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Laroca - The IndieLondon interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

LAROCA – aka Rob Pollard and Olly Wakeford – recently follow up their debut album Friends In Far Away Places with sophomore album Valley of the Bears. It’s a genuinely fine collection of instrumentals that traverse a wide range of influences.

Here, they talk to IndieLondon about the inspirations behind it, how they work with each other, and which tracks are constantly on their iPods at the moment…

Q. Friends In Far Away Places, your debut album, was a great listen. But Valley of the Bears is even better! How long did it take to put together?
Rob: Thanks! And yeah, this one’s taken a little while – around three years I guess. We’re not the quickest workers, that’s for sure! But since the last album Olly had a kid and I buggered off to China, so there’s some mitigating circumstances, he he he..

Olly: Yeah, life got in the way a bit, but I suppose that had its upside in terms of getting a measured and objective view of how it was coming together.

Q. What were the inspirations behind this album, thematically and instrumentally?

Rob: I think the main thing we wanted to do with this album was to add in more live musicianship than the first. Laroca started off really as me and Olly looping beats on an old sampler in the bedroom. And I think we were both keen to start playing more as a band and with real live musicians. There’s a gang of us that play at our live shows and we wanted to get them playing on the album as well.

Olly: Yeah, the main concept I guess was to start by taking inspiration from the diverse styles of music we enjoy and then harness the talents of the musicians who would in turn have their own particular styles of playing and would often take a tune in an unexpected direction.

Q. How was your time in China, Rob? What impressed and surprised about the country? And how much of an inspiration did it also provide?

Rob: I had an amazing year there, thanks. I guess the biggest impression on me was the people, and the generosity and selflessness of several people there that went to great lengths to make us feel welcome, in a way that’s above and beyond what us Europeans tend to. And I suppose the great thing about going and living somewhere so different is that every day is full of surprises and new stuff. I really miss that.

Musically, it was great to discover Chinese classical music, and instruments such as the guqin… not so keen on Chinese pop!. And I didn’t really get to discover an interesting underground scene… although I’m sure it does exist.

Olly: You forgot to ask how inspiring my time in Northampton was [laughs].

Q. Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? How do you write your material and are you tough on each other?
Rob: Um, we’re very laid back really. Olly’s a great ideas person and I’m maybe a bit more of the one to get into the nitty-gritty in terms of production. But we’re not confrontational or egotistical people, and so we just tend to agree and get on with it..

Olly: It nearly always starts with us getting together and just jamming ideas until something clicks. I suppose I’m more the ideas person at this stage but if left to my own devices things would probably stop there. Rob is the one who can then turn these sketches into something with structure. This is not to say he is just a producer as he provides plenty of musical contribution but the production he does goes beyond mere following of formulas, it’s about having a well tuned sensitive ear and being able to hear ‘what it could be’ out of ‘what it is’. This is as much composition as the playing of the elements. In that way we complement each other… does this sound pretentious enough?!

Q. The Internet – good or bad as a tool for musicians?
Rob: Blimey, um, well, you know, on the whole it’s opened up a lot of doors for people in terms of getting your music potentially to people on the other side of the world, and also in terms of collaborations etc. I think maybe it’s harder to stand out above the crowd than it was..

Olly: It’s certainly a great tool to discover music but a bit daunting as to how much is really out there.

Q. Why did you come over all hip-hop and include a rap on Carpe Diem?
Rob: Well, we’re both [but especially Olly] old hip-hop fans so it comes quite natural to want to include a bit of MC-ing on an album of ours. We just wanted to be sure though that the lyrics had some decent content, and MC Accord really did that for us. I think his words are fantastic on that tune.

Olly: Listening to Laroca it may not be evident that hip hop is the music I have listened to the most over the last 15 years, but there are so many styles you can incorporate with hip hop and hopefully this track is musically sympathetic enough to the Laroca style that it integrates into the album. Being in French somehow helps this to my ears. This wasn’t originally the tune I had in mind for an MC but it’s the one he strongly wanted to rhyme over so who were we to argue?!

Q.Can you talk about the inspirations behind Yallah Andalucia and its mix of styles? It’s one of the finest tracks of the year…
Rob: Yeah. Actually that one kinda changed halfway thru. We originally wanted this very Latin upbeat thing and I was trying to find a female Spanish MC. But that kinda fell through and I asked our mate Tarik (from the Brickwork Lizards), an Egyptian Oud player and vocalist, to jam over it. So I went over to his place, set the mic up and he jammed over the backing track. He did a couple of takes, and I then cut up and copy ‘n pasted his vocals, made the intro out of it, and got Steve (also from the Brickwork Lizards) to do some trumpet, and it really fell together. The name of the tune is just a little joke about the clash between Spanish and North African influences on that track.

Olly: Yes, it turned out much more moorish than originally intended!

Rob: Music-making is full of happy accidents init.

Q. Where did the name of the album come from?

Rob: Ah that’s quite an easy one. I was walking with some French friends in a stunning place called Vallee des Ours (Valley of the Bears) not far from Chamonix. I just thought: “That’s an album title!”

Olly: …To which I thought: “Thank God, now I won’t have to come up with a title!”

Q. The album is very cinematic in scope. What kind of cinema do you draw from? What would you describe as your cinematic influences?
Rob: Oh, a lot of the usual suspects (no pun intended!). Composers like Ennio Morricone, Angelo Badalamenti and directors like Scorcese, Tarantino, Hal Hartley, who use music in great ways. I always used to say my favourite piece of film was the opening sequence to Mean Streets with the Ronettes’ Be My Baby and the snare hits as gun shots. You’re totally right about the cinematic influences though. I guess I just really like creating atmosphere..

Olly: Yeah, Morricone certainly. Once Upon A Time In The West being an obvious classic. It’s more than just the music in films like this, the sound recording as a whole is a masterpiece in how to create atmosphere and suspense. Rear Window is another good example.

Q. How did you go about approaching the various instrumental artists who guest on the album? Was it easy?
Rob: Yup, pretty easy really as everyone was either mates or mates of mates. Ricky (from Belleruche) always used to play live with us and played on the last album too, so it was good to get him, especially as he’s now uber-busy due to Belleruche’s richly deserved success. Tarik and Steve are, as I said, in The Brickwork Lizards, who are an Oxford based band that we really love, so it was great to work with them.

Q. What’s been the most surprising/pleasing reaction to the album so far?
Rob: Your review!

Olly: It was also nice getting an email from Rob Luis (Tru Thoughts head honcho) saying he really likes it. We’re big fans of the label.

Q. What can we expect from the live shows? And can you supply a touring schedule so we can tell fans where to see you?
Rob: Yeah we’ve just re-jigged the live show actually. A lot of our tunes have strings, etc on, which was difficult to recreate with a live band, so we used to run backings alongside live instrumentation, but we’ve just dispensed with all that, in order to create a freer and more energetic live show.

We’re hoping to start playing live again and do a few dates this autumn, and you might well catch us supporting Introducing (a band which plays DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing live), as me, Matt and Mike the drummer are in both those acts. I also play bass for Jali Fily Cissokho’s Coute Diomboulou band, so I’m hoping to arrange a gig with both bands on the same bill in the autumn. In fact, Laroca, Jali Fily Cissokho and The Brickwork Lizards would be my ideal line-up if I can wangle it..

Olly: Yup, unfortunately touring is on hold just at the moment due to other commitments but I’m determined we will come out of the closet soon. Early signs are that dispensing with backing tracks is a big step forward, allowing us a more free interpretation of the tracks – plus we have a bunch of musicians who are that good, we’re letting them express themselves and basking in their reflected glory!

Q. Which bands/singers excite you at the moment? Is it a good time for new music?
Rob: I think Quantic’s one of the greatest musicians/producers around at the moment. I’ve been a fan of pretty much everything he’s done. He’s just got ridiculous amounts of talent, combined with great taste. DJ Vadim’s another that can always be relied on for quality releases. As you can probably guess from our sound, we like to listen and discover music from all over really, and it’s been great that in the last few years we’ve had this explosion of Balkan beats and latterly Cumbia on the british scene.

Olly: I have been particularly swept away in recent times on waves like the balkan beats phenomenon where big dance beats are welded to trad musicianship – people like Dunkelbunt mashing up gypsy and dub with the charleston… what’s not to like?

Q. Who are your influences?
Rob: As you can probably guess, too many to mention! As a teenager I was an obsessive indie-kid, and me and ol shared a love of shoegaze stuff from back then.. but then Ol was well into his hip-hop, then we both got into reggae, drum n bass, electronica etc and widened out from there I guess… and have both spent the last decade or so discovering all sorts of stuff, and a lot more stuff from all round the world. Lately I’ve been really enjoying Sergent Garcia, Toumani Diabate, the Balkan Beat Box Nu-Made remixes, Beirut, The Ipanemas.. oh and Mayer Hawthorne, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.. and, of course, the peerless Sigur Ros.

Olly: I dunno… it’s all in there and influenced me in some way from classical to indie guitar noise to hip hop to afrobeat to funk and soul to folk to reggae to breakbeat! It’s hard to say how all of this comes out in the wash, and I can’t explain either that we make music often labelled as ‘chillout’ or ‘downtempo’ cos I just don’t listen to this kind of music much at all

Q. Finally, if you had to supply an infinite playlist of your 10 favourite tracks, what would be on it?
Rob: Oh, lordy. I’m just gonna say the five tunes I’m loving most at the moment off the top of my head:
Mayer Hawthorne – I wish it would rain
Dub Pistols – I’m in Love
The Second Whorl remix of Laroca’s The Elevator Tester
Dj Vadim – Hidden treasure
Jali Fily Cissokho – Binta Jagn

Olly: OK, so likewise some recent releases rarely off the stereo…
Watcha Clan – balkan qoulou (dunkelbunt remix)
Una Mas Trio – clear as water (mo’ horizons remix)
Nneka – respect yaself (feat oranmiyan)
Tal M Klein – crawlin up the spout (feat penny – cmc & silenta remix)
All Good Funk Alliance – ny funk (fort knox five remix)

Read our review of Valley of the Bears