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Interview: The James Orr Complex

The James Orr Complex

After reviewing his album last month, I offered to interview the man behind the James Orr Complex – Christopher Mack – for a feature in The Skinny

If you had to stick a pin on a map of the world and then emigrate to that point, you might well find your hand drawn to Brazil. For Scot Christopher Mack, there was the added incentive of appeasing his homesick other half: “My wife is Brazilian. She had itchy feet and after eight cold, dark and unforgiving Scottish winters she was ready for a change. She wanted to go to Spain. In the end I convinced her that if we were to move, then we should go the whole hog. Three years later and we’re still surviving in São Paulo.”

Mack, better known in musical circles as the James Orr Complex, is quick to stress that the reality of life for a non-native in the world’s fourth most populous city is less like a holiday than one might imagine: “I came here with no guarantee of finding work, nowhere to stay and no Portuguese whatsoever. I was already a qualified English teacher, so finding work wasn’t difficult. Getting to grips with the language and overcoming absurd levels of bureaucracy to obtain a permanent visa demanded much more patience. Now, thankfully, I can say that all those really tough moments were worthwhile.”

It was in São Paulo that Mack wrote and recorded Com Favo, his recent second album as the James Orr Complex. It’s a multi-tonal brew of folk, blues and much more, shifting between moods as effortlessly as Mack’s fingers navigate the fretboard of his steel-strung acoustic guitar. “I’ve been playing for almost 20 years,” Mack says, explaining his elaborate technique. “I reached that plateau that everyone who picks up an instrument knows, when I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere anymore. But for some reason I kept playing. Most people get bored up on that plateau and give up.”

Unsurprisingly, a strong Latin flavour pervades Com Favo, due in no small part to Mack’s accomplices: “Two friends of mine play on the record. Thomas Rohrer is Swiss but has lived here for about 12 years. He plays rabeca, which is a kind of primitive violin cut from a single piece of wood. Mauricio Takara is from São Paulo and plays drums and percussion.” But, Mack says, the effect wasn’t artful intention: “I didn’t for a minute sit down and think about how I could inject a Brazilian sound into the record. It came out the way it did naturally.”

Rather than sign to a local label, Mack settled on Mogwai’s Glasgow-based Rock Action – a decision based on auld alliances: “I’ve known the Mogwai chaps since the pre-Mogwai era. Stuart drummed for a while in a band I was in. They approached me shortly after they launched the label. I had already started to become quite cynical about the music business so for me it was perfect – people who I was already friends with wanted to put my record out.”

Which only leaves the obvious question: Why the James Orr Complex and not the Christopher Mack Complex? “I thought that if there was a chance that I might go on to commit some serious musical crimes, then it would be better to commit them in someone else’s name rather than my own.”

James Orr, if you’re reading, you might have a few fans out there. Especially in Brazil.

Com Favo is out now
www.myspace.com/thejamesorrcomplex

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The James Orr Complex – Com Favo

The James Orr Complex - Com Favo

Album review for The Skinny

Rating: ****

We may not compete with Brazil on the football pitch, but the Scottish-Brazilian musical alliance is one built on rather more equal terms, and as the TrocaBrahma concerts of recent years demonstrated, capable of fruitful collaboration. The somewhat tenuous link doesn’t end there though: we also have our own musical ex-pat in Christopher Mack – aka The James Orr Complex – living and recording in Sao Paulo, sending his music back to Glasgow to be packaged by Mogwai’s own Rock Action record label. Mack is simply a prodigy on acoustic guitar, and so the only other sounds to intervene on Com Favo are his unimposing voice and smatterings of Latin percussion. Far from being one-dimensional though, the impossibly intricate playing is otherworldly, beautiful and multi-layered, while culture vultures will appreciate that Mack’s Brazilian experience seeps into his music, whether it’s the samba lullaby of Dear Green Blues or the thoroughly non-native chord shifts of Sharpie.

Com Favo is released on 17 Nov on Rock Action

www.myspace.com/thejamesorrcomplex

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September in singles: Stopping at England, Iceland, America… and Scotland

Alex Cornish

This month’s instalment of my singles column for The Skinny. Better late than never.

No-one is averse to a bit of sensual seduction. So when newly-formed Londoners Rock City Sixteen send me a 7″ of Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanche (****, 8 Sep) in appropriate black and white design with creative press release, I am easily swayed. The effortlessly cool Velvets-aping song is good too, mind. This month’s brainless-indie-romp comes courtesy of The Zutons. What’s Your Problem (**, 8 Sep) is more of the same sax-led 70s rock, and the trick is wearing thin. As the leaves wither like that band’s career, maybe it’s good that White Lies make no attempt to cheer us up with Death (***, 22 Sep). But their stately, dare-I-say epic indie marks them out as ones to watch. If one band do merit the wearisome ‘epic’ tag, then it’s surely Sigur Rós. Inní mér syngur vitleysingur (****, 8 Sep) translates as “Within me a lunatic sings”. If so, he is a remarkably tuneful lunatic, and heralds a return to form for these enchanting Norsemen.

We’ve had Dinosaur Jr, T-Rex, and now another extinct creature is revived in bandname form, with the arrival of San Franciscan duo The Dodos. Fools (***, 15 Sep) is a likeable little breeze of stick-drumming, chugging guitar and indiscernible muffles. On the subject of band names, Johnny Foreigner can be contracted to JoFo, and there’s more to like: Salt, Peppa and Spinderella (***, 8 Sep) is another hi-NRG rock-out from this talented trio. Never having fallen for his Bright Eyes work, it was unlikely I would perform somersaults of praise for Conor Oberst‘s new solo venture. And while Souled Out!!! (**, 1 Sep) is a decent rock’n’roller, I can barely summon a critical starjump, never mind a somersault.

And now it is with hushed excitement that I present a specially themed and hastily conceived ‘part deux’ of this month’s singles round-up: The Scottish Selection. And what melodious, home-grown treats we have in store…

Those now-ubiquitous favourites Frightened Rabbit offer a double serving of their alt.folk majesty with I Feel Better / The Twist (***, 22 Sep), a double A-side offering a mirror image of their fragile/blustering sound. Broken Records may be swatting the record deals away like flies at the moment, but in the meantime they’ve produced another tantalising glimpse of their talent. Slow Parade (****, Out Now) is a wistful, delicate paean that swells to a stirring, brassy coda. Idlewild singer and one time punk contortionist Roddy Woomble is maturing into a respected folk troubadour and, along with John McCusker and Kris Drever, he has spun a shimmering wee song in Silver And Gold (****, 1 Sep). Although born and bred in London, Alex Cornish still qualifies for this celtic love-in, since he now writes and records from his Edinburgh bedroom. “I’m not breaking new ground,” Cornish sings in Until the Traffic Stops (****, 29 Sep), but who cares about that when he can turn out rousing, honest tunes like this? A deserving single of the month.

And just when you thought Scottish music had been completely ensnared by whisky-blooded folkie types, Mogwai emit one of their atomic waves of distortion to knock us clean off our barstools. Batcat (****, 8 Sep) is a taster of their forthcoming sixth album and reveals the Glaswegians back in earth-shattering form.

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Errors – It’s not something but it is like whatever

Rating: ****

With the daft, verbose album title, Errors are presumably launching a pre-emptive strike at the music journalists who will try to categorise their sound in the coming weeks and months. The point being that the Glasgow band are too disparate for the old name-that-genre ploy. Sure, they’re electro, but they’re also post-rock, math rock, acid house… Moving on swiftly, we find that Errors have developed the basic, glitchy elements of their early 7” singles and EP into a cohesive album of instrumental electronica. The influence of their employer, Mogwai, looms large – almost too large – in the minimalist, adagio guitar lines, but when they break into a Battles-like jerk-frenzy on Toes they reveal yet another side to their sound. Oxford solo artist George Pringle adds her mellow spoken-word to Cutlery Drawer; a welcome dose of the human in a brilliantly synthetic album.

Released on 9 June through Rock Action

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Interview: Errors

Errors were not happy that the lift was out of service

Anyone who has trawled MySpace in search of good music and been met by band after mundane indie band will know that it is acts that offer something a bit different (like Errors) that make it all at least semi-worthwhile. A year ago, maybe more, it was the track Mr Milk that made me sit up and listen: a simple minor key guitar riff – so far, so normal – followed by a blaze of electro that surges and builds and fades in all the right places. So with their debut album (finally) on the horizon, I spoke to drummer James Hamilton for a feature in The Skinny

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Errors are a band who have buzzed, fly-like, around the electrically charged bars of the Scottish music scene for a few years without igniting in a satisfying pop. But that could all be about to change with the release of their debut album next month, the wordily-titled It’s Not Something, But It Is Like Whatever. If it’s not something, but it is like whatever, then what is it exactly, James Hamilton, Errors drummer?

“The stuff that we come out with is kinda like a mish-mash of our own influences. Simon and Steve come from electronic music so there’s a lot of acid and house and techno but there’s also a lot of hardcore, post-rock guitar influences. Personally I listen to tons of jazz and latin, which is so not cool but I think that comes through, especially in some of the newer songs.”

The Glasgow-based band first caught local attention with the single Hans Herman in 2005. It was the beginning of their ongoing relationship with Rock Action, the record label established by post-rock behemoths Mogwai. Originally a purely electronic affair, Errors soon hired Hamilton to provide live drums, and guitars also became an integral part of their sound. The EP How Clean Is Your Acid House? brought them further exposure, and they supported dance veterans Underworld on their UK tour last November. It’s all steady progress, but Hamilton admits that the album has been a long time in gestation: “When I joined we were still working out different aesthetics of playing. We’d been planning on making an album for a long time but we didn’t feel we had the songs that were good enough to put out.”

But having Mogwai as their artistic patrons meant they had no shortage of time and understanding to make the record they wanted to make: “It makes it a lot easier for us, because they’ve got that insight, they know what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence.” It also meant that, when the time came to start recording, they had the run of Mogwai’s own Glasgow studio, the ominous-sounding Castle of Doom, and a ready producer in the form of ‘Gwai guitarist John Cummings. “John’s a ridiculously good producer,” Hamilton says. “The drum sound he got was amazing. They basically boxed me in in this room, and it was a bit claustrophobic. But he said, OK, play some stuff and then come through and hear how it sounds. So I was expecting it to sound a bit dodgy but I came through and it sounded like Bon Jovi or something. He got an amazingly epic drum sound.”

As well as ‘epic’ drum sounds, the album benefits from the husky tones of London-based diseuse George Pringle, who guests on the track Cutlery Drawer. “We assumed it was gonna be an instrumental record,” Hamilton explains, “but we were reading this interview with this writer and performer called George Pringle from London. She does spoken word stuff over electronic music. And she said in the interview that she didn’t like much new music, except for… and she said Errors. So we thought we’d just get in touch and ask her if she wanted to do vocals on a track. She said yeah and it’s turned out absolutely amazing.”

Errors have planned a tour in support of the album which includes, rather intriguingly, a four-date jaunt around Finland. Hamilton says that this unusual diversion dates back to the band playing Finnish festival Qstock last year – “this kind of gothy festival with a dance tent that was absolutely amazing” – and he’s keen to sing the praises of the Scandinavian nation, and its wildlife: “We were driving down this dusky, foggy road and this moose ran across and it was the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen”. As Hamilton observes, there are definitely worse places to be ‘big’ in. Soon Errors may be qualified to make the same statement about their homeland.

The release date for Errors’ debut album It’s Not Something, But It Is Like Whatever has been a matter of contention, although the band did post a MySpace bulletin this week saying it would be out on 2nd June.

This is the video to the new single Toes. It looks like it’s been made on MovieMaker, but have a listen at least…

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