28 year-old jazz’n’roller Nick Mulvey‘s official biography describes how, three and a bit years ago, on a beach in Honduras, he experienced a “sink or swim moment”. Having just given Portico Quartet his own P45, he was “surrounded by strangers, clutching an acoustic guitar” and he just started to sing. One solo EP and a single later, the man famous for playing the hang in the UK’s most successful contemporary jazz outfit has moved his sound towards folkier climes.
He is currently touring the UK and tonight (11 November) his show comes to XOYO. We caught up with him to discuss the break-up from the band, touring with Laura Marling and how laughing gas influenced his new single.
Which of the following did your leaving Portico Quartet feel most akin to: (i) Robbie leaving Take That; (ii) Noel leaving Oasis; (iii) Geri leaving Spice Girls; or (iv) Nadine sorta-kinda leaving Girls Aloud with a hint of potential return?
[Laughs] Definitely Geri.
Were you worried about going it alone?
Not really. I had five months between making the decision and finishing all the Portico Quartet tours and commitments so by the time I struck out alone I was only excited, really.
What was the first composition you wrote for your own solo project?
It was Fever to the Form.
Where and when was the first gig you played on your own?
Well, occasionally during the six years I was in the band I’d be asked to do solo shows so it wasn’t something completely new to me when I left. But in the performing, as in the writing and the recording, it felt good to be in new, unknown territory.
You recently supported Laura Marling on tour. When choosing a support slot, do you think – as an artist – that you’re aligning yourself in a musical niche, identifying Marling fans, for example, as people who may potentially enjoy your own style?
Yeah, I think there’s a fair bit of identifying niches going on, but I’m just grateful to be asked and to be getting the experience. My agent is good at the tactics.
What is the current single, Nitrous, about?
I was amazed and quite entertained by how prevalent the consumption of laughing gas, nitrous oxide, was at the UK festivals in 2012. I was on a festival tour that summer and it was everywhere! Its ubiquity as well as the nature of the experience struck me as interesting. Anything that catches my attention has a good chance of ending up in a song and I found myself half mumbling/half writing the opening lines and the song grew from there. I try to hold my writing in my peripheral vision if you know what I mean – I let it bubble away and become what it wants to become. The song, I eventually discovered, is about hope.
The song includes a mini cover of Olive’s You’re Not Alone – why did you choose to cover this particular song?
It seemed to choose itself. Primarily the Olive melody and words-patterns scanned perfectly and offered a resolution to the struggles depicted in my verses. “Open your mind” feels very good to sing. And secondly, it interested me to dip into the popular music vernacular for my chorus. An exercise in collage!
What are your best-loved London haunts?
I often go to a place in Dalston called Floyds – it’s right next to my writing studio and feeds me up with delicious food. I also love Biddles Bros in Clapton and they have a bartender who is actually a parrot!
And what about gigs – do you get to watch live music in London much yourself?
It’s essential for me to go to live music, so I do when I can. Last gig I went to was Toy at The Garage in Islington. Those kids fried my tiny mind.
Do you have favourite gig venues in London?
I like The Scala in King’s Cross. Can hold a great atmosphere, that room. I also like Servants Jazz Quarter in Dalston.
And besides Toy, any other recent gigs you have enjoyed?
I’ve also recently been to see Matthew E White at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which was great. But a bit formal a venue for that band, I think.
So, what’s next for you?
My next single will be out in the new year. Full-length album is finished and is set for a release after Easter.
What can you tell us about the album?
I’m proud of it. I’ve done my best and that’s a good feeling. I made it with mad-cap genius producer, Dan Carey, in South London in September.