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

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When your previous musical experience comes in the form of playing with the highly acclaimed Elysian Quartet and the experimental avant-garde troupe The Gogmagogs, you really shouldn’t expect a straight-forward mainstream pop album. Laura Moody doesn’t disappoint on the quirky scales with her debut album Acrobats, an LP that sees her using only her voice and cello to create a highly experimental blend of pop and classical music.

Taking inspiration from Meredith Monk, Bjork, Ani DiFranco and Tom Waits among others, Moody’s music explores what is possible using only two instruments. In the absence of technology (you won’t find any electronic drum machines here), Moody uses her own voice and her beloved instrument to create challenging music that’s thoroughly inspiring. As she embarks on a tour across the UK of unusual venues – taking in Durham’s Old Cinema Launderette on Friday 10th April – it will be intriguing to see how she replicates the many intricate sounds and complex compositions found on Acrobats. It’s bound to be an eye-opening experience for anyone who thinks the cello belongs solely in the orchestra.

I caught up with Laura to ask her about finally releasing her debut album, her attraction to the cello and her amazing live performances.

Can you tell us a little bit about what first attracted you to the cello as an instrument?

My dad is a huge classical music fan and we listened to music all the time at home. I remember hearing this beautiful singing sound on a record one day and being transfixed by it. I was a pretty crazy, difficult and hyperactive kid and the only thing that would calm me down was that I used to do loads of dancing. I think there was something about the way that the cello so perfectly combined sound and movement that made total sense to me – cello playing is really like a dance that makes music. It’s also this incredible magic box of seemingly infinite different sounds and possibilities.

Your debut LP Acrobats was recently released but you’ve technically been solo since 2007, so does it feel a bit odd releasing your first album seven years later?

It does a bit! But it feels good that it’s finally out. There have been so many hold-ups all of which will be very familiar to any independent musicians writing and releasing their own music. I was initially signed to a label but they went bust in 2010 and the whole project was handed back to me. I took some time to think about exactly what kind of record I wanted to make and then put a new team together. I chose great people to to work with, but the downside that was they were also very busy. I had very little budget and so I was working with everybody’s good will and borrowed time. I was also myself juggling recording with all my own work with Elysian Quartet and many other people. But we got there in the end largely thanks to a crowdfunding campaign that raised the money to finally get Acrobats finished. It has been a proper labour of love!

Have there been any challenges in working solo?

There are different advantages and disadvantages to playing solo as opposed to with a group. An ensemble or band is a glorious democracy, which is actually very hard work. Trying to make sure everyone has a voice towards a common goal is a wonderful thing but also difficult. Playing solo you bypass all that and get to make all the decisions yourself, which is great but difficult in other ways. You really have to have the courage of your convictions as you don’t have other band members there as a sounding board. It can feel quite risky as the work you do preparing a song is so personal and private, and performing a new song live for the first time always feels like stepping out on a tightrope. But when you do it and it works, and you connect with the audience and you don’t fall, it’s the most amazing feeling. That’s why I do it again and again.

Laura Moody Michelle Robek

cello playing is really like a dance that makes music

How would you say that working on Acrobats has been different to your work with the Elysian Quartet and The Gogamogs?

I suppose the major difference is that Acrobats, and my solo work in general, has songwriting at its core. That’s my starting point and indeed the whole point of what I’m doing. It’s funny that I get a lot of attention for the unusual way I perform my music because, to be honest, I’m not that interested in being experimental, or even original, I’m just looking for a way to get those songs across that feels authentic to myself. Still, Elysian Quartet has been like my musical family really and so much of my music is the direct result of 14 years of musical adventures with those guys. And as for (physical theatre ensemble) The Gogmagogs… well all I can say is that playing the cello hanging upside down, in your pants, in theatres around the globe really alters your parameters as a performer.

Acrobats explores what’s possible with just your cello and your own voice; was it a conscious decision not to use loop pedals or any other electronics when creating the album? It’s almost amazing what you’ve achieved on the album without them!

Yes, I decided to keep the songs as I perform them live at the centre of the sound for the record. The decision not to use loops or electronics is not because I dislike looped or electronic music – quite the opposite actually, I’m very heavily influenced by it – but because I find that putting that limitation on myself, to only use acoustic cello and voice, forces me to make interesting, sometime outlandish, decisions. I’m also really interested in ideas and references that are only implied musically and that allow the listener’s mind to fill in things that aren’t actually there. It’s what excites me in theatre as well, when the audience becomes complicit and their imagination becomes another player in the piece. That aesthetic of creating a lot with very little has always appealed to me.

The LP is this beautifully experimental piece of work but it also seems to draw on a range of genres in different songs, which suggests that you’re very open to a range of styles and listen to a lot of different types of music. But what would you say have been your major influences?

I suppose the two major influences would be my background in avant-garde music and my love for songs, and singer songwriter tradition in general. But I also love pop music, electronica, music from West and South Africa, hip-hop… I’m a bit of a magpie, very happy to take references from anywhere and everywhere. My two favourite living artists though are probably Tom Waits and Bjork. Their music was the first to really show me that you could make adventurous, challenging, surprising, playful, risk-taking music with great songwriting at its heart.

What would you say are the major themes behind Acrobats?

Acrobats is an album about loss, but in terms of the liberation as well as the grief that loss can bring. Sometimes it’s really good to lose things! A lot of my music hinges on contemplating both the light and dark of any given situation.

A lot of the works on Acrobats sound technical and complex, so how are you planning to recreate the songs in a live environment?

People so often assume from listening to my records that I play using electronics and loops. They’re always really surprised to see me live and realise that almost all of those sounds are coming unprocessed from from just my cello and voice. The record has some very subtle and beautiful atmospheric sound design by Edward Jessen, but most of what you hear is what I play live. You’re right that it is quite technical and complex, but don’t worry, that’s what I’ve practiced for all these years.

The Acrobats tour is taking place in a variety of unusual venues across the country. Why have you decided to play in these smaller and more quirky locations?

I think you can cultivate a really focused atmosphere and sense of intimacy in smaller venues and if those spaces have a genuine personality of their own then it adds so much to the audience’s experience. That sense of environment is really important to me. Also, people often say that they really enjoy being up close and seeing how all of the different sounds are being created. That and the fact that cello based avant-pop has yet to pack out the O2. But give it time…

Laura Moody plays at the Old Cinema Launderette, Durham on Friday 10th April.

Photo credits: Michelle Robek and Gerald Jenkins

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