Nick Mulvey has not only made a name for himself as an ex-member of the Mercury-nominated band Portico Quartet but also as the hottest new act, supporting the likes of Laura Marling, Jamie Cullum, and Lianne La Havas. His EP Fever to the Form proved that he is quickly coming into his own, so Acoustic’s Sarah Joy sat down to talk debut solo tours and his much anticipated first album.
Hi, Nick. What was it like going solo after achieving such success in a band like Portico Quartet?
It was what I needed to do, so fundamentally it felt right. It wasn’t an easy move because I loved being in the band but I was always a guitarist, a songwriter and a singer and I wasn’t doing any of those things in Portico Quartet. I always knew I’d get back to it at some point.
You’ve also gone from playing percussion and hang to playing guitar in your solo work. Do you see yourself more as a percussionist or a guitar player?
I don’t really draw those lines. When I was a kid I always wanted to play the drum kit, then I learnt some piano and I found the guitar when I was a teenager. What I like about the guitar, in a naïve way, is that the left hand is like the piano and the right hand is like the drums. In one instrument, you have both those things – one hand with harmony and one hand with rhythm. That’s a naïve way to see it but actually it’s true.
Do you get a different experience onstage playing guitar?
Whatever I play, I do similar things. I don’t want to be too virtuosic – I like to just hold my position and play a supporting role. Even if I’m by myself, I like to support the song with the guitar playing. I did the same thing in Portico Quartet. I like loops and repetitions. I think the differences between the instruments are really interesting, but also surface level. What interests me more is the thing underneath it, which is about repetition, tension, release and all the hypnotic qualities I like in music –those are the things that matter.
The songs you’re playing now, have you’ve been sitting on them for a while or is it all new material?
Pretty much everything I’ve written has been since leaving the band so it’s all about two-years-old. At least all the songwriting is – some of the guitar patterns were a little bit older, maybe three years. Certainly the principles have been brewing for a long time. I didn’t start from scratch.
I would describe Portico Quartet as jazz but your solo work is acoustic. Is acoustic what influences you?
I’ve got loads of influences, but I don’t think about it by genres. Half of Portico Quartet was really into jazz, and they got me into it. I always felt like an imposter at all these jazz festivals, when you are with really great jazz musicians. The thing about jazz is that it is all about technical ability and because I played a particularly unusual instrument [the hang drum] with its remarkable sound, half my work was done in just finding it and making a project out of it. It meant that I could get through unnoticed – I was sort of blagging it in the jazz world. I definitely don’t think of myself as a folk musician, I just think of myself as a musician. I never put a label on it. It is almost a cliché when an artist says it, but it’s really important that you don’t. I can’t limit myself, you know?
You’ve played some amazing support slots with the likes of Laura Marling and Lianna Le Havas. How have those experiences been?
I love playing every night and to have the opportunity to go out on tour with really great artists. The artists I’ve been with are all my favourite peers so I’ve been really chuffed with how the live stuff has gone this year.
Does playing bigger venues that comes with supporting these hugely successful artists faze you?
It’s been different audiences who are intelligent, who really want to be there, and who are focused. It’s exactly what I’m in it for – I love it. Supporting Rodrigo y Gabriela around France and Germany was different because they’re huge there so I went from playing pubs to 7,000 capacity arenas. That was quite stressful. I was going out every night hoping I’d get to the end of the set okay – it was quite tough and I was pretty nervous. Then I got there, went out every night and just did it. I learnt so much so quickly that I could go out with Lianne La Havas and be more confident every night.
You played Glastonbury and a lot of other festivals this summer. Do you enjoy being out there touring a lot?
I think everyone had a really good summer this year, didn’t they? It’s been incredible. The weather and the good moods have just been amazing. It’s been wicked to travel around. I think I had 11 consecutive weekends, at mostly festivals and some gigs. With Portico we never really released singles on the radio, so for me it’s a new experience going up to like Scotland and have people come to the gigs who have heard me on the radio. Everyone knows the tunes and that is really exciting.
You’re doing a number of solo shows in November. Are you excited about your first headline tour?
It’s going to be my first headline tour so, yeah, I’m really intrigued. Even with how social media is today, you never know how things will go until you are face-to-face with people. Fiona Bevan, a singer who I used to live with, is supporting – she’s an excellent guitarist and I’m really excited to have her on the tour.
You entered the studio in September to record your debut album, how is that going?
We’re halfway through at the moment so, at this point, to go on tour with Laura Marling right now is really important. I came directly from the studio to travel for the tour so it’s good to get some headspace and distance but it’s going really well. It’ll be finished by the end of October. I reckon it’ll be out by around Easter 2014. I’m not rereleasing everything, but I’ve rerecorded everything. It just made sense as this first record has got to be this material.
Do you feel any expectations and pressure on your solo work?
No, not really. When I left Portico Quartet, I was very cautious to take a year out to not be in contact with the music industry. I just wanted to get into my thing as an artist. I was very sure to nurture that, protect that, and build it so it was strong. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I just knew that if I take care of the work deeply, then I knew the business side would take care of itself. It’s cool to see that coming together in a way.
On your recordings your sound is pretty full – is your live set-up with a full band or is it more stripped-back?
Currently it’s just me on stage and very stripped-back. I just had to go there with the recordings and try it out. I had so many musical ideas that I just wanted to give them a go. I think some of the recordings have ended up fuller than the album will be. The live show in time, I hope, will have a band around it. There’s no rush with that so for the foreseeable future I’m happy to be touring it alone.
Nick Mulvey’s EP Fever to the Form is out now. His new single ‘Nitrous’ is out October 28. Nick tours the UK throughout November. Sarah Joy