In 2014 a new artist floated onto our radar. Boy, are we grateful.
With sounds that were ambient and rooted in Eastern influences, Nick Mulvey’s first solo album, aptly called First Mind would reach the UK top ten and carve a new path in the populist revival of folk music.
What made Mulvey’s take unique however was his break from the Western music canon. After studying music in Havana, Cuba, he embarked on a course in Ethnomusicology at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. One cannot overlook this interesting background when understanding where Nick’s signature sound came from. Of course, die-hard fans would have been familiar with Mulvey prior to his solo career, as a Hang and percussion player in jazz band Portico Quartet. Nevertheless, its on his solo work, in single releases such as ‘Cucuru’ where Mulvey really comes into his own.
This eclectic blend of folk and Eastern influences are to be carried through on his next album release, Wake Up Now. The record, set to be released this September, has already given birth to three well received single releases. I’m lucky enough to chat to Nick about their influences, and his journey in recording his latest record. With songs largely written in response to the hectic social and political climate we currently find our world in, I’m interested to know if Nick believes his songwriting can play any part in reversing some of the humanitarian ills he perceives.
“You have to keep a sense of perspective,” says Nick, assuredly. “The “artist’s paradox” has been a really helpful idea for me. For any artist to go to the effort of making something, you have to believe its important otherwise you’d never make anything. You have to believe that your work will have an impact in some way. Nonetheless, the paradox is that on the other hand, you have to know that your actions are tiny in the bigger picture. I’m not actually on the front line changing policy, building shelters and giving vaccines. I do really believe that music has an important role in our world, even if I have to live knowing both sides of the paradox.” Nick is certain that his role in making the world a better place is as a musician, and he has no illusions of dropping his guitar to take up at role at the UN. “My practicality in helping the world is in my gigs.”
That thought is carried through when we move on to talk more about the album. “Wake Up Now can be interpreted to be a call to wider humanity as much as to myself. Fire and foremost however, its recording has been a path of self therapy, and me speaking to myself. They are my medicine and I hope that’s what makes them enjoyable and healing for anyone else. I’m aware people will hear it as a command, and I’m dancing between the meanings of the title. Yet we’re all not so dissimilar to each other. If it appeals to me, it should appeal to others.
“Any healing comes from healing yourself first of all.”
Nick is audibly enthusiastic as he talks about latest single ‘Mountain To Move’, his voice spiking with glee as he tells me that Radio One made it their hottest track on the night of its release. “It’s great to finally put this song out because its a really key song for the record. Some songs are written in one afternoon and some you live with for years, and this song is very much one of the latter.
It appeared in different stages. The first was way back in 2015, whilst on the last leg of his first album tour in America. Nick recalls “I had become a bit disillusioned with ambition. Expectations became enormous. If you’re not careful you can find yourself in a place where you’re never satisfied, and I was beginning to look outwards, comparing what other people had to what I had and it was getting me down. In California however there was something about being of the Pacific Coast, under the enormous amount of sky that gave me breathing space and allowed me to process things. I realised I was “lost in comparison.’ Saying those words were the first lines I got from the album and writing it was a real turning point in terms of me getting my head around my feelings at that time.
The second was later that year, post-touring and settled into a new home in the English countryside with his wife. “I woke up on the morning after the November 13th Paris terror attacks which happened in the Bataclan, a club I’d played in. I was of course shocked and devastated by it, and the next lines of the song “I don’t want to see us loose anymore time/ This moment is a mountain to move” were born out of that. Those are from a more outward perspective, whereas the lines I wrote in America came from looking inward.
“It’s my belief that answers lie within us. We are consciously trained to seek authority outside of ourselves, from our parents and our schoolteachers for example. That’s why I say that this moment is a mountain to move, because even when things can seem insurmountable, with a degree of self knowledge we can change so much.
“Looking inside eventually becomes more than naval gazing. No one lives in a vacuum. That’s a theme throughout the whole record, Wake Up Now. We have enormous power withing ourselves.”
It’s clear that Nick makes his music primarily for the reasons of enjoyment and healing. He seems, for example taken aback when asked about how he envisions where the record will take him professionally, and how he wants his career to progress. “That’s not why I do it. Me and my team will first and foremost be living the messages of the record when we do the tour for this album, essentially practising what we preach. I welcome any greater successes in terms of the gigs growing and the record selling well, but that isn’t my ultimate aim.”
Nonetheless, Nick’s music has brought him considerable success. With that success of course comes the opportunity to rub shoulders with music royalty, as Nick found out when he worked with none other than Brian Eno in the first stages of his new album’s production. “It did feel like it was shooting for the stars, I was obviously shocked and delighted when he replied!” A fan of Nick’s first album, the two met last year in Notting Hill. “We talked about all kinds of things, ranging through music to politics and science and spirituality.” Acknowledging his own “unique way of playing with more repetition and taking influence from West African music, the pair played around.
“One of the most important things that Brian taught me was about community. He is no believer in the “lone artist”, working in solitude with himself. He’s very real about the fact that artists exist in a web of influence, and no artist is influenced by themselves. That conversation lead to the fact that Wake Up Now is full of me and my family. We have a gang vocal where you can hear my wife and our friends, including the singer Fifi Dewey who is an amazing solo artist in her own right. It’s full of the life and vitality of me and all my friends.
But another important lesson was to “question convention”, and that has embedded the mindset where “to see clearly is to challenge convention.”
Listeners will have to wait until September 8th to hear the full result of Nick’s incredible journey in crafting the record Wake Up Now. He says however that without giving too much away, he will be releasing one more single ahead of that date. You can also catch him across festival stages this summer, with his UK tour kicking off on September 27th at Empire Music Hall, Belfast.
Words by Paige Tracey