North Atlantic Oscillation’s new record Fog Electric is everything that was good about their first one (Grappling Hooks) but takes it up another notch. Musically they are like some strange mixture between Spiritualised, Mogwai, Sugar Ros and The Beach Boys.
It’s one of my favourite records of the year so far, and I spoke to one half of NAO Sam Healy to find out more..
How much of your material was finished before you went into record Fog Electric?
All of it. We demo our stuff thoroughly before we record. Our music is quite heavily layered, so it’s too risky to hope that something not quite right before the final recording will magically fix itself at the eleventh hour. We had a clear idea of how we wanted the new record to sound, although lots of interesting developments and happy accidents occurred during the recording and final mix.
The drums were recorded in Chem 19 Studios near Glasgow; the bass, horns and piano in COD (Tony Doogan’s studio) in Glasgow; and the guitars and vocals in an outhouse in Wicklow, Ireland. Mixing on a large analogue desk (which is how Tony Doogan works) is definitely more art than science, and often we’d happen upon an unexpected improvement by forgetting to do things the ‘proper’ way. Some of the heavier drum sounds came about through mislabeled channels.
How much of your sound do you think has been influenced by living in Scotland?
Quite a lot I think. Because I wasn’t born here I have a pretty good sense of how it differs from the rest of the UK and the world, and something about the bleak winters, remoteness and resilient attitude can’t help but come out in material written here.
In a less dramatic sense it’s a bit like the distinctive sound of Icelandic bands like Sigur Rós, Múm and Björk, which reflects the isolation and topology of the environment. Of course Edinburgh isn’t nearly as remote as Reykjavík, but our music would surely be different were we based in London or New York or some other central metropolis.
Was Fog Electric easier to record than Grappling Hooks
In some ways yes, because we’d learned from our mistakes. But recording an album is not an easy task. Ever. If you don’t lose fortnights of sleep and
obsess over every barely audible detail, it’s not worth doing. We’re homing our sound with each album, but we’re by no means ‘finished’, and I don’t think we ever will be.
Each time I listen to Fog Electric it still sounds like the first time, was that something you deliberately set out to do..?
Thank you very much, that’s great to hear! Yes it is a deliberate attempt, though we’re not deluded enough to think it’s going to succeed with every listener. All truly great music has that quality, that you discover new treats on successive listens. I’m thinking of stuff I didn’t really ‘get’ on first hearing but which I now consider masterpieces. Pixies, Jeff Buckley, Oceansize, Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Joni Mitchell — they all reveal themselves sequentially the more attention you give them.
Do you prefer the studio or playing live?
Each one has its own frustrations and rewards. Playing live is instant gratification, while working on an album in studio can take years. Then again you have almost complete control over studio output, while if you f*ck up live there’s no way to take it back. To be a real band, I guess you have to do both.
How easy is it to recreate the live, do the songs have a different feel to them?
At first we found it very challenging but we’ve hit our stride now. We’ve worked hard to make sure the show is as live as possible, by busying all available hands with synthesizers, harmonisers, guitars, percussion and whatever else is required. Certainly the songs sound different than on record, but hopefully they’re still true to the meaning beneath. It’s definitely not a ‘stripped down’ live show, it’s intense. We want to excite people.
North Atlantic Oscillation are:
Sam Healy: vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, programming, percussion
Ben Martin: drums, percussion, field recordings on Interval
With Chris Howard, Gareth Brady, Mick Cooke, Tom Smith and Bill Walsh
Live Pic by Damien James O’Farrell
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