Hi Nicky, welcome to VENTS! Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Ukrainian Kiss”?
The filming process was great. It was shot in Kiev by Iranian director Reza Golastani so we always speak a mixture of English Farsi and Russian, which is a riot to begin with. But main thing to tell you about the video is that we were lucky enough to have the ex-president of Russia’s car, an old Volga or Zil. I forget which. And filming with Reza is always a joy. His beautiful wife, Jenia, is the makeup artist and he has a great team around him so it’s a pro job. I think he has done a great job. I’ve done three videos with him.
The original version of this song was written in the back of a taxi in Kiev at 6am one shall we say ‘blue’ morning. Then, once through customs I finished it over a vodka breakfast listening to some cheesy Easter European pop over the loudspeaker at the same time. But then when I was working with Danny Steggall the producer of this bunch of songs, his son Spike kept singing it and I knew it was very catchy. So Danny said let’s record it, but had the idea of changing it from a love song into a song about the revolution in Kiev through which I had lived and was therefore very much part of my story. I went with the idea, so the pair of us got to work on the verses.
The recording process here was fascinating as, on one song, Danny had an idea about creating a sound using strings as a driving force. It all developed from there in Tileyard, a creative hub, in London which has attracted talent from all over the world. I am very proud of the people we used. Stella Page (who’s worked with Elbow )f or example was a joy to work with. Such talent. Likewise, the drummer / engineer Nik Bjerre from Denmark, Tiago Dias from Portugal (incredible bassist), and Pippo de Palma from Italy. You see artistically there what London has become. It wasn’t like that once upon a time.
What role does living and playing in London play in your music?
Living in London has been very important in my musical life. No matter how international one’s life may be, I am basically English at heart. Manchester. I was once asked to go to play in a band in Montreal but refused as I wanted my music to be English. But London is a hub of great creative minds in terms of recording, musicians many of whom are now foreign, producing, directing etc. I need it. Also, many songs have been written on the edge of the platform waiting for the underground. For me the tension of a city has always produced good work. I’m not really one of those writers who escape to the country to be inspired. Although some songs have come from physical beauty but most are borne from some internal conflict of some kind and that can be anywhere. So I love London but I do need to escape. It’s very much part of me too.
Having lived and travelled throughout the world – how has these experiences influence your music as a whole?
Of course the travel has influenced the music. I can go in periods. My very early life in Asia probably affected my personality more than my writing then as I was just beginning, but then going on to for example my African period which has been responsible for several songs, then the US which always produces some great ideas, I love it over there. Also New Zealand and South Africa, that was responsible for a song that will be out later this year called Displaced. Then of course the Ukraine / Russia experience which was long and a massive influence upon me artistically. Then we cannot forget the entire Latin American continent which also was a huge influence on me, lyrically and rhythmically. But I want to make it clear that this is not some star like Brian Jones of the Stones going off to play with those drummers in Morocco as a side project. This is just me wandering round the world interacting with the people, imbibing the atmosphere and then when you least expect it a song will emerge and you come back to London to record it with the team.
Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than working on your own?
Of course, it’s a about giving the other person space to do his thing. When I worked with Danny on the new lyrics of this tune for example it was rapid fire verbal ping pong with lines / words coming out from all directions. Then you need the notebook right there. And as regards collaborating with a producer, once you made the decision as to who is going to get his hands on your song (baby) and mess with it. Collaboration. Then you have to sit back to a certain extent and let him get on with it as otherwise there’s no point in getting that producer in the first place. You might as well do it yourself if you can. But I think it’s important to be aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s like when a writer writes a musical or a film involving dramaturges, dialogue experts, and of course finally a director. At some point the writer has to get out of the way to make space for the rest of the creative collaborators in order that the project come to fruition. It’s a bit like that making a record. It’s all team work and collaboration.
Does the new single mean we can expect a new material – how’s that coming along?
Of course. We have several songs recorded in the pipeline most with videos ready to go every ten weeks. The next one is Communication which will be releases in early August. Around September I will go into pre-production mode on the next two songs to be recorded.
Any plans to hit the road?
I will probably be moving around this summer though not far. No major trips are planned until around Xmas. At the moment I play ‘live’ in London with a full band and I can’t leave for too long, otherwise all that time rehearsing would have been wasted.