INTERVIEW: Ivan The Tolerable | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Ivan The Tolerable & His Elastic Band’s Out of Season is the wonderful collaborative project from Teesside’s Oli Heffernan (Year Of Birds/Detective Instinct/King Champion Sounds among others) and writer Karen Schoemer, as well as a cast of brilliant musicians including Deutsche Ashram’s Ajay Saggar. Ostensibly an unhinged jazz rock record with krautrock sensibilities, it also features Minutemen/Firehose’s Mike Watt providing inimitable spoken word performances.

Watt was the first person I ever made music with via the internet, way back in 2008.” Oli explains. “I’d been in lots of local bands since my teens but I wanted to start making music that none of my friends were into making, so I decided to cast my net further and started a project called Detective Instinct which was basically me sending instrumentals I’d written to people and they’d add vocals and other stuff and send them back. Watt as the first person I worked with on this project, and we’ve recorded many albums and EPs together since.”

The relationship has yielded fruit over the years, a testament to the serendipitous nature of the age of information. “He’s like me, he just gets shit done, no fuss, no drama. It’s ideal. When I got Karen’s words I really wanted an American voice for the vocals as the lyrics in an English accent would just have been weird, so I asked Watt and he was into it, plus he has the best voice.”

In many respects its transpires that, far from being a peripheral performer, Watt has functioned as a fulcrum for the whole project, bringing all of the components together. “I was introduced to Karen by Mike when we were working together on a couple of Detective Instinct EPs together in around 2012. He was doing vocals and bass and asked if he could use some lyrics by his friend Karen, a music journalist and writer from New York, so I said sure. The EPs came out really nice, she’s a wonderful writer so when I was working on the second Detective Instinct album in 2015 I asked her to do vocals with her own lyrics on a couple of songs – we’ve stayed in touch since then and often talked about doing more together, and when the time was right for both of us we finally did!”

I like to do lots of different things at the same time, pretty much all I do is make music, smoke heavily and drink too much coffee

On the practicalities of the process itself, which in some ways benefited from the Coronavirus situation, Oli muses: “For Out Of Season, I’d finished recording all the music around January this year and I’d been sitting on it for a few months as I felt it needed vocals but couldn’t find a way in to it – then the UK went into lockdown so I decided it was a good time to finish the four albums I was working on without having to fit it around my day job.” Karen provided words in the form of a short story she’d written. “I read it whilst listening to my rough mixes and they just fit together really well – like it was meant to be! I edited her story into six sets of lyrics and we were in business. I’ve been recording this way for a number of different projects for years now, it has its advantages. I find it quicker and easier than recording all together in a studio.”

After recording the bones of the album himself and sending mixes to drummer Mees Siderius and sax player Elsa Van Der Linden, the finished product was sent to long-term collaborator Ajay Saggar to mix in his Amsterdam studio. “A very civilised affair! No arguments, no fuss – just a lot of email back and forth and it was all finished.” Oli’s partnership with Ajay also pays dividends on the record, as he’s able to temper Oli’s more bombastic moments. “He’s a good egg – my ears are usually pretty knackered by the time it comes to mixing so Ajay was kind of my editor on this one – he’d say things like ‘it doesn’t need 14 synth parts, just use two’ and he was usually correct.”

The result is a powerful, uncompromising beast of a record. Taking metronomic influences like Neu and spattering chaotic, hot throated brass in between the propulsive, cosmic music. Watt’s narration and beautiful, sensual storytelling adds a truly cinematic element. Heffernan’s process reflects this gorgeous chaos.

I like to do lots of different things at the same time, pretty much all I do is make music, smoke heavily and drink too much coffee. I’m usually working on at least four records at any one time. With Out Of Season, I started making it in Autumn last year and then finished it during the first month of lockdown so I guess it was made in two very different worlds, which I think is reflected in the finished album. I was listening to a lot of ambient/drone stuff when I started it, a lot of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry in the middle and watching the world fall apart on the news when working on the vocals and mixing. It was a very organic record to make though, there wasn’t much thinking involved – I think it’s the first record I’ve made in a long time that doesn’t have a designated notebook – I don’t think I wrote a single thing down! It kind of just developed over time, like rolling a snowball. I think it came out really nice – I love the way it plays out – it’s like a journey through a day from morning to night, it’s much more cinematic!”

Ivan The Tolerable & His Elastic Band release Out of Season on 21st August via Stolen Body Records


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