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“Our second gig this year was at the Berghain in Berlin, that venue was lovely for us because it was fairly intimate but it had a really nice sound system that gave us everything we needed to get the clarity of sound.”
Mammal Hands are a UK trio and with just a saxophone, percussion and piano, they’ve carved out a refreshingly original sound that has seen them travel the world and perform to great acclaim. Indian ragas, north Indian jazz, classical music and folk melodies all inclusively form as much of an influence on their musical direction as masters of jazz like Coltrane and Miles Davis do.
The dynamic and contemporary jazz trio are making their Irish debut along with special guest Loah tonight at The Sugar Club. Find out more about the event here.
We caught up with the humble trio ahead of their debut show in Dublin tonight discussing and exploring their distinct style, interesting venues, the art of combining contemporary with electronic, the acclaimed Gwondana Records and finally, their latest album ‘Shadow Work’.
Your style is quite dynamic and different. How did such a distinct style come about?
Jordan: It evolved over time really, just through playing together a lot and sharing musical experiences and what we are listening to.
You’ve got such a mix of so many genres like jazz, north Indian, classical and much more and it’s so hard to define yet it has quite a modern twist on it. You could be placed with anyone similar to Ludovico Einaudi all the way to Aphex Twin. Almost uncategorisable. Commercially it must be quite hard to place yourselves in the industry?
Jesse: It’s not been a huge issue for us, it’s helped a lot being part of what Gondwana are doing and touring with Gogo Penguin gave us opportunities to find our audience early on.
How do you feel about contemporary jazz and its place in the over all musical sphere these days?
Nick: There’s a lot of contemporary jazz we like and it’s good to see more activity in that sphere generally but we also get excited about loads of stuff that has nothing to do with jazz.
Where’s your favourite place to perform? With the possible decline of dedicated jazz clubs, is it hard to find venues to perform in that suit the maybe intimate venue needs of the instruments and styles used, or is it a way to start something even more fresh and new?
Jesse: We have played in loads of really varied settings and we have got a lot out of presenting our music in all those different places. They all bring something different to the the way the music comes across. Our second gig this year was at the Berghain in Berlin, that venue was lovely for us because it was fairly intimate but it had a really nice sound system that gave us everything we needed to get the clarity of sound.
Your album ‘Shadow Work’ is almost how I would describe your style. It seems that it all the layers of the music just fit into place by shadowing each others music and instruments. How much improvisation goes into music like this? It sounds very structured but improvisation is always something that comes to mind with jazz influenced music.
Jesse: Thank you, we all try to play and write reactively and dynamically as much as possible. There is a lot improvisation particularly in the writing phase and we generally consolidate our ideas from there and leave certain areas open to varied approaches.
How do you feel your third record differs from your others?
Nick: We put a lot more thought into the production of ‘Shadow Work’ compared to our other albums. We were being more experimental in the studio, modifying the saxophone with guitar pedals, shaping the strings with effects and using field recordings to achieve greater textural depth in some places.
What are your separate musical backgrounds? How did yous start making music together?
Jesse: My background is mainly in Indian Tabla and that’s what I’ve been studying for the last 12 years, I still see myself very much as a student and pretty much study Tabla full time when we’re not touring. We all met in Norwich in 2012 and had much in common musically and found that our skills combined well together so it developed really naturally from there.
Nick: I did a degree in music tech a few years ago and I think that’s had a big influence on the way I play and write, before that it was mainly busking and playing in bands as a teenager.
There’s a clear nod to ambient electronic influences. The use of the saxophone in place of the traditional bass pushes the sound away from being electronic and adds a minimalistic classical sound to it, but the electronic influence can still be heard. Could you tell us more about this?
Jordan: The project was actually originally an electronic project of me and Nick’s which evolved after meeting Jesse. Me and Nick still make electronic music together and DJ with other projects. For us it is very interesting to compose in an electronic mindset but arrange it for our instruments.
Can you tell us about the cover of the new album ‘Shadow Work’ and the link with Joy Division?
Jordan: The cover was designed by Dan Halsall, who has done all three of our album covers. There is no link with Joy Division purposefully, but you’d have to ask Dan to see if it was an influence. Our aim was for something that linked nature to minimalism and also allowed for interpretation but we always give Dan free rein to follow his gut.
How do you keep the music so inventive all the time? What is your general approach to making music?
Nick: We don’t tend to over think it too much, we just get in a room together and chuck a load of ideas around and after consolidating the ideas whatever we feel best about tends to be the stuff we stick with.
Your music is quite cinematic, would film scoring ever be an option with you?
Jesse: Yes it’s something we have thought about quite a bit and doing something like could be really rewarding, if the right project came along.
Gondwana Records seem to take on quite distinct artists, have they affected your style in any way? It’s great to see independent labels for genres that some might say are slowly being lost.
Jordan: It’s been very exciting and interesting for us to have been releasing on Gondwana and they have supported us for most of our career as a band. I also played in Matthew Halsalls band for around three years which was a great learning experience. You are always influenced by the people and players around you and it’s good to see the label going from strength to strength.
Mammal Hands play The Sugar Club with Homebeat on Friday May 4.