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Interview. Nick Mulvey discusses Cambridge and Fatherhood


Cambridge lad done very good Nick Mulvey is back at the Cambridge Junction this month (tickets). The tour coincides with the release of his sophomore solo record, ‘Wake Up Now’.

‘Wake Up Now’, is an album rooted in conscience, was produced by Ethan Johns at Real World Studio’s who recorded Mulvey and his band live and at their most raw to reinforce that key community spirit. That sense of community was further drilled home by Brian Eno, who in a few pre-recording sessions implored Mulvey to open up more and consider sharing the workload. The idea of opening himself up has filtered into Mulvey’s lyrics: once swathed in metaphor upon metaphor, they’re now at the heart of this record’s identity.

It’s great to have you back at the Cambridge Junction, do home town shows still feel special?
Of course! I’m made of the community I am from. You can take me out of it but you can’t take it out of me. I grew up on Huntingdon Road and my family is still there – all around the area are other families who have supported me and had a hand in my growing up. I’m lucky to have a chance to share my gratitude at the gig and I hope they all feel a part of the music that I make!

Does the dynamic of performing change when you know loved ones are in the audience?
Ideally I’m always looking to get totally absorbed in the music when i’m onstage an that means getting beyond thinking about who’s in the crowd. In fact, having loved ones there can help support you to go deeper as a performer… it all depends on who and where and when and all the variables…

One of the big differences between album releases is that you became a father. How if at all did becoming a father change your relationship with music?
I wrote this album Wake Up Now in parallel with my wife’s pregnancy and I recorded it 6 weeks after our son Inka was born. The preparation for the birth took my mind off the songwriting and this allowed much more creativity to come through. It was a heightened time for me. So that’s one practical way in which the baby effected music for me. On a deeper level I think becoming a father spurred me to write about what I feel is urgent and important right now- the awakening of consciousness. I’m not a spiritual teacher but I do believe that a collective deepening of our understanding of our own awareness- to what or whom do my senses report to?- has a pivotal role to play as we face the challenges of crisis on Earth. When we look for an answer to this question we can find something eternal. We’ve been missing that.

On ‘Remembering’ you sing about your father. Was this inspired by becoming a father yourself? What does the song mean to you?
This song started as a little tune I was singing to my newborn baby when he was about 2 weeks old. The words came easily because I wasn’t taking it too seriously. It was just a little song for my baby. To my son then I I found myself singing about my own father, the line of us men. The song says “I recall my father, the one who I came after / who shepherded my laughter and washed me in the bath tub..”. So its about ‘remembering’ in the sense that i’m recalling my father in my youth. But in the second verse the song becomes about ‘remembering’ in a wider sense. I believe we have forgotten our essential nature, believing that we are the content of our minds, our bodies and our societal roles. These things are very real of course, but they are only relatively real. They come and go. Every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years. What is absolutely real and unchanging, no matter our age or situation, is the ever-constant awareness that is here to witness every moment of our lives. We cannot go out and ‘get’ this consciousness since we are already always it. Hence the important act is for us to remember it.

Another change between records was your move from London to the West Country. Did you find your change in location affected your music?
This change was more straight forward- being happy and relaxed in the countryside I could work better.

When did work on ‘Wake Up Now’ start and was the approach to the record different in any way from ‘First Mind’?
I started working on this record properly in Jan ’16. It took a bit of time for me to find my direction. I was continually frustrated with demos that I was making until I realised that I needed to try different methods in the studio. Normally I was working to a click-track and I was multi-tracking each part- recording each instrument in isolation, one after the other. All of this played to easily into my tendency to want to control the process and it was taking the life out of the music. Eventually I saw that I needed to create conditions that would support or enforce my surrendering of control, to bring back the fun and excitement and help keep the music alive and real and vital. So recording live with a circle of musicians in the studio, all playing together became the approach for this record. Back to basics.

We’ve read that you had pre-recording meetings with Brian Eno. How did that come about? What was spending time with him like and how did those discussions shape the album?
It was a privilege to be able to work with Brian. We talked and talked about music and culture and nature and politics. He encouraged me to question convention at every turn. He showed me some cool tricks to make chord sequences interesting. I think the presence of my community of friends on this album is related to these sessions because he encouraged me to be honest about the web of inter-influences I live within (rather than perpetuate any romantic idea of the artist in solitude getting his inspiration from ‘nowhere’).

What was the hardest song to finish on ‘Wake Up Now’?
Mountain to Move. Easily the hardest. Probably because I really didn’t want to sing the words ‘wake up now’ and I resisted them at every turn but they just insisted on being born. I wrestled with it. I was terrified that it would seem messianic. How awful. But the lyric just kept coming and nothing else would ever fit the melody! In the end I surrendered. And it became the album title!

And which track from the new record do you enjoy playing live the most?
They’re all so fresh that its too early to choose..

Are you the type of artist who is constantly thinking about new material or are you going to wait until all ‘Wake Up Now’ touring is done before considering anything else?
I’m starting to think about what next.. I have some songs nearly ready to record.. but I am not rushing back into the studio quite yet.

What’s the best lyric you wish you had written?
“Sweet reunion, Jamaica and Spain / We’re like how we were again.”
Amy Winehouse, from I’m No Good. I love the tautness of the first line: two postcards. Boom boom. A whole story.