Are you ready to be dazzled? The lush beauty and trance-inducing landscapes created by Northcape leave us breathless. Too frequently chilled electronic music bores me with it’s self-indulgent, repetition. To the contrary, their latest release Captured From Static provides layers upon layers of melodies, sounds and beats that engage in a way that few artists of the genre can. This is a real treasure. Alastair Brown talked to Amy about his beautiful vision.
TDOA: What demographic do you think would appreciate your music the most?
AB: I have no idea, but I’m glad some people like it! Basically I just try to make music that I’m happy with. Definitely I’d like Northcape to be heard and for the music to say something to other people, and it’s always great to get positive feedback, but when I’m making it I really just try to focus on the music and expressing the ideas behind it rather than who will potentially be listening.
TDOA: Your music is very easy on the ears – how do you think that contrasts with all the noise in most popular indie albums?
AB: Hopefully it strikes people as being a bit different if they are used to listening to more noisy stuff. The style is something that has evolved, but I may well experiment more with noise in the future. What is important is that music communicates something, regardless of how that is achieved.
TDOA: Rarely do I get to interview a one-man band. What is your creative process like? How do you go from concept to song?
AB: It’s hard to define a process (it’s too untidy for that…) but quite a few things need to come together for a track to work. The most important aspects are the overall sound,
normally the melody, and the inspiration behind the track. Sometimes this is a fully-formed idea (such as the track ‘Moitessier’ from the album); sometimes it develops from a track title I’ve already thought of, and sometimes the concept develops during the creation of a track. I have to really like the main sounds used for a track to go anywhere. What I often find is that messing around with a particular sound triggers a melody, although occasionally I have started with a chord sequence. I may also have ideas for different things (sounds, processing) that I want to try to use. Once I have a theme or hook I then try to develop other things around this, samples, pads or basslines. The drum track is sometimes something that I have created earlier but more often this is created next to fit with the track. At some stage early in this process the whole track also has to connect as a concept.
I work in a very intuitive way, and don’t really use much music theory. What I do try to do is vary the structure or the methods and keep experimenting to avoid becoming too predictable. At any stage during this process I can hit a brick wall, or more frequently I will leave a track and then come back to it and discover its not interesting or not worth continuing with. The idea has to reach a kind of critical mass, and then it becomes much easier to complete. The editing process is possibly the most important aspect of getting something that works. I probably discard over 90% of the ideas I come up with, although bits can get reused. For example the track ‘Doesn’t Feel Like a Long Way’ from the album actually is built on the opening percussion sequence which is something I wasn’t able to finish for quite a long time until I came up with the
TDOA: I agree with other bloggers that this is a work of considerable beauty. Is all your music this beautiful, or is there some that’s a bit darker?
AB: This is definitely subjective! I’m not particularly interested in making dark music which is probably why I haven’t made much. Melancholy or sad is more common, but the tracks I make are often positive even if chilled. I guess that’s just down to what I try to express.
TDOA: Where does the album title Captured From Static come from?
AB: ‘Captured From Static’ is a title inspired by the idea of potential, that you are surrounded by confusion and white noise but this is actually full of possibilities and can be filtered and shaped into something, including in a musical sense.
TDOA: Your blog mentions that you are inspired by “travel, landscape, and personal experiences.” Can you give us an example of these influences in your music?
AB: The music very frequently tries to communicate the feeling of being or travelling somewhere else both physically and emotionally. ‘Shinkansen To Kyoto’ is a track obviously inspired by a trip to Japan and an attempt to capture a specific feeling and situation. Trains and travel in general are a common theme and ‘Grove Park’ is named after a railway station I used to use when at school, it’s in an ugly built-up area hence the slight industrial edge to this track, but trains are always associated with the possibility of going somewhere else. The whole album definitely aims for the feeling of a journey, with the individual tracks as snapshots of places or situations.
The whole of the ‘Some Bright Valley’ EP was inspired by nature documentaries and a very clear idea I had of an imaginary place being filmed.
TDOA: What is your editing process like? I feel like every sound in each of these songs is specifically selected and calculated.
AB: Slow… I’m not actually happy unless every sound in the finished track feels right, but it’s about intuition as much as calculation. I’ve often got a good idea of what sounds will work well together and I try to build up libraries of different sounds so I don’t have to spend hours searching which can really kill the process of creating a track. It can get frustrating sometimes though, I have spent days on some tracks on
‘Captured From Static’ trying to get one small aspect of the sound right, particularly in the mixing stage and you definitely get diminishing returns.
TDOA: Do you have any desire to do vocal collaborations? I can think of some pretty awesome voices that would go great with this sound.
AB: I have actually done a few vocal collaborations- with different levels of success, as sometimes the vocalist hasn’t understood what I’m was trying to achieve or their voice just hasn’t worked with the music. However there are a few I’m very happy with. On the Northcape webpage there’s a vocal remix and also a collaboration I did with the Australian vocalist Pixieguts. I’d be keen to do more…
TDOA: What do you think is the most misunderstood or undervalued part of your sound?
AB: Northcape’s music is often quite uncomplicated-sounding (at least compared to some IDM in particular) and sometimes people confuse that with it being easy to produce- definitely not true!
TDOA: Do you play live currently? If not, any plans to?
AB: No, the focus has definitely been on studio production. I’d like to experience playing live, but I’m not sure if or when this will happen.
For more information, visit the Northcape website: www.northcapemusic.co.uk