Stephanie Kukulka talks to the former Portico Quarter band-member about leaving the band, and letting his projects “cook”
Photography Ross Trevail
While on a two-week holiday in Guatemala from his former band, Portico Quartet, Nick Mulvey found himself for the first time confidentially playing his songs to a group of locals. In his terms, “a defining moment”. After five successful years establishing and growing Portico Quartet, in early 2011 Mulvey announced his departure. For the past 18 months Mulvey has dedicated himself to developing his sound, and direction, as a solo musician. With the launch of his first EP, Fever to the Form, before his gig at The Slaughtered Lamb, conveniently located around the corner from Port HQ, Stephanie Kukulka spoke with the musician about going it alone.
What triggered your decision to leave Portico Quartet?
My primary instrument is the guitar, so for me it was always a question of when I would leave Portico, rather than if. Developing the band and playing the hang-drum was a really unexpected and wonderful tangent. Before we even realized, we went from busking at London’s Southbank to being a successful band. From that point the tangent took off and, initially, one year not playing the guitar was fine, but then four years passed and I was getting frustrated. By the fifth year I really missed playing the guitar. It started to irritate me that I wasn’t growing – I actually think it started to give me indigestion. I needed to write these songs, I had to write these songs. At the same time, the boys were really growing with electronics, and it was evident I wasn’t on the same level. So essentially it was natural progression for me, and I had the boys blessing.
When you decided to make the step towards going solo, where did you find inspiration?
In a sense it had already started by the time I officially went solo, as I had generated a lot of personal, yet unsolidified, material over the five years with Portico. I was keen to not put high expectations on myself, and have the time and space I needed. Part of this meant cutting all ties with managers and record labels – I couldn’t think business. I thought, ‘What if I played my guitar everyday for 6 months?’ So, I got a little writing room in Dalston and stated playing my guitar everyday.
How do you approach writing a song?
I take it anyway it comes; there’s no set equation. I tend to allow the mumbles, and then see how they shape up – which is a simple thing to say, but very different than sitting there thinking about what I should, or would like to, write about. Technically for me it starts with playing around with guitar patterns – that is, repetitive chord sequences. I find it very easy, I have a bank of them stored up. The patterns will then tell me the spaces available for the vocals, so essentially one does inform the other. Because my guitar patterns tend to be busy with a lot of content, this often makes my vocals, especially my vowel sounds, quite long, as this is where the space is.
How are the next six months looking for you?
This summer is a steady run of festivals and gigs – Glastonbury, Latitude, Secret Garden Party and Cambridge Folk Festival, to name a few. Amongst this, and continuously writing new material, in July I’ll be recording the next single. That will push towards September when I will start recording the album, which is due for release early 2014. A lot of this process for me is remembering not to rush. It seems an essential tether to the whole thing. As I’ve wanted to do this for five years, at first I was impatient. I kept thinking ‘I’m so ready’, but when you consider how long you have to oven-bake a project, you don’t want to rush it.
Can you recall any particularly surreal moments in your career?
When I was 18 I found myself at rave in North Norfolk – we were a bunch of kids with our mates on the beach, and I was literally knee deep in the north sea. Years later Knee Deep in the North Sea became the name of a track, and the title of our first album. Five years later, after I had left Portico, Alt-J got in touch with the boys saying how much they liked the album and asked permission to use the line – knee deep in the north sea – in their song Dissolve Me. I’d forgotten this, and it wasn’t until last year at Green Man Festival in Wales, whilst watching Alt-J perform Dissolve Me in a packed out tent with hundreds of people singing that lyric, that my original moment in North Norfolk came full circle. I had goosebumps – it was such a surreal moment.
Nick Mulvey is currently touring the UK, and will be supporting Laura Marling later this year check his website for details