I’m going to send you some more stuff about the subject, but let’s talk Peru. First and foremost, congratulations on completing the project as I’m sure these cultural explorations must take a lot of time. Why Peru though?
A number of reasons really. One was that when Gilles and Brownswood asked me whether I’d be interested in doing a record for them, some of the suggestions felt too obvious. There was mention of going to Africa to record, but where do you start in Africa? It’s so huge. Depending on what region you are in, the experience will change dramatically due to the history and their own vibrations. It felt like too big a situation to get involved in at that time.
I say this to everyone but I think I was Peruvian in a different life. My wife has always spoken fondly of her experiences in Peru and a lot of her friends are Peruvian. At the time, a lot of them were moving back because they were beginning to have families. When we first went to Peru my son was three and my daughter was about 16 months old.
A lot of people don’t understand the sacrifice a mum needs to make to constantly be there for the kids. Unfortunately I think a lot of kids get put into care too young, either because of economic or financial situations. I really wanted to be there for her and help bring up our children because of the sacrifices she had to make to bring them up — her own loves and her own passions.
t felt like the perfect opportunity to have that dream holiday; taking her and the kids to Peru so she could go and see some of the friends that she hadn’t seen for years. It was also a chance to really embark on a new journey. When I thought about Peru I realised I didn’t really know anybody that knows much about the country. I certainly wasn’t told anything about Peru in school. You’d probably only know about the Incas and Machu Pichu or the pan flutist playing a really bad Bryan Adams cover on Croydon High Street.
I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore a new world of music, educate myself and open up a new palette of sound to my audience.
For some reason, I imagined that you’d mention your partner as a real influence for this project alongside your own personal discovery. Listening to the album, I certainly found parts of it very romantic. Would you say that Mirrors doubles up as an ode to your other half?
The fact that we have a life together. The fact that we have kids together means that my daily existence is for her and them anyway. I don’t mean that in a cliche way. It’s just that when you have a family of your own you live massively for them. You try and fill your home with love and general well-being of mind, body and spirit. If anything, me going to Peru was inspired by her experience of Peru and her longing to go. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen Peru had it not been for our relationship. So yeah, I definitely think there’s an aspect of that in the record.
Did having your family around change the way you approached recording? For instance, if your family were out on the beach and your kids were paddling around in the sea, would you usher that into the record?
Me and my son went for an afternoon walk near some of the rivers near Urubamba, otherwise known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It’s about 90mins outside of Cusco and we stayed there for just under two weeks. We were just walking around and he was throwing stones in the streams, finding massive bugs and caterpillars that you don’t see where we’re from.
I thought the sound of the stream was beautiful and this being water that runs in a sacred valley, I thought there must be something special about it. I remember him looking up into the mountains and saying “papa, thunder is coming”. If you listen to “Sound Of The River”, you hear my son go “thunder coming” at the start. It’s just little things like that. Trying to incorporate the actual reality of my experience of Peru into the record.
Did you have any profound experiences? Did you meet any people out there that really changed the way that you recorded?
I found some very interesting instruments. Part of the country is Afro-Peruvian so obviously it’s rich in African roots. They play a number of strange instruments that I’ve never heard of; the only well-known one is the cajon — a wooden box which gives out a low bass frequency as well as a high pitch patter.
The quijada is the jaw of a deceased donkey. You hold the top end of the jaw and using the hand and a bone, you scrape the teeth. With the base of your fist, you bash the thick bottom part of the jaw. It actually sounds really nice when layered on top of a snare. Then there’s the cajita: a donation box used at churches. The combination of opening and closing this wooden box and bashing a wooden stick on the outside creates the sound.
It’s always the percussion that always attracts my ear…
Mine too. Again, probably because it’s African-influenced. How deep does that Africanness spread throughout the world? It’s deep man. That’s why I couldn’t take on that Africa situation just now. It is an ancient thing in all of us — that basic rhythm. A lot of the rhythms in Peru are also 6/8 too.