Interview: Pete Josef on orchestral arrangements, A garden studio, and the joy of crowds
With his new album I Rise With The Birds dropping this Friday 16th October through Sonar Kollektiv, we caught up with Pete Josef ahead of the release, to discuss his artistic development, what the future holds, and why we need live music back...
You've described your new release I Rise With The Birds as an "album about reconciliation, connection, and space and balance in life." What led you to explore these themes?
The last 5 years have been a crazy roller coaster. I took some time out to do some other things, which did me the world of good. I feel better than ever, and I am loving making music, but I became quite disillusioned for a time, and so the reconciliation part is definitely about that. It is actually about me finding music again. Being a musician and artist is intense. Wonderful, but intense. I do feel I am achieving better balance in my life (or as much as you can with a young family!).
As both a multi-instrumentalist and producer, what has been your process for composing orchestral arrangements and mixing these with electronic textures for the new record? I almost always have a strong idea of the shape of an arrangement before I sit down and create. I think a lot of times the song kind of tells you what it wants. I listen a lot to the music I am making - in the car, when I run, around the house. I like to listen when I'm doing other things because when my brain switches off a little it starts creating all on its own - melodies, sounds, textures kind of just come out. I try to capture them when they happen, usually on my phone or voice recorder.
That is not to say I don't sit down and work things out too, and sometimes I start with an arrangement on the computer or working with a score, but there is something very cool about giving yourself time to find a way in to arrangement that way.
You've discussed your enjoyment of "being the artist, and playing engineer, performer, producer and arranger", what draws you into having such a spread of artistic input and roles within your work?
Simple answer is I love it all and I find it hard to let any of it go. I began on all of these things very early on in my life and each area has had it's own unique attraction. Music making has been like a drug to me, to the point where I have had to extract myself from the process for my own sanity at times. The area I have found most difficult has been performance, as I have always been quite nervous, but even that has had it's high points - some gigs I will always remember as being incredible life experiences. Overall though, to be the 'artist', with all it's sides, takes a certain element of comfort in your own skin, and that has definitely taken work, as I guess it has for most artists.
Having worked with the likes of Manu Delago, Rag’n’Bone Man and Roni Size, with a number of fellow Bristolians on the new album too, how do you approach the collaborative process and what appeals to you about it?
I have not always been a good collaborator. I believe you need to be unselfish in any collaborative process, and in my early career I was so caught up in my own ideas I found it hard to see other people's at times. Classic youth and ego stuff! I now try to approach collaboration as a facilitator first and foremost. It strikes me that you will always discover peoples best work when you support them to create. And that has a knock on effect in the room - it can build energy and vibe. That said, every collaboration is so entirely different, and the very definition is up for discussion I guess. All those you mention above have been a pleasure and a joy right through, I know that much.
What artists have you been inspired by and who are your dream collaborators - dead or alive?
I think I am attracted to artists with a certain spiritual energy. I would have loved to have spent some time in the presence of Gil Scott Heron or Terry Callier. I guess maybe I am attracted more to the personalities, and what they offer as human beings, rather than simply about their music. Marvin Gaye always intrigued me too, and I have been obsessive about his music in periods. Other more contemporary people - I love Michael Kiwanuka's voice and music, but also get great vibes from him as a person. I met him a few times and he seemed like the nicest guy. I'm glad he won the Mercury this year. Others, gosh there would be lots - Justin Vernon, Jesca Hoop, Moses Sumney, Khruangbin - we are surrounded by such exciting artists.
Do you have any other projects in the works that you are excited about? I am making new music with the White Lamp, which is a project I have with dance producer and DJ, Darren Emerson. It's a lot of fun and good music. The next single is coming out very soon on Brighton label, Skint. I have almost finished building a studio in my garden that will allow me new scope to record and create close to home, so I am excited to get working in there. I am really enjoying recording quality acoustic instruments at the moment, particularly guitars and orchestral strings. I feel like that will be the next step, to write and arrange more music like that, but who knows! How do you see the future of music taking shape during and after Covid, such as with technological adaptation or live events? Something so awesome happens when a crowd of people get together, and that is so impossible to replace or replicate right now, with what we have available to us. I guess its already going on with VR and things, but we have yet to really discover something that will change the experience and create anything close to the buzz of a real live event. I would imagine tech firms are in overdrive for that right now. Outdoor events will take off too much more I think, which feels positive. I hope so, I miss the festivals more than most gigs, mainly because of the concentration of human connection and culture. We need this right now, particularly events that combine music and discussion - debate and things, because the biggest concern is where we are headed as a species I think.
Finally, what does the word ‘groove’ mean to you? Groove is feeling to me. It is a rhythm, but not just relating to drums or percussion, or strumming a guitar. It can be about movement, for example, but it relates to the emotion and individuality of the person or people creating it, as well as to the ripple it sends out that connects with others.
Listen to I Rise With The Birds here.
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