiere in 2019. We’ve already developed a taste for it… we’re also developing the tech side by working with the stage designers to create an environment where actors can trigger and manipulate music and sounds from the stage.”

GB: “We’ve had our music used as soundtracks for various projects but composing specifically for a film would be something we’d be very interested in doing. Please!”

Often labelled with the dread term ‘folktronica, Haiku Salut prefer to refer to the electronic elements of their sound as ‘loopery and laptoppery’ (and the closest analogue that always springs to mind is the skittering beats and strings of Aphex Twin’s Boy / Girl), and There Is No Elsewhere represents the strongest union of their elements thus far. I wondered if there were any particular influences on how you put it all together?

SB: “I love the Richard D. James album! Girl/Boy Song is a particular highlight too. It’s a privilege to be connected with that, thank you. I feel that people seem to want to define music by whether it’s acoustic or not or whether it’s natural or synthetic but if the two are used as a force to convey an emotion or feeling then does it matter? I like electronica that sounds a bit broken and I think organic instruments help place the feel and tone and humanness.”

Having already gained a reputation for gorgeous live spectacle with their ‘lamp shows’ (filling the stage with standard lamps triggered by the music) Haiku Salut are bringing something very special to Newcastle this month. Continuing their interest in MIDI-triggered self-playing instruments and Heath Robinson devices, they will be performing at the Centre For Life with a robot orchestra. How did this all come about?

GB: “The people from Brighter Sounds had heard about The Ada Project we’ve been working on. As well as writing a score for the piece, we’ve been developing ways of incorporating trigger points into the set design to allow the actors to generate sounds from the stage. We shared with them some ideas we’d had about making MIDI-triggered, self-playing instruments using various electrical motors and solenoids along with Adruino and Ableton’s Max For Live. This wasn’t anything we’d tried before or have any knowledge of, so it’s been a real (and infuriating) learning curve but we’re bloody minded and my god, it’s incredibly rewarding to get even one beat out of a drum so we will keep going! We use a lot of electronic sounds in our music and are often teased by friends with the hilarious “you’re only pressing buttons” comments which got us joking about stretching the process out and going full circle by using electronic sounds to trigger organic instruments.”

SB: “I like the idea of turning our electronic beats back into actual analogue sounds that are actually there and in your environment. We often take found sounds such as recordings from woodlands and mangle them into noises and rhythms for our tracks. I like the idea of turning that on its head and making wonky and glitchy beats play out on objects using motors. Something a drummer couldn’t physically play. The robot orchestra we’re collaborating with are made out of recycled waste and have collaborated previously with the Halle Orchestra. We’ve written a piece specifically for the robots to play with us, I’m excited to see what happens. Hopefully they won’t take over.”

Talking to Haiku Salut, you get the sense that the only limit to what they can achieve is budget and logistics. I foresee a show with robots and a brass band and the lights and a massed choir! Do you have any grand / magnificent / insane ideas you’d like to try some day?

SB: “We’d love to do something in VR. And we did. And it might be coming soon. Is it? Maybe.”

GB: “I think the lamp show could be pushed a lot further but I think part of its charm is doing it on such a small budget. The lamps live in our houses, they’re bloody everywhere. We’ve developed it all from scratch with our long-term collaborator and good friend Robin Newman. We’re all really proud of it! I think turning it into an industrial lamp show would ruin it. We’d love to perform with a brass band one day, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare though! I can certainly see us incorporating the self-playing instruments into our set in the future. One big robotic brass band lampy mash up…”

Haiku Salut play Newcastle’s Centre For Life on Friday 10th August as part of The Hexagon Experiment series of gigs. There Is No Elsewhere is released by PRAH on 7th September.


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