Nick Mulvey hits the road again next month. He spoke to Sync about latest album Wake Up Now, the pursuit of free expression, and how his new band has enabled him to open up a whole new set of possibilities…
To say it has been a hectic year and a half for singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey would be something of an understatement. As if relocating from London to the countryside and becoming a father for the first time wasn’t enough, this month has seen the release of his second studio album – and a packed schedule of global tour dates in support of that album are about to kick off on 1 October.
But the 32-year-old has been energised by a wholly positive reaction to his latest set of songs. “It’s been really, really lovely,” he said. “On a personal level, I’ve lived with this album for a long time in terms of the writing of it. The build-up to releasing an album is a long one too, in this case all the way through May, June, July and then into August, and so the pressure ramps up a bit. It’s funny, I almost forgot during some of the more intense moments that the whole goal is to release an album.
“For me, it’s been a really lovely and necessary release in more ways than one. These songs are naturally a bit more provocative and maybe even a bit more divisive in terms of the subject matter, so there has been an interesting complexion to the response from people since it’s been out. But people have been letting me know they love it.”
Many music commentators talk about an artist’s ‘difficult second album’, made all the harder by the pressure and expectation from fans and the music industry which can be a tough burden to bear. “Some of those expectations were coming from outside and others were set by myself,” explains Mulvey. “But at a certain point in any creative process I think you have to get beyond that and replace that worry with renewed focus on artistic inquiry and listening intently to creative urges. It became a real journey, an epic, beautiful one in fact. All these characters came into the process – including old friends as well as new ones I made along the way – all of whom really helped me deliver this message.”
It is a message that has been honed during what was a huge year for Mulvey on a personal level. “One song – Mountain To Move – was pretty much written while I was still touring the first album in 2015, but apart from that, the rest of the songs came about during the course of last year and that all ran parallel to my wife’s pregnancy and the birth of our first kid. It took me a while to get my head around it all and to find my flow with the writing and to work out where I wanted to go with it. But once it started to flow, it really started to flow.”
Mulvey’s son was born in September 2016 and what was obviously a momentous moment for him personally also became a pivotal creative trigger. “It was a heightened time of creativity. It was a crazy time and ironically, my attention was 99% elsewhere and instead of songwriting, I was concentrating on supporting my wife and welcoming this new being into the world. But because of that, the album benefited from not being the focus of my obsession for every minute of every day, and was instead in the periphery of my life. It gave it the chance to breath and I think it was all the better for it.”
It was during this time that he began to think clearly about how the album was going to be and what the recording process needed to be like. “It became apparent that I needed to surrender some of the ways that I might have otherwise controlled and limited the process, and in doing so, find new levels of performance in the studio.”
Becoming a father sped up a change in him that Mulvey says he had already felt happening, of growing awareness of his role and responsibility for his own part of the environment, and the seemingly bleak directions in which global systems – political and social – have been leading us towards. And yet the album is less about taking the pessimistic view of the world around us, and far more a celebration of what could be to come. “There’s unprecedented transition going on in our world right now and it’s hard to get our heads around any of it, let along wrap it into neat little sentences, but we are seeing the collapse of some of these political and social structures and we could see a future in which some of the non-essential is stripped away, leaving us to focus on the often overlooked mystery of our own being. It’s a joyful thing.
“We have to choose optimism over despair – that’s not really even a choice is it. We could give up and look towards the dark forces that are very much at play in the world today, or we could choose optimism and resistance. This album is an act of both.”
Nick Mulvey – Mountain To Move
So almost a month on from the album going public, Mulvey is preparing to hit the road again, and will be touring extensively throughout the UK during October, before heading across Europe and then the US. “I’m loving playing with the new band. Anyone coming to the upcoming shows will get to see and hear them. We made the album together and it was a really exciting journey that we all embarked on in the studio. And during that process, we worked on the idea that this could also be a live band too.”
But he adds that it’s been a tough challenge over the summer, taking this new approach to his live performances on to the festival circuit before doing so for headline shows. “In an ideal world, you would probably start with a venue or club tour since that gives you a little bit more control with sound checks and you get to know the ins and outs of the production. Instead, heading out to do all this at the festivals has made it a little more intense.
“One of the highlights for me was out in Holland where we played one club show and two festivals and it all really clicked and moved up to a new level. We felt like we were really flying, playing music and being really spontaneous and happy. Trying to capture that and bottle it to bring onto the tour becomes a really interesting game because in many ways, it’s not about trying to replicate that. It’s more about creating a culture within the band that is about free expression.
“In the recording process and sometimes the performance process, there can be a lot of repetition, so it can be very easy for an organising aspect to dominate it all – the vitality needs to be really nurtured and you need to be smart about creating the right conditions that allow for surprises to unfold in every show. We’re getting there, and we definitely feel that we have the right aims.”
Listening to the album, the input of the rest of the band comes through loud and clear, adding a fresh dynamic to Mulvey’s material. “In so many ways, I consider the band to be the answer to my prayers. I always longed for a band to share the core aims of what I wanted to do and I have that now. In particular, I’m talking about Federico Bruno, Fifi Dewey and Nick Pini, and my wife Isadora. It’s such a privilege to be on this journey with them.”
And although Wake Up Now reveals an artist whose work is evolving both musically and lyrically, Mulvey has plans yet to push things into a whole new dimension. “We’re developing a project which involved revisiting all of the songs, opening up the files and restructuring some of the songs to create a more ‘environmental’ approach to the music that asks the question ‘what would it be like to walk inside and through the song?’
“I’m working with some really interesting artists to explore a vision for my music that explores beyond the conventional song format and turns it into something that would be played through a series of speakers spread over a wider distance, and triggering certain laser and lights as you walked around within it. It could be a very immersive, sensory way of experiencing the music. So watch this space!”
Nick Mulvey tours the UK in October with dates including Liverpool (1 October), Exeter (2), Bristol (3), Manchester (4), Sheffield (6), Leeds (7), Birmingham (9), Newcastle (10), Edinburgh (11), Glasgow (12), Cardiff (14), Bournemouth (15), Cambridge (16), London (17), and Bexhill (19). Tickets here.
Nick Mulvey – Myela (Wake Up Now Unplugged)