Erland Cooper hails from a place hard to describe as anything less than magical. Orkney seems truly lost to time, a true historic archipelago, the island boasts the earliest neolithic sites known to man, the awe-inspiring Ring of Brodgar (which is older than Stonehenge, thank you very much), Scottish castles, and, no less, long abandoned relics of World War II, scuttled ships and empty bunkers and fortifications. It’s an escape so surreal, it can feel our world doesn’t deserve it.

Yet, Orkney is simply home for Erland. Long known in the UK for his work within Erland and the Carnival, as well as The Magnetic North, after nearly a decade recording music, Cooper had oft paid tribute to his birthplace, but he now wanted to craft a record that felt like Orkney, dare I say, captured its very essence. Or, rather, he needed to. For hardly the first time, Orkney saved Erland Cooper. Solan Goose was born of necessity.

I caught Erland on the phone driving towards Glasgow, and he was truly shocked to find that I was the first journalist he’d ever spoken with who’d already been to his personal bastion. It lead to quite the conversation. Read on for insights into his recent album, its partner EP, Night Flight, and ever so much more.

(Skipping a bit of introductory chatter)

Erland Cooper: So where are you?

The 405: The Georgia mountains, actually.

Oh, wow! What's it like?

It's beautiful! You probably think of something like Deliverance, but it's a very pretty place.

I was gonna say, yeah. [Laughs] It's surrounded by mountains, did you say? Amazing. Landscape and nature, two things close to me, very much. I've just got back from the Orkney Islands.

Right, so, I don't know if you've heard, but I actually worked out there for a summer.

[Clearly shocked] What?!

Yeah, man! That's how I got into the album, to be honest. Got an email saying 'Orkney', and thought, "I lived there!!"

[Laughing in excitement] You don't get an email saying 'Orkney' and link it to music very often, do you? That's amazing! Tell me what you were doing, and when, go on!

When I was in college [I worked with a professor filming and studying the local history, trimming down my prattling for you, dear reader] It was incredible.

[Jovial laughter] This is the best thing I've heard! It's so rare...normally the first question I ask anyone who wants to do an interview, or just have a chat, "Have you been to Orkney, or how close have you got?" I'm so, so thrilled! That just made my day. Because usually I spend most of my time convincing people to go, like I work for the tourist board or somethin'. So it's great that you've already been. I guess you were checking out all the Neolithic sites, and their link to the medieval artifacts?

The Ring of Brogdar is a strong memory.

Oh, aye, I was just there just two weeks, yeah, yeah.

It's been a long time for me, this was like 2009. I don't remember all the names, but we did indeed do everything you mention, we stayed with a local man who helped run the local history society, and he had a farm, which had an old World War II bunker where the bull hung out, which shows perfectly just how common impressive history is there.

[Laughs] Yeah. Wow! I hope you want to Stromness, the small fishing village, that's where I'm from.

Definitely! I remember that, I was kind of on navigation a bit then.

Awww that's made my day, that's brilliant. Every year I go back, and I take a whole group with me, and I took like documentary makers who like Vikings, and I took my own filmmaker Alex, who's work is just incredible, his photography and visual work, and I also took my colleague, my viola player, a few synthesizers, and you'll know this!

We went into some of the cairns, inside the 5,000 year old cairns themselves, and were generating noises from the synths, and it was bouncing off the walls, and I was recording them, recordings of the soprano and other instruments, just kind of getting them to resonate in this ancient space, and then re-recording that, it was kind of weird that they were kind of filming us work, a bit weird, fly on the wall, so I kind of had a couple of tantrums, like, "Look, I'm tryna work" [laughs] "Would you be quiet, or just get out?" You know what I mean? You know what it's like, just doing your job, and someone watching you do it, and you just want 2 hours to yourself. By the way, I'm driving right now, with my manager, so if it conks out, just call again.

Sure! Well, make sure you're driving safe.

Oh no, she's driving, I'm just sat back. [chuckles] She's laughing at me. 'She's not a chauffeur!' Yeah, so, it's just so great that you know the spaces that I'm referring to. Kind of in a romantic way perhaps, I wanted to capture the landscape. Do you know what impulse-response recording is? In really crude terms, I wanted to "sample" the Neolithic cairn, I wanted to sample the sound, the reverb, of my town hall, I wanted to sample the sound underneath the pier, so I did these impulse responses, and captured them with good mics and stuff, and you run like a frequency, and just do a clapper, you know, and you get the noise, and it creates a reverb, and you take that back, to my studio, where I'm going now. And it means I can then put in, I can put whatever I want into the cairn, you know what I mean?

It's got so sophisticated now, it's really good, and I just A-B'd with a couple folk in the room, 'Which is the town hall, and which is the one I've just taken the recording and added that in?' It's like a sonic postcard, this kind of weird thing, and they couldn't tell. For me, it's kind of like, well...for everybody else, it's just "That's a fancy, that's a nice sounding reverb, but to me it's my local town hall in Stromness, it's that place. It's the heart of the landscape, which means more to me than...the narrative is important, it's not romantic and nostalgic, but it resonates in a way that wouldn't resonate the same in...reverb on the computer. This is like the synth, the drones, from the Minimoog in a Neolthic cairn sound fucking great. There's something that happens when you capture it. I actually thought, that in the cairn, it would just sound like a toilet, and not very good, you know, just a bit like, "Oh, is he in the bath?"

But it was weird, it was really weird, one of the guys filming was in there, and I'd asked him to be really quiet, because nobody was brave enough to go through the tiny hole, to get in the entrance, and this was one of the kinda unmanned cairns, and we did it anyway, and I'm kind of moving around trying to get like a left-right stereo pan, there's on speaker in one chamber, and another speaker in another chamber, and I'm like, playing back this drone that I've created earlier from the Moog or whatever, and then I'm like, moving left and right to capture it with the field recorder, and he's fliming it, and I've kinda forgotten he's there, and anyway, we get to the end of it, and he likes at me, and he's like, "Erland. That was so fucking intense." And I'm like, "What do ya mean?" " I think we might have upset the spirits." I was like, "Wut? C'mon!" It's like when you watch a scary movie, and there's always someone out to mince you and you get a little bit nervous, so um, having spent 40 minutes in there, we shot out. But I got some great recordings. They'll mean more to me than anyone else, but it was something. It was an experience. Anyway, I'm rambling, I just thought it was neat that you know it.

Not at all. Obviously not to the level it is for you, but Orkney is a romantic place in my memory as well. This is something you did recently, right?

This is what...I'm working on a follow up record to Solan Goose for next year. The first one is about air and birds, effectively, and this one is about the sea and the landscape, and the narrative you know. So we recorded on a fishing boat, and the old abandoned gun installations looking out to sea. I just wanted to take a bit of the landscape back with me, physically. And Alex shot some more film, I don't know if you've had a chance to watch any of his films that we did up there for music videos for some of the tracks, but you'll get a real sense of being back in Orkney no doubt when you watch them. Not so much "music videos", you might remember the cliffs and things like that, and he did three films. For me, I just watch them and I feel like I've gone home, and hopefully they'll have the same impression on you.

I'm sure they will!

I did a show last night, actually, in a church, and we projected those films back to back after the show, it worked really well! By the end of the show, this woman, she was actually in tears or whatever, and she said, "Oh my god, it felt like there was redemption in that, I felt like I came up to Orkney with you." And all I could say was, "Well, why don't you book your flight and your ferry and get up there yourself! You know? It was a nice feeling.

So, beyond Solan Goose, I've heard Night Flight, which is rather different.

Well, I'm trying to subvert expectations, I don't...people put you in a box and expect one thing. Night Flight for me is a recycling of layers and it very much wears its influences on its sleeve. It's quite clear that I like and admire the artists that I've referenced in that from Hopkins and so on, but I don't care. I did it, and I've had loads of messages from folks saying, "Is that you?" I thought it was just the piano. I love that. When people think they've got you sussed, and then you just do something, like this cheeky little step. I'd actually asked Jon Hopkins if he'd do a remix, and this was just before he dropped his album. And I didn't...I knew he had an album coming, but I didn't know it was coming literally a month later. He was so lovely, he was like, 'Thank you, I'm not taking on any other work for like...2 years.' "2 years?? Fuck." And then he dropped this incredible record, and I went, 'Oh yeah. He's touring the world for 2 years. Goodbye.'

So, then I thought to myself, I love that music, I love those records, I'm just gonna have a put. And then I did a remix, and Mary Anne Hobbs played it and it was my first remix, so I was encouraged by Charlotte at the record label, and Ben's Late Night Tales, and just sort of thought, 'Do y'know I'm gonna have a cheeky little go at this.' I set myself some kind of rules. Which were basically: you can only do it on a Friday or Saturday night, you've gotta kinda be standing, you can't spend too long on a layer, you know? You've got ten, fifteen minutes, then go on to the next thing, and come back if you need to. Actually, I think I did in just four or five Friday-Saturdays, and then I did the playback, and the label were like, "That's great, let's put it out." I was like, "What?" Now I've come to terms, and gotten excited about subverting those expectations.

I think it actually made a lot of sense. You subverted expectations, but at the same time it made sense to me as a progression because I'd read about how you said that Goose was you living in the city and needing the Orkney nostalgia, right?

I know where you're gonna go, and I think you're gonna be the only one to get this. Go on!

It just made sense to me that if Goose was you reaching back to Orkney, that Night Flight would be you embracing the city.

Yesss. Aw, that's great. You got it, man. Straight off the bat. And for me, it's like, ya know, I can't...[laughs] Sometimes the music that you write...that song, these records, I wrote it for myself to get by, and that sounds a bit weird, but it's very ambient, very gentle, it reminded me of being a child growing up on the Orkneys. The field recordings would bring me back to Orkney with a jolt. And when you're on the underground or whatever, and collapsing into a stressful time. It's funny that some people would say, "Oh, you need to be really relaxed to write that type of music."

I think that the fact that I wasn't...I was writing the opposite of how I felt. I think this time round, this sounds like, pessimistic, but I was just feeling like, "Fuck it, I'll just have a wee go. I just worked on this ambient record with William Doyle, Murmuration, which was kind of ambient extrapolation and recycling, and I'd done Solan Goose, and exactly as you just said, Chase, embracing the city, and you come out of the studio and you're right in the heart of east London, and everyone's just getting on, and there's a buzz.

Everybody jolting around and doing different things at the same time, and that's what city is. And above you've got migrations and these long flight patterns that happen at night, but at the same time, you've got all this chaotic energy coming together. I think that's what I was feeling, so I thought, 'Let's just have a crack at this. If that's what you feel, just do it.’ And it was very spontaneous. And, do ya know what? This'll make you laugh, but like five people have asked me to do remixes for them. I don't do remixes! Now people are asking me to do remixes of their work, isn't that funny, how things turn out? And this is, there's only one track out there, you're one of the first to hear it in full. [This chat occurred prior to Night Flight's release] I'm rambling again.

Do you think you'll take a stab at remixes for other folk? Are you interested in that?

Well, I dunno. I just dipped my toe in a world where my peers have spent years exploring. And I realized I've spent years longing. There's nothing wrong with spending years being a fan, whether it's ambient, or techno, or more hard-edged electronic music, I think there's something they all share a similar thing. Whether you're writing for a viola or a violin, or a Minimoog and taking and recycling background layers, that's just the instrument of our time. Electronics are the instrument of our time. If you're not gonna use it...it would be like, I dunno. A classical composer not using a violin back in the day, at least that's how it feels to me. Yeah, so, for me, I’ve spent years enjoying that music, so I have a great respect, and I was hoping to nod to the two or three albums I’m referencing openly. So, going back to your question, would I do a remix? Maybe with the same set of rules, like, “Ok it’s Friday night, I’ll have a crack.” Do ya know what I mean? But it's not something I'd focus on. I'd rather...do remixes of my own work. Which again, is quite odd, cuz you normally get someone else to do it. But that common melody was so faint, which I enjoyed. And if I did a remix of someone's work, I don't how what they'd expect, how pleased they'd be. [Laughs]

I'm sure they'd dig it. I think remixing one's own work makes plenty of sense, it's something I wish we'd see more often.

Well, I tried to think of it as revisiting what I was doing, how I was feeling, how I wanted to feel. I did as an experiment. I just love sound, more than anything else, is sound. And music to me is just patterns of sound, sorted together in order. As I said, playing with those electronic elements perfect sense to me, and the fact that I played it back in a little listening session and they said, "Right, we're definitely putting this out." It's nice, and I think it shows a different side, because I've produced other artists who are a bit more electronic as well. So as I've said, people think, "Oh that's the guy who sat at the piano with a string quartet," and that's not all I do.

It lets you re-contextualize yourself.

Yeah, and also sneakily I'm trying to subconsciously persuade people to go to Orkney as you have. There's elements in the music, you might hear it, but little field recordings of an old man talking about Orkney, or the bird noises in there, subtly trying to drive people back tot he narrative of, "Go to Orkney!" I swear, I should work for the tourist board.

I'm always joking that my honeymoon needs to be there, and I'm only partly kidding.

Ohhh. The Ring of Brodgar! Romantically go around it. And you've gotta in, like, late summer. Did you pick up on the local dialect at all? Simmer Din?

It's been so long, I'm trying to remember. There was a cute girl in the local coffee shop I flirted with, and she said some funny stuff.

[Laughing] 'She said some funny stuff', I like the way you put that. You know what the light's like. Simmer Din is that midnight sun, where it's like, "Fuck, it should be dark now, but it's not," in the middle of the summer, and Mirk is that deep, dark black. Where it's just glimmering in the distance. And then Grimleens, which I think is a hilarious word, I'm tryna bring it back. I'm trying to kind of, hold on to lost languages, the dialect, which can so easily get diluted and disappear. So I love hearing people on the radio saying the titles, it just makes me smile. I do it for me, more than anything else. It's hilarious to hear someone say, "That was Simmer Din by Erland Cooper, and next is Grimleens." It's so funny. But, like, anything that gets you thinking, "Ok, what are Grimleens?" And you'll remember those nights where you were walking to the pub, and it's kind of dark, but the sky is pink and now red, it's just this weird sky, where it would feel like mischief was in the air.

You really are the the tourist bureau here, you're making me want to go back so badly.

[Laughs] I don't mean to, I don't mean to. I should be keeping it to myself, it's just cuz I just got back a week ago, and I brought so many photos, and we had such fun. I'm really keen to get back into the work.

What was your first experience off of Orkney?

I hadn't left the island until I was 18. Get this, you're 18 years old, you've grown up on an island surrounded by the same people, and the same sea, the grass is always green there, but all the things you see in the movies, weird bowling alleys and such, I thought, "I wanna do all that." So at 18 I get on a flight, with just a guitar in my hand, to Gatwick, London, and then to New York City, and it kind of blew my mind. I was off to America to, well, teach rich kids how to swim. But I got to travel, I got to leave the island. I remember very, very clear, it's a very vivid memory, in Orkney you say hi to everybody, "Hi, hi, how ya doin?" And I get to New York, and I'm going to Columbia University for orientation, and it's the first time I've ever been on an underground, and I decided to go down at rush hour, I go in on my flight, and get on the underground, and I've got a backpack on my back, I backpack on my front, my guitar, and a fruit cake my mum made me. [Laughs] I'm like, on the underground, and I'm trying to say hi to everyone.

[Laughing] You sound like Paddington Bear.

I was fucking Paddington! And someone's shouting at me, "God damn, you fucking dude!" - and I swear, I don't swear that much - "Get out of the goddamn way!" I'm thinking, 'What am I doing?' He totally put me in my place, and I was such a polite little thing. I knew where I wanted to go and how to do it, but it shocked me. And funnily enough I saw this other tall fella at the other end of the cabin who looked just like me with his bags and his guitar, and his fruit cake. No, he problem didn't, but we looked very similar. And we watched up to each other like, "Are you going to Columbia University?" 'Yeah, yeah.' And we turned around and were like a lucky united force on the underground at rush hour. [Laughs]

[Relating a story of my own of an early experience living in Korea]

I can totally relate to that, man. I did the same thing in Budapest. Funnily enough very similar story, in a club or whatever, taking a fancy to the local girls and vice versa, and the local lads feel ‘These are our girls’, you’re stealing our beautiful Eastern European women. I was...and remember, I’m not a violent person, I’ve thankfully had few experiences in my life where I had to defend myself. And this guy simply grabs me by the cuff, after, I should add, I’ve been pushed to the ground a few times, being told to stay away, and we continue, we continue, we continue. We continue to get up and laugh and have a bit of fun. And this guy picks up my friend, and I've had too much to drink, and I say "Put him down." He just picks me up, pretty much picks me up by the collar, and he looks me in the eye, and says in the thickest Hungarian accent, which sounds almost aggressive Russian.

It's gotta sound super badass I'm sure.

Super badass. What your Korean friend said sounded a bit funny, it sounded quite exciting [laughs], but this sounded like he was gonna murder me. And my American friend at the time, translated for me, and he said, "Erland, he says, uh, if you don't say something in Hungarian right now, he's gonna rip your head off." I look him in the eye and I say, [speaking in Hungarian], and he looks at me, he looks at me slowly, and then this little smile cracks, and then he laughed. What I said to him was, "You are a beautiful butterfly." It's all I knew! I don't know why I knew that, it's like the worst chat up line. And then we became friends, I kid you not. We became mates. Later that month we were out together. It's like the same story, I hadn't thought of that for years until you mentioned it.

Alright, I suppose we out to return to the actual music, eh? So I understand the need to return to Orkney musically, but what attracted you specifically to the bird theme?

Well, two things. One, this fascination with flight, and what flight symbolizes. Whether you look at a bird as 5 year old, as a 15 year old, as a 25 year old, it still is majestic. It's still amazing. You can look at a bird of prey or even a small world, and it's still exceptional and liberating. It will always fascinate you. But, really, if I'm honest with you, you know I talked about the accents of the field recordings bringing me back with a field recordings bringing me back to Orkney with a jolt, so do the names, and these words, and the local dialect. Whilst I'm on the underground in London, which is the polar opposite of where I want t be at that moment, you're reading Donald Trump antagonizing North Korea and vice versa, and you're thinking, "We're all fucked," you're already...and you're starting to get anxious, and I'm starting to stare at people, and I'm just feeling like 'oh my gosh', so I'm listening back to these mixes and these songs that I'm creating, so a way to trick my mind was to remember the names of the birds that I used to spot with my dad as we walked around the shore, and even further, remembering them in the local dialect, and it tracks your brain, so then I started to title them with the bird names. And then it all started to feed into itself, and it made sense. Pretty simple, I hope that made sense, that's all it was, really.

Ok, final question, with Solan Goose coming from needing to escape the big city and feel home again, and Night Flight being more a celebration of it, does that mean the album allowed you to move on be comfortable in the city setting?

I can answer that really simply, to say, well, yes. Often when you're asked a long question, the question is answered isn't it? But I think you're right, that you picked it up really nicely. That said, it still weirds me out. But, ya know, up in the studio, my favorite time is going to the studio at 7am the enxt day, it doesn't matter what time I stopped, whether it's 10, 1, or 3, it doesn't matter. What I like the next day is the sense of community where you don't have all the revelers, and occasionally you look around and there's people still up for the night before, and they're like zombies walking around, I really love it. That kind of feeling inspired me, as well. So when you come out of a head space and go into another, I felt like I was taking the head space outside, and instead of building an island inside the studio I was taking a little bit out. I was letting the outside come in a little bit, and the different layers and patterns, and I'd walk to the Korean shope, and come back with this feeling of energy, and I thought, "I wonder if that works in reverse?" I wonder if that in itself, rather than writing the polar opposite of what's going on, to kind of find an easement, I wonder if embracing it will do the same. It was an experiment. And it did, it worked. I found a balance between it being these ambient sections, whether at the beginning or the end, and then it creeps in, and then goes back. Kind of creating a safe haven, like a little safe place. And it worked for my head. I think you're absolutely right. But, look, there's no hardened thought to these things, I like to experiment.

This gives me things I want to ask about the next album, but we'll save that, eh? Great talking, man!

Absolute pleasure!