Jo Quail is an internationally acclaimed composer and virtuoso cellist from London. Handpicked to play Meltdown Festival 2018 by Robert Smith, she has also shared stages over the last few years with MONO, Amenra, God is an Astronaut, Boris, Myrkur as well as playing ArcTangent, Hellfest and a bunch of other festivals. Later this month she will be touring the UK supporting Emma Ruth Rundle before the release of her album Exsolve on her own label, Adderstone. The 405 got the chance to catch up with Jo before she began what is going to be a hectic few months to close 2019.

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Let me start right at the beginning of your musical journey - what made you first pick up a cello?

I said “no” to the initial (incredible) offer of free string lessons in primary school, so what made me pick up the cello must have been a desire to get out of some other activity during the school day! I was 5 when I began playing, and at that time ILEA ran this amazing programme of free string instrument teaching to all inner London kids, and it’s something I’ve been so thankful for ever since. Now of course my cellos are a part of me, but ‘a cellist’ wasn’t something I always set out to be. From what could be termed an accidental start it’s been a very calm and natural process really. What’s important here is the broad teaching the string project and then what became the Centre For Young Musicians brought to us, it encompassed much more than orchestral and ensemble playing, and included improvisation, composition and much more, the cornerstones of which were cemented right back in those early years.

What were your main musical influences growing up?

Growing up I had many musical influences. My parents as an obvious starting point, my mum introducing me to the classical side, and regularly taking me to recitals and concerts, and my dad with his love of Pink Floyd, The Who, The Kinks, this era of rock. I played a huge variety of music in various orchestras and ensembles, mainly on the classical side, so this landscape was formed early on for me. In my school years, teens really, we used to listen to metal, swapping cassettes and I remember this being a really exciting time musically speaking! I found my love of Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., and so much more during this period, and this still exists so strongly for me. With additions of course as the years go by!

You loop a lot of your stuff live - when did you first start experimenting with pedals on your cello?

About 10 years ago, but in a very cautious fashion, starting with just a boss reverb, then delay, sticking with these for quite some time. I think my first loop station came next, an RC20, then I began using a Boss multifx bass pedal. I still use multifx pedals today rather than separates as personally I find them much easier to work with, plus they are easier for touring and travel purposes, and possibly the main reason is that I can alter my effects signal chain which is something I frequently do when sound modelling, and being able to perform with these bespoke sounds is an integral part of my performance. 

Tell us about AdderStone Records, your new label; what was the drive behind setting it up and how much stress has it caused you?

AdderStone Records was a natural progression in the great scheme of things. I had been flattered and thankful to receive interest from various labels around the release of Exsolve especially, but I really wanted to maintain the artistic and business ethic behind what I do. I take a lot of time and care with the packaging of my releases, in order to reflect the time and the process that goes in to creating an album, and this is not always something a major label will be willing to support. I wanted a ‘home’ for my releases, and I have very ambitious plans for future releases so it made sense for me to set up this label. It’s caused no stress at all, but that’s because I am doing what I’ve always done, just with a label name behind me now. I’ve always ploughed any money back in to future releases, so each release pays for the next. I daresay if I want to branch out I might need a different business model but for now this works for me!

Your first release is a reissue of last year’s Exsolve which includes Winterfylleth’s Dan Capp on guitar over your cello. How did that collaboration come about? 

I met Dan and Winterfylleth a couple of years ago when they invited me to record on ‘Hallowing of Heirdom’ – an incredibly beautiful record with stunning string arrangements by Mark Deeks. Dan and I have since recorded on each other’s releases, most recently Wolcensmen’s ‘Fire in the White Stone’. I love Dan’s playing, and I was overjoyed with his brilliant and epic contribution to ‘Forge’, he brought home all the myriad aspects of this track and nailed it! I just wish we’d been a few years earlier in this as it would have been perfect for the remake of Top Gun…!! The AdderStone release of Exsolve is of course remastered for vinyl and includes a fourth track, Reya Pavan, for which a video will be released in September, plus sheet music, and photography by Simon Kallas.

You’ve already been named to play a commissioned piece for Roadburn Festival in 2020 – any idea what we may be able to expect and are you surprised that a classically trained cellist is now so fixed in the metal scene?

I’m honoured to be tasked to compose a piece of music that premieres at Roadburn, and I’ll be presenting something that is stretching me as a composer, but also is deeply pleasing to be writing! I’m not really surprised that a ‘classically trained cellist’ would be ensconced in the metal scene because firstly music is music regardless of genre, and this is something Roadburn are keen to explore in my commission -  the heaviness prevalent in some classical music, and how this relates to the metal scene; in addition, in my experience the audience and fans within the metal scene as a whole are extraordinarily broad minded and will happily sit side by side with contemporary and classical music fans in my concerts. It’s a constant reminder to me never to second guess my audience but simply to do what I do, to the best of my abilities, and trust the sound reaches beyond the stage metaphorically speaking. My commission for Roadburn is very exciting! You can expect brass, strings, loops, orchestral percussion, some challenging moments sonically speaking, some unexpected moments, some improvised moments and a huge finale!

You are off on tour at the end of September with Emma Ruth Rundle across the UK. Apart from your cello, what’s the one essential item you take on the road with you?

Other than the rest of my kit…teabags. It’s really un-rock-and-roll but it’s true! That, and loads of cereal bars. You can’t always guarantee you’ll be able to eat when you need to, but I have to eat when I’m hungry, so I ferret around in the back of the van like a manic squirrel at times…

You’ve also been invited to play the MONO curated weekend in London this December with a great line-up with bands like Boris, Arabrot, Nordic Giants and Svalbard playing. Will you get the chance to see any of the other acts across the two days?

I’ve got to hot-foot it to the Barbican as I do not want to miss Alcest. I’m a huge fan. I’ll be touring with MONO throughout December prior to this, and I can’t wait. I love touring with them, we are like family now, and this will be a very special finale to what’s been three tours, over 18 months on and off.

Are there any acts or artists currently working that you would love to collaborate with who you haven’t worked with as yet? 

Aside from the obvious like collaborating with Trent Reznor or Nicola Benedetti, or supporting Tool… There are inspirational musicians and artists all around, and I’m wise enough to know there’s so much I don’t know! I’m blessed to meet extraordinary musicians in my line of work, and I am honoured by all the collaboration possibilities that come my way. I’d really like to do something with some incredible percussionists soon, Siemy Di springs to mind, as does Alpesh Moharir, and I’d like to present a work with a symphony orchestra one day soon… watch this space!

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The remaster of Jo Quail’s Exsolve will be out on October 4th. For more information on Jo Quail’s tour dates and releases head to her website.