Glissando released one of the most ethereally beautiful and melancholic albums of recent years with their 2008 debut CD, ‘With Our Arms Wide Open We March towards the Burning Sea’. The Leeds’-based group’s two main members, vocalist and pianist Elly May Irving and guitarist Richard Knox, had been a couple, but split up in 2007 in the midst of its recording. The break-up gave them the spur, after years of toying with it, to finish the album off. Irving’s mournful vocals and the duo’s brooding drones and ambient soundscapes, however, captured the desolation of something having been irretrievably lost, and the confusion and hurt that the ex-couple must have felt as they recorded it.
Four years later Glissando have returned with a second album, ‘The World Without Us’. More orchestral and strings-driven than its predecessor, it is another dark affair, tracks such as the instrumental opener ‘Still (I)’ and vocal numbers ‘The Long Lost’ and ‘Embers’ being embedded with a real heart-rending melancholy and angst. It finishes, however, on a note of sudden hope and triumph with the last track, the stormy ‘Still (II)’, which concludes in a rush of euphoria and with a soaring vocal from Irving.
‘The World Without Us’, like ‘With Our Eyes Wide Open…’, has been released on Knox’s own label, Gizeh Records. Knox also plays in two other bands, A-Sun Amissa, an instrumental drone trio, and the Rustle of the Stars, an avant-garde improvisational project which he formed with Frederic D. Oberland, who is a Parisian multi-instrumentalist and one of the founding members of experimental film/poetry/alternative rock act, Farewell Poetry. A-Sun Amissa, with 'Desperate in Her Heavy Sleep', and the Rustle of the Stars, with a self-titled record, have both released their debut albums on Gizeh during the last year.
The other acts that are currently on the Gizeh roster include Farewell Poetry; Fieldhead, the nom de plume of Leeds-born but now Canadian-situated electronic/ambient musician Paul Elam, and Sleepingdog, the project of minimalist Belgium-based musicians Chantal Acda and Adam Wiltzie
Richard Knox spent some of November on the Silent Bells tour #2, a Gizeh package tour that saw dates in Manchester, Leeds and London and which featured Glissando, Fieldhead and the Rustle of the Stars. It follows on from the first Silent Bells tour, which took place last year and saw sets from Farewell Poetry, Sleepingdog and then signings Conquering Animal Sound.
Pennyblackmusic, in what was our second interview with him, spoke to Richard Knox a few days after the tour’s conclusion about 'The World Without Us' and Gizeh Records.
PB: When we last interviewed you in 2009, you said that you were going to look for another label to release Glissando’s next album as you found doing the press for your own album releases really difficult. Yet here we are three years later. You have not only released Glissando’s second album, but also in recent times you have done the A-Sun Amissa album and ‘The Rustle of the Stars’ album. What has brought about this change of heart?
RK: We wanted to start really building something up with some of the people that we have taken on the label during the last couple of years. Moving records to different labels would have meant going against that and what we were trying to build. That is not to say that if the right offer didn’t come along we would be against it. Each release is treated on its own merits.
We felt that we wanted to go for things, however, with the people that we have got, and that included with my own music as well. It was as simple as that really. It really is quite tedious doing press for records (Laughs), but it is a necessary evil.
PB: Gizeh is a very distinctive brand. Its packaging is always beautiful. Most of your records now come out on vinyl as well as CD, and most of the acts on it could be described very loosely as post rock or ambient acts. There is a very big difference though, say, between Glissando and Farewell Poetry and Sleepingdog again. What are you looking for when you take an act on roster? Many of the musicians who are signed to Gizeh guest on each other’s releases. Are they people that you are just able to be good friends with or is it more than that?
RK: It is a mixture of a few things really. The main thing with the label is that everybody is comfortable with each other and happy to work together and everyone is inspired by one another. That, and working with people that you trust, are the main things. Especially as the label is small and still growing, we have to be sure when we are working with someone it is the right person.
As a consequence, I don’t tend to take on too many people from them sending in demos. I am happy to listen to things that people want to send if they think that it is something that the label might like, but there needs to be some kind of human link there as well. That might come from meeting someone through mutual friends or at a gig, or another of the other artists on the label recommending someone that they know. I don’t have a set way of finding new artists. We just tend to find each other really.
PB: How long has Gizeh Records been going for now?
RK: It is probably pushing ten years, but we can’t really put an official time frame on it because when we began we were doing tiny CDR releases just by friends. It has, however, really started to take off I would say just in the last two or three years.
PB: Even a year ago it seemed that there might not be another Glissando album, and that ‘The Long Lost/Of Silence’ single from 2010 might to be your last record. Since then, however, it has come together quickly. How much of the delay of ‘The World Without Us’ was down to the fact that you had also become involved with both A-Sun Amissa and the Rustle of the Stars?
RK: I don’t think that the delay to that was really down to that. Elly and I just needed some space from one another. We had been touring a lot, and at that point we weren’t getting on too well. Things were a little difficult, and we weren’t really enjoying doing the music or the band, so we needed to just take a break from each other and to see where we went from there. At that time I still wanted to write music and that was how the two other projects were born.
We had been working on ‘The World Without Us’ for four years, and by about April of this year it was still only half finished. Then we found out that Elly was pregnant, and after that we had the decision to make with the record of “Do we scrap it?” or “Do we try to finish it and do a few shows before the baby is due?” (Laughs). And so we decided to try and to finish it. We worked pretty intensively on it for a few months, which was good in the end because we needed a deadline.
PB: It seems that it usually takes some sort of crisis for you to finish things off. ‘With Our Arms Wide Open...’ took years to complete, and it was only when you both split up that it gave you the push that you needed into finishing things. Elly having a baby is another big life change. Do you think that is just the way you work? You need some sort of change in circumstances to get things done and finished off.
RK: Maybe (Laughs). It seems that way. I am usually quite driven with what I am doing. I have no problems motivating myself to do things, but sometimes there are other factors involved. Maybe you don’t feel ready to push it through or maybe you don’t feel like the other person is quite ready. Elly is very different from me in the way that she works. I usually leave her to her own devices, and when she is ready she will come to me and say that she is ready, but until then I can’t push her in any way, whereas with the other projects it is no problem doing stuff. Yeah, maybe we do need something to give us a kick to get it finished. I am not too sure.
PB: Some of the songs on ‘The World Without Us’ are old. ‘The Long Lost’ has been around for a while, as has ‘Of Silence’. The title track has also been around for a while. How many of them were new songs and how many of them were old songs?
RK: Three are newish ones and the rest are older songs that we have had lying around for a few years. We did different versions of them and had different people playing on them. We put out different versions with drums and strings and a full band before we finally found a sound that we were happy with.
We wanted it to be different from the first album, but also we wanted it to have the same kind of spirit that the first one had. The first album is okay, but the new one is far better than the first album. I am quite sure of that (Laughs). The production and the song writing are both superior for sure.
PB: Is that just because you have got better at doing it the longer you have gone on?
RK: Yeah, it is as simple as that. We have got better. Elly’s voice is better. My arranging and guitar playing is better. My production is better. We have more ideas. Your musical tastes evolve as well and you find new inspiration. It is all those things combined.
PB: It is certainly a more orchestral album than ‘With Our Arms Wide Open...’
RK: The orchestral side of things was something that we were becoming interested in more and more. We also have some really good string players that we work with. Not everybody has that luxury. Normally it costs a lot of money to arrange really good string players, but we are lucky in that we have close friends who are really talented and who are prepared to work with us at home and to help us out with the songs and to develop the string parts. I think that the music is in need of that, and the subtlety and the sensitivity that strings can bring. It is also great fun taking out the strings live.
PB: Glissando has become well known for its piano melodies and Elly’s vocals. There are plenty of both of those on ‘The World Without Us’, but for the first several minutes of the album you don’t actually hear Elly’s vocals at all. That creates an enormous tension. You know that they are coming, but you just don’t know when they are coming. Was that intentional?
RK: Yeah, that was definitely the aim. We had the piece ‘Still’ and we really wanted to build the album around that piece. Our first idea was to have it in three parts, but in the end we brought it down to two. It makes a great opener and closer. The piano melodies work in a really nice way, and the decision then after that was what do you do? Do you introduce vocals straightway? But I liked the idea of building things a little more with the next track, ‘The Long Lost’. That song drops into this kind of dark ravine, and when the vocals finally come in they are a relief from that. You have to sit through eight minutes without any vocals, but I think that is quite effective.
PB: It is a very dark, melancholic album. Many critics have picked up on the fact that it finishes on a note of against-the-odds euphoria with Elly’s vocal on ‘Still (II)’. Do you see it as that? For all its bleakness it ends on a real note of hope.
RK: Yeah. The record is not particularly easy listening throughout. You take the listener on a journey, and to finish on a more hopeful and less melancholic note is I think quite a good thing to do, We did the same thing with the first record, and ‘The Rustle of the Stars’ is also quite similar again in that way. It is not always a conscious thing, but it is something that we seem to naturally veer towards with each record.
PB: The cover of ‘With Our Arms Wide Open...’ had dozens of birds on it circling around each other. This one has a photograph of a close-up of a bird’s wing on it. Did you set out from the beginning with the intention of using an image of a bird on it?
RK: Kate Schofield, who did the cover, and I had been throwing various ideas around for the sleeve. Kate took the photograph that appears on the cover. We didn’t set out with the direct objective of having bird wings on the album cover, but once we had got the photograph we knew that it was the right sleeve. The colours and the images suit the music which is always something that we are always looking for.
PB: ‘The Rustle of the Stars’ seems to have started off by being in many ways the runt of your litter in that you began by releasing just three hundred vinyl copies of it. Those vinyl copies have long since sold out and you have also done a CD edition. The Rustle of the Stars were part of the recent Silent Bells tour and you went on to do some dates with them in Europe after that. Have you been surprised at how much that project has taken off?
RK: I have been really surprised. In the beginning we had no plans to do anything to the magnitude that we have done with it (Laughs). Fred and I threw some ideas around and recorded it, and then when we sat down to mix it we were really surprised at how well that it had come together.
Then we had to make a decision of what we wanted to do with the record, so we decided to put it out through Gizeh. We just wanted to release a limited edition record and we weren’t bothered about playing it live, and then suddenly all this interest in it arrived, and we were like, “Okay, maybe we better think about playing it live.”
We had no idea how play the songs. They were all done in one take in weird tunings on the guitars and other instruments, and then we had to find a way of playing it live. That was quite difficult in the beginning, but we found something that we were happy with, and now we have got a live band which is really strong. The reception and the crowds on the last tour were both amazing. It has been a complete surprise, and I am really happy about that.
PB: How did the Silent Bells tour go this time?
RK: It was good. The three bands –Glissando, Fieldhead and the Rustle of the Stars- all complemented each other really well. All the shows were really good, and we had a really nice team on the road. The drivers, the sound guys, everyone was brilliant.
PB: Did you do what you did last time with the first Silent Bells tour and have a different headliner each night?
RK: Yeah, we changed it every night. That is important because with the label there is no one band more important than everyone else. There are no headliners at the gigs. Everyone is at the same level, and that was the idea behind changing it every night. Everyone gets their turn, and also the people coming to the shows don’t know who is playing first so they have to turn up early (Laughs). If you are interested in the label, you are hopefully interested in all the bands, and you will come along, not just especially to see one band.
I think that it works. It is a lot of work of putting it together, and, just like last year, I got to the week before and said, “I am never doing it again,” but we are already thinking of doing something next year (Laughs).
We were originally thinking about five shows, but with Elly being pregnant it was difficult for her because she is just a few weeks off giving birth. Travelling less was important for her, so we ended up doing just three gigs.
PB: What are your plans for next year? You have said on your website that you have three releases coming out in February/March.
RK: Yeah. We have the new A-Sun Amissa record coming out. I am just doing the mixing for it. That should be out in February. Its title is ‘you Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less’. It is going to have two tracks on it, but will be about almost forty minutes in length. There will be bass clarinet on there, which there wasn’t on the previous record. It is going to be a little bit heavier and more avant-garde than before.
We are also going to do a new record with Aidan Baker. We have not worked with before, but I have toured with him. He is a Canadian artist and he is in a band called Nadja.
He is a guy who is really prolific all the time and he has done loads of records, including one, ‘Already Drowning’, with a bunch of female vocalists. Jessica Bailiff is on there and a whole lot of other amazing singers. It is really right for the label. We talked about it when we were on tour together last year, and in the end we decided to do something with it. It has been finished for a couple of years, but he was looking for the right home for it. It is a really good record and I am excited to do that.
The third album is by Freemartin Calf, which is a Farewell Poetry side project. Jayne Amara Ross from Farewell has made a film, and they have made a soundtrack to the film. It is Fred with Jane, and a cellist called Gaspar Claus, and they have done the whole soundtrack to the film and they are releasing that on limited vinyl.
PB: What about touring? What have you got planned for next year?
RK: We have got a A-Sun Amissa tour with Aidan Baker. We are going to tour together in February. There will be a few UK dates, not many, and then after that we will go to Holland, Denmark and Germany.
We are also going to be finishing the new Rustle of the Stars record. We are going to work on a new record in the first half of next year, and then we are probably looking at October time to release it.
PB: Thank you.