As I sit down to chat with singer-songwriter and ex Portico Quartet member Nick Mulvey ahead of his support slot with Laura Marling at the Birmingham Symphony Hall, he puts in an order for a quick pre-gig pizza.
“I’m not fussy” he says to his tour manager, before turning to me with a wry smile- “But it’s specifically got to be that one.” I joke that I’m going to paint him as some sort of stroppy pizza diva in this piece.
It’s a joke I can make quite comfortably – as even in our earliest exchanges, it’s quite clear that the artist is about as far removed from being a diva as you can get. His language and mannerisms are all clearly borne of a laid-back, easy-going attitude – but his drive and passion for music stop this spilling over into distant nonchalance.
Tonight he is halfway through his tour with Marling, who he’s “been a big fan of for a long time. I’m really flattered to be asked to be on this tour.
“All the venues are amazing – really incredible spaces. In a Symphony Hall there’s nothing that can impede the music reaching the ears.”
Nick left neo-jazz outfit Portico Quartet in 2011 – after being a founding member of the band playing the hang - the instrument which gave them their unique sound, and driving them to critical success and a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2008. He still remains good friends with the band after leaving them and the hang behind, so why the decision to depart?
“I have to keep moving otherwise the inspiration dries up, and if the inspiration dries up then you’ve got nothing. I didn’t really ever see it as a choice – I just had to keep doing what I needed to keep doing. It was still no small thing to make a change like that but the guys in the band understood the most why I had to make a change – that made it easier.”
It seems Nick is someone who feels slightly restless when making music – always seeking creative challenges. Agreeing, he points to his guitar: “But I’m not going to get bored of this, of playing my own songs and playing the guitar I don’t think anytime soon… but don’t hold me to that!”
Although he has no immediate plans to work with Portico Quartet in the same capacity again, collaborations of sorts remain constant. The artwork for his latest EP Fever to the Form was done by the band’s drummer, and he recently recorded a synthesizer part with Jack from the band too. “There’s a lot of collaboration anyway just because we’re mates” he says. Not your usual stroppy band fall out then.
Since leaving the band, things have been non-stop for Nick. As well as this support tour, which precedes his first headline tour in November, he has released two EPs, played a festival every weekend this summer – including Glastonbury and Latitude and supported acts like Willy Mason and Rodrigo Y Gabriella on tour. “A year ago I started doing a lot of support tours and I went from playing small venues in London to touring with Rodrigo Y Gabriella throughout Europe and was in arenas.
“It’s been satisfying this summer to get back some of the stages I was playing at the point where I left Portico – to get back to that level.”
Admitting he has missed having the support of band mates on stage, he says “if things aren’t going well for you, maybe you’re having an off day, then you’ve got three other people whereas for me it’s super intense because there’s nothing to hide how you are exactly. And my songs are very personal. When you’re not in the mood, you’ve still got to do it. But that’s just part of the job.
“It’s what I needed to do - it’s totally what I want to be doing so I’m grateful really. I’m having the time of my life” he enthuses.
He’s clearly someone who is completely in love with music; after getting his first guitar at 18, he moved to Havana, Cuba to study music and art, before returning to the UK to study Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies. It’s then that he met his Portico Quartet band mates who later went on to make their unique brand of jazz. He’s spent a lot of his time at raves, and now he’s touring around with an acoustic guitar and drawing comparisons to the likes of Nick Drake. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, he eschews the notion of musical genres, and squirms at the mention of them.
“Without sounding like ‘I like everything’ in a bland way, I find everything interesting, musically – as long as it’s not rubbish” he grins.
“I always found that I liked the same musical principles like repetition and I liked them wherever I found them. So I would respond to minimalist music like Steve Reich from America and I’d respond to Ugandan xylophones or music from Madagascar or music from West Africa or techno. I like the principles so I can accommodate stylistically very easily.
“We have been brought up mostly on Spotify, so the question of genre I think is totally outdated. My music has really disparate influences and it was the same with Portico Quartet - audiences are now super comfortable to have all these influences side by side.”
In this vein, his latest single Nitrous – a song which likely resonates with anyone who attended any festivals this summer - features the pleasantly surprising sample of 1996 dance classic You’re Not Alone by Olive.
“I was picking it out on the guitar and I realised that – surprise surprise, it’s a fabulous song when you strip it back down to the guitar and you get rid of the production and the beats. I thought if I got that buzz from hearing that song in that way and it shed a new light on it then others would too. And also, saying something like ‘I’ll wait til the end of time for you’ isn’t something I would necessarily write. So I could access those lyrics and a very pure sentiment that I wouldn’t necessarily write myself. “
In terms of more recent influences, and after receiving a Mercury nomination in 2008, Nick agrees that this year’s list is a strong one – and has been enjoying the albums by Laura Mvula and Foals, as well as – of course, Laura Marling.
He’s now halfway through recording his album – expected for release midway through next year. After years of experimentation, the record is finally starting to feel right:
“The making of it has felt really good and in balance. It’s hypnotic. There’s no reason why ravers can’t enjoy it – there shouldn’t be a limit to anything or who can enjoy it if it feels good.” Speaking of which, his pizza arrives.
To see highlights from the interview, watch the video below:
To see Nick performing two exclusive acoustic sessions for us, click here.
To read a review of the Laura Marling and Nick Mulvey gig at Birmingham Symphony Hall click here.