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Nick Talbot (Gravenhurst)

Gravenhurst is a vehicle for the music of the singer-songwriter, record producer and multi-instrumentalist Nick Talbot, who lives in Bristol, England and is signed to Warp Records. Gravenhurst's roots lie in the melodic noise of My Bloody Valentine, the lush vocal harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, the alchemical guitars of Richard Thompson and Johnny Marr, and the widescreen ambient visions of Brian Eno. Over the course of six startling releases, Talbot has developed and retained a unique identity across multiple genres. Talbot's haunting and powerful voice, virtuoso guitar work, ethereal production and mysterious lyrical themes ensure that Gravenhurst is a consistent yet ever evolving sound-world, and one with a particularly fanatical cult following.

While Nick began performing solo, singing and fingerpicking a guitar, the addition of other Bristol musicians propelled Gravenhurst into a powerful live band, touring extensively across Europe, and the USA, both as a headline act and as support to bands including Broadcast, Belle and Sebastian, Explosions In The Sky, Animal Collective, and Paul Smith (Maximo Park).

(from http://gravenhurstmusic.com/index.php/biography/)

Gravenhurst will play in Močvara on the 15th of October, 2012.

Since this is your first visit to Croatia, could you introduce in brief the world and music of Gravenhurst to Croatian audience?

I prefer to leave that job to the music journalists.

Gravenhurst - The Prize (taken from forthcoming album 'The Ghost In Daylight') from Warp Records on Vimeo.

I like the retro futuristic cover art for the new album a lot and I think it complements the album well. After listening to "The ghost in daylight" I got this "old novelty" sensation that made me want to return to it again and again. It felt like returning to the place I once knew and watching it with more mature eyes. It also felt like reading the old sf pulp magazines and realizing I'm living in them. Is there an intentional imagery behind the songs on the album(s) or do you think that music is mainly evocative to the personal interpretation?

It's always gratifying to hear that people are able to interpret my music in a way that is satisfying to them personally, because what I set out to do is to create a world that is evocative but only half-finished; I leave clues, maps and symbols and let the listener make up the rest for themselves. The most important thing for me is to create a sense of mystery; mystery is the single most potent sensation for me. It's something I love in the writings of M.R. James; his ghost stories work on the power of suggestion; they create extreme unease through subtle evocation rather than any explicit descriptions of horror or violence. The power of suggestion is the key to successful ghost stories, and that's something I've always tried to do with Gravenhurst. I'm glad you were able to get something satisfying from it, and I'm even happier If the next person gets something completely different - that means I've succeeded to some degree.

Did anything happpen in the five years since your last album that pushed the lyrics on the new album towards political statements (e.g. emptiness of the prize) and do you take it as an imperative (or sign of maturation) for the artists to take a stance at some level and underline sociopolitical issues of today?

While it's true that I've not really covered overtly political themes before, the political aspects of the new album are fairly subtle in most cases. I've always felt more comfortable covering more general issues of human experience than specific political issues that could quickly become dated. I'd like to think that the political themes are "small p", political rather than "Political", if you get my meaning, in that I'm not writing songs about the current UK government, as much as I loathe them, and have very strong views on their policies; instead, I'm writing songs about the 'wider' political themes and general trends that give rise to the specific situations we find ourselves in. So "The Foundry" is about the way people behave when they take on a social role, how they change when they put on a uniform and are "just doing their job", and how this has often given rise to blind obedience to authority. There are allusions to ethnic cleansing, the Nazi concentration camps, but it's important that people don't just see it as a historical thing; ethnic cleansing is going on right now in Rwanda for instance. So here I have written about the social and psychological forces that give rise to ethnic cleansing, rather than writing about what is going on in Rwanda.

In the song "Fitzrovia" I mention some historical events in London, such as the Battle Of Cable Street; this is the only time I have mentioned a specific event in a song. This song is about how geography absorbs the events that have taken place there, and evolves a psychology of it's own; scratch below the surface of present-day London and you can feel the emotional resonance that has built up over time; the sum total of the psychic carnage experienced in those places is contained within them. This kind of thing is often called 'psychogeography', and it's a very interesting idea which has been influenced by writers such as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, two of my favourite writers. 'Psychogeography' had become such a popular idea that it's in danger of becoming hackneyed and tired, but I think there is still a lot of creative potential within it.
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But to return to your specific question, I think it's possible that my decision to mention a specific socio-political event (in so far as it was a calculated decision, which it rarely is) for the first time may well have been influenced my increasing feelings of distress about my country, the government and the direction it is going in. The Battle Of Cable Street demonstrated a proud occasion where there was total solidarity on the political Left in the face of Oswald Mosley's fascist Brownshirts. I won't go into it in detail, it's worth reading about on Wikipedia, but this kind of solidarity on the Left is a rare thing now, and as Left-winger, I feel that it is more crucial than ever that we achieve solidarity in the face of the growing disasters of capitalism. People are totally apathetic about politics, and the Right in the UK have managed to blame a crisis of capitalism on the Left, saying the previous Labour government spent too much, even though at the time the Conservatives pledged to match those spending levels, and of course the huge deficit was in reality caused by the necessity of bailing out the banks. This is totally absurd, but the Right is brilliant at propaganda, especially because most people read Right-wing tabloid newspapers. They are using this banking crisis, this huge failure of unregulated Neo-Liberal economics as an excuse to destroy the welfare state, the public sector and all sorts of crucial public services. The Right is ideologically opposed to the public sector and welfare state, and they are using the deficit as an excuse to destroy them. They are pursuing a divide-and-rule strategy, turning the working classes on themselves by stigmatising the jobless and welfare claimants so as to legitimise cutting welfare. The Right-wing press pushes this agenda for them and the majority of people believe it. It is more important than ever that people become educated to the reality of the situation, but instead the Left is experiencing an intellectual crisis, a lack of ideas; it needs a revolution in ideas and new strategies for getting their message acros to the majority of the population. So yes, I think my increasing worries about the political realties has possibly influenced the allusions to political history on the album, but I don't think it's about 'maturation'. In fact in many cases it's the opposite way around; many bands that start out with overt political messages go on to write about more subtle aspects of the human experience and are all the better for it. For me, I think my maturation as a songwriter has involved a change in the way I use language rather than a change in subject matter. I look back at earlier lyrics and some come across as a bit heavy-handed and adolescent, and I'm quite proud of the fact that I have moved on from that, and my writing has got more subtle. It's been influenced by what I've been reading; discovering writers like Gordon Burn and Iain Sinclair had a big effect on my lyrics as well as the prose I have written on my blog and in a few magazines. I'm generally more influenced by novelists than by other songwriters, though my discovery of Richard Thompson had a big effect on me; he's a masterly lyricist.

Retro futuristic look of the album cover and the video for "The Prize" call upon a distopian feeling of the music and lyrics on the new album. All of your previous albums took place in the make believe world of dark fantasy, mystery and murders (not a very light place). Does a step towards more up to date political issues on The ghost in daylight mean that Gravenhurst's reality is closing in on our own?

I don't know what the lyrics on the next album will like, so I can't say. I may well abandon the city and seek refuge in the forest again.

Are we really living a (nearly) dystopian reality or is there a chance of changing it? Are we doomed?

No-body knows for sure; the only crucial thing to do is to try to take control of our situation; we can do this; we have the technology to do it, and it is advancing all the time. But if we want to harness the technology to enable humans and the earth to survive as an inhabitable place, we need to make the right decisions. I don't believe that corporations can be trusted to make such decisions, when the only legal requirement they have is to maximize profit for their shareholders. Capitalism will not make ethical decisions of its own volition. We must find a way to make capitalism work for the workers, instead of the workers working for capitalism. I'm not opposed to the free market, but it must be regulated. We have just experienced a crisis of capitalism which makes this fucking obvious, and one would think that given this crisis people will be more receptive to more Keynesian or even Socialist ideas, but that hasn't really happened; people despair of capitalism but don't believe there are any workable alternatives.
More importantly, the Right has created a hegemony, and made the people think the crisis was caused by too much government spending. That's utterly ludicrous, but people believe it because the Right has near complete dominance of the newspapers people read. The most immediate thing the Left needs to do is find a new way of educating people to the reality of the economic situation. Even though a Marxist analysis of the situation has a lot to merit it, and is largely a correct analysis, people won't be receptive to the language of old-fashioned Marxist dogma. So the Left needs a new language with which to describe the situation. People need to realize the obscene inequalities in wealth, the obscene poverty that exists even in wealthy countries like Britain, and that the Right doesn't give a shit about them. In old-fashioned Marxist language they need to be made 'class-conscious'; but they need to be told in a language that doesn't make them turn off. The old ways in which the workers were educated as to their class position - through the trade unions and the Labour Movement, those ways have died. We need to find new ways to disseminate the information. I hope that as the spending cuts really kick in it will make people really fucking angry, get them radicalized, educated, and ready to be involved in a movement of political change. At the moment, people in Britain are apathetic and election turnouts are very low. But if the Conservatives make their lives miserable enough they might make them angry enough to kick them out!
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I read in an interview that you were into a metal a lot. Since Gravenhurst's music mixes acoustic finger picking and shoegazing, are there any other musical crossover possibilities in the future of Gravenhurst (e.g. experimentation with metal/post metal)? How much did your musical experiences define Gravenhurst's musical direction so far?

The metal influences come though in tracks like "Song From Under The Arches" on 'Fires In Distant Buildings'. My idea of pure musical fun is to play bass in a metal band; a band where I'm not the songwriter, and not responsible for anything; a band were I just get to play great running metal bass lines! It won't have anything to do with Gravenhurst. in fact I might wear a mask and do it secretly.

How does it feel touring as Gravenhurst (the band) again after such a long pause? Do you have any expectations from the audience/venues/cities you visit?

This is a completely new Gravenhurst band; the new Gravenhurst Ensemble. It's me, Claire Adams and Rachel Lancaster. Claire plays drums and sings, Rachel plays bass and keyboards and sings, and obviously I play guitars and sing. The previous Gravenhurst bands were all men and there was no vocal harmonies even though my vocal harmonies are such an important part of my records. The previous Gravenhurst bands were great but they were loud and concentrated on the rock side of Gravenhurst; I often found myself losing my voice half way through european tours and it did result in the cancellation of shows. I have a quite fragile voice, so trying to sing over a loud band was a very difficult strain on my vocal chords and it resulted in me getting quite ill several times. I wanted to put together a new band that would be quieter, and concentrate on vocal harmonies. I met Claire and Rachel through Paul Smith from Maximo Park; they were playing in his backing band for his solo album. I went on tour supporting them, cos I know Paul through Warp, and we got on very well. They live in different parts of the UK, so rehearsing has been expensive and complicated, involving a lot of travelling, but it's been totally worth it because the band sounds amazing and we get on very well. This is the best live Gravenhurst band so far. Singing harmonies is an amazing feeling.

I don't know what the audiences will be expecting but so far everyone who has seen it says it's best live Gravenhurst band so far. I agree.
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bir // 05/10/2012


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