Life has been good for Portico Quartet since they first released Knee Deep In The North Sea. The album was widely praised, nominated for a Mercury Award, and the band have since gone from strength to strength. Hot on the heels of their re-release of this album, which now includes three live tracks, we caught up with them for a chat. For any of our readers who don’t know much about you, give us a bit of background: what’s your story? We're two sets of child hood mates who met in London and decided to start a band. We started of busking on the South Bank and later all round Europe and we found that people liked our music (we'd get big crowds and they stay for ages..) so we started making our own CDs. Everything else just sort of followed from there. Your upcoming release is a reissue of Knee Deep In The North Sea. This album was nominated for a Mercury Award, so it hardly went unnoticed – what’s the reasoning behind the reissue? There is hardly a band in the world that upon looking back at their old records wouldn't change something. While we loved the whole process or recording Knee-Deep and Sonny the engineer is a don, we were restricted by the time and budget we had then and when the chance came to re-issue the album on Real World Records (our new label) we decided to ask John Leckie to look at the mixes as he would be a fresh pair of ears, but one who knew our music well, having produced our last album Isla. The ‘hang’ features very heavily in your music, yet from what I hear it was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. What happened there? Duncan Bellamy (the drummer) discovered this strange otherwordly instrument, called the hang, in a percussion shop at a musical festival and scraped the money together to buy one. Nick was jealous so he got one too and somehow the band’s sound just sort of grew around these strange tuned percussion things we found by accident. It sounds to me as though there’s quite a lot of improvisation on some of your tracks – is this the case? Talk me through your songwriting process. Yes there are passages of improvisation on the records. And Shed Song on the last album was totally improvised, but we are a band who very much write music collectively too. Knee-Deep… was kind of developed on the streets and was the culmination of a long process of finding our sound and some tunes that worked live. Isla was much more intense, written in a studio (in a shed) at the bottom of our garden when we all lived together in East London. Sometimes someone will come in with a melody, or a bass line or a rhythmic pattern on the hang, other times we would just jam (or improvise) and then work with bits of what came out of that process…It is probably more akin to how a rock band would write than a jazz group. You’re often compared to minimalist composers such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Do you think this is a fair comparison? Nah, not really. Reich was definitely an influence on our music (we're all fans of Music for 18 Musicians) but it's much easier for people to compare us to something than describe what we sound like. This is as bad as asking a writer where they get their ideas from, I know, but who would you say are your biggest influences musically? Ha ha...we forgive you! We all like different music so the influences are what we are listening to and have listened too. Early influences included American bass-player Ben Alison, Reich, Brad Mehldau and John Coltrane, but we also love wonky hip hop, dubstep, African music and all kinds of rock. Nick loves Bob Marley and Nick Drake for instance as well as West African music and it's all in their somewhere and that's really the point of what we do, because we're not Royal Academy educated or whatever we just do what any band does and play the music we like. We have never really had to think about it and so it's all just mashed up. Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with, given the chance? There is a strange Norwegian trumpeter we like called Arve Henriksen, and Bjork would be cool too, or Thom Yorke maybe, but to be honest it's not really on our radar at the moment. Maybe some crazy artist. What’s been your most exciting moment to date? Too many really, but head-lining the Barbican last year was pretty safe, and Glastonbury had its moments. Where does Portico Quartet go from here? What are your plans? We're writing album three at the moment and experimenting with electronics and new textures and way of making out music. So after that nothing less than world domination will do!
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