From a degree in ethnomusicology to being a member of Portico Quartet, Nick Mulvey has had quite the unique musical career. He chats with AARON BRYANS ahead of his support slot with Ben Howard at the Astor Theatre on Friday, July 25.
Nick Mulvey has seemingly seen it all in his musical career. Currently at the age of 26, the British-born musician has travelled the world studying music, performed in a Mercury Prize-nominated band, Portico Quartet, and played one of the most unique instruments in the industry, The Hang.
Struggling to maintain his creative urge, Mulvey left the Portico Quartet to pursue a solo career, going on to release two EPs and now his acclaimed debut album, First Mind.
“It was really something I had to do,” Mulvey explains. “It was coming from that creative side until it became this very obvious move. Once it became obvious it absolutely had to happen, and I really wanted it to happen. Initially the first rumblings were that, in the band that I was in, I was playing the Hang drum; which was very exciting because it was a new instrument for four or five years, but it didn’t have a lot of depth and interest. The guitar has a lot more potential. I was a guitarist and a singer and I wasn’t playing or singing. One year was cool, two years was okay, three years was a little bit hard, four years and five years was starting to drive me mad.
“That desire to return to my main thing was there. The band members were also, very rightly so, going on their journey in music and it just wasn’t my thing. They got into self-recycling and having leak boxes and snippets of sounds. Very experimental things, I appreciate, but I wasn’t connected on their prime interests. They were racing down a path and I wasn’t listening to quite the same artists they were listening to.”
The choice has been a positive one for Mulvey, with First Mind greeted with a hugely positive response from critics, receiving four stars from The Guardian, Q Magazine, Total Guitar Magazine and the Daily Mail.
“It’s always a really beautiful humbling surprise,” Mulvey expresses. “It’s hard to know what to expect; but being in the middle of the whole process and taking that process step by step as we naturally have done, I’m the one with the least expectations. You never know how it’s going to be received.
“It’s been about numerous things, from the very obvious levels, like working with lyrics and words and playing the guitar that kind of surface stuff. There’s something much deeper. Over the course of those five years I had a lot of songs building up inside of me. I was getting my creative kicks in that band, but a lot of it wasn’t being released. It’s something that’s not even restricted to the creative realms.
“The process of the songs is a process of ‘how fully can I be myself?’ It’s a question of actively clearing the way, unlearning all the unhelpful shit that you think about a song, like what songs might the world want. You have to clear the decks, turn off the internal radio and ask yourself ‘what songs want to come through me?’ And when you can do that and do it successfully, inevitably what you land with will be unique because it will be an expression of you, not an expression of someone who’s studied the playing field and created something through imitation. And that’s where I’m coming from as a writer.”
Mulvey’s drive for creativity is bred from his endless experiences including his unique choice to study ethnomusicology at the University of London, a decision that has given him the ability to truly appreciate the value of music.
“If you asked me as a kid what I’d end up doing I would’ve thought you were mad,” Mulvey laughs. “I’m definitely about having an instrument in my hand, I’m not a theoretical person; and ethnomusicology was quite theoretical. But I found myself relishing it. It was the broadest perspective that I could find at that point as a young person. In the course you could sit down in the morning and they’d genuinely ask you what is music. The ethnomusicologist is almost like an alien who doesn’t take anything for granted. Every musical note is packed full of meaning of all the musical notes that preceded it. We could pull apart a Britney Spears song all day and it’s all valid, nothing is not interesting. That kind of set me up to have a thoughtful angle.”
Mulvey will be bringing his creative genius to Australia in July, touring with Ben Howard and appearing at the annual Splendour in the Grass.
“I’m really excited to head over to Australia. You guys are looking beautiful from over here. I feel like a lot of things have given me the impression that Australia has a ready appetite for the kind of thing that I’m doing.”