Not only is Nick the guitarist of Jessica Law and The Outlaws, he’s also a talented multi-instrumentalist producer, responsible for arranging and recording my past three EPs. I met Nick when advertising for victims (collaborators! I mean collaborators) in “The Adventures of Sticky Harry and Associates”, a madcap radio play I wrote at university. Since then, we’ve developed an almost psychic level of creative communication, to the extent that he’s actually able to understand and execute phrases such as “electronic doomscape” and “BOM bom BOM bom.” Nick lives in London with his fiancee and numerous pets of varying adorability.
Firstly – why did you agree to get embroiled in all this?
After university, I found myself doing a sound engineering course at SSR London, and was in need of recording clients. Fortunately, I had just discovered that you had expanded your array of talents to include songwriting, and so, having heard those first songs, I offered my services. Many mandolin and vocal tracks later (not to mention a string trio recorded in a bedroom, a set of pan pipes improvised from beer bottles, and a joint of ham boiling in a pot), The Littlest Libertine was done, and we were off!
And you’re not just a collaborator – tell me about Phlebas, your “philosophical death metal” solo project!
Aha! In fact, this is also a child of my time at SSR London – I wrote and recorded my first ever death metal song for my first big project there, and I have been writing and demoing metal songs ever since. Last year, I decided – mostly to prove to myself that I could – to properly record a full album of the best of my songs so far. The resulting album, Alkahest, is now fully recorded, will be released at some point this year, with some wonderful album art from Lordanumblue (Nottingham-based artist Ben Lord).
Where does the name come from?
The name comes from the mention of ‘Phlebas the Phoenician’ in the fourth section of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, called ‘Death by Water’. That section always stuck with me – a beautiful bit of simplicity in the midst of a sprawling Modernist poem, looking at time, death, and nature – and I felt it was in-keeping with the attitude and themes embodied in the songs, so I went and nicked it. Unfortunately, it’s almost universally assumed to be a reference to Iain M Banks’s Consider Phlebas, which I have yet to read… Sorry, fellow nerds.
So, what have you found to be the challenges of being in a band compared to solo projects?
One thing I’ve found both tricky and rewarding after each release is the challenge of how to translate the vibe of our often complex arrangements on the record into something that can be played live. Also challenging: helping move Rachel’s keyboard up and down tube station stairs…
Are there some things only a band can offer?
However much I love sitting at my laptop and indulging myself with Wakeman-like multi-instrumental excess, there’s nothing quite like the feeling during a gig when you all lock together and the song just carries you along. It’s sort of like being a component in some sentient Rube Goldberg machine.
Where do your musical roots lie?
I’ve sort of put down roots as I go – I’m the son of two classical piano teachers, and have sung in Anglican choirs on and off since I was 7, but since then I’ve taken it upon myself to educate myself in bluegrass, extreme metal and trad English folk, which have more or less become my musical home. For now.
When we meet, we often spend every second rambling on about all things musical. So there are probably a lot of things we don’t know about each other. Tell me something about yourself that I didn’t know…
I share a birthday with Niccolò Machiavelli, James Brown, Pete Seeger, email spam, and geocaching.
Do you have any pie-in-the-sky projects you’d love to do if you had infinite time / money?
I’ve had a hankering to put together some kind of impractically theatrical metal band inspired by the Wicked and the Divine series of comics – the lighting alone I’m sure would reduce me to penury, but it’d be a hell of a show right up until the bailiffs arrived…
You can catch Nick and the rest of us at our next live gig in Bristol, Teatre: Jessica Law and the Outlaws, an intimate afternoon of sinister folk ditties with tea and cake included!