Noise Annoys: Arborist's Mark McCambridge on their new album A Northern View
CONGRATULATIONS on A Northern View. I believe it took a while longer than planned to get this album released, is it a relief to finally have it out?
It is. No question. It has been a tough balancing act over the past few months in terms of maintaining enthusiasm for the record after such a long time of having it ready to go and trying to keep your powder dry/contain your excitement and not let people hear it too early. It has been like a spectre hanging around.
I had a show in Wales on the release day and my wife texted me saying, "I'm so happy it's out of our house" which sums it up. May it haunt other homes now.
Can you tell us a bit about the making of the record?
Our first album, Home Burial, was a long piecemeal process with other musicians gradually coming into the fold and adding their own stamp on things. I really didn't want to repeat that, so the idea was to take the same musicians to a great studio for a week and record.
Ben McAuley (drummer/producer) and I researched many and Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Wiltshire fitted the bill; a rural, old converted mill with high ceilings and warm acoustics. We recorded most of it live with strings and brass recorded in Belfast and London.
There's a fair few guest performers on the album, did you have specific people in mind to play/sing certain parts?
Most of the guest vocals are on the one a capella track The Dark and The Moon which was recorded live in our old rehearsal space. Elsewhere, I spoke to Dan Todd (Exmagician) about adding some synth to Don't Let The Sky Take Me, to shift it out of what one would expect an Arborist track to sound like, and he came back with that amazing Yamaha Reface CS solo.
Emma Smith (violin) was someone I met while on tour with Seamus Fogarty (Domino Records), her playing is other-worldly: I asked her to play on a few tracks and it was so good I just kept throwing more at her and so she is all over the record. Laura McFadden (cello) plays with me live and is an amazing talent.
So, I guess, you meet so many great musicians over the years that it allows you to tap into that now and again.
Is there a unifying theme to the songs here? Reviewers have seized on the album title itself as some sort of signifier, for example – how accurate have their theories been thus far?
It has been a little strange to have it heavily linked to Brexit. I think I said once that it was imbued with that sense of dread from having the radio on all the time while writing the songs in 2016/17, I'm not sure it goes too much further than that thematically.
Though there are words and phrases that occasionally jump out at me now at this distance from writing it which were undoubtedly linked, so perhaps there's more there than I intended.
Dealing with the political head-on in a song is not something I'm drawn to; subtlety is required. But the title and many themes are definitely about a sense of place which I think is missing for a certain generation who wanted to flee from the conflict they were exposed to growing-up here.
I tried to find it in the smaller details: the land and its people.
Have you actually been to Evishacrow, Legagrane and Tuftarney, as mentioned in Don't Let The Sky Take Me?
Yes, many times have I roamed over their boundaries. They are around Glenravel in Co Antrim, a few miles before Cushendall. My mother grew up there.
Do you have a favourite song on A Northern View?
I love all my children. If you asked the others they would say Dominican which didn't make the album, to their utter dismay. There really wasn't room for three six-minute epics on the one record and, unfortunately, that one was the casualty.
However, it can currently be heard as a B-side to [recent single] Here Comes the Devil.
Here Comes The Devil and Taxi have amazing videos: how involved were you in the concepts?
All the credit goes to Sam O'Mahony the director. He is from Kildare but London-based. We talked about making a video together a few years back and I had sent him early demos of Here Comes The Devil, which he proceeded to shoot while touring the UK with a theatre company. So, I had very little to do with that one.
But, when he finally got to hear the album, it was Taxi he was really taken by. We called a talented bunch of people working in the industry here in Belfast to help out – Bernadette Morris and Marie-Therese Mackle were especially brilliant. I used to play football with actor Barry Ward [star of Taxi] in London and we had talked about doing something together at some point. He is a unique talent and did a superb job.
How have your recent tour dates been going?
I'm just back in the door from a run of dates with Canadians Kacy & Clayton who are fantastic. The shows were great, though mostly with a small set-up, sometimes just myself. The new songs are strangely difficult to recreate on my own and often take on a very different form.
Home Burial was written with just me and a guitar in mind, A Northern View was written with the other players and textures in mind, so doesn't translate as easily to solo shows.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Looking forward to playing a lot of full-band shows around Ireland with some more UK dates in the pipeline too. Elsewhere, at the end of last year I went into Attica Studios in Donegal to record two new songs with a string quartet and they've turned out better than I could've imagined.
At the moment, I'm aiming for a double A-side 7-inch in a few months but am tempted to perhaps build a new album from these foundations. Time will tell.
Finally, if you could collaborate on a song with any living musician, who would it be and why?
Can I have two? I can? Thanks. In that case, John Cale would produce the song and contribute piano, violin and the occasional curveball lyric, but I'd want a female vocal alongside mine. Perhaps a young Linda Ronstadt would be the call – I love a swooning country vocal.
A Northern View is out now, order direct via Arboristmusic.bandcamp.com or buy tomorrow at Arborist's in-store show at Strange Victory Records in Belfast from 4pm. Next live dates are The Black Gate, Galway (Feb 19), Phil Grimes, Waterford (Feb 22), Coughlan's, Cork (Feb 23), The Menagerie, Belfast (Feb 28), Set Theatre, Kilkenny (Feb 29) and Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena (April 4)