Thursday, 13 September 2012

We're Only Here For The Banter - Jo Mango

Confession time.  Until Jo Mango joined the Olive Grove Records roster earlier this year, I had never heard of the Glasgow songstress.  Having now had the pleasure of acquainting myself with Jo's music, most recently her new single 'Cordelia', I am very happy to admit I was missing out big time!  Jo is on the cusp of releasing her new album, 'Murmuration' on Olive Grove Records, and we caught up with her for some banter.

Hello, how are you?

Hello! I am just grand thanks.

It's the question everyone hates, but could you tell us a little bit about your music and your influences?

Of course!  My music is mainly acoustic and figures strange wee instruments that I've picked up from around the world - including my favourites the kalimba, the omnichord and the Indian harmonium.  I play the good old guitar and piano too, but I believe every song is different and deserves for me to think long and hard about whether the sound of a guitar does it justice.  If it doesn’t, then I find something else to play.  When I started writing this latest album, I lost my voice completely for a number of weeks due to vocal nodules, and had to go through speech therapy to get it back.  This combined with my doctor flatmate being on the nightshift a lot while I wrote the album, meant that I developed a kind of very quiet, night-time hushed vocal style.  A lot of people say it’s a child-like voice, so I guess I’ll go with that.  I like to try and keep it as pure or as real sounding as I can.  I love beautifully considered, well-crafted and understated music, like Vashti Bunyan's, in whose band I'm lucky enough to play.  Vashti and the crazy mad journey she took me on over the past few years when we were on tour together has been a huge influence on me.  Not necessarily so much on the music directly, but all those experiences, all the different music I got to hear all over the world, and that fact that she introduced me to Adem, who produced and recorded my latest album...  These are all the things that fed in to the evolution of my sound today.  Influences on the sound of the album are really varied, and won’t really give you any clue as to what it sounds like!  But along the way I remember us talking about Linda Perhacs’ ‘Parrallelograms’, Gaelic psalm singing, Indonesian Gamelan music, ‘Englar og Darar’ by Olof Arnalds, minimalist musics, and many other disparate things.

What's your song writing process like?

It’s very slow!!!  I go through what I call my ‘eating phase’ where I just spend as much time as I can reading, listening, going to the movies, looking at art, people-watching, thinking, learning.  Then it’s a lengthy distillation process of the ideas that have inspired me while I was ‘eating’.  I love making connections between things.  That’s what I find exciting.  So I connect together these things and my personal experiences and focus on lyrics that have lots and lots of layers of meaning.  Then I find the sound that contributes to that – which might be a specific instrument, or it might be a production idea.  And the song folds out of this core of connected ideas and layers of meaning.  But an awful lot of work goes in to each song.

What could we expect to see from a live show?

Ummm…  I make quite a terrible face when I sing…  so there’s that!  I hope it’s a bit intriguing to watch.  Not because we’re very dynamic or move around a lot, but because all four of us in the band are multi-instrumentalists, and we have a tiny orchestra of different instruments that we combine and play in constantly differing ways.  It’s often a very pin-drop kind of a quiet experience…  it’s hard to get to the bar for a beer without making too much sound.  We really are quite quiet and some of the sounds are so subtle it’s easy to miss them.  Ooh, and we have a really good merch table these days!  Lots of exciting objects relating to the songs.

If it were all to end tomorrow, what would you say has been your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement as a musician I would say was playing the show we played with Vashti in 2007 at the Carnegie Hall in New York.  David Byrne was curating a show called ‘Welcome to Dreamland’, and he invited us along with Devendra Banhart, Coco Rosie, Vetiver and Adem to play a collaborative show together.  We sang a song with him too.  That was absolutely unbelievable and I’m not sure if it could be topped… even if it weren’t all to end tomorrow!  It’s such a legendary venue; it was an incredible crowd; the music, the rehearsals, the city, were all really inspiring.  And my whole family made it over to the USA to watch it too.  It was a very proud moment.

What have you got planned for the rest of 2012?

Oooh lots!  This month I have a launch party for the first single from the new album (23rd Sept at the Old Hairdressers in Glasgow) and I’m really busy hand-making a whole host of different things for that exciting merch table I was telling you about.  In October the second single comes out and I’m making a music video ready for that and working on a choral version of the first single as a B-Side for it.  Then on the 5th of November the album is released – Murmuration – which is out on Olive Grove Records.  I’ll be doing a short tour for that – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, London so far.  And then I’ve got a couple of exciting Christmas shows in December in London and Glasgow.   I’m also finishing off a wee concept-EP to come out next year, and working on a remix album too.  Other than that…  I’ve started teaching on a new Masters in Songwriting at the University of the West of Scotland, which takes in students in a couple of weeks.  So I’ll be getting to work with them on all kinds of exciting albums and performance projects.  I’m going to be busy aren’t I?!

At Scottish Fiction we focus on new Scottish music, how do you as a band view the Scottish music 'community'?

I think the Scottish music community is as generous, friendly and supportive as a music community I have ever experienced.  I feel so fortunate that I live and work in Glasgow, where there is such a camaraderie between artists and a feeling of togetherness, rather than an atmosphere of competition, which I definitely feel elsewhere.   I think there have been a few unfortunate changes in the influence of some of the bigger movers in parts of the industry, which has disadvantaged some grassroots endeavours and made it harder to succeed for smaller bands sometimes.  But the internet can be a marvelous counterbalance to that.

What other Scottish artists would you recommend to the Scottish Fiction readers?

My fellow band-member in the Vashti Bunyan band – Gareth Dickson – makes beautiful albums of guitar music and writes gorgeous songs.  I don’t know why he’s not more widely appreciated as a Scottish artist.  I've just discovered ‘Muscles of Joy’, and I do love ‘Body Parts’, the new(ish) collaboration between Jill from Sparrow And The Workshop and Jenny of Strike The Colours.  I can’t forget my former label mates Admiral Fallow – but I’m sure you all know about them already – and Open Swimmer.  Technically they are part Australian and about to depart back for Australia.  But they’re getting a mention anyway.

Thanks for speaking with us, would you care to share a joke with us?

Here's one that elicited a groan, courtesy of Milton Jones’ twitter feed recently.  But I think it's cute:

“I missed the dawn chorus this morning. RT please.”

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