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noise polluter

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by Kevin Thomas

It’s rare to find an album, or single for that matter, that gracefully combines natural and synthetic sounds, but English duo Grasscut consistently produce beautiful blends of the two. Since they opened at English music festival The Big Chill in 2009, Grasscut have toured from Slovakia to Holland to Poland to Belgium and continue to gain a European following.

We got some time to talk to vocalist, guitarist, and keyboard player, Andrew Phillips. Enjoy!


KEVIN THOMAS FOR NOISE POLLUTER: The Irish Times say that Grasscut is ‘ Quite the most beguiling fusion of ambient music, found sounds and voice samples… eerie, odd and utterly compulsive.’ Do you think this is an accurate description? When someone asks you what genre you make, what do you tell them?

ANDREW PHILLIPS: It’s a very flattering comment. And I think it was made about the first album ‘1 Inch : ½ Mile’. I think it’s a pretty good description for that album. ‘Unearth,’ our second, had similar elements but I think my songwriting developed, and of course we worked with amazing people like Seb Rochford and Robert Wyatt. The next record moves on again – live strings, live drums, the electronic elements in an atmospheric rather than rhythmic role. People sometimes say ‘classical electronica’ because of the string arranging I guess, but we always try to avoid questions about genre, or tell them its “gin’n’tronica.”


NP: What about Robert Wyatt makes him such an inspiration and influence?

AP: I think the music you find when you’re young defines and affects you in a very deep way. I started listening to Robert in the 80s, starting with Nothing Can Stop Us and Rock Bottom, and I’ve kept his music with me ever since. His records just haven’t compromised in terms of content or sound, and it’s music that is really lived. Marcus could obviously tell you much more about Mr Wyatt the man – I spent one day with him recording Richardson Road, and he as was as warm, generous and creative in person as I could have hoped from his recordings.


NP: What part of the songwriting process do you think is the most important and why? Are there any rituals or traditions you have?

AP: It’s about keeping the spark of the initial idea. And staying true to that as you develop it.
I often write songs first thing in the morning when I’ve just woken up. The house is quiet, your head is clear, and the first ideas, and the first notes, really count. I tend to keep a guitar by the bed.


NP: What about your lives has changed since you opened at the Big Chill in 2009? Do you consider this to be Grasscut’s transformative moment?

AP: Big Chill was an amazing moment. But for me the transformative moment for Grasscut was in Poland at the Sacrum Profanum Festival in 2012, playing alongside Kronos Quartet. I’d been asked to do a 15 minute re-arrangement of Gorecki’s 3rd String Quartet for Grasscut to perform as a trio with me on guitar and laptop, Marcus on piano and kaoss pad, and Aram on drums. We were playing in this massive factory, and it just totally went off! A brilliant night, and a total privilege to be there.


NP: Why did you decide to do a cover of “Catholic Architecture” by Robert Wyatt for your newest release? What about this song appeals the most to you?

AP: Over the last few years Marcus has been writing the authorised biography of Robert Wyatt, which is about to be published by Serpent’s Tail, and we wanted to do something to mark that musically. The song Catholic Architecture stood out, partly because it’s not that well known, but mostly because it’s so wide open musically and lyrically, I felt I could actually add something. I love Robert’s recording of the song, and the tune is so strong that it can more than take a rearrangement.


NP: In what ways do you think Grasscut has changed since ‘1 inch / ½ Mile’?
AP: I think we’ve developed but I don’t really think we’ve fundamentally changed. I think the same preoccupations are there: landscape, memory. But playing your music live has a massive effect – ‘1 Inch; ½ Mile’ had some ideas on it that I’d been playing around with for years, without ever thinking about performing them. So that album moves around a lot. Since then I think I’ve developed as a composer, and I think we’ve found what we do best; and so ‘Everyone Was A Bird,’ our third album, is written for voice, piano, guitar, drums, violin, viola and cello. We rehearsed it, and then we recorded it, like they used to. And it pretty much sticks to that approach. With a few producerly knobs on, obviously.


NP: What has been the most rewarding about composing music for TV and movies?

AP: Working with amazing directors and editors, and exploring the power of music as a narrative form. I score a lot of documentaries and feature documentaries, and I love the fact that everything you do has such an emotional effect. And I’m lucky in that the people I tend to work with resist anything generic, and are so alert to the role of music in their films.


NP: Out of the many countries you have toured in, which has been the best host to Grasscut? Which has been the worst?

AP: We’ve always had a great time in Slovakia, Poland, Holland, France – everywhere really. There was once a gig in a town that shall remain nameless that was a total nightmare as the audience were all in a K-Hole at 4am, but that’s enough of that.


NP: If you could play anywhere this weekend, where would you play?

AP: Vienna. We really want to play there. Or New York City.


NP: Describe your music in three words.

(Philip Larkin)

Grasscut’s new single, “Catholic Architechture/ Beacon,” is available for pre-order here. Their third album, ‘Everyone Was A Bird,’ will be released early next year.



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