“My passion is in metal, the old school stuff like Judas Priest.”
Experimental cellist JO QUAIL performed two sets on Friday at ArcTanGent Festival. Not only were we lucky enough to catch her stunning afternoon solo set, but also her performance with BEHIND THE SHADOW DROPS. And to top it all off, we had the pleasure of interviewing her as well! We chatted about her various collaborations with other artists and asked about her forthcoming solo record…
You’ve done a lot of a collaborations with rock and metal artists such as Myrkur and Winterfylleth… What do you look for in a collaborator when you want to work with other artists?
Good question! Normally it depends what they are looking for, and whether I feel like I can do that. Quite often, people want “a string player”, but there isn’t anything more than that. And so, we will often work together to sort out the voice that they want, or what they want to do with the instrument. For example, sometimes with Amalie [Bruun, Myrkur] I will play in such a way that I take care of the basslines. Other times I will be playing like a backing vocal on the cello, so each time it’s different. But the most important thing for me, if it’s a long term collaboration, is that the artist and I have a rapport, and an understanding that develops into a friendship. When you work closely with people like that, it can be blood, sweat and tears as well as great joy and euphoria, so you must have a strong foundation.
What is your relationship like with Amalie, and how did you end up working together?
The contact with Amalie was through Haydn [Britland, Northern Music Company] who is my booking agent, and also Amalie’s booking agent. Initially, it was to support her on her Folkesange project [in which Myrkur performed an acoustic tour with a backing choir], which I did two concerts. Then she thought it might be nice to do some work together. So we then did Roskilde [Danish music festival] together, and I played on a couple of songs for her, and we did the Metal Hammer Awards too. We get on very well as friends. I’m a little bit older than her, but we still have a great rapport. She’s great to work with because she is very open to suggestion, and uncluttered in the way she wants to work. It’s extremely free, so we feel particularly in the Folkesange band, we’re all making our parts as we’re going along and finalising our parts as we’re working. It’s a very exciting way to work.
Have you played on any of Myrkur’s records or just live?
Do you reckon you might be on her next album?
[Chuckles] Oh I’d love to be, but that’s really up to her!
She’ll probably hit you up! How does playing cello in rock and metal bands differ from playing in a more classical music context?
Mainly it’s due to what I can hear. If I’m in a classical situation or a standard quartet, amplification is not an issue. So when you are then on stage with a band, you have a whole manner of things going on. Which is one of the reasons that I first got my electric cello. Before I was a soloist, I was doing a lot of session work with bands, but I couldn’t hear myself, so I needed an electric instrument in order to be able to have my own in ear monitoring. So really it’s down to the volume!
We hear you’ve been working on a new solo record…?
Yes, my fourth album will be out in November. I recorded that with Chris Fielding [bass and vocals, Conan] at Skyhammer [Studios] as producer. It was interesting because I’ve never worked with a producer like him, and he’s never worked with an artist like me, so it was very, very creative. Obviously, I’m not four guys playing guitars and drums, I’m me on my own. But we still had a lot of fun making sounds as we went along. He was always like “how about we try this” or “let’s stick it into this amp”. The resulting record, I’m super proud of it. It’s different to what I’ve done before; funnily enough with Chris, you’d think it would be heavy, but it’s actually more electronic, it’s got some real grooves in there.
Chris is a master of picking out some deep, bassy tones isn’t he!?
Yes! I’ll tell you what’s interesting as well, the guy who mastered it for me James Griffiths, he’s a film composer and he approached the mastering as he would do with a symphony orchestra. He further encouraged the bottom end out, so there’s a lot going on down at the deep end. He used his magical dark arts EQ system to really pull this out to the fore. I’ve got some guests on there as well… Dan [Capp] from Winterfylleth is on a guitar solo and Nik Sampson [Prolapse A.D.], he’s done a guitar solo as well. There’s only three tracks on the record!
Ohhh, so are they really long tracks?
Pretty long yeah! It’s not a very long album, it’s about 43 minutes in length. But for me, there’s no excuse to be longer than 45 minutes, I think that is a fine length.
How was it working with a more metal based producer like Chris Fielding? Did you find it very challenging, or was it a case of, let’s get out of our comfort zone and see what happens?
He’s very encouraging in all respects. My passion is in metal anyway, but the old school stuff like Judas Priest. I like massive Ampeg bass amps, so it was fine to start with! He said to me that he found it interesting listening to the demos, he thought it was quite fluid and unstructured. But actually when we came to record, it was very structured. I have three loop channels, but they will be running at different lengths, sometimes in different time signatures and tempos. But none-the-less there are only three channels, so there could be sixteen things on each, but once you get that concept as far as recording goes, it’s quite straight forward. You can start having a bit of fun. But the great things that he brought was the way he approached the sounds. He’d say “lets make this a bit more exciting” and then he’d do his wizardry. As with my previous records as well, when I go from the masters, I then work backwards again to live. So I begin with the sounds and get them the way I want them. I record them. My producer will do something magical, and then I will recreate that when I go back to live. So it’s a constant cycle!
So you’re constantly re-evaluating and changing up your tracks…
Yes! There’s a piece on my last record called ‘White Salt Stag’ [from 2016’s ‘The Five Incantations’] which was fine, very happy with it. But now I play it and it’s completely different. It’s 30bpm faster, there’s stuff that’s come out, stuff that’s gone in. My music exists on a record, and that’s a photograph of that moment in time. But the piece is not therefore committed that way.
That’s really interesting! That means you can improvise and keep things organic…
Absolutely! Very much!
So the new record is out in November, and you have a tour with Myrkur in December… What are you looking forward to doing in 2019?
There are a lot of things that are sketched out, but the thing that I am most excited about, I want to make a special concert that is a celebration release. So I don’t want to do a release concert in November, but in the spring of next year I want to do a celebration of this record. At the moment I’m scoring it, so I can push it into orchestral. So for example, with the Cappella Gedanensis orchestral choir that I work with in Poland, I’d like to perform the record with them. But also I’m going to do it with a band, and funnily enough with Wren, they’re going to help me realise this! Maybe, I don’t know, but I might present it solo, orchestrally and with band… And I might even combine the whole lot!
Wow! You’ve got loads happening, and you’re a mum as well. What does downtime look like for you, or has that gone out the window!?
[Giggles] It probably looks a lot sillier than it really is! But we are in the summer holidays now. All my day times are spent with my daughter, my niece and nephew. We went to watch Aliens Wear Underpants on Tuesday, so this is my downtime right now, it’s perfect, it’s beautiful! In the evenings I work. Touring takes a little bit of forethought. The most important thing is that home runs exactly the way it should do and she’s happy. My husband is a great dad. Very down to earth and flexible with his work, so the routine doesn’t change when I’m not there, which is really handy. This last week has been crazy, I was in Australia for just 36 hours, then back to Birmingham, and now I’m here! It’s full on, but it works and it will ease up a bit in September.
Have you managed to get your daughter interested in music and playing an instrument?
Yes, she’s got a cello! She’s not that interested, until her friends come around and then she’s like “this is my cello!” She plays nicely, but she’s not that keen. She likes playing the piano too. From the olden days I’ve got an old Access Virus German analogue synth that’s very cool! Apoptygma Berzerk used to use one a lot. I used to be really into them and I was like, “I want that synth!” So I bought one years ago. The children love it! It’s pretty much indestructible. You press a note and set the arpeggiators off and they love it!
A future star in the making! What does your husband make of having such a talented family?
Well he’s a very, very talented guitarist. He doesn’t play live any more, but he does still play. He’s very, very supportive and he doesn’t have an issue with my lifestyle. He’s a very still and calm man, he’s just like “yeah we can do this!” Honestly, I couldn’t do it otherwise.
Do you have any good festival survival tips?
Everyone says that!
[we all laugh]
After the interview finished, we haphazardly wandered off leaving behind our phones and bags, and fortunately Jo leapt straight into mother mode and told us to go back and get all our belongings!
Interview conducted by Ross Baker and Chris “Frenchie” French.
Live photo credit: Frenchie
Interview photo credit: Ian Percival @trashmonkeypics
Jo Quail’s new record will be released in November, followed by a December tour supporting Myrkur.
Early bird tickets for ArcTanGent 2019 are on sale now!