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