If you haven’t heard of onDeadWaves before, you may already know the band. One is James Chapman, better known as Maps, whose critically acclaimed debut “We Can Create” was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and whose latest album “Vicissitude” , came out on Mute. The other is Polly Scattergood, the electrically charged artist who has released two solo albums on Mute. Amanda Stock caught up with Polly and James recently to talk about this latest collaboration.
Hi Polly and James, you must be really pleased with the positive reaction that your latest single “Blue Inside” is receiving. It got a big thumbs up here at XS Noize.
James: Thank you, it’s been really nice to see that. You never really know until you put your work out there – it’s been really good to see the positive vibes.
Polly: Oh thanks so much, we really appreciate all the support.
Now, you both worked together back in 2011 for the Mute Short Circuit Festival at The Roundhouse – whose idea was that?
Polly: I think it was Daniel’s (Daniel Miller – Founder of Mute Records). He wanted to get lots of artists doing different collaborations and he suggested that we speak with each other to see how it went and we got on straightaway. James came round to my flat in London, we had a few rehearsals and it just seemed to work. It was a fun collaboration.
Did that lead to the idea that you would both like to work together on something else?
James: Yes, we talked about it. We couldn’t straightaway as we were both in the middle of making our solo albums. (Polly’s “Arrows” and Maps’ “Vicissitude” both released on Mute Records in 2013 ) but we did want to do something else together.
You’ve both worked on remixes for each other and other artists in the last couple of years too, most notably, the Norwegian Singer-Songwriter, Susanne Sundfor. James, the Maps remix of “Fade Away” was great. It’s a really strong song but you gave it a sedate quality which worked.
James: Oh, thanks a lot. I really like that particular remix too.
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When you came together, for onDeadWaves , did you discuss the recording/writing process beforehand? Obviously, you are both established solo artists. How was it different?
James: There was never really a formal discussion as such; we wanted to try one track initially…
Polly: Yes, I went up to James’ house, to go and see him and do some writing. It wasn’t a planned out project or anything. We were just hanging out together. We started writing and then we just didn’t really stop! It just worked. We didn’t even realise it was an album until we had written over half of it. We didn’t want to put it into any bracket, we just wanted to write songs and see what happened.
Did you always write together?
Polly: James has a studio in his house and we would both write together but also sometimes, we would sit and not speak to each other for hours because we were both working on our own stuff but we fell into a way of working that was very easy. We both have a love of production, for our own stuff. With onDeadWaves, there was a really clear sound from the very beginning; we didn’t have to talk too much about it. The sound was just there and we both had the same direction of how we wanted the album to sound.
That must be ideal when you meet a fellow musician, to have that same vision.
James: Yeah, that’s true. I think it’s quite hard sometimes to let someone else into what you do and I think with this, it happened naturally. We couldn’t have a big masterplan or anything like that. We were just doing it because we enjoyed doing it. It was good.
Polly: I think the reason it worked in terms of being in the studio is because there was no “end plan”. We were having a go, having fun and I think that’s why it worked. It was just two friends hanging out.
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Do you share common musical influences?
James: We both like a lot of different stuff, we both like the band Low and Polly likes Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, those kind of “big guns”. We both share mutual love of those.
Polly: In terms of influences, our common ground is shared in our love of film. When we were writing for the album, we didn’t talk so much in “musical” references but we did sometimes watch films with the kind of imagery and vibe that we wanted our music to convey, if you know what I mean.
It’s interesting you say that, because the two singles released so far, “Blackbird”and “Blue Inside” have a strong, cinematic, visual quality to them. They’re a good indicator of what the rest of the album sounds like, too. It’s a very “visual” piece of work.
Polly: Yes, I’m pleased that you could hear that, we wanted to have a cinematic feel to the record.
Will you tour with the album?
James: Yeah, we’ve been rehearsing hard and we are planning to play some dates.
I read that there will be an “in the flesh” exhibition to promote the album - that sounds interesting and a bit different – can you tell us more about that?
Polly: Yes, it’s happening in a place called Mario’s Café, which is in Kentish Town, this May. It’s quite a legendary café, well, in my opinion anyway because it does the best breakfast in London! Mario has a constant stream of artists with really interesting exhibitions that he has up in his café. I was in there one morning and I was telling him about the album - James and I were working on the artwork at that point. He suggested that we have an exhibition there and I thought that was a nice idea – we’d had plans to make it a little interactive anyway. The plan is that there will be 10 images, each representing a track from the album, then underneath each image there’s going to be an MP3 player which you can listen to whilst looking at the artwork.
Do you have a favourite song from the album? I really like “Dead Balloons” – it’s a great song that has quite a tentative beginning but evolves into something with a steady beat and a catchy chorus.
Polly: Thank you! I think, for me, it does change but I guess the song that gave me “that feeling” was “Winter’s Child, it was the last track we recorded. It gave a sense of finality to the project. There’s an undercurrent of darkness, a feeling of loss; it starts off very sparse and goes to this big epic ending. We were like: OK, we’re done now.
Who came up with the band name?
James: Thinking of band names is always a bit of a nightmare! We thought onDeadWaves summed up the “feel” of the project, the push and pull of the waves. It has a dark undercurrent and it conjured up the right imagery that suited the feel of the music.
Polly: Yeah, waves are constantly moving and changing, there are ebbs and flows, highs and lows. We thought of the expansiveness of the waves and then the word “dead” kind of summed it all up really! (giggles)
What are the long term plans for onDeadWaves?
James: For now, it’s getting out there, playing some live dates, that’s the main focus for us at the moment.
Polly: Yeah, we’ve been rehearsing loads. The “Live” sound is quite a big sound, quite heavy but it’s going to be really good.
Are you both still working on your own music too?
James: I’m still working on Maps stuff – I never really stop. It’s one of those things, it’s not really like a job, it’s just something you’re always doing but I’m still bubbling away with new songs. But for now, we want to get this album out there and we’re really excited about playing these songs live.
Is there anyone else you would like to work with?
Polly: I’d love to do a collaboration with a film director - I’d love onDeadWaves to write a film soundtrack or something like that cos I think that would be something we would be pretty good at and we would really enjoy. James has been working on some mixtapes for onDeadWaves of the stuff we listen to…
James: Yeah, I’m doing these mixtapes, one every month on https://soundcloud.com/ondeadwaves It’s a collection of tunes that we are into, some old, some new. I just listen to what I like really, whether it’s old or new or classical…I don’t listen to the radio but there’s a lot of stuff out there that if you look for, you can find it but I don’t keep up with Radio 1 (laughs)
Well Polly, James, thank you for taking time out to speak to XS Noize today. We wish you all the best with the debut album and live dates and look forward to hearing more from you.
James: Thank you very much
Polly: Thank you for all the support – it’s really appreciated.
onDeadWaves’ debut album will be released on Mute 20th MAY 2016