The creative process is rarely linear. It’s often filled with twists, turns, blind alleys and the occasional dead end. As consumers of released music, we’re typically listening to the end-result of that journey; the ‘final destination’ artistically speaking.
India Electric Co. however, have set out to not only explore different musical pathways in search of their sound but to take us (the audience) on that journey with them. Their current trilogy of EP’s promise an exploration of different themes and ideas that will eventually lead them to a chosen sound for their second album.
Two of the trilogy, ECM1 and Seven Sisters, have been released so far, with a third planned for later this year. The initial releases have drawn positive acclaim, with FRUK’s Mike Davies describing the duo as being “out there on the cutting edge of reinterpreting traditional folk music for the modern era.”
I sat down with Cole and Joe one afternoon during their UK headline tour to find out more about the motivation behind the EP trilogy.
“The process was one about developing as songwriters, going back to our roots maybe” Cole explains. “I think there’s no better way to develop as writers than to go and learn all these tunes, other people’s songs. That’s really what the process has been about…that and trying to forge a little more continuity within our sound, an India Electric Company stamp.”
“It’s a genuine work in progress” he continues. “Hopefully people come with us on that journey and I hope that when we reach the point where we’ve done the EP trilogy we’ve created, almost by default, a bit more continuity within our sound. That way, when it comes to doing the second album we’ll have an album that is a whole rather than ten random tracks.”
Each EP attempts to explore and present the duo’s interpretation of a particular theme or homogeneous sound. With Seven Sisters, the focus was very much on English and Scottish folk tunes. Joe describes this as a deliberate attempt to focus on material from closer to home:
“We’d been playing a lot of folk music, but folk music from a lot of different sources. We’d been taking stuff from South America, from French gypsy jazz…but we wanted to try and do something that was more true to where we’ve grown up. We ended up researching English folk tunes, really trying to keep it local. It was something that up until now we’d almost ignored.”
Working on a set of EP’s as opposed to an album also suited the duo logistically. Touring as part of Midge Ure’s band consumes a lot of Cole and Joe’s time, however, as a result, they’ve learned to make the most of any spare hours.
“When we first started with Midge” Cole recounts, “he was always working on stuff in the dressing room and we took quite a bit of inspiration from that. Joe started carrying around a little USB keyboard with him that we’d plug into the computer while we were on the tour bus, or when we were on an aeroplane we’d be working on little bits.”
Cole and Joe’s musical partnership started when they were young; Cole’s Dad ran a music shop, often frequented by Joe’s dad:
“We never had sofas in our house, just guitar boxes” Cole laughs. “It used to drive my Mum wild; my Dad would come home with a Marshall amp that he’d swapped for a rotavator or something. There was always music around, so I started almost by osmosis. Looking back, there was always music on. If we were in the car there was always a tape being played, if we were at home someone was always playing the guitar. It’s always been a big part of my life.”
“When Joe and I were around twenty-one, we’d play a few gigs in pubs and it was fun but we wanted to lock ourselves away and start writing…just to dip our toes into that. It quickly became apparent that we felt like we had something we could work with. We actually decided to move to Paris to try and learn a bit of gypsy jazz…we failed and formed an English folk-duo! It went on from there. Just the joy of learning songs and writing in Joe’s bedroom in Devon – it was great, not having any kind of outside pressure to conform to any specific style or release anything…we just worked at our own pace and I suppose we started our apprenticeship.”
The duo’s contemporary and varied take on traditional music is borne from a wide variety of influences: “There’s a lot” Joe explains “from jazz to more traditional folk, The Gloaming, pop and rock…I loved Radiohead when I was fourteen or fifteen. We still try to listen to as much as possible.”
Cole picks up; “For each track, we try and reference something so it’s a good way of trying to explore. That’s the great thing about what we do; we get to spend time listening to music, which is an absolute joy. We’re always challenging each other to find new stuff…anything from Nina Simone to Beirut to Radiohead to James Blake. Just keeping an open mind really.”
When pressed, Cole describes the ability to listen as fundamental to his development as an artist:
“I think I never really listened until we started really focusing on songwriting. And listening with an open mind. I think at one point I was quite blinkered; we’d write something and I would say ‘This is great, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.’ Then we’d go away from it, sometimes for a week…we’d listen to it fresh and think ‘this is terrible, what were we thinking?’ If you can have that ability to take a step back and listen properly to other people, and to yourself, then naturally it’s going to help. And it makes for a much more enjoyable experience as well, as opposed to listening with an ego or listening with envy.”
Creatively, the duo’s experimental recording approach is a core aspect of their sound. “We mess around with a lot and use dampened piano techniques” Joe explains. “The arrangements are heavily improvised but also a lot of the arrangements happen in the edit as well.”
“In a way, we are very traditional in the way that we go about things,” says Cole. “We’re just setting up two microphones and it’s all about the space where we record. The last record was recorded at this National Trust property in Hackney which is beautiful with a Steinway piano, and a property in Devon. It’s all about the acoustics really…you end up with that imprint on each song.”
The success of ECM1 and Seven Sisters has led to the duo’s first headline tour, an experience that’s clearly felt like a progression from their previous performances as a support act:
“I knew it was going to be great to do” smiles Cole, “because you go on that journey with an audience where you don’t as a support act. But I’m shocked at how much I’m enjoying the process of sharing these songs that we put so much into. People are there because they want to hear obscure songs off your album which absolutely blows my mind. I’ve fallen in love with singing again.”
Joe nods in agreement: “The shows are so much more relaxed than the formal theatre shows we were doing as support. With those shows we ended up just locking into a song, it would always be the same every night…but here it feels like we can change it. We can play with the songs and I think it breathes new freshness into the material.
I ask the duo about the third EP; “Well, it’s due!” laughs Cole. “The back end of last year was pretty crazy with the Midge tour and with getting Seven Sisters out. We didn’t want to just write for the sake of it. We wanted to take some time to focus on what that third EP is going to be and what we’re going to learn from it, which maybe has a little bit more globalist inclinations…the Eastern European elements that we both love and haven’t explored yet. This tour pretty much goes on until the end of March, we’ve got some shows with Midge and then it’s straight into that writing process. It’ll be out later this year…which is exciting!”
For details of upcoming shows visit: http://indiaelectricco.com/