Home / Music / Artist Interviews / INTERVIEW: Joe Volk

INTERVIEW: Joe Volk

Hi Joe, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hello Vents, thank you for welcoming me to you. I fell off my bike afew days ago and broke one of my fingers quite badly. I had surgery yesterday, and had to have a metal plate attached to the bone, so I am in a bit of pain, but otherwise OK. Enjoying life in Switzerland and looking forward to my record coming out. Quite busy with various things.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Soliloquy”?

This was the first track on the album where I employed a completely different song writing technique. Usually I would write a piece of music on the guitar that could stand alone as an instrumental, and then add vocals while playing it over and over on the guitar. With this track I used my D.A.W. as a tool. I wrote two or three simple progressions on the guitar, made a drum beat, and then recorded the guitar parts over this into a song structure. Then I improvised vocal lines over the top, about four takes, left the track a week or so to give me an element of objectivity, then returned and cut up and edited the vocal parts, kind of piecing the song together. That’s how this one started anyway.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

Not as such. Lyrically, I rarely get inspired to write about specific events. I often have ideas, or hear phrases and jot them down somewhere, and perhaps they end up finding a place in the lyrics at some point, but for me the start of a song is always the music. The title refers to the fact that I see any song with some element of personal or private feelings included in the lyrics as a kind of Soliloquy, albeit in song as opposed to theatre.

How was the film experience?

Positive. I knew Craig from ages ago through bands we were in at the time. We hadn’t had any contact for years, and when I first saw some of his work for Mogwai I didn’t realise it was the same Craig. Originally, he was planning to come to Switzerland, but when we spoke he’d just returned from a trip to Asia and had this intriguing idea about using stop motion animation with the shells he and his wife had collected there. I left him to it and put my trust in him, and the video surpassed all expectations. I love it. I’d describe Craig as a visual artist without wincing one bit.

The single comes off your new album Happenings and Killings- what’s the story behind the title?

‘Happenings and Killings’ was the name of a night I put on in Bristol for about ten years, in various venues and pubs. It means a few things to me now, but to start with I simply liked the sound and the look of the words together.

How was the recording and writing process?

I had about 8 or 9 tracks written when I started recording, initially with Adrian Utley. We recorded these tracks just with voice and acoustic guitar. I then started working on these recordings with Ben Salisbury, adding instrumentation, and he also wrote orchestral arrangements for three tracks. The other songs that make up the album were taken from three batches of songs that Geoff Barrow got me to write. He got involved after hearing what Ben and I had done together. I think four of the tracks on the album are from the batch I started with, and the others are ones Geoff got me to write.

The bulk was recorded in Bristol at State of Art, J and J Studio and Christchurch, as well as in the studios of Ben, Ade and me. All the parts by Mark Ophidian were recorded at his studio in San Francisco, and then the final vocals were recorded at Veruston in Bern, Switzerland. It was mixed in Bristol by myself and Jim Barr, apart from two tracks that were mixed in London by Leafcutter John in his studio. The record was mastered by Shawn Joseph at Optimum in Bristol.

What was it like to work with Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow and others on this album?

I loved working with Ben and we had a great working relationship, and the same goes for Geoff. Working with them both was such a treat really. I respect them both a great deal, and it’s super to work with people who are just very good at what they do. Ade and I have worked together a lot before, and he is fantastic. Very cool guy. Luke Harney (Typesun) was meticulous and thorough, a brilliant drummer, ideas man, and master of Logic. A total pro. Mark Ophidian really took some songs into different realms for me. He had such a huge choice of potential instruments and samples to use, but always hit the nail right on the head. It’s a shame we had to work remotely. It was also a pleasure to get to know Jim Barr and work with him. He is a rare type of gentleman, and now a friend. Too many musicians to mention, but everyone was just right, in their own way.

Have you learned anything in particular from all these experiences?

Not to make a record in this way again.

Why entering the studio with so much producers?

It’s not quite as simple as that. I was the main producer, and produced two tracks alone. I mainly worked with Ben, and we produced several tracks together. Otherwise Ben is credited as additional producer along with Geoff on five or six tracks I think. The three of us worked on various songs together, but sometimes with gaps of several months in between. Sometimes it was me and Ben working, sometimes me alone, sometimes the three of us. This process went on for a few years. In short, regarding production, it was mostly me and Ben. Geoff came in the middle and had a big influence, then we all worked together, then I moved to Switzerland and finished it alone. It wasn’t like we just went to the studio together for a week. It wasn’t a natural birth, far from it. Without including a short story in the liner notes, it’s impossible to portray how this record came to be with just the credits, but the credits are the credits we decided upon nonetheless.

How much did they get to influence the album?

Ben with his classical training and musicianship. He bought an element of maturity and elegant beauty to the record in his music and orchestral scores. Geoff, along with his playing, because half the record wouldn’t be here without him. Also because he encouraged me to commit to record the kind of things that I was experimenting with, things I thought would never see the light of day. All the musicians influenced the record. I wrote the songs, but they did everything else and the record wouldn’t be here without them.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics on this record?

In America.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes. I have formed a live band with two Swiss musicians. We will be touring the record in late Spring. The dates should be announced soon.

What else is happening next in Joe Volk’s world?

I have nine month old twins with my wife, Miriam Wolf. We’re lucky enough to be in a position where we spend most of our time with them at home, whilst trying not to kill each other and also continuing as touring musicians. My life is mostly twin based now. I live near the woods in Bern. It’s a cool little city. I have healthy children and a radical, beautiful wife. Life is good, apart from my finger.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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