I have been getting to know Rory Lavelle and the details of…
his new album, Waves (released tomorrow). He has, as confessed on his social media page, been spoon-feeding tracks to his fans – keeping them intrigued and tantalised. I ask about tracks like All These Horrors and the awesome black-and-white animation video that accompanies it. Lavelle discusses his home city of Belfast and the music scene there. I was eager to know more about his D.I.Y. approach and whether singers such as Nick Drake and Bill Withers, who he has been compared to, are important names.
The Irish songwriter looks ahead as he talks about Waves touring dates whilst casting his mind back at a recent gig at Ulster Hall – one where he supported the legendary Ian Brown. He dissects Waves and the kind of themes and issues that are addressed throughout; the albums that inspire him most and the new artists worth our time.
Hi, Rory, how are you? How has your week been?
I’m great, thanks.
Comfortably busy – which is the best I can hope for these days. Nothing a good foot-rub and ten-hours’ sleep won’t fix.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a Belfast-based singer-songwriter. I’ve been writing and performing music for over fifteen years. I’m known locally for having fronted Northern Irish Rock band, Indigo Fury. I have my first solo album due for release on 2nd June.
You are about to release the album, Waves. Are you excited to see it out there? Has it Has it been quite a long and hard road getting the record completed?
Bizarrely, I’m almost reluctant to release it, having worked on it in solitude for approx. two years. After all the parts were recorded; it was literally a case of clutching an hour here and there to tidy things up.
But, yeah, at the same time I’m looking forward to seeing it out there and, also, moving on to the next thing.
What does that title mean to you? What kind of issues do you address in the record?
The title refers to a few things – mainly me staring at WAV files (approx. 350 in total) while editing the album – WAV being the audio format commonly used in music production. The other connection would be the tone of the album flitting between dark and euphoric; peaks and troughs like a wave. The album reflects where we are right now with the state of government; the daily media exposure of corruption; greed and violence and the general numbness and apathy in society.
Lyrically, the songs delve into my darkest thoughts and the fears and insecurities we all experience with stories of human fragility; tipping points and the pressures of modern living.
Of course, there’s the odd ray of sunshine to set the balance. In fact, the instrumentation is contradictory to the dark subject matter with lush strings, piano and harmonies taking centre-stage.
Much like life itself, the darkness is only there when you seek it out.
All These Horrors is a taster. It seems, to me, like a reaction to modern atrocities and violence around the world – terrorism, sanctioned air strikes and conflict. What was the actual impetus and origin of that song?
Around the time of the post 9/11 Iraq war, I shared a house in Belfast with three other guys; one of whom was obsessed with the twenty-four-seven news coverage. I was working long continental shifts in a horrible plastics factory and would arrive home to my friend’s passionate update on what the troops had been up to. I conveyed my fears to him regularly and joked that they’d find me surrounded by a wall stomping my grounds with a double-barreled shot-gun. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out.
As we all know, things haven’t improved much since then so the images and the lyrical content built up over the years – and fell out when the right riff fell into my lap.
The video matches stark images with a black-and-white animation. Whose concept was the video and what was your reaction seeing it back?
I was a fan of a number of videos for songs by local musicians and then found out it was the same guy producing them, Rich Davis (http://www.soundsmakeshapes.co.uk). I love that old traditional animation that you rarely see these days. I had a brief chat with him; suggested the walls/war theme and let him get on with it.
I loved seeing the final version and, thematically and tonally, it really suited the track.
Your soulful-sweet vocal blends recall Nick Drake, Thom Yorke and, oddly, Bill Withers. It seems like you have a diverse musical upbringing. Who are the singers and artists that resonate hardest inside you?
I’ve been known locally as primarily an Indie-Rock vocalist but, in recent years, and from performing a lot of cover gigs to fund the album, I’ve fallen in love with a lot of Soul/Motown artists e.g. Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers; Aretha Franklin etc.
This, along with my first loves John Lennon, Kurt Cobain; Thom Yorke etc. has really helped me to find my own voice – which I think is evident on the album.
Based out of Belfast; what is the city like when it comes to great new music? Is there quite an active scene there right now?
The scene is a lot more diverse than ever. When I started out it was Indie, Rock or Electronic – or, indeed, a combination of sorts. Everybody and their dog seem to be able to play now and there are a lot more platforms for all sorts of genres.
Having performed in bands and conformed to that lifestyle; has it been challenging acclimatising to a new discipline and way of life as a solo artist?
I’ve always been very in control of the material and how it’s presented. There are pros and cons to the band and solo processes. When you fail or mess up as a solo artist there’s nobody to blame but yourself – and I suppose that’s why I’ve always hidden in bands.
But, if you’re focused enough and can work on your own it’s a great outlet.
At an Ulster Hall gig, you opened for Ian Brown. Does that count as one of your career highlights so far? Was that quite a crazy evening?
That was a great night and truly bizarre. I’ve always been an Ian Brown fan; starting with the Stone Roses right through to his solo material. I remember post-gig seeing a huge table with around forty magnums of Champagne and nobody was bothered with them – they were there, should someone fancy a drop! How the other half live!
It seems like you are very D.I.Y. and keen to see your concepts through to the very end. How much outside interaction do you receive when producing your music? Do you think it is important having that control of your own material?
A very talented drummer called Chris McEvoy worked with me for about two months on the feel and arrangements of the tracks. We recorded the drums, violins and cellos in approx. three days, and then, I was left to throw everything else down.
I knew what I wanted and I’ve had good and bad experiences with producers: this way, I got the recordings how I wanted them.
There’s probably a little too much garage hiss at times, but on the whole, I’m really happy with the end result.
Will you be touring Waves? Where can people catch you on the road?
I’ve started working with two very talented guys Stevie Mac and Paul Olphert (on keys and guitar, respectively) and we hope to recruit a rhythm section very soon – so keep checking out the Facebook and Twitter for live updates. I think the material stands up well, live.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant most to you; which would they be and why?
The White Album by The Beatles
For its broad range of genre – and the songwriting peaked here, for me.
Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan
Oozes conviction and integrity. This was also one of the most melodic Dylan albums. Beautiful stuff.
Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses
Big dose of nostalgia for me, and make no mistake: if you’re looking for the best of Guns N’ Roses, look no further.
Are there any new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
What advice would you give to any new artists coming through right now?
Enjoy your music and make it the best it can be.
Everything else will fall into place.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
We just finished our Belfast summer (a sunny week in May) so, in keeping with that theme: July by Mundy would be great!
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