Interview: Nick Mulvey – On Folk, Fatherhood And Fuckery

What a week it’s been for Nick Mulvey; following the release of his second solo album Wake Up Now on Friday, he then went on to play crowd pleasing sets at both Festival No. 6 and Bestival over the weekend, and he even managed to squeeze in a cover of Selena Gomez on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 evening show – nonetheless, music’s megababe of the moment managed to find time to talk to us at TFFT. Here is what he had to say…

Hello Nick! How does it feel to be back? Back in the limelight!?

Yeah Really good! It’s been gradual because we put the singles out at the beginning of the summer. It’s been amazing, I’ve missed having that kind of interaction with my fans and people who listen to the music. I could hardly wait to drop this record. I’m really excited, I’m really proud of it.

Did you have an amazing summer? I must tell you my Uncle watched you at Glastonbury on the telly and described you as being Godlike… I thought that was praise indeed

It’s been great because I love doing what I do. It’s basically been really intense because having a family and being a Dad can be a bloody demanding job sometimes; no one teaches you how to do this and you have to learn as you go, so I’ve been working that out. It’s been beautiful because I love being a Dad and I’ve got a really amazing family so we’re making it work, but it’s not easy, it takes a lot of hard work.

A fine balancing act indeed. At the moment, my favourite track on the album is Remembering. The lyrics about your own Father are so beautiful, so emotive, how has becoming a Dad affected your creative process?

It’s played a really big part in this record, particularly that song. That song is partly about fatherhood and remembering my own Dad. I wrote that song when my son was only a few weeks old. There was this tiny baby wriggling on the carpet in front of the fire and that song just kind of tumbled out of me, I was singing to my son about my Dad. Fatherhood has had a lot of impact on this album, right from the moment we found out we had conceived a baby – naturally as a Dad your sense of responsibility changes – that’s part of the reason why in this album I didn’t shy away from talking about things that are really important to me. I wanted to speak very clearly on this album and be very plain, I think it’s really important. There’s a lot of fuckery going on in the world at the moment, it’s very intense, it’s quite a dark time to live in. It’s very important to be clear about this, that became something that really mattered to me, not least of all when you find out you are going to become a Father.

I guess you get a moment of ‘I’m bringing this little person into this horrible world, what are we doing?!’

Yes! Also, because he was born in the September (the recording of the album began six weeks after the birth of Nick’s son) he really helped me let go and let the songs flow. Suddenly after he was born I knew how I wanted to record, who I wanted to record with, what I wanted to record. Becoming a Dad took up 99.9% of my focus, I was focused on supporting my wife and supporting my baby and going through this transformation. It seemed to be that when I was at the periphery of this point of my life, then the album started to get good and I knew what I wanted to do, so I have to connect that with becoming a Dad.

Obviously creating this album has been completely different to when you made First Mind, do you feel a lot more comfortable this time around?

I think so, it’s natural that when you do something again a few times you get more comfortable. I had an amazing time making that first record so it’s not about comparing the two. Making that first album with Dan Carey was equally an adventure at that time but I did write those songs in relative solitude. It became important for me at the beginning of this process that I wanted to share it with people, I was confident that my expression wouldn’t get diluted if I shared it with other people, in fact it would get better and it would go further and it would challenge me. It happened organically in a way that I wasn’t in charge of it all. If I was in charge of it all I would have derailed it with my own expectation, but naturally it just grew, living with artists and friends and sharing it. There were some parts in the writing process where I was having difficulty and I was frustrated, and it was at those times that the actual depth of my connection with these other musicians who have now become my band and who were with me in the studio [became apparent], they really helped me to stay inspired.

I guess working with all of those different people enriches a process rather than detracting from it. It can be scary but it’s also pretty cool once you let go and just go with it.

Definitely. This album is full of absolute gems. People don’t talk about it enough; particularly in a job where people give a lot of praise. I’m the product of a lot of people’s work when I’m up there, not least of all my community – my parents, my family, it’s all of us, it’s really interesting. Early on in the album I did some sessions with Brian Eno and he really encouraged me to question the idea of the singer songwriter, he doesn’t really believe in the idea of the lone artist who works in solitude with his own connection in divinity, who conjures something up out of nowhere. He questions that, and is a bit sceptical about it. He reckons that it’s truer that we live in webs of influence and webs of interconnection and actually he really encouraged me to allow that to be expressed in the music. That’s exactly why the album is full of all of my friends singing, and all of us making it together.

Like you say, when you are facing a dark time you don’t want to be on your own do you – you want everyone to be together, which is I think why people will respond so well to this album. It is escapism, it lets people think everything we be okay if we are together.

Yeah! Thank you.

I want to ask about your work with Help Refugees UK, it seems like a pretty obvious thing for someone to have made a record about the crisis and yet no one really seems to be doing it, what gave you the push?

A few things, I’ve been quite sensitive to artists who have been writing about these sorts of things and I actually took a lot of inspiration from other artists doing it. Not specifically about the refugee crisis, I’m more talking about, for example Anohni, her album that came out last year called Hopelessness, that was before Trump got into power and she’s talking about irreversible climate change and drone bombing in Afghanistan and Obama’s kill list. Everyone is really comfortable celebrating Obama now that Trump has got into power but Obama laid the ground and that’s much less comfortable for us to think about. When Anohni, a super credible artist releases this kind of record, it was like a green light for me.

That was the first thing, secondly, towards the end of writing the album I had a chord sequence that sort of wouldn’t go away, I could see it had a role to play on this album but I couldn’t work out what to write with it because the melodies that were coming up were so intense that every time I wanted to write about myself with them it seemed like it just didn’t really work, it seemed a bit pointless. Then I was talking with my friend Frederico who is Italian and is a part of this band, a part of this music, and he was saying that the music reminded him of Southern Italy and it felt quite Mediterranean and I had thought that it felt quite Spanish and then someone else said it felt quite North African. It was from that point that I thought maybe this is the space on the album that we can talk about the refugee crisis, it musically felt right. Frederico and I were working on it together and we both agreed that we couldn’t really offer our own words about it, how could I pretend to have any experience about the uncertainty that those refugees must feel? I didn’t think it would be correct or respectful to offer my own words, so instead we did some research and found these online archives of first-hand accounts of refugees’ own journeys in their own words. The verses are very much designed to tell a story, therefore when it came to the chorus, my instinct as a songwriter was that I needed something that doesn’t engage the mind. I needed a release and something where the mind could switch off and let the energy flow, so I did that myself, I just switched off and let the energy pour out of me and followed my fingers and it was the word ‘Myela’. Initially Myela was meaningless and it was just about the energy of the word, but since I’ve lived with the song and performed it and it became the title of the song, to my own satisfaction, I now understand the word to mean ‘to mother’. It’s not necessarily my own Mother in a literal sense, but perhaps Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess. The energy of that chorus is a cry of desperation, so it’s about calling to the mother for help really.

Well Nick thanks so much for speaking to us, we wish you so much luck for the future. Last question, will you be taking the Selena Gomez cover on tour?

You know what it went really well the other day so we were joking about maybe making it a part of the gig. We did the Drake cover last time so we’ll see. We won’t rule it out!

Wake Up Now is available now – and you can read our review of the record HERE
Questions & Interview by Jessica Newsome