Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Interview: Jo Gillot

Not long ago now Jo Gillot quietly self released her second EP of songs, The Lido.

Named after the Ruislip waterhole which inspired it, the seven track EP takes the best of 2009’s Songs To Say I Sung and works them up with new dimension. Featuring collaborations with multi-instrumentalist Cameron T Crook, The Lido bookends complete singer/songwriter compositions with lovingly recorded instrumental reprise; allowing Jo to send several sometimes soothing, sometimes wrenching postcards from London to the world.

On Friday 13 May Jo will be curating an arts show at Arteria Gallery shop on Brock Street, Lancaster. In this tiny-but-dynamic takeover, Jo curates the work of 4 local creative people, Alex Watson, Paul McGhee, Simon Nixon and Kriss Foster. In 'Static Pages Static Books' they have responded to, and challenged, the traditional book. Displayed in the window of the shop, and therefore visible only from the street outside, the art works are both playful and intriguing.

Interviewed by Tom Bramhall for Virtual-Lancaster in the leadup to the show Jo discussed her travels up and down the country, writing and recording the new songs and her response to being called ‘an astonishing new voice’ by BBC radio DJ Steve Lamacq.

Tom: ‘The Lido’ was recorded here in Lancashire, but it took you the duration of your stay in London to create - what was happening for you down there?

Jo: Well I went down there mainly to work, save money etc. It was great fun, catching up with family and old friends, but there were aspects of London living that made me feel pretty lonely; commuting and the like. I was gigging a lot, which was great, but wasn’t able to record all the new material to my liking, on account of limited funds (and my stubbornness in wanting to record it all by myself with borrowed recording gear that I wasn't familiar with).

It was a great year in a lot of ways. I learnt a lot, but I just felt unsettled.
All the songs from The Lido were written whilst I was living in Ruislip - it's a nice suburb in Greater London, and Ruislip Lido itself is a strange place, quiet and a little artificial. I used to walk over there a lot.

My hope for the EP was that it would sound varied in its style and feeling, to reflect what a mixed bag that year was..


The EP sounds more varied than 'Songs to Say I sung', broader in scope. It's like hearing you interrogating the earlier songs and hone certain aspects of them up - would that be fair to say?

Yep, it's fair to say. I wanted to be quite critical of Songs to Say..., not that it didn’t turn out well, I just hadn’t really thought through any kind of journey with that. It was more of a compilation of what I'd been doing (at the time), and I wanted to develop more thought behind the song choices and their positioning around each other.

With regards to the songs themselves, I'm always trying to learn new ways of writing and playing without losing sight of the original aspects that were always important to me, so I guess interrogating the earlier stuff is crucial to that. I would never want people to get bored


So when did you start putting the EP together?

It was stopped and started so many times from December last year up until now. I changed location, song choices, instrumentation, full orchestra to no accompaniment at all.

Recording at home in Ruislip, there just wasn’t the time, space or know-how to do it properly. There had been many points at which I thought 'bugger it, I'll just release what I've got' but I had a vague idea of what I wanted, which became clearer with every attempt, so I'm glad I held off until I'd moved back up here.


Did you set about it by yourself?

Yes, initially I wanted it to be a completely solo project. It was just such a personal concept. I wanted the EP to sound how the songs were made: by one person in a room. I'm also just a bit stubborn towards the final stages of recording. Once I know in my head exactly how I want things to sound, if there are to be chance improv/mistakes, I prefer them to be my own mistakes!

Over time I started to learn that it's really important to have a bit of help, if only to get second opinions on things and to broaden ideas. I wasn't just making the EP for me, it always had everyone else in mind and it became the only way to send personal ideas out into a bigger audience. That and I just didn’t have all the technical know-how to carry out all my ideas alone.


Who helped you?

Help came mainly from Cameron Crook, who did most of the producing. He's far better with a laptop than me, and has a good ear for things like intonation (although with a lot of my music, that's a bit of a lost cause anyway!).

Cam also plays trombone and extra guitar on one of the tracks. There's some fab’ trumpet-playing from Bradley Crook on another, and my brother Seb and I play a piano duet right at the end of the track. Was nice to have a bit of help in the end, really helped shine it up.

Rob Daniels (Electric Free Time Machine/Moll Baxter Band) was a bit of a lifesaver right at the end too- he provided some invaluable advice and equipment for the recording, I cant thank him enough really.
When I'd finished the odd song or reprise I would send it to a friend or relative, just to get an idea what was working, but it really was intended to be a solo project.

Saying that, the record does have a Cameron Crook stamp on it too, particularly in the reprisals, but I see that as a positive because it shows how we've been influencing each other's music along the way.


The 'reprise' tracks are really effective; a neat idea - how did you decide on including these?

The reprisals were always intended, right from the start. Cam and I had been working on a collaborative album (still in the making) and we were going for a soundtrack feel, influenced by motion picture soundtracks and the Cinematic Orchestra, etc.

Since The Lido was born out of a situation, location, whatever, it seemed fitting to enhance that with snippets of theme and sound that bring you back to the songs. I've always found themes that return throughout an album to be a strong and effective feature. Knock-Shouldered, for example, is about the London commute into work, and the Knock-Shouldered reprise has sound pieces from the Underground trains, (the) glock is meant to sound a bit like an announcement tune, that sort of thing. (I) wasn’t trying to be too clever or anything, simply attempting to tie it all in so that it made sense to listen to.


Knock-Shouldered’ is a great exposition-song, I think. 'The Lido' sounds like a love to poem to London, if a broken hearted one?

I think you sort of hit the nail on the head about The Lido being like a love poem- I could never hate the city, and it always draws me back- I have family and friends there, for starters. But the second I'm there I'm drawn straight back to the north again (family and friends there too, as it happens). I find different kinds of happiness and inspiration in both places. I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up living back down there again at some point and, if I did, I'd hope that any contentious experiences would supply with as much writing material as the last time! It's that familiarity thing, and I get it with any place I return to: "it's all just the same, just as I remember- what a comfort" as well as "nothing has changed at all! I'm going mad here!" A tad melodramatic, but you get my drift...

How different is it - if at all, playing music in London to playing here in Lancashire?

It's really quite different. The further into central London you go, the more dispersed it all feels. Networking isn’t quite as fun, I've found. I'm never bothered about making cash really, but it's nice to cover some travel costs if you're using the Underground to get to venues all the time, and yet a lot of venues and promoters in central London seem hell-bent on booking only those who can get hoards of people through the door. I never really found problems with meeting the quotas, but felt a little cruel in pushing and pushing people to travel across London and pay over and above the odds to hear songs they'd heard two weeks before. Didn’t seem fair to them, considering their support.

Saying that, I can't knock the chap who ran the Camden Barfly acoustic gigs- they were free entry and he was a fantastic supporter of emerging and DIY artists. Top bloke. You could tell he was doing it for the right reasons.

I still say yes to London gigs, but I have really enjoyed moving back up and collaborating with musicians round here. It's great fun, open, and very inspiring.


What was it like having Steve Lamacq call you an 'astonishing new voice'?

Argh! Haha, it was a learning curve, that's for sure.

I sent him a demo because my friend suggested I should. I expected nothing at all, and the next thing I know his producer is on the phone, asking me to come play a song live in the studio, and to do an interview. I went down there, met Steve, attempted to absorb as much wisdom as possible. Only thing is, I didn’t really have a plan. I didn’t plug it, hadn’t released anything beyond a demo, and Steve was telling me the do's and don’ts of dealing with managers.

The response from friends and family was great, and it really helped me get lots of gigs, so it has only been a positive thing. I get the feeling that others thought that I was going to be very successful from thereon, which is something that I had never entertained. So it's funny really. It was like they were all talking about someone else really.


Also, I wanted to ask if you'd been for a swim in the Ruislip Lido!?

Nope. You can't swim in it, I think you can have a paddle, but it's undergoing a refurb’, so might be suitable for swimming soon. There were stories that someone died in the water, but I don’t know how true that is. It might just be because there are lots of swans there, and they get quite angry.

So what's happening next?

Well, I am curating a small show in the window of Arteria in Lancaster from 13th -27th May. I'm concentrating on my MA at the moment, so I'm trying to put together (some) projects for that. I'm also working on a website which I'm hoping will merge all mine and Cam Crook's creative projects, both solo and collaborative, as well as our academic stuff, writing, blogs, music, crafts, and all the rest of it.

My next project involves a visual interpretation of The Lido, with film-makers picking a track and having a play around with the ideas, then making a short film to accompany it. Three young film-makers are in on it so far...

Just trying to centralise all the different things I've got going on currently. I'm always starting new projects, so I know whatever happens it'll be slightly chaotic but mostly exciting!


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Jo Gillot's The Lido is currently available for digital purchase via http://jogillot.bandcamp.com/album/the-lido


Her show at the Arteria/Gallery 23 in Lancaster will run between 23th-27th May 2011 .
More information can be sourced from http://www.arteriashop.co.uk

Tom Bramhall writes for po)))nies www.futurepizza.blogspot.com/

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