Mount Bank’s new album, Counter Real, is a work for both travelling and sitting stationary, for both action and contemplation. How you choose to engage with it is of course up to you, but we’re sure that you’ll find great value in the exceptionally strong craftsmanship featured within and the ideas that are being played with. The album, a term to be used loosely as you will read in the featured interview, furthers his work with label Donky Pitch and explores the middle ground between experimental electronic and modern classical music. Sometimes piano chords hang in stasis, almost paralysed by the supplementary ambient fuzz, sometimes vice versa. No space is filled unnecessarily, every note is meaningful.
As well as the previously mentioned interview, in which we discuss everything through progression, influences and instrumentation, we’re also delighted to be premiering the album’s closer “We Could Be Real”. Standing alone, it’s a beautiful, birdsong soaked lullaby, fit for facilitating fantasies and daydreams. It’s even more effective in its role as an epilogue for the album however, vital perhaps, hitting the reset button on the peaks and troughs of the previous 45 minutes and inviting the listener to hit play once more.
Hi Sam! Congratulations on the album! How are you today? Hello! Thank you! I’m very well thanks. Currently very jet lagged in Sydney, but well.
Would you tell us a bit about the themes of the album? The album title, Counter Real, seems to suggest that it’s quite a philosophical piece of work. You also have track titles like Ex-Logic. Are there concrete ideas there or are you inviting the listener to come to their own conclusions? I’d love to have a deeply philosophical write up of the album and its tracklisting, but it’s fairly simple and honest. The term ‘Counter Real’ best describes my mindset and mood around writing this music. I feel pretty disconnected from the world around me a lot of the time, and I write abstract and other worldly music to soundtrack the places I drift off to when day dreaming and fantasising.
This will be your third full release, right? Two EPs and an album. How does your process change between producing an EP and an album, if they’re even different at all? Third yes! To be honest with you I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m quite far off understanding the elements of the process of making an album or even an EP! Every release I’ve done, either as a solo artist or my work with The Physics House Band, has been a sketch or a mood board of ideas of the types of sounds and instruments that I’m currently enjoying. I’m still learning, and I think it’ll be a long time before I’ll be able to make a very carefully curated approach to constructing a record. But, currently I’m really enjoying this approach of creating sketches and ideas but as full releases.
It seems to me that Island Life was a little more club-focused than Counter Real, was that a deliberate shift? At the time of making Island Life, all I knew is that I wanted to make music as a solo artist. I was very influenced by producers around me and I had very little idea about my direction, so it was a collection rather than a carefully curated track listing. On that record there’s club friendly tracks, but also more introspective arrangements like ‘Worship’ that explored sound design and ambient soundscapes – I gravitated towards continuing that sound as it felt more natural to move in that direction.
There’s a vast array of instrumentation on the album, horns, piano, all manner of percussion, you name it! Would you talk a little bit about working with this wide range and bringing it all together to form something coherent? I’ve always loved the huge differences you can make to an arrangement just by being quite obtuse with your instrumentation. On this record I wanted to try and explore new ground and experiment with some traditionally classical instruments. Most of the songs on this record sounded very different in their primitive stages. I’m unsure if the record is coherent, I think that’s for the listener to decide, but my vision was for it to exist only within it’s own world, and not be challenged by having strong attachments to other genres.
I’m really interested to hear about your work with The Physics House Band, since it would seem to be very different at surface level. Are there things you can take from it (and vice versa) or do you like to keep the two separate? I never write specifically for either project. I usually just sit and write, certain ideas or compositions will naturally move either way! I’ll often take a motif I’ve been working with on my own into the studio with the group and pass it on to be expanded. It’s really empowering to have that much of an open field to work on, and with the nature of The Physics House Band, there’s absolutely no boundaries in site. Any ideas can be explored.
You feature vocals from Eva Bowan on Gloss Hills. Was this your first time working with a vocalist and how was that process? Working with Eva was the first time I’ve ever worked with a vocalist, and it couldn’t have been anyone but her! I’ve always been a big fan and supporter of Eva. I wasn’t keen to have very hooky or easily understandable vocals, it was more just to add that layer and timbre into the mix, and Eva really understood that. I gave her total freedom, sent off the instrumental and invited her to interpret in anyway she felt happiest.
Who are some of your biggest influences in the spheres of modern classical and electronic experimental music? I really enjoy listening to and watching anyone pushing the boundaries as far as possible, including Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta), James Hinton (The Range) and Holly Herndon – I’m sure it’d be a dream to work with any of these very talented people. I love their vision, and dedication to manipulating the standard forms of instrumentation and arrangement.
I saw your tweet about a club night involving DJ’s playing their favourite melancholy piano music. I’m sure a lot of artists are influenced by this sort of stuff, even if it isn’t manifested in the same way. Do you feel like it’s under appreciated at all? Quite the opposite! I think a lot of people respect and appreciate classical music, I just like to fantasise about changing the parameters of what a club could be! I love the idea of beautiful piano music blaring, accompanied by lazers and people going nuts! I feel like if Frédéric Chopin was alive today, that’s what his live shows should be like. Who knows, maybe I’ll put the wheels in motion.
The album also feels very visual, a lot of it sounds like it could be a soundtrack. Do you also take a lot of inspiration from things in art and nature, and where do you place these amongst your musical influences? With this album, I definitely took a lot of influence from my surroundings, not so much from nature, as I live in the city. Living in the city has influenced the way I write hugely. It makes you feel a certain way and I think there’s certain sections where you can hear that – or at least up until the ultimate track ‘We Could Be Real’, where piano is blended with warped vocal ambience and sounds of natural environments. Art also has a huge influence – I’ve always been inspired by people like Syd Mead and Jonathan Zawada. I love their vision of futuristic worlds, both utopias and dystopias. It was great working with Joe Melhuish on the artwork for Counter Real. I love his creations and would recommend people check out his work further for artists such as Lockah (Donky Pitch) and Samuel (Ninja Tune).
You mentioned “We Could Be Real” there and that’s the track we’re premiering! What can you tell us about it? That’s my favourite track on the album, so very happy to have given you guys the premiere on that! It’s actually a live improvised recording from one of my first live shows in London! There was a beautiful piano in the venue so I hopped on and we hit record.
This album will be your second release with Donky Pitch. Can you tell us a bit about how that relationship started and what it means to you going forward? I worked in the office of another record label in Brighton for a few years alongside Dave from Donky Pitch, so I was exposed to both the Donky Pitch releases and what he was listening to as well. I was definitely inspired by what both Dave and Pete considered club music, so it felt great when they said they wanted to work together. I feel like the Donky Pitch output is fresh and all of the artists have their own identities. It’s great to be part of it. Pete and Dave had a strong involvement with the A&R of the record and the final tracklisting. It was important to have people there to help make those decisions. I love to feel like I have a decent team around me, not just moving forward alone.
I have to imagine that making an album from start to beginning can take it out of you. Do you concentrate on touring it now and take a break from making new music? Since I started properly writing music about 7-8 years ago I’ve never really taken a break. I’ve always tried to write something everyday if possible, whether it’s a 4 bar loop or an entire song, but I plan to take more of a break this time and work on my live show!
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish? Thanks to everyone supporting the music, it really does mean a lot! And thank you to Truants for premiering We Could Be Real!
Mount Bank’s Counter Real is available to purchase digitally and on cassette now.