SlowPlaceLikeHome, Ryan Vail, Nowonos & Stephen Mc Cauley
FRI NOV. 7TH VENUE: St. Anne's Church, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal TICKETS: €10
SlowPlaceLikeHome is the moniker of Keith Mannion, electronic music producer extraordinaire operating from his lair somewhere deep in the Knather Woods, Ballyshannon. His debut album 'Romola' has been described as 'endlessly inventive', 'as immersive as it is impressive', and simply 'beautiful' in various reviews. Allingham 2014 has invited SPLH to curate an evening of music in the magnificent setting of St. Anne's Church, and he has come up with a line-up which is guaranteed to be one of the musical highlights of the year. His guests include Ryan Vail, the Derry-based band who recently supported Nils Frahm and Jon Hopkins, BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Mc Cauley, and local act Nowonos, otherwise known as local man Michael Liston in electronic form.
In advance of what will be the most memorable gig/multi-sensory-audio-visual experience this year, we invited SlowPlaceLikeHome and Ryan Vail to respond to a series questions linked to the festival's themes of creativity, inspiration and digitalism.
ALLINGHAM FESTIVAL: The theme of the festival is Creativity Across Borders, but both of you have close links to your homeplaces: Derry for you, Ryan (Vail), and the Knather Woods, Ballyshannon for you SPLH. To what extent is ‘home’ important to you and your music?
SPLH: In many ways, ‘Home’ for me, is the North-West in general. I just operate in the Knather Woods, at times. SlowPlaceLikeHome is more a melding of technology and nature in a music project. But the crux of the matter is, that it is about us all!
RV It's very important to us. It's where it all kicked off for us. We are still able to reach a wide audience, we are still able to reach a wide audience!
AF These days it's common for "electronic" bands or artists to move to places like London or Berlin to be part of the scene there. Is this something you have considered? What's your view of the electronic music scene in Northern Ireland or the South these days?
RV It's funny you mentioned London. We’re constantly mistaken as a London act. Never really understand why. I suppose Ireland's got a very strong folk and rock scene, and sometimes other genres don't get as much spotlight. Moving to London was never really something we would do. Ireland's too beautiful to leave. It’s a very inspiring place to write and be based! There's been a massive rise in electronica in the north of Ireland. It's great to see and makes for a very healthy environment to write in. Everybody’s helping each other, which is great.
SPLH Being inspired by something doesn’t mean you must live amongst it. I visited Berlin and London. One of the main reasons artists pass through Berlin, is that it is more economically viable to live in. I have never felt like I want to be a part of a “scene”. In fact, I consciously move away from that ideology. Whereas it is healthy in many ways to have ‘a scene’ I believe it to be a massive hindrance in breeding originality, as scenes rapidly become stale. I have lived abroad but never felt like this music project was cemented in one place. Although it may have originated in the North-West of Ireland, it has been waiting for some time to begin.
AF From your Facebook posts it's obvious you're fans of analog gear: Microbrute, EHX Little Big Muff , Moog filters. Is the focus on hardware and instruments over software important to you?
RV I started off using hardware! It wasn't because I didn't like software. I just couldn't part with the money on a laptop. Every time I saved enough I ended up buying a synth. Instruments just seemed more appealing. Recently, after many years, I got a full Mac setup to record to ( FireWire desk etc). The reason for this was to speed up the process of recording. Before I was using a digital 8 track, which was great, but very time consuming! I still don't use soft synths. I didn't see that point as they were all trying to sound like synths we have.
SPLH Music production is difficult to explain in the modern climate. Hardware is far more accessible now than it ever has been. The pace at which technology has come along, in the past decade even, has meant that you do not have to spend a fortune on gear, in order to begin to make music. Although this is where things can be misconstrued. It is only that… a starting point. Digitally, you must research what software is best to use with which hardware. It becomes a bit of an experiment, if you’re lucky! And if you get to the level of where you may experiment, then, well… you are on to something special.
AF Talk us through your tech setup. Do you have favourite instruments? A favourite synth or drum machine? Which instruments and gear have featured most in your recent productions?
RV I'm currently recording the album on Logic Pro X, but I’m still using only hardware. For drums, I'm using Roland's remake of the 909 & 808, the Tr 8, and getting great results from this. For bass we’re using the MOOG Minitaur, Roland TB3 & Arturia’s Microbrute. The Microbrute is great value for the money. For pads and strings, the Access Virus C & Waldorf Streifett are doing the business. Korg SV 1 for piano and keyboards. Guitars we used are Fenix Strat, Fender Jaguar Deluxe & Gibson Les Paul. Recently we bought an ART Pro MPA II that's giving us great results for the vocals.
KM I have dabbled in all of the main DAWs and settled with a combination that suited me best. I say each to their own, in that department. I use quite a mix of analog and digital. I play all instruments on my records, so sometimes I have to spend a lot of time on a track, as I am not an expert on any. I wish I was more proficient on the trumpet. I love brass instruments. In fact, there are no external samples on my new album ‘Romola’, apart from field recordings and a vocal or two by my nephew.To be honest, I am sort of secretive about my methods of getting my sound. It took a bit of experimenting and as I will share some things, I like to keep quite a bit private. I HATE carbon copying. As far as DAWs go, I prefer Ableton Live, as an all round platform. I think it's genius. I try not to use much in the way of software synths but I always have great fun with an old program called Synplant. I tend to get lost in that self-absorbed way. Also to note is Sylenth 1 by Lennar Digital. I put synths through guitar effects pedals sometimes but the natural sounds of the Minimoog, Roland SH101 and Jupiter 4 by Roland are a great motivation. I do use the lovely and affordable Microkorg for carting around gigs, as it serves many purposes.
AF What's your take on the old analog vs. digital debate? Do you think there's any validity to the argument about whether it's better to use a live drum machine over a software sampler?
RV There are some old synths that are amazing and a lot that are over-priced and awful to play. Software has a lot of great options. But I think anyone that owns a synth will always revert to them rather than using soft synths. It all depends on what you can afford really. I spent a long time gathering all my synths and have spent years understanding how they work.
SPLH If you use software live, you’re at a loss sound-wise, when you use software, instead of live drum machines, when gigging. That’s only natural. I stay well clear of that so-called debate though. There is certain validity to it but I prefer to concentrate of the quality of the overall track. Tech-obsessives can give their two-cents on it but I steer clear. Doesn’t bother me really.
AF Who would you cite as the main influences on your current sound or performance?
SPLH My main influences are people like Captain Beefheart, Charlie Mingus, Gustavo Santaolalla and Nina Simone. I kicked off my musical induction with bands of the late 80s/early 90s eras but when I really began to search for what fulfilled my taste buds, I ventured all over the place for sustenance. My musical taste can be best summed up by the Clarence Henry song ‘Ain’t Got No Home’.
RV Meeting artists [referring to playing support for Nils Frahm, Jamie XX and John Hopkins] and seeing how they perform is the best way to understand their music. We've have learnt so much about sound and what carries through live and not just in the studio. We've spent the last three years gigging learning and bettering ourselves. Now we’re recording our debut album, and with all this experience we feel we’re in a good place. We listen to a vast amount of music. Influences are always a hard one to call. Nils Frahm would be our favourite Piano player, XX for guitar riffs, lyrics Nick Drake/ Arthur Russell & beats we enjoy artists like Aphex Twin. Currently we are making our way through the Mercury Prize nominated artists! Enjoying Nick Mulvey, East India Youth and FKA Twigs so far.
AF Where does your music begin? The drums? The melody? The lyrics? Is there a process you follow to take a tune from concept or inspiration to completion?
RV I had the pleasure of one-on-one writing classes with Ash front man Tim Wheeler. Before this it was always beats first and less structured! Now it's all structure and melody!
SPLH There is no set procedure for SlowPlaceLikeHome. If there was, the music would grow stale quite quickly. Impulse and improvisation are two of the best things when making (what is essentially) ‘pop’ music. It MUST be fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?!
AF Do you have to impose a strict regimen on yourselves to actually produce music? Do you both prefer collaboration or working solo, or in separate parts?
SPLH No strict regimen as such but you must focus to get anything done. It’s not an easy practice at times. My gear would give a sound engineer a meltdown. I have lot of equipment, which is sometimes held together with cellotape. So I must make the most of if and when I can obsess on projects.
AF The SlowPlaceLikeHome video for 'She Comes In Colour Stereo' is intriguing. Can you explain the development of that?
SPLH It was made by two college girls (Ciara Kennedy & Brigi Szaszfai), in London town. It had an extremely low budget and was filmed over their spare time in two weekends. They took inspiration from the music and the title of the song. Of course the song meaning, has nothing to do with the actual video. But it works, in the same way that ‘The Magic Roundabout’ wasn’t about Charles De Gaulle!
AF How do you make the music translate from the studio to the stage? Once you got the music out there, did you have to go back and find a way to translate it all into a live show?
SPLH It takes quite a bit of reconstruction in general. But with this latest album, I focused on making the content more accessible to playing, with live players involved. You’ll judge for yourself on the night of November 7th, if the results are successful! I’m confident it’ll be a unique night on the calendar.
RV We record the tracks in a live format. So we are very lucky the live performance part doesn't stray to far from it.
AF Have you any advice to young or budding musicians/performers/artists?
RV Learn an instrument. The more knowledge of scales etc, the more interesting the music.
SPLH Stick at it no matter what. If you love what you do, try everything to make it work. It’s quite a shrewd business, this. Don’t ever be disheartened by any lack of response/interest from people. You must retain belief that what you are doing is worthy. Of course there is always room for improvement. That goes without saying. But quality can only be gained from perseverance.
AF What can we expect from your Allingham 2014 performance?
RV We are hoping to maybe debut some of our album material at this along with the more popular tracks in our back catalogue.
SPLH A lot of noise! Ha! For this event, I am proud to be playing in my hometown, for a start. I think it will be perfect, to combine the beautiful surroundings of St. Anne’s Church, with the event in prospect. It’s a pleasure to have Ryan & Katie Vail performing as well. They have been making some of the most lush music on the island for the past few years. I am also proud to have Stephen McCauley from BBC on board, to introduce proceedings. He is a legend in radio land and is somebody I tune into, to hear fresh licks. As for our set, you’ll just have to wait and see for yourselves. I promise there will be no pyrotechnics! As for spandex, Kev on drums is threatening.
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 7TH: SLOWPLACELIKE with support from RYAN VAIL and NOWONOS, with STEPHEN MC CAULEY as MC.
VENUE: ST. ANNE'S CHURCH, BALLYSHANNON