Foto-© Marcela Nagel
2008 produzierte der britische Songwriter Jono McCleery sein erstes Album Darkest Light in Eigenregie und war kurz darauf im Vorprogramm von Acts wie Jamie Woon, Bonobo, Fink, José Gonzáles oder Little Dragon zu sehen. Seine Helden sind John Coltrane, Nick Drake oder Bill Withers – wobei er diese Songwriter Wurzeln aber gerne auch mit elektronischen Einflüssen versetzt, weshalb auch sein zweites Album There Is bei Ninja Tune erschienen ist. Aber auch nach diversen Alben und mittlerweile 12 Jahren auf dem musikalischen Buckel ist die Reise von McCleery noch lange nicht vorbei. Und so ist es nicht erstaunlich, dass McCleery sein neues Album – komplett losgelöst von den Zwängen der Branche und lediglich mit der Hilfe von ein paar Freunden – in nur vier Tagen aufnahm. Und die neu gewonnene Freiheit macht sich bemerkbar: in seinem unbedarften Spiel mit Dramaturgien, Strukturen, Rhythmen und vor allem Erwartungen. Zum heute erschienenen Album Here I Am And There You Are schrieb uns der Brite ein Track by Track!
I began writing most of these songs after the release of my album ‘There Is’ in 2011. I wanted to make this album back then, but the label I was with at the time wanted me to work with different producers, so I put these songs to the side because I felt they had to be recorded in a certain way. It was frustrating at the time, but now I’m pleased I had time to mature and live with these compositions before recording them. Thanks to the ridiculously high playing abilities and creative inputs from my band: Dan See (drums) Milo Fitzpatrick (bass) Steve Pringle (keys) and producer/engineer Brett Cox, we were able to record this album in 4 days which includes songs which date back as far as 20 years.
This started out as an improvisation during soundcheck on tour in France many years ago. Luckily Dan filmed it and sent me the video. Months later I turned that idea into a song which reflected the changes I was going through at the time. It’s a song about the sweet transition of being able to let go of something you once held close, and finding ways to make peace with the past. I was daring enough to invite Jessie Rodger to film this session so we could use real footage of us performing for the video.
2. Call Me
I wrote this at the turn of the millennium, and it’s the only surviving part of a group of songs that went on my first EP that I used to burn onto CDs to sell at pub gigs in the UK. I remember wanting to explore having a big chorus, and imagining the journey a song can take to reach someone. Around this time, my brother arranged an audition for me to play at the Larmer Tree festival (which went well) and so they booked me. When I performed the room gradually filled and people sat on the floor everywhere around me. I was amazed at how they listened and responded to my songs, and it remains one of the nicest shows I’ve ever played. This experience was a big step in helping me to believe that maybe I could follow a path in music.
3. Many Times
Making the album gave me the incentive I needed to finish writing parts for a lot of these songs including the chorus for Many Times. Milo wrote a string part on the bass which was instantly coined the ‘love horn’ and helped keep our sanity levels refreshed in the studio for awhile. It was a tough song for us to get a live band take, and got us doubting at times: could we really record this live without a click track? Of course we could.
4. To Watch the World Slip Away
About 10 years ago I came up with this idea as a playful love song on a beaten-up old guitar with missing strings, mimicking my favourite Brazilian artists from the 70s. Eventually I started to take it more seriously and play it out with my trio at the time: Dan See and Richard Sadler, at the Brave New World in Surbiton. I spent years thinking it was unfinished – that it needed a chorus, until I presented it as a potential track for the new album and Steve Pringle wrote a piano/mellotron part for the middle which says more to me than any vocal could, and leaves space for the imagination to wonder. This was pretty much the first take of the morning, we had natural light and winter sun shining through the room, and played quietly as possible to hear each other.
5. Promise of Spring
The first part I wrote for my wife Marcela, we had done that really impractical thing of falling for each other whilst living in different countries and I was determined to be close to her. Then years later after we had moved in together and our daughter was born, the latter part of the song came to me. The song moves from being a traditional love song to feeling almost astral. I remember being so happy to discover the chord at 3.28 which feels like an awakening, and opens up the possibilities. The band bleed back into the track, and the closing melody begins with bass and vocals in unison before the lyrics set in: “The light is made up of the things that I can’t see anymore” for my favourite moment of the album.
6. Light of the Shade
I originally wrote this as an outro for ‘Fire in My Hands’ but once I had started playing it with the band, I was curious to treat it as a separate song for this album. It was another tough track to nail in the studio as we continued making adjustments on the fly to the song arrangements. I think it has more to do with the atmosphere than anything else: a glimmer of hope in a bleak situation. The lyrics are cryptic even to me.
7. The Thing Is
There’ll always be people who think they know what’s best for you, and it’s sometimes hard to go against the ideas of people you trust, and whose agendas might not always be clear. In the end all we can do is trust our own instincts, and hopefully make decisions that we can look back on one day, and say: I did what was right for me, even if nobody else understood. This song is about that process. I wrote it a very long time ago, and lost interest in it for many years, but then met someone who told me their story of suffering from cancer and changing their outlook on life, and eventually recovering. They told me that this song was a great comfort for them during those times and this helped me realise that one should try to share everything they create because you never know what it might mean for someone else. This song is for Martin.
8. Soldier in the Sound
I don’t think I am alone in using music to stir up feelings and emotions which offer comfort and resolution in my life. It’s easier for me to say what this song does for me, rather than to explain what it’s about or how it was written, because I honestly don’t know. Dan took a break from the drums to play an extra synth part which Steve wrote in the middle of the track and that’s where it begins to transport me: I am standing alone knee deep in crystal clear water, there is just the silence of nature around me. I have no needs anymore. The sun breathes through me, and it’s not that everything makes sense, but more that nothing has to make sense anymore.
9. By Your Side
Sometimes you have to attribute your songs to the musicians who inspired you. I just really love the music of Luiz Bonfa. Mostly people of my generation will have heard his playing without realising as sampled by Pharcyde – Can’t Keep Running Away. His playful personality comes across through his playing which leads me to believe he didn’t take things too seriously (check: A Brazilian in New York) apart from his craft and musicianship which was sublime. This is my tribute to him.
10. Trouble in Me
It was draining to have to perform this in the studio repeatedly until we had the right take. Such is the nature of wanting everything recorded live together. I often write music which I don’t understand very well theoretically, by writing from a gut feeling. And when it came to holding down the groove in the middle with my band I would often get quite lost with the pushes and pulls of the rhythm.. but hopefully within that uncertainty there maybe builds a poetic tension. I remember once we finished the song, we all sighed and remained silent for much longer than usual because the performance required so much discipline and emotion.
11. New Light
Fitting that we would record a song about reluctantly venturing to the ‘other side’ at the end of the studio sessions. Just me and Milo (bass) played together, giving every last ounce of energy we had. I couldn’t even speak when we listened back in the control room because I was so emotionally spent after these days of recording. I can’t make an album without wanting Matt Kelly to feature in some way, so I asked him to write an arrangement afterwards as there were no drums or keys for this track. The last lyric of this song and the album “My heart leans to the open sky” reminds me of the cormorant bird on the cover art with it’s wings spread (taken by Simon Birchos).
I would also like to give thanks to Lewis Kay-Thatcher and Giovanni Di Legami for helping me make the art and videos, and Alex at Ninety Days Records for being a pleasure to work with on this album.