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Jo Quail interview (05/2022)

With: Jo Quail
Conducted by: RaduP (in person)
Published: 08.05.2022

The story of this interview started a bit before Roadburn. Me and Netzach saw Jo Quail opening for Amenra in Budapest. I went to that concert specifically to see Jo Quail so I wouldn't feel bad about missing her set at Roadburn due to clashes. I did end up seeing her set anyway. But we were both taken aback by her performance, and after stumbling upon her at the merch table, we started talking, though we informed her that we're a bit too intoxicated for an actual interview, so we exchanged contact information, and set it up for Roadburn. Considering how much I've been seeing Jo pop up in the credits of albums and as an opening act, it felt only natural to wanna know more.

The Cartographer

Radu: So we are here with Jo Quail.

Jo Quail: Hello. Pleasure to chat with you.

Radu: So, first of all, full disclosure, for a long time, I only saw the word written and I had no idea how it sounds. So if I say /sɛləʊ/ instead of /ˈtʃeləʊ/, please do not correct me. I like being wrong. [Ed: This is in regard to the word “cello”, which is actually pronounced the same as “ocelot”.]

Jo Quail: Absolutely fine. (cell phone starts ringing) Oh, hang on. Let me just turn that off.

Radu: So how does it feel like to finally play The Cartographer?

(a brief skip, as it seems we are interrupted by more phones)

JQ: Let me turn the volume off here. It feels… I can't… actually, it's very difficult to put this into words, because yesterday we performed it and…

Radu: And this was like the first public performance.

JQ: This was the premiere, yeah.

Radu: Yeah. The first public performance, even though you've had it written for two years at least.

JQ: Two years, yeah, and we had obviously recorded it as well, which we managed to do in the first lockdown, but of course we hadn't performed it. We hadn't performed it as that whole ensemble together either, so it was a few different players from the recording. So when we played it yesterday, it was... on the one hand, I was present because I could feel this energy and this euphoria, especially at the end, the finale. Very, very big. And there were some great moments of this held stillness and then very big things happening, so I felt all of this excitement, but at the same time, something still didn't feel quite real somehow – which is not bad thing. It's just when you, when you… almost like in a dream world, and because we waited so long to play it...

Radu: It didn't feel like something's actually happening.

JQ: No, that's right. That's absolutely right. It was very strange. And even this morning, I woke up this morning and then I think it began to –

Radu: Dawn on you.

JQ: Dawn on me. Yes, precisely, yeah.

Radu: “Oh, this actually happened. It wasn't just, it wasn't just a fever dream.”

JQ: Yes, exactly! Because I'd imagined...

Radu: No, it didn't happen. What are you talking about?! It's happening today! [Ed: Radu, stop torturing the poor woman.]

JQ: Oh my God… (laughs) The moment I imagined the first note, I imagined the downbeat, where Jos [Pijnappel], our conductor, would instruct Tom [Morris, presumably] to hit the tam-tam. This begins the whole thing. I imagined this, I imagined all of the moments where the players would be doing their bits. But still within the score itself there’s a lot of flexibility. So, for example, the trombone solo at the end, completely improvised solo. There were many things I couldn't imagine. I could just see the scene, but I couldn't hear the sound properly because I don't know what those players are going to do at the time.

Radu: And thankfully they didn't fuck up.

JQ: They were brilliant. They were absolutely brilliant. I mean, we had some unexpected issues to deal with at many points, right up until the performance itself. And you know, it's always the way – it would have been nice to have more time, certainly for the setup in the morning, there was two hours –

Radu: So two years wasn't enough. [Ed: To be fair, that was two years when we all lived like cavemen and forgot how to be productive.]

JQ: There’s never enough time for a performance, never enough, because you only know how something will work once it’s gone to the stage, so in a way, the premiere performance is part of the training grounds for the next performance. It’s the same with any concert I do, just like the Amenra concerts. Each concert is wonderful to play it, but it's also a training ground for the next concert tomorrow, you know? You never do the same thing. It's not like you flash and it’s showing up the same photograph every night; it’s a completely different performance, and each one, something happens that allows you to learn.

Radu: And then, so out of a tour of performances, which one would you say is usually your best?

JQ: Usually the unexpected one that, you know, the gig no one wants to do and can't be bothered to go to and stuff like that, you know, that’s always like miles and miles away or some weird thing about it. Often those are the best ones, the most unexpected ones, but on the Amenra tour, I mean, all of them, I enjoyed very, very much, they're all very individual venues and, you know sometimes it was just me and them, sometimes we had other bands as well, but I think Utrecht, I enjoyed very, very much. And that was interesting because that concert, just before I'd gone on stage, there was some fault in my sound setup, in my own personal monitoring, so literally 10 minutes before I went to the stage, there was a big problem and we had to put a second monitor desk in, so I could have it close by in case I suddenly needed to repatch everything in the middle of the show.

I didn't need to, but of course, I went to the stage knowing that there was a possibility that things were going to go really wrong, and as a result, I played with an extra sense of freedom because I think, “well, I don't mind now because, you know, the world will give what it gives to this performance and there's nothing I can do about that side, the technical side”. And then there's an extra freedom because when you're playing like that; it’s good. (laughs)

[Ed: I know the feeling. I have to keep a spare pair of hands close by when I transcribe these interviews and that makes me feel like I can say whatever I want. Purple monkey dishwasher.]

Radu: And how do you feel about the piece now? How do you feel things would have went if you had actually performed it in 2020, as compared to how it was in the shape it was now?

JQ: That’s a very good question. I mean, 2020, we were all two years younger, two years less experienced. We hadn't been through what we've all been through in the last two years, so that brought an extra energy to the performance. Obviously it would have been a different lineup as well, because it would have been the new trombone collective rather than Crossbones and a different percussionist, et cetera. So there is nothing that I would have changed about the score and nothing I did change in that two years. I left it as it was. But I think the performance that we were able to give yesterday was also infused with the experiences and the emotions that we've all had over the past two years, and I think that was what helped us to have this sense of broadness and freedom with our playing. That made it, I think, more powerful, probably – maybe for the audience too, because whether you're a performer or audience or you have nothing to do with music, the last two years have affected us.

Radu: Naturally.

JQ: Yeah. So, too, perhaps the feeling of being in a room with people, again, it's quite powerful; that's enough to make an energy come in. And then if you have a bunch of people on stage who are also experiencing the same feeling, it's a very transferring – you know, transference happens, I think.

Radu: And also for me as a listener – so I first heard of The Cartographer two years ago, and then that didn't happen, and now it's here. It's not just, “oh, she's performing something new”, but “oh, she is performing something that I've heard of two years ago”.

JQ: Ah-ha, yeah.

Radu: So I relate to it a bit differently. It's like “oh, this, this is something a bit more classic, with a bit of history”.

JQ: Yeah, you're right. And I mean, it had therefore quite a run-up and I was a bit anxious about that because obviously I've been making a great fuss about the whole thing, you know – ‘cause you have to, for PR, you have to do that – and By Norse had released it and that was my first time working with a label, because I've done everything by myself prior to this. So we had to obviously do the proper PR, but half of me was thinking, “I don't even know if this piece is any good, because I've lived with it for so long”. And like – I've used this analogy a lot, but it's like in Alice in Wonderland, when the baby is in fact a pig, but you don’t know, and you think, “Oh, this is my lovely piece of music here”, and actually it's terrible, but you don't realize that because you've written it and you're so stuck in it. So I didn't know. Now I think it's a good piece of music, but –

Radu: Don't worry. It's not that terrible. [Ed: That’s our Radu. Such a sweetheart.]

JQ: (laughs) But I didn't know, I didn't know it truly till it went to the stage. I always say this about music: you don't know it until it goes onto a stage. Then you begin to see its personality, its color, its shape, its form, its identity, the different facets of it, which, because when it's on a piece of paper, it's literally two-dimensional. Even in a recording session it's still two-dimensional. When it's on a stage, it is three-dimensional.

That's when you start to know it. Same way you look at a sculpture: before, you look at the photograph of the sculpture, and you just say, “Very nice, lovely,” you know, Barbara Hepworth, something like this, very, very nice sculpture, and I understand much about this sculpture, if you go and walk around that sculpture, then you see all the different sides and aspects of it and you see that there's a shape here which you couldn't see from your own perspective, and when you walk around, you then see the shape. This is music as well.

[Ed: Not me, though. I’m still two-dimensional even in person.]

Radu: Okay. And now you have heard it live.

JQ: Yeah. Yes, exactly. Yeah, so I was in the same boat as you yesterday. I mean, I had a slight advantage because I knew roughly what was going to happen next, but not perfectly. (laughs)

Radu: I reckon so. So I wanted to ask: your name has been popping up a lot lately in the metal world, which has happened like in the past three, four years? Whenever there's a big band and there was a cello in it, I look at the credits, “oh, it’s Jo Quail!” But you've been making music for far, far longer. [Ed: HE SAID “CELLO” WRONG, HE DID IT, HE DID THE BAD THING]

JQ: (laughs) Oh, God. Since the dawn of time.

Radu: Since the dawn of time? [Ed: I know, that’s a really long time.]

JQ: Yeah, yeah, basically. I mean, I've done loads. So you see sessions now from the metal world, but I've done loads and loads of sessions for many years with rock bands, with contemporary musicians, with… I do a lot of, I used to do more of this, a lot of cross-cultural, so I’ve worked with Indian classical musicians and things, and I really enjoy that. I enjoy session playing. I enjoy the freedom.

Sometimes I'm brought in just to record the dots on the page; other times, they bring me in because they want me to do what I do on their track, you know, and particularly in the metal kind of scene that's the case, I think.

Radu: How did this start? Integrating into the metal world? [Ed: I think it’s got something to do with ionic bonding?]

JQ: Me, to integrate into the metal world?

Radu: Mhm.

JQ: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve always been in it. When I studied music, when I did my degree, I wrote my big paper on British heavy metal, so I’ve always been a bit… but not so much, more of the old-school kind of metal. So for me, it wasn’t odd at all.

Radu: Where can we read it?

JQ: Ah, it’s not published.

(sounds of disappointment from Radu)

JQ: Yeah. I can send it to you, though. It's kind of cool. It's basically, I was looking at, like, the historical development and the social kind of implications of metal, particularly British metal, referencing particularly Judas Priest ‘cause they're very obvious, you know, you can chart a lot through Judas Priest. But then I have many friends in bands and things like this lot [indicating something close at hand, presumably a shirt], Thunder, a big British rock band, so I play for them…

And then what happens normally is that you have a session because of a band and then you meet the producer or the engineer, and then normally the following things happen because the engineer or the producer will bring you in. So it might not be that you necessarily know the band to start with, but the producers, because you get, say, like Gomez or somebody who's producing lots of albums in this genre, somebody needs a cello player, so they don’t necessarily know me, but he does, so I come in and he knows that I work fast. Doesn't matter if I have dots or no dots, you know, blah blah blah. And that's how a lot of the work comes as well. So it’s the producers, really; they’re my best friends.

Radu: Shout-out to the producers.

JQ: Damn right, shout-out to the producers!

Radu: So how do you feel like this thing has affected your professional life in the past years?

JQ: What thing?

Radu: Your newfound popularity within the, uh…

JQ: Am I?

[Ed: Well, I would say so. We’re interviewing you. And I feel like I have to listen to The Cartographer, after doing all this.]

Radu: The metal-adjacent world. [Ed: Radu pronounces “adjacent” in a Romanian way and that’s cute.] I don’t know how to put it, because it’s like… Mono’s not necessarily metal. You’ve played with them recently –

JQ: Yeah, yeah.

Radu: Myrkur is – you also played on, not actually on her metal stuff –

JQ: No, I played on her folk song album. [Ed: Well, this is news to me, but that’s cool. Folkesange is a fantastic album.]

Radu: Folkesange, yeah. Also not metal, but it’s reviewed on metal sites.

JQ: Yeah, yeah.

Radu: The Cartographer, when it’s gonna come out, who do you think is gonna review it? [Ed: Whichever one of our staff members Radu tells to review it.]

JQ: Prog, prog metal, hm…

Radu: Yeah, probably.

JQ: I’ll tell you who probably won’t review it, is classical music papers. And that’s really interesting, because that’s where the gates close, interestingly enough. I worked – some years ago, I worked with a PR agency, before really all this, I don’t know, I had released a couple of albums, and they were a classical PR agency, and they said to me, [Ed: And here her voice adopts a smooth and voluminous tone that one can picture emanating from a classical PR agency] “Well, in order to be taken seriously by the classical world, you need to be doing more classical, because if you go too far into the metal world, the classical audience won’t come and they will not take you seriously.” I stopped working with this agency because I don’t believe that.

I come from the classical world and I am moved by all music [Ed: Except for hip-hop and country]. If it moves me, it moves me, and I don’t care about the genre it’s in, and I don’t believe… I believe that certainly that kind of esoteric type of approach – elitist, I mean – type of approach exists, but I don’t think that it’s relevant and I think that it’s changing because the stopping block is the classical side. Whereas metal fans – let’s just say general, we won’t… black or post- or otherwise – but metal fans, very, very open-minded. And they will listen. Not all of them, but most of them will listen and make an informed decision, and if they like it, that’s very nice. If they don’t like it, that’s very nice. But they will at least listen. Whereas some of the old-school classical audiences are less likely to immediately embrace…

Radu: Something that’s out of the classical world.

JQ: Yes.

[Ed: I, for one, am shocked to hear that classical audiences are elitist snobs.]

JQ: Even if you look at the lineup from yesterday, because there is an electric cello and an electric violin, that's enough to put off some people, when obviously we have to do it like that. I could do it on my acoustic cello, but it would be a real pain because we’d have to amplify it and the effects and stuff. Obviously I’m doing live looping at the same time, etc.

Radu: So a lot of times, then, they’re trying to keep classical music the same way it was.

JQ: Some of them are, yeah, and this is why the concert halls are suffering, really. Certainly at home. I’m not certain that it’s the case so much in Europe, but at home it’s a little behind in embracing… Very happy to embrace contemporary music, as in composers… Do you know what, I don’t even know what the difference is, actually! I mean, I’m a commissioned composer, so is Sally Beamish, so is Stephen Montague, so are these other classical composers… I think maybe it’s just, because it’s not really categorizable, and because you look at yesterday, okay, we played to a packed hall of people who are… traditionally metal fans?

Radu: Sort of, yeah.

JQ: Yeah, all bits in between, but probably not 100% classical music fans.

Radu: Yeah, like, take for example me, who has not a lot of knowledge and interest in classical music as a whole.

JQ: Right. Yes, fair enough, yeah.

Radu: Interest, yeah, but I relate to it differently than I do to most contemporary music.

JQ: Yeah, okay, yeah.

Radu: For example, one question that I would like to ask you is when you’re streaming music or something, you have “fields” in a song. You have the artist, album title, and song title.

JQ: Yeah.

Radu: Well, let’s say an orchestra that is conducted by a conductor is playing Beethoven. Who’s the artist?

JQ: Well, there you go. So in those cases, it would be the orchestra. Or, if it’s someone like Daniel Barenboim, conductor, probably he would be the selling point, so I think they attach it to who they want to sell it by. Maybe it’s the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Sixth or whatever the hell it is, you know, but then it will often be in tandem with the conductor, so I don’t really know how they do that. But I think that if the composer is no longer on this particular earth, then… [Ed: This is a train of thought that really warranted continuation.]

Radu: Usually he’s the selling point.

JQ: You would think so, wouldn’t you? You would think so.

Radu: Kind of. For example, a lot of people, unless they are really classical nerds, they’re gonna be “Oh, I want to listen to some Beethoven” rather than “Oh, I want to listen to this conductor for Beethoven”.

JQ: You’re right, you’re right, but there are a couple of exceptions. There are a couple of conductors – [Gustavo] Dudamel is one of them, the South American conductor. If he conducts a piece of music, I will choose to listen to his version, because he has an energy with him which I completely understand. When I watch him conduct and when I listen to what he gets out of his musicians –

Radu: So in a sort I think he’s the most relevant part.

Photo by Niels Vinck

JQ: For me it would be him, yeah, he would be the relevant part. But on the flip side of that, if you take a violinist like Nicola Benedetti, she is the reason I will listen to a performance. I don’t even – doesn’t matter what she’s playing. She can play Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”, fine, we all know that till we’re blue in the face. If she’s playing, I want to listen, because she is a brilliant player, soloist, you know, so that’s a bit different because she’s a classical soloist, so that’s the draw there. But when it comes to… If you’ve got commissioned music, then it might be, for example, people would say, “The London Sinfonietta are playing such-and-such commissioned work by, you know, Joe Bloggs or someone”, and then it’s the orchestra because no one knows the commissioned piece. Then we come to something like The Cartographer and it’s like, nobody knows who I am, nobody knows anything about The Cartographer, so the whole thing’s a big gamble really, you know? And that’s probably why I don’t think Classic FM will ever be playing this piece. (laughs)

Radu: Yeah. Also, a lot of times when I relate to classical music, it’s like, obviously old classical music, but what’s happening now, I think a lot of the classical music that’s done is just soundtracks for something.

JQ: Yeah, it’s a new – new music, I mean, you’re talking about, like, Hans Zimmer and composers like that –

Radu: Yeah, for example, when Hans Zimmer puts out an album, you don’t think of it, “oh, who’s the orchestra?”, “who’s the conductor?”. No, it’s Hans Zimmer.

JQ: No, precisely, it’s the composer.

Radu: It’s the composer.

JQ: Yeah.

Radu: Or Jonny Greenwood doing something.

JQ: Yeah. Mick Gordon is a good example of that as well, actually. I don’t really care what game, because I’m not a gamer, but I think Mick Gordon is an extraordinary composer, so it doesn’t matter to me if he’s written a soundtrack to Doom, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about is how he processes his electronics and how he creates his spectrum of sound. So again, he’s a composer that should be being talked about in a classical field because of his compositional structure and the decisions he makes, but of course he’s never gonna be because he’s associated to soundtracks.

[Ed: When she said “creates his spectrum of sound”, her voice suddenly panned from left to right and it was appropriately illustrative.]

Radu: Thinking of some composers of the last century which have quite made it big, I’m not really sure how many of them were instantly well-received, like Stravinsky or…

JQ: No. I mean, you know, Stravinsky – terrible fuss, banning this, that, and the other. Mozart, everyone walked out of The Magic Flute the first time it was premiered. I mean, nobody – because these people are doing something different. Now we might listen to The Magic Flute now and think, “Well, gosh, that’s Mozart, fine”; we all understand exactly what’s going to happen next. But at the time, that was groundbreaking. The structure was groundbreaking, the overture was groundbreaking. Of course, it isn’t to us now, but this is the point: if you are prepared to put your flag in the sand and say, “I’m gonna do it this way because I wanna do this as a composer”, you’re going to court mixed opinions. What I think is important is to try not to do the same thing over and over again. Stravinsky definitely was at the forefront of what became contemporary music and modern music, whether you look at it from a social perspective or, of course, a musical perspective, too. Extraordinary works, and people got terribly upset about the whole thing. And people often do.

Arvo Pärt! [Ed: Estonia mentioned] Arvo Pärt is now a name that’s dropped, everybody will know Fratres or something like that, but he began his career very, very avant-garde and sort of, if you like, less accessible, and then in his case he had a period of silence, and for him, that was where he found his religion, and then when he began to write again, he wrote, as he would say… with the voice of God, trying to reach always the voice of God. So he made a big change and now he’s obviously very, very important, and you can hear it.

Radu: He’s one of the only ones that’s important and alive.

[Ed: He’s the only living classical composer I’ve ever gone out of my way to listen to.]

JQ: Important and alive, yeah, and I think there’s lots of Max Richter that I would hear coming from other parts –

Radu: Or Steve Reich.

JQ: Yeah, indeed. And I watched – this is very interesting, I watched a wonderful documentary on Arvo Pärt where he was working on Fratres. So there’s a guy playing a woodblock, *dunk* *dunk* *dunk*, just like this, and it’s a woodblock so you think, well, fine, you hit it, and he was saying, “No, you must play it like this”, and he’d be – the shoulders, the breath before you hit it, it must be just right, and the simplest sound is filled with intention. Again, that’s what makes music metal, in my opinion, is the intention of the composer. If the intention is to deliver something that will go straight into your heart, that’s heavy. We’re not making flyaway music. Whether we’re doing that with a woodblock or a big cello overture, the intention is the same.

Radu: Unlike most metal. [Ed: …said Radu, accurately but killing the mood.]

JQ: It’s all good, it’s all good. If it works for you, it’s all good. [Ed: No it isn’t]

Radu: Okay. So as I said, part of it is because I relate to classical music as either old, where you can’t really figure out who’s the artist, so me being obsessed a bit about categorizing and so on…

JQ: Yeah.

Radu: Also, “classical music” is often referred to like, there’s the Classical period, there’s the Romantic period, and there’s the Baroque period, so really is “classical music” the best term for it?

[Ed: I’m so glad we got here, because my experience with classical music has been using the terms “classical,” “orchestral,” and “symphonic” interchangeably and all music made between 1700 and 1900 is classical.]

JQ: No, I often talk about this. It’s a very wise point. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, et cetera –

Radu: And also all of these are Eurocentric.

[Ed: It seems to me that these terms intentionally entail a specific geographical aspect in addition to a rough time period and general musical characteristics, being divisions specifically of Western classical music, so I’m not sure it makes sense to criticize them as “Eurocentric”; if we’re arguing that these terms don’t usefully describe musical movements in other parts of the world, and if the musical scholars who developed these ideas in the first place never had any intention of applying them outside Europe (which seems likely), then you wouldn’t want to use terms like “Baroque” or “Renaissance” to describe music from anywhere that wasn’t certain parts of Europe anyway, so is there a need to come up with a phrase that is more all-encompassing when what we’re in the midst of discussing is that common musical terminology is too all-encompassing? It would be like referring to the term “Gothenburg metal” as “Gothenburg-centric”: it’s supposed to describe a particular variety of melodic death metal from the ‘90s and 2000s that originated in Gothenburg, so that’s the point, and using simply “melodic death metal” so you could include bands from Canada and Taiwan would be less informative. I could see arguments of Eurocentrism in the basic conception of what “classical music” is, but I view “classical music” as describing more of a disciplinary/social/intellectual/relative cultural element than a specific sound, in the same way we talk about “folk music” and “pop music” (which is what metal is, so have fun with that). Anyway, thanks for reading the interview that I conducted with myself in the middle of this interview that somebody else conducted with yet another person.]

JQ: Yes, absolutely. We’re not taking into account anything else; we’re just looking at particular – I mean, it’s interesting, because what people used to do, so particularly, say, in the Baroque time, they would be much more, you probably know this anyway, but much more… patrons. That’s how music began to first of all cross boundaries, because people would travel, so they’d travel to France from Germany and then they’d suddenly find the courante as a dance or something and then they’d come back and then they’d make their version of the courante, like the gigue. The Bach suites are a very good way of looking at this, because Bach writes – okay, so we have a prelude and then we have a couple of French dances, German, and then we finish with an English-y/Irish-y kind of jig. So they would collect these different sounds from all over Europe and start to meld them in, the same way that we now collect different sounds from different genres.

But calling it “classical music” is a bit daft, really, because it’s like saying that Cinderella and Skinny Puppy and Judas Priest and Amenra are all “metal”. That’s just silly. We wouldn’t do that now, but apparently it’s okay to refer to the entire last 500 years of music as “classical”. Because it’s not amplified. That’s the only difference, isn’t it, really? [Ed: See, kids? Subgenres are GOOD.]

Radu: And also, dismissing part of it is like dismissing the entirety of 21st-century music because you don’t like Ed Sheeran. [Ed: To be fair, music is bad.]

JQ: Precisely! That’s exactly right, yeah! It’s quite important to – I find it very difficult. When I have to fill in the bits where, when I put my own music up online – I don’t do it anymore, I mean someone else does it for me now – but I used to hate it, because you could have, like, three genres and none of them were relevant to me at all, so in the end I had to go for… I don’t know, “ambient”. They didn’t even have “cinematic” at the time, and that would have done. But it’s very difficult to categorize. Is it good or bad? Do you like it, do you not like it? Fine. That’s all you need to know, really.

Radu: Yeah, like genres are useful for trying to find music that sounds like this or follows similar conventions.

JQ: Yeah.

Radu: I feel like classical music has obviously influenced a lot of the music that we have today, like progressive rock, post-rock, metal, and so on –

JQ: Yep, yep.

Radu: And also I see people looking at, like, Beethoven saying, “Oh, he was metal before his time”. I think that’s a bit ignorant, like instead of trying to see music for what it is you’re trying to find metal in places where it’s not necessarily there. You’re not trying to see the thing as a whole.

JQ: Mm. I think you’re right. I think it depends on your own definition of what metal is as well, really, or – well, in the context of Roadburn, it would be, “well, what is heaviness?”. “Redefining heaviness” is their –

Radu: But Roadburn is not necessarily a metal festival –

JQ: No!

Radu: But it’s clearly that even though some of the bands are metal they share something in common and it’s that thing, the redefining heaviness part, that’s the part that we don’t have a great term for it.

JQ: Yeah.

[Ed: I’m going to interrupt briefly and say that this segment made me realize how much Roadburn has influenced Metal Storm’s conception of both heaviness and metal – thanks to the dedicated attendees on our staff bringing back reviews and interviews from every year’s festival and thanks to Roadburn’s constant mixing of genres and pairing of artists to produce new works and introduce people to new sounds, the content focus on Metal Storm has expanded and matured a lot and I think it’s in no small part because of these new perspectives on what metal and heavy music are that Metal Storm has gotten to have such an interesting and unique palate. I know that must sound rather arrogant coming from the editor-in-chief, but I have always seen one of Metal Storm’s best qualities as its openness to things that are “metal-adjacent,” as Radu said earlier, not just basement black metal, pizza thrash, OSDM worship, and flower metal. Roadburn has had a huge influence on my taste in music over the years and I’ve never even been to it. Thanks, Roadburn. Now back to the show.]

Radu: I feel like a lot of genre tags were made, like, in the ‘90s at the latest –

JQ: Yeah, I agree with you.

Radu: And then what’s happening since? We’re just trying to – “what happened in the ‘90s that we can describe it as?”

JQ: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think that’s a very wise –

Radu: So for example, what would you describe Emma Ruth Rundle as?

JQ: My God. [Ed: Some people would, yes.] I mean…

Radu: It’s clearly a pretty streamlined sound, but you’re trying to say, like, neofolk, which is not –

JQ: No, she’s not, no, no, no.

Radu: She’s not neofolk. Dark folk?

JQ: Nope.

Radu: Dreampop?

JQ: Nope. See this is –

Radu: Post-rock?

JQ: Yeah, yeah.

Radu: These are just a lot of sounds… “singer-songwriter”? But that’s such a large umbrella –

JQ: But that’s so dismissive, isn’t it? Yeah, you’re right.

Radu: One-man black metal bands are singer-songwriters. They sing and they song-write. [Ed: No]

JQ: Yeah, I know. Yeah, yeah. It’s really difficult, isn’t it? This is exactly the point. You can’t categorize – I mean, you can describe the performance. Okay, in this current version of Emma Ruth Rundle, we have Emma and we have a piano and we have a guitar. Okay, but that’s – in previous versions, we’ve had a full band, you know, and it’s been dark and heavy, with that beautiful voice that just reaches into your heart. You can’t – if you try to describe it to somebody who’s never heard Emma – which would be unusual – but it’s very difficult, how you do that. I don’t know, I don’t know how –

Radu: This is hard for me, because this is my job. I’m the one who you add a band to the database and you have to put something as genre tags.

JQ: Yeah.

Radu: Also, as you said, for an artist, because you put your music online, you have to market it somehow. Who you gonna market it to?

JQ: Yeah, I know. Yeah. It’s ridiculous. It’s really difficult. But it has to be done. I understand that; it has to be done because of the way music is available now to people, and this is the way people discover music, whereas they used to simply make mixtape cassettes for each other and then you’d go to the record store and buy the records and that was a lot easier in a way. (laughs)

Radu: Or now you have somebody sharing playlists with you. They have their YouTube recommendation.

JQ: Yes. Yeah, that’s quite good. They’re quite funny, YouTube. I look at when – the playlists I pop up on, they’re quite interesting. It’s got quite a variety of things that I end up coming next to. Sometimes it’s classical stuff and other times it’s really far out, and I wouldn’t put it there at all, and other times it’s quite obvious. I did a Nine Inch Nails cover a few years back with a cello quartet, so it’s quite obvious then that that gets onto Nine Inch Nails, and then it goes onto industrial music and stuff and that makes sense to me, but other things are very, very random. And I don’t use Spotify myself, so I have no idea how it works. I am on Spotify, but someone else does that because I won’t touch it, so.

Radu: Yeah, naturally.

JQ: So I don’t know how it works, I don’t know how you have to categorize, but it would be bloody hard to put Emma into categories, definitely. If there’s a category for, like, “fucking brilliant”, then that’s where she goes. [Ed: There is such a category, and it is called “Things That SSUS Likes”.]

Radu: There’s a lot of similar-sounding artists to Emma, and they’re not exactly the same, they don’t follow the exact same conventions, but you can see that they kind of fall in the same bucket, and it’s a bucket that we don’t have a name for.

JQ: No, no.

[Ed: From now on, the bucket’s name is Vivian. That’s what Emma Ruth Rundle plays.]

Radu: And that happens with a lot of other bands. You try to find an umbrella term for it; it’s just not there.

JQ: Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s really difficult, isn’t it? It’s just, it’s easier if there’s someone who’s gone before, so you could say, “well, you like Emma because you enjoy very much the music of Chelsea Wolfe”. Okay, fine, now that doesn’t serve either artist, because they’re very different, but… they’re women who sing. I mean, that’s about the strength of the similarity, really. And they share a label. I mean, that’s…

Radu: Yeah, like, what’s the gender-swapped version of Emma Ruth Rundle? [Ed: I don’t have a good answer to this, so I’m just going to say Deafheaven and consider the issue settled.]

JQ: Yeah, oh, fuckin’ ‘ell… So difficult, isn’t it?

Radu: Yeah.

JQ: Anyway. (laughs) Well, I will be touring with her in the summer, so that’ll be great –

Radu: Every night, ask her, “What genre do you play?”

JQ: Yeah, I will. I’ll ask her, “How are you feeling tonight, Emma? Shall we say it’s folk tonight, or are we going for new classical aria-based writing?”

(at this point, an unidentified man comes by and says something unintelligible to Jo, who responds with pleasantries)

JQ: Yeah, okay, alright.

(at this point, Radu and Jo begin whispering to each other to avoid detection by the passerby)

Radu: You don’t know who that is, right?

JQ: No, no idea.

Radu: (whispers something I couldn’t understand)

JQ: Do you know who he is?

Radu: No.

JQ: Okay.

Radu: But I’ve seen pictures of him. Posted by Roadburn. I think he’s a singer.

JQ: Is he?

Radu: Yeah. Well, I have no idea.

JQ: This often happens. Off the record, okay. [Ed: Whoops]

(and here they return to the interview and begin speaking normally again)

JQ: Um… anyway, so with Emma’s tour, what’s interesting for me is I’m not sure whether I’m going to present an acoustic cello set with my classical pieces that I’ve written, like “Hidden Forest” and “Between Two Waves”, stuff like that, or whether – because she will be obviously playing as she is, quite stripped-down – and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to go banging out stuff like “Cantus” and things, so I’ll talk to her about this, because I need to think about the set that I will play that is correct to put the right energy onto the stage for what she’s gonna do next.

Radu: You kind of have to serve the purpose.

JQ: When you support someone, you go into their house, you know, and you must act with grace and take your shoes off at the front door, musically speaking, so you must do what’s right, and for me, that’s okay, but it doesn’t matter if it’s Emma or if it’s Amenra or Caspian or Mono or anybody else, because I will make the right set according to that. So, you know, I’m gonna give that one some thought.

Radu: You were also signed by a label recently.

JQ: By Norse, yeah. That’s right.

Radu: By Norse, right.

JQ: Just for The Cartographer.

Radu: Oh, so it’s just this, it’s not like a signing where from now on –

JQ: We don’t really have them anymore, and I don’t think either party would necessarily want that. For The Cartographer – I have so much respect and admiration for By Norse as a label, because they are willing to take risks. Obviously; they signed The Cartographer. Who knows? They’re willing to stand by the side of artists who are not categorizable particularly easily, and they’re also very, very nice people, extremely professional, so working with them is great, and we said, okay, let’s make The Cartographer, maybe let’s make one EP, and let’s see how we feel, you know? I mean, I would love to work with them always and I hope that they feel very happy with me, but we must be always able to have open communication. That’s the thing – so there’s no more, nobody really signs for this three-album deal with this, that, and the other, or six albums, or whatever. Some do, but –

Radu: I’d be curious to hear the kind of album that you’d do just to get out of a record contract.

JQ: (laughs) That would be a shitty move, wouldn’t it?

Radu: But it would be the Jo Quail version of Metal Machine Music from Lou Reed.

[Ed: HEY


That album is GREAT

I mean, maybe you’re right, but shut up]

JQ: (laughs) I mean, I make –

Radu: Just one hour of droning cello.

JQ: Well, I make a lot of experimental music. I have a lot of stuff which is never released and a lot of electronic music, and I do a lot of remixing as well.

Radu: Mm. See, now you have to keep them in case you get into one of these record contracts.

JQ: (laughs) I think, as long as there’s communication – and the good thing with By Norse as well is that they don’t interfere with the artistic vision of the artist. They’re very hands-on when it comes to things like the production and all of the PR side of things, but what the artist does, only the artist can do that. Whether it’s Einar [Selvik] or Lindy-Fay Hella or anybody else that they sign, they work with, they understand the artist has something to say and they don’t try to shape that.

Radu: At the point where they’re working with them, they already have the trust –

JQ: Exactly.

Radu: That they’re not gonna be just yes-men to something that’s gonna be awful.

JQ: That’s right. But they’re very hot on making sure that the production values are as high as they possibly can be, and that’s what’s important, whether it’s recorded music or the concert itself as well, because you’re presenting – however much blood, sweat, and tears go into composing and recording a piece of music, when you get onto a stage, you are making a piece of, if you like, entertainment, to put it at the very lowest level. It’s entertainment. Somebody turns up to see you do something, so you must do something very, very well or to the best of the ability to make a concert experience. This is really important. So yeah, By Norse, they understand all of this and they operate with this firmly in mind and I feel very, very lucky to be working with them.

Radu: So going a bit back to The Cartographer, because I forgot to ask: why is it called like that?

JQ: Cartographer?

Radu: What is he cartographing? Where are the maps?

JQ: Well, that’s the point, you see. The cartographer makes the maps, so there are no maps. The cartographer – it’s called The Cartographer for several reasons. The beginning thing – I mean, this is all in the PR notes and stuff, but the whole piece began with the poem. I wrote a poem, and this was a poem which was intended to act like a sigil, like a magic sigil, basically, so it’s an incantation, and this is what Lucie [Dehli] recited at the start and what Alice Krige does on the record. It’s exploring, like I often do, these aspects of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit – not in that order, on this album – and it’s describing the very primal stages of each thing, so with the first line, “The night cleaves, revealing shapes beyond the road, unboundaried form”, so it’s basically starting off with… There is a pathway, but there is no direction, there are no waymarkers, there’s nothing at all. And then we move to the air, the restless winds, so while all this is going on, they’re crafting ancient stories of magic and we pull them down, and then we go to the seas of the corax, which is a cormorant, the corax dives the triple seas and this becomes the mind and layers of the subconscious, and the cormorant’s fascinating – this is the album cover as well, the cormorant – because they dive and they can dive very, very deeply to hunt, but they nest very precariously and very high up, so for me the cormorant exists between the plane of the conscious and subconscious. And then we come to the fire, elements of the Jaya. [Ed: Gosh, I hope I’m getting all of this right.] All these things are to do with the fact that time waits, with this slow stone thing, and then at the end she says, “Draw close to me”, so it’s like we pull all these energies and then “come to me”, you know, and this is where we start to make maps. We’re not taking the map and following it, we’re taking the blank piece of paper and beginning the walk ourselves, and this is what musically was happening and what subconsciously was happening as well for me. So The Cartographer. It’s the only name it could have.

Radu: Okay. And what projection and scale is the map using?

JQ: (laughs) I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Radu: All right. Thank you. Because you know, you have to be very careful, because the Earth is like a sphere and you cannot put it on a actual rectangle. You have to use some projections.

JQ: Yes, yes.

Radu: Like Greenland looks big on a map, but it’s not that big. That’s just the Mercator projection lying to you.

JQ: That's a very good point. I'll definitely give that some thought.

Radu: Maps are lying to you.

JQ: Yeah. Maps are beautiful, I mean, I am obsessed with maps, but also obsessed with… well, maps and numbers. Those are my big things, to be honest with you, and maths generally speaking, but also the idea of… it’s like if you sculpt – I used to do a lot of sculpture – and you start with your… Let’s take clay, for example. Very often, the first thing – I would have a lump of clay, and the first thing I would do is make a twist in it and then begin to carve and sculpt. That’s like making a map as well. Barbara Hepworth, the British sculptor, she’s very present in a lot of the work, a lot of the music that I write, and her shapes are to me music. It’s just music in sculptural form. Lots of designs, sculpts, lines, maps, all of it links up.

Radu: And in your performance, who was doing vocals?

JQ: Lucie Dehli, who was sitting over there with me and Jake Harding. Lucie I’ve known since the Myspace days [Ed: c. 1835 AD]. We met years and years and years ago and we often do improvised music concerts together. She’s a fabulous blues and jazz singer, very, very great, very great singer. Jake comes from, let’s say, a metal background, but has such power in his voice but also such… he can find depth and stillness there, and he was obviously – because the whole piece is about juxtapositions, and so I wanted people, I wrote for those two singers specifically because they come from completely different worlds, but I knew what would happen. Or not completely, but I knew that it would be very powerful when they worked together, like in the finale. I knew it, and I was right. So you can take jazz standards, blues, improvising, contemporary music, and metal.

Radu: Yeah. It works.

JQ: It’s fine. Yeah, it’s fine.

Radu: They’re not antithetical, as some people would imagine. And also, you were part of a band, way back, and I keep thinking that it’s Son Lux, but it’s not Son Lux, it’s –

JQ: SonVer.

Radu: SonVer.

JQ: Yeah, that’s right, yeah.

Radu: Yeah. And I see that you worked a bit with post-rock music before coming into metal. So how do you feel there’s a bit of a difference in approach?

JQ: There isn’t. There’s no difference – this is the thing. “Coming into metal”, I don’t think I ever came into metal. I’ve never said I’m metal –

Radu: Yet.

JQ: Well, but I never said I was post-rock either. I mean, SonVer, basically I just write the music I wanted to write. SonVer was great because I was learning how to be a performer. It was early, very early time for me, so I had not the confidence then, so it was very – I had some great players with me, but really if we were big anywhere, it was in the goth scene, very much. So Treffen Festival [Prague Gothic Treffen], places like that, Whitby Goth Festival [Whitby Goth Weekend], that’s where we would play. We were “post-rock” because at that time anything that was instrumental with a bit of overdrive was termed “post-rock”.

Radu: Yeah. This happens.

JQ: It does happen, yeah, but so for me – okay, fine, post-rock, no problem. But I was always listening, I was always into metal, anyway, as I explained to you, the old-school metal – W.A.S.P. is my favorite band on the Earth. I like Marlow as well, but I don’t personally see that there’s any difference either between Marlow and Amenra, if we’re talking about heaviness. The term “metal”, and “post-rock”, is a bit misleading, maybe. But anyway, SonVer. Very nice. We released two albums and there’s a track on one of the albums that I would like to resurrect some time because it was a good track and it was the first thing that I wrote where I was starting to explore different time signatures, and that sounds silly now because I do it all the time, that’s a trademark of what I do, and that’s because, if you’re looping, live looping, on your own, by using time signatures –

Radu: Syncopation.

JQ: Yeah, exactly. Or if you say, for example, you’ve got 15 beats in one cycle or one bar, so you can have, fine, four bars of 60 beats, or two bars of 30 beats, you know, so we can divide in five or six, or we can divide in fours, or we can overhang – so then if you start to loop in that way, so you put your beat emphasis – like “Forge”, I do this in a track called “Forge” – so we have several different lengths of 15/8. One of them operates as a 4/4, just with a hook on the end, you know, and when the beat… “drops”, as they say, that’s when you get something really interesting happening. “Mandrel Cantus” is actually in 4/4, but because of the way that the beats operate at the front end, there’s no direct signal, it’s just a delay, so I hit it and then it’s on a dotted crotchet delay, so we have a sense of unbalance, but really rigidity is absolutely there, the structure is there.

Radu: It just feels a bit alien.

JQ: It feels alien, yeah! But it’s okay, because if you trust it, you will get the beat eventually. I will give it to you. [Ed: New PR slogan idea: “JO QUAIL WILL GIVE YOU THE BEAT”] And then everything will be fine. (laughs) But you just have to walk a little way with me first, and then it’s okay. But with SonVer, that was what I first started to think about exploring, but that was in the context of working with other people, because at the time the only loop station available was the RC-20. Or Line Six had a 14-second looper as well, but you couldn’t do what we can do now, so if you wanted to do polyrhythm, you had to have extra people on stage with you. Not anymore.

Radu: So this is why you got –

JQ: So what I did now is I did polyrhythm with 15 other people on stage and a loop station! (laughs) Let’s make it exciting!

Radu: And another album that I wanted to ask you about, because I did listen to a bunch of them right before this in preparation, it’s the album with T E Morris from Her Name Is Calla, For The Benefit Of All.

JQ: Aye, yeah, yeah.

Radu: As I listened to it, that one is a bit more clearly ambient.

JQ: Yes, absolutely.

Radu: The track titles seem very, very interesting, because if you have a year and something, it clearly tells a story –

JQ: Yeah, that’s right.

Radu: And I couldn’t figure out what it was.

JQ: Well, this is Tom’s story, so you should really have an interview some time with Tom. He’s a fascinating man, highly, highly skilled.

Radu: Well, if you get me in contact with him, I will.

Photo taken by me in Budapest

JQ: Yeah, well, I’m doing a gig with him in a couple of weeks, so yeah, by all means. I’ll put you – you’ll have to do it on Zoom, unless you come to the UK. Are you going to dunk!festival?

Radu: I don’t shit money. [Ed: It was on this day when I realized I had the wrong idea about Radu all along.]

JQ: Ah… It’s a shame. Dunk!, you’d like dunk!.

Radu: I know I’d like dunk!; it’s something that I would like, like dunk! and ArcTanGent, these festivals are also outside of Roadburn the only ones in Europe I really, really want to see at least once.

JQ: Yeah. All right. I don’t know if I can do it – if I can do anything about that, I’ll let you know, but I’m not sure. But anyway, so Tom, so that album, Tom had made this album, and he said, he rang me up and said, “Look, please will you play on this record?”, and I said, “With pleasure!”, because I’ve a huge respect for Tom and what he does and what he has done, and so I said, “Yeah, great, send it over!” And so he sent it and he said, “Only thing is… we’ve got two days.” And I was like, “Right, okay, fine, no problem.” And so I make him three takes of each track, just *bang bang bang*, straight out, and then he took what he wanted from them and –

Radu: He arranged it.

JQ: He arranged it, yeah. This is how my favorite way of working – to be honest, it’s even not to hear the track, to know the person, not to hear the music necessarily before, I don’t even want to know what key, I don’t want to know anything, but let me take three takes of playing and making the map as I’m going through it, yeah, and so that’s what I did with Tom, and then dunk!records released it, and we had a very nice response to it and now we will perform it. We will take aspects of it and –

Radu: Play upon it.

JQ: Yes, yes, and work with these in a live setting, improvised again.

Radu: And so I’ll have to ask him for the story.

JQ: You must ask Tom for the story. It was inspired by an exhibition of imagined life on Mars, and the artist was called Kelly… I’ve forgotten her surname. See, this is why you’re gonna have to do a bit more research, because it’s not in my mind.

Radu: Ah, great. More work. [Ed: …for me]

JQ: Yeah, yeah… but it’s an amazing concept, basically, really beautiful. It was great to do.

Radu: Okay, so something around speculative evolution of –

JQ: Yeah, yeah. Kelly, can’t remember her surname… I’m pretty sure I can find out, if you hang on a minute. I was just – ‘cause it might be useful for you to know at least who the artist is. Kelly… I’ve got her on here.

Radu: In the meantime, are you working on something right now? [Ed: Yes, she’s working on getting you that Kelly.]

JQ: Yeah, I’ve got two EPs that I’m finishing off at the moment, and one is with Maria Franz and the other is with a fabulous Italian singer, Lorenzo. He’s amazing; they’re two amazing singers, two different EPs, both of them – one of them has got my mobile phone choir on it. They both began during lockdown, so I wanted to make a choir, wanted a choir to sing with me. Of course, you can’t put a choir together, so I got loads of people to sing me two notes and send on their mobile phone to me and then I’ve built a choir out of it and they sound amazing!

Radu: Yeah, sounds like a good sound setup.

JQ: Yeah, it’s great. And then Maria is doing her priestess things over the top, and then with Lef [?], the other EP, he’s very, very, very dark, very dark indeed, very moving. He’s a very incredible singer, so I wrote with him in mind and he has made a beautiful track. So I’ve these two to come out, then there’s also a solo cello album, which is all of my solo acoustic pieces like I mentioned before to you, so that will come out with sheet music. And yeah, just writing, basically. I want to put The Cartographer on again somewhere else in the UK, and now I just want to write for the same lineup with additional, like, let’s have extra symphonic wind orchestra with us.

Radu: And an electric guitar.

JQ: Nope, we don’t need it! (laughs)

Radu: Naturally.

JQ: I’d be happy if someone wants to come and play, but I wouldn’t write for that, because we don’t need that. If we need an electric guitar, yeah, I’ll bring one in, definitely.

Radu: Okay, so last part for the interview is: now this interview is going to show up on a metal site, and a lot of these people are people who don’t really listen to classical music. [Ed: That’s me.] How would you say from a metal perspective should one get into classical music, and what are some pieces that we absolutely should listen to?

JQ: Uh… I will have to send you some links, but the first thing probably that’s worth listening to… I want to find you, because I want to find you the actual conductor… Hang on… How do you spell it? Okay, so Shostakovich Sssssymphony No. Sssssssssssssssssssix. [Ed: Yes, this is how she says it] Okay, all right. So Shostakovich Symphony No. 6, the finale, the last movement, conductor – this dude here, you see? Kim Dul – what does that say?

Radu: Kim Cul Deok.

JQ: Okay, so his, this one is the one to listen to. Now, it’s metal – it’s not metal. It’s heavy. It’s heavy as f- heavy as hell. And the end, it just… everything comes out, it’s absolutely – it’s why you must watch this version, because at the end he is conducting and he is carrying the weight, this is right at the end of Tchaikovsky’s… life, and it’s almost like… dunno. Anyway, it’s very, very powerful. You have to edit this part of the interview [Ed: don’t wanna], but I can’t put it into words, but this is a very, very important piece of music. Look at him, look at him, the way he – he’s pulling the music from somewhere else, like… There’s also Tormis, “Curse Upon Iron”. This is amazing. Will I find him? No, I didn’t spell it right. I can e-mail these to you… “Curse Upon Iron”… This is an incredible piece of music. This lot here. So Veljo Tormis, “Curse Upon Iron”, he’s an Estonian composer. Estonian composers have got a lot to say.

Radu: I can tell.

[Ed: Estonian webzines, too.]

JQ: Yeah, so he’s worth listening to, and he’s like – this is out there. I mean, this is something I would love to write and bring to Roadburn, something like this. This huge choir, doing things that you do not expect a choir to do. Can’t remember what your question was, though. Was it pieces of music?

Radu: Yeah, pieces of music and then also general approach.

JQ: Okay. So another thing – I’m a cellist, so another thing I would strongly recommend listening to is the Bach fifth solo cello suite, C minor, because that’s a solo instrument. That’s a huge, huge piece, and that’s probably one of the ones that’s got quite an easy way in, because harmonically it’s not – it’s genius. I mean, Bach is a genius. But it’s not using microtones and using things which some people find awkward. When I play it, sometimes there are microtones in there, but that’s not intentional, but it’s a very powerful piece of music and it’s just on a solo instrument, so that’s probably the best starting point, I would think, for classical. But it depends what you like. You like big, big sound, big symphonies, you’d want to listen to late Beethoven and [Ed: here she mentions another name that I could not divine, so I’m going to pretend that she has recommended Yngwie Malmsteen, in case you want to find classical music boring again].

Radu: (does Beethoven’s 5th)

JQ: (laughs) These are big pieces! But it’s important to remember that heaviness is also in a single note, or in single instruments. But I think sometimes it’s nice to just, say, fall down the rabbit hole and just pick something and then see where the next thing takes you and the next thing. Sometimes, like an album, some things take a couple of listens. Familiarity is – when we think something is good is when we’re familiar with it. This is one of the compositional things that’s worth thinking about as well, when you’re writing a piece of music, is how to present – so with The Cartographer

Radu: So that it feels at least a little bit familiar.

JQ: Yeah. Everything in The Cartographer is presented – the whole of the piece of music in the overture that I play, if you like, and Daniel’s violin line. That’s the whole piece of music. Everything else is taken from there; nothing else is added at all. So basically by the time you get to the finale, everybody is subconsciously very familiar with the material because I’ve been giving it to them in drops throughout the whole piece. We get there and it’s like *bang*, okay, and everybody feels at home. So familiarity is – unless it really makes you feel unwell, give it more than one listen.

Radu: But I don’t give things more than two listens, because then I’m not sure if I like them because they’re familiar or because they’re good. [Ed: Same difference; nothing is “good” without you reacting to it. And besides, if we’re going to talk about things that we like only because they’re familiar, I think that everybody in the whole world is going to have to have a serious think about their families, friends, partners, occupations, homes, languages, countries, religions, morals, philosophies, hobbies, possessions, memories, and/or tastes in art, food, humor, fashion, and/or consumer goods.]

JQ: Yeah, two listens is fine. Then you can make your decision. But one listen is difficult to make a decision on.

Radu: Yeah, because you might be influenced by your mood or…

JQ: Exactly, exactly, yeah.

Radu: Another piece – another couple of pieces that I think could become quite my favorites from the vantage point that I’m using is Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrows [Symphony of Sorrowful Songs].

JQ: Oh, God! Yeah! That’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

Radu: Yeah, it kind of is.

JQ: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. And Penderecki as well, St. Luke’s Passion, that is an extraordinary piece of music. But there, see – now I remember that piece, I remember coming to that piece and not… I didn’t really enjoy it very much, but it was many years ago, you know, and I was younger and I don’t think I was ready…

Radu: Sort of, yeah.

JQ: Yeah. So either way, you know, you have to be… wise enough, with enough life with you, sometimes, to meet these works, because they are written by someone who has had enough life to be able to write that. You can’t write, necessarily – sometimes it’s possible – but the longer, the more experiences you have, the deeper you can dive and come up for air. You know the process then, it’s a very fluid process, but I think – I know for myself, when I was first starting out writing, I couldn’t, I would never have written something like this ever. I might have begun to plant the seeds 20 years ago, but I couldn’t have done this. If I could have, I would have done it a long time ago. (laughs)

Radu: But then we maybe wouldn’t have listened to it.

JQ: No, that’s right. And there wouldn’t have been an environment for it to be performed, so… everything is the right time.

Radu: Yeah. Well, I mean… can’t change it now.

JQ: No, no.

Radu: And then Gustav Holst, the ones with the planets? [Ed: Ah, yes, I think that was called… The Planets.]

JQ: Yeah, fuck yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, come on, “Mars”, you know, that’s metal, isn’t it? [Ed: It’s certainly Star Wars, which at some points has been metal.]

Radu: I’ll give you that.

JQ: Surely. That’s – well, that’s it, Holst. There you go, you’ve answered your own question. That’s a great place to start. It depends what you like, really, in music, but if you like BIG sound, you’re not gonna get bigger than a brass section that size with full orchestra typically, which is exactly what I was doing with The Cartographer, except that only – normally you’d never get eight trombones. Usually in a symphony orchestra. I mean, sometimes, but… imagine that lot full on with the tuba as well, and maybe a couple of horns for some of the high ends, big percussion, maybe even taiko drum… (laughs)

Radu: And then on the complete opposite end but also metal in a way is Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa.

JQ: Yeah, exactly.

Radu: So you have the most minimalist and the most maximalist –

JQ: Precisely.

Radu: I think that’s quite a good spectrum to have.

JQ: Yeah, exactly. We talked about Arvo Pärt before, but he is a very good example of heaviness in music. Tell you who else: John Tavener, who recently died, English composer… erm… oh, God, I play it all the time… what’s it called? Oh my God, what’s the piece of music called? Ah… Sorry, I’m going to have to look it up, because you need to listen to this. Um… This is trouble. My brain goes. “Svyati.” S-V-A-Y-T-I. No, S-V-Y-A-T-I, sorry. S-V-Y-A-T-I, Svyati, okay. So this is a piece for orchestra – uh, choir: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, and cello. Again, it’s minimal; there’s a drone all the way through it and the tenors and the basses have to sing the same note the whole way through the piece. It’s an extraordinary piece of music, and in this, the cello has the role of the priest, so when it’s performed, normally the cellist is supposed to be at the back of the concert hall facing the choir and the choir make the supplication and the priest is playing like this. In reality, you usually have to perform it next to each other on a stage, but that was the idea of it. He runs contemporary with Arvo Pärt, certainly in terms of orthodox religious music being a huge part of things, and that intention again is what makes things heavy.

Photo by Nick Hodgson

Radu: Okay. I’m going to close the interview now, because we’re already past the hour mark. [Ed: Don’t I know it.]

JQ: We talked a long time, haven’t we? It’s nice.

Radu: Yeah, yeah. This is going to be a pain in the ass to transcribe, but… [Ed: Don’t I know it.]

JQ: (laughs) Yeah…

Radu: Maybe I’ll just publish the entire audio.

JQ: (laughs) Don’t do that. There’s too much of my phone ringing and me going, “oh, God, I can’t remember this…”

Radu: Well, you’ll have to live with that.

JQ: Do you use Ditto or anything like that to do your transcriptions?

Radu: (audibly stunned) What?

JQ: It’s a thing called Ditto. So basically you can run your audio – well, it’ll do it in English, that’s the problem. Well, it might do it – I don’t know, I only know it works in English, but you run the audio through and basically it will transcribe. It does it in real time, so it will take an hour to do it. You have to do it in half-hour sections, but it transcribes the interview and, because I speak quite clear English, it should be able to – it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for it.

Radu: Yeah, and just double-check everything afterwards.

JQ: Yeah, yeah, that’s one way of doing things quickly.

Radu: I don’t trust machines. I have to listen to every word myself. [Ed: Oh, you do, do you?]

JQ: Okay, yeah, yeah, I met another interviewer who does this as well. It’s nice.

Radu: Okay. Anything else you’d like to add to our readers?

JQ: No, no, except thank you very much for the opportunity to chat with you and maybe to make some new friends through your work, so thank you.

Radu: Thank you very much.

[Ed: In the end, we did try using Ditto, and it produced a full transcription of the interview (clocking in a 62:59) that at first seemed reliable; our original plan was to have Radu and/or myself simply follow along with the transcription while replaying the interview to make sure it was all correct. This lasted for the first few minutes, but after a certain point early on, it became apparent that the number of corrections and clarifications I was having to make actually made the process less efficient than just transcribing the whole thing from scratch myself, so eventually that’s what I did. This document is the work of my own two hands. It’ll be nice when this is a realistic option, but for now, let’s just say the technology hasn’t fully caught up with the idea yet.]

Posted on 08.05.2022 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments: 3   Visited by: 137 users
08.05.2022 - 23:25

This was a brilliant read, and featured some of SSUS's finest Eds yet, particularly Vivian the Bucket. I'd obviously been aware of the name Jo Quail, but before The Cartographer performance at Roadburn, I don't think I'd listened to anything she'd done. I'll be listening to the recorded version next week, but I tried out Mandrel Cantus since she mentioned it a couple of times, and the way she looped to build that electronic-sounding backing beat was very cool
09.05.2022 - 15:56
Written by musclassia on 08.05.2022 at 23:25

This was a brilliant read, and featured some of SSUS's finest Eds yet, particularly Vivian the Bucket. I'd obviously been aware of the name Jo Quail, but before The Cartographer performance at Roadburn, I don't think I'd listened to anything she'd done. I'll be listening to the recorded version next week, but I tried out Mandrel Cantus since she mentioned it a couple of times, and the way she looped to build that electronic-sounding backing beat was very cool

Introducing Vivian the Bucket, new mascot of Metal Storm.

I also knew her just as a name that kept appearing on albums that I was listening to up to this point, but I watched a couple of her videos and found them quite interesting, so now I do want to check out The Cartographer in full.

This was definitely one of the longest interviews I've had to transcribe (although nothing holds a candle to Katla., my goodness) but it was also one of the most fun and, ultimately, one of the most satisfying interviews to witness, because the discussions were interesting and Radu and Jo seem to get on rather well together. It's also nice having a little push into classical because I do feel intimidated by my complete lack of knowledge even of how to approach it; we need a Classical Storm so that I can keep track of all the compositions I've listened to and rate my favorite composers.
"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
09.05.2022 - 16:00

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 09.05.2022 at 15:56

This was definitely one of the longest interviews I've had to transcribe (although nothing holds a candle to Katla., my goodness) but it was also one of the most fun and, ultimately, one of the most satisfying interviews to witness, because the discussions were interesting and Radu and Jo seem to get on rather well together. It's also nice having a little push into classical because I do feel intimidated by my complete lack of knowledge even of how to approach it; we need a Classical Storm so that I can keep track of all the compositions I've listened to and rate my favorite composers.

Having played piano and french horn throughout my school years and being in regional orchestras, I've had some exposure to pre-contemporary music (I feel that most effectively covers baroque, classical, romantic, whatever the hell else), but yeah I absolutely would not know where to begin if I wanted to explore all that music, let alone modern classical

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