Stream our favourite track "Gloves Off" and find out more about the band and this excellent project below.
Click below to purchase the album from iTunes.
Links: Bandcamp / Facebook / First Word Records
Tell us a bit about the Teotima Ensemble and how you got this 14 man unit together...
The musicians are all people that I've known for quite a few years through doing music in London - either through playing in the same bands - bands such as Ruby and The Vines, Wara and FUR or just through meeting each other repeatedly at different gigs - mutual friends, seeing each other's bands such as United Vibrations etc. Some of the musicians are people I've been playing with in one form or another since we were 12 / 13 years old!
In terms of getting the project together, it was done step-by-step. The first step was writing one tune (Counting The Ways), and getting together first with Fabio one of the percussionists to check how it came across to him, then with Ellie the singer to do the same thing, then with a group of drums, percussion, bass, keys, vocals & guitar to see how it felt to actually play it all the way through as a song, and then finally with a full ensemble including horns & strings, just at a rehearsal. The idea was to play that one song all the way through with all the instruments at a rehearsal, and then if it felt good to everyone - I would keep writing, and if it didn't, I'd go back to the drawing board!
It felt good and everyone seemed enthusiastic so I finished off a second arrangement (Gloves Off), and the next step was to record them both and use them to try and find a label who might be up for releasing a whole album, if one were to be made!
Quite often projects of this size just don't make it to fruition, what helped drive this? The logistics must of been a nightmare!
Yes - it was complicated logistically. There isn't really a special way of doing things like this, I think making something this size happen boils down to planning everything very far in advance and remembering to keep reminding people to reply to your emails and texts! I think it really is as simple as that. And maybe having spreadsheets where you keep a note of who's replied, who hasn't, what they've said etc! Just admin like in any office or organisation really! That first full-band rehearsal where we played through the song Counting The Ways was on 28th Jan 2012, and I was emailing people to organise it right at the beginning of December 2011...
To me the album is 42 minutes of perfection. I love the way that each track could be a single yet it also works flawlessly as an album. How did you go about the writing process?
The writing process was gradual - the first song was started in August 2011, the last one was finished in March 2013, so the writing was happening whilst I was working with other bands and teaching. When I started thinking about this band, I had clear ideas of the different things I wanted from music at that time, and I wasn't hearing any music that seemed to combine these different things. That meant I wasn't really listening to any music for quite a while, or when I did I didn't find it very satisfying. A friend suggested that if I had clear ideas of what I wanted to hear, and nothing else was providing them - I was in a good position to write the thing I wanted to hear!
These were such things as:
- The amazing elegant and deceptively complex grooves of west-african, cuban and Brazilian music.
- Powerful and unusual arranging in the style of arrangers such as Gil Evans - whose arrangements have so much identity and character.
- Improvisation, but within the forms of strong arrangements - rather than really long solos over a relatively small bit of source material such as in much jazz (although I also love jazz and play that kind of stuff as well!).
A kind of relaxed or soothing / healing character to the music, for want of a better word. Not that I wanted it to sound like 'post-club classical chill-out', or whale song, but to have some aspect that would be calming and maybe stress-relieving. So this might have come out through the generally medium-to-slow tempos and danceable grooves.
A kind of juxtaposition of melancholy and sadness, joy and something slightly unsettling. A lot of West-African music, particularly from Guinea, I find has that mix, and I find it really beautiful and amazing.
I also wanted each piece to have it's own distinct identity but for them all to work well as a whole. I started quite a few different things, and then once I had a bit of music that I thought could be developed into a whole tune, I did that! I also enlisted the help of a couple of other people in the group - Nick Sigsworth one of the violin players wrote the string parts for Darbari (which are amazing). Ellie Rose Rusbridge and I wrote the song Orange Lamps together through a kind of back and forth process - she wrote the song using some chord progressions I put together, and then I wrote the arrangement around her song, checking it with her bit by bit.
The LP is very emotionally charged, full of character and vivid imagery. Was its creation painstaking or did it come naturally?
I'm not sure if I can remember very accurately - I think the answer is both! The source material for each tune - the bit of music I had to start off with, was usually something that had come naturally or had come out of just playing around, not always necessarily trying to write. The painstaking part was writing the arrangements and actually finishing the tunes - it's one thing to have a cool idea, but another thing to turn the cool idea into something with strucure, a good beginning, a good ending, etc! And when you know you're going to have 14/15 musicians playing what you've written, I think you take a lot of care to try and make sure that every single note you've written for every single musician is the best possible thing you could give them to play at that moment, considering all the things that are happening in the tune!
Obviously with something like that there's never any single definitive best arrangement, I suppose there's an infinite number of best solutions, but also an infinite number of rubbish ones, so you want to make sure you've arrived at one of the best ones!
The stand out track for me is Gloves Off, what was the inspiration behind this one?
The source material, or first bit of music, for this one was the main bass line, the line that starts at 00:57 and comes back in various forms at different points in the song. That bass line came in to my head when I was singing 'Crazy In Love' by Beyonce to myself, whilst cycling home from a friend's house late at night. At first I used the bass line to write a kind of simple jazz-groove tune to play at function gigs etc - something that people could dance to but that we the musicians could also use as a starting point for improvising. At this point the tune basically just consisted of that bass line, and the melody that comes in at 1:19.
When I started thinking of this band, I thought that that bass line and melody were strong material, and might be a good thing to use to try and write a longer, fuller piece. Then when thinking about structure, I thought about trying to write something using quite a standard structure in classical music which is basically - first theme, variations on first theme, second theme, variations on second theme, first and second theme together.
This is more or less the structure of the tune, although with some extra bits and bobs along the way.
This project was helped financially via Kickstarter, more and more productions seem to be funded that way, do you see this as an important tool to getting projects like this off the ground?
Definitely for me! I'm not sure this would have happened without Kickstarter. There are still quite a few arts grants available in the UK for various things, but at the stage I was at (two songs recorded, no live performances, nothing released) it can be quite difficult to successfully apply for funding of the amounts needed to do something like this - for example to spend a week in a studio recording 15 musicians live to tape!
You wouldn't have been able to use Kickstarter five or ten years ago, is this a sign that the traditional record label is dead?
I'm not sure - to me it doesn't seem like the traditional record label is dead - but that might depend on my definition of a traditional record label. To me a traditional record label is a company that makes a huge profit margin on a tiny percentage of it's products, (it just so happens that the product is audio recordings) and loses money on everything else! I think that's still what happens with the major labels - perhaps what's changed is the willingness of record companies to take risks when investing in new artists. As far as I can tell that almost doesn't happen any more - by this I mean any new artist that has significant financial backing from a record label, the kind of amounts necessary to push them into a level of popularity where they can actually make a living solely from that one musical project, is usually one that sounds very similar to most other things that are being released and making that kind of money! Labels feel less and less certain that they might make money on things that sounds noticeably different to anything else! With a few rare exceptions...
One of your incentives in the Kickstarter project was to cook the pledger a feast of foods from around the world, does the fusion that runs through your music also run through your kitchen?
Haha, I think the answer is yes! I live with 6 other people at the moment and we all love food from all over the world. I think we've covered most areas of the globe in our own cooking at one point or another. We also live in an area of London where it's easy to find ingredients from all over the world, which makes things a bit easier!
Your album was clearly a musical highlight for us last year, what were a couple of yours?
The two Flying Ibex albums - Travel in Dangerous Places and Habits, seeing Wayne Shorter and the BBC Concert Orchestra at the 2013 London Jazz Festival was totally beautiful as well as mind-blowing, Shabaka Hutchings and the Sons Of Kemet at the Vortex in early 2013, 'Wires' by the Floating Points Ensemble, seeing a short-lived but amazing band called Wolperdinger play at Word Is Born, probably lots of others I can't remember! Kit Downes 'Light From Old Stars' album launch at the Cockpit was stunning as well.
What is next for the Teotima Ensemble?
Not sure yet! Hopefully loads of gigs in beautiful sunny corners of the world with delicious local produce!
More music will probably come, slowly but surely. I'm having a bit of a rest right now from some of the intense admin and organisational side of things, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm back on the treadmill.
As and when there's enough good new music to record, hopefully we'll do that! I did an arrangement of a Joni Mitchell song called 'Rainy Night House' that we played at the Teotima launch gig at Wilton's Music Hall in December 2013, I'd quite like to record that!