Ground breaking UK jazz trio Troyka released their latest album, Ornithophobia in January. Following a stellar year of festival performances including Latitude, Cheltenham, Love Supreme, Green Hours, Elb Jazz, Nattjazz, Duketown and Jazz a la Villette, the band embark on a full European tour. Multi-textured and with a wild and ground breaking style, they feature Mercury Music Prize nominee and BBC Award Winner Kit Downes on drums.
We caught up with the band and chatted about hallucinogens, Ernest Hemingway and being turned into a comic strip, here's how we got on.
Your influences include Tim Berne, Aphex Twin, Deerhoof, Albert King and Flying Lotus, does each member of Troyka bring something to the table or do you all share the same tastes in music?
We all have a core of things that we like which are similar and agree on, but then we all have slightly different tastes too. This is a good thing as we all share music with each other and pick up on new stuff.
Which band or artist made YOU want to be in a band
When I was 10 years old I heard Jimi Hendrix and knew that I wanted to be a musician, more specifically a guitar player and started forming bands at school and doing gigs later on.
Ornithophobia is set in a fictional London - post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare in which people have contracted a form of avian flu that is slowly turning them into human-size birds and gradually making them lose their minds, where did this idea come from? Were any hallucinogens involved?
I wish it was as simple as hallucinogens, the truth is a lot more sinister for me. When I was very young, about 4 years old I dug up a decomposing seagull on a beach and was trapped in a hole with it. This scared the shit out of me and ever since I’ve suffered with ornithophobia which is a fear of birds. I wrote the track Ornithophobia quite a while ago and we thought it would be a cool idea to frame the rest of the album. We then got a bit carried away with the narrative and had fun crating this weird scenario!
Tell us something interesting about you or another band member?
We’re actually all quite nerdy (this probably doesn’t surprise you). I really love fly fishing, it has become my new obsession.
Having self-produced all of your records to date, it was your decision to invite Petter Eldh to produce and mix the album, why did you decide to outsource it and why this producer?
Petter is a great bass player who plays in Django Bates trio and we all love his own music (check out Love Declared). For the new album we spent a much longer time in the studio and wanted to get a higher production value to it. In doing so we went beyond what we were comfortable trying to mix and edit. For the first time we decided to invite someone else into the process. This was a big decision for us as we usually do everything with just the 3 of us. It was also very liberating because we were very clear with Petter that we wanted him to just do his own thing with it.
What was the last book you read, who was it by and please explain what it was about?
‘Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway. I’ve read most things by him and he’s probably my favourite. This book is set in the first world war in Italy where Hemingway was posted as a medic. He gets injured and falls in love with a Nurse who later dies. I’m intrigued by how simply he could write yet still convey huge depth.
What has been the most ‘rock n roll’ thing you have ever done whilst on tour? I’m thinking driving cars into swimming pools, being arrested or hotel room demolition…
It get very boozy at times but I’m usually too exhausted to do anything rock and roll. I’d always leave that to the rock bands.
Ornithophobia is your 3rd studio album, your first on the Naim label which is the first label to offer music in 24bit 44.1khz WAV, FLAC and Apple Lossless formats, do you think it’ll take long for this to become the industry standard for all downloads?
In all honesty I only ever listen to music on vinyl at home and CD in the car. I hope better quality digital/downloads become the norm as so much of it sounds awful. Naim are leading the way with this stuff and they have high standards.
Staying with Hi Res music, I have read many features on portable 192kHz 24-bit music players producing sound quality that is wasted on human hearing, do you think that this format is better suited to home setups rather than music ‘on the move’?
errrr.. I’m a Philistine with anything tech.
Do you tend to attract a certain age group at your live shows? If so, what range would the average Troyka fan fall into?
It can vary hugely from gig to gig and town to town. We always get the 'prog' guys who were into weird music in the 70’s and they’re always fun to chat to afterwards. If we play in towns with big student populations or music colleges then we get a lot of those fans coming to see us and check what we’re doing. With this album it seems to have widened to people who probably wouldn’t have gone to ‘jazz clubs’ or to see avant garde music, which is cool.
You are arranging a dinner party, you have 3 spaces at the table, who’s invited (alive/dead/fictional)
Jimi Hendrix. Oliver Reed. Winston Churchill.
What is the best advice you ever received and who was it from? What advice would you offer to an aspiring musician/band?
I had a very good music teacher when I was young, he was a guy called Jimi Savage from Newcastle who I’m still very good friends with. He told me sing my notes when I improvise. It was a very simple thing and was probably the best thing another musician ever told me to do. My advice to any aspiring musician would be to grow a thick skin, you’ll need it.
MOJO magazine recently gave you a 4 star review saying that ‘brainy music’ was officially back, do you think that your music appeals more to the higher end of the IQ spectrum?
I think maybe the complexity of it does. Having said that there are bands out there who are way more complex than us. We are getting a reputation as being ‘the brainy band’ but we spend probably more time thinking about the ambient things we do and the melodies in the music.
What classic song would you have liked to have recorded and why?
Anything by the Beatles. Maybe Julia is my favourite by Lennon. Nearly everything they did still gives me the chills and makes me a bit sad that we may never hear another pop band like that.
Louis Armstrong once said “If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.” How would you describe your music to a stranger you just met in a bar?
I call it jazz because we improvise and I will always associate that with jazz. There’s that old saying, ‘talking about music is like dancing about architecture’. Hopefully he’d hear it and make up his own mind.
You’re listed to play at jazz music festivals in Norway, Vancouver and New York in 2015, do you find that the fans react differently to your music from country to country? Do you prefer any particular country?
It is different depending on what country you’re in. The biggest difference is usually not with the audience but with the venues and how well you get looked after! Touring the UK is by far the hardest way to tour. We always love Germany, people really listen at most venues and the members of staff and sound guys are always very good, which makes a huge difference to how you play.
Your album artwork for the album features the work of Naiel Ibarrola, how did you go about getting him on board and have you considered turning the idea into a proper comic book?
Naiel is an amazing artist with a very unique style. He has been a fan of us for a while and he expressed an interest in doing some artwork for the new album. We let him have free reign and he created this amazing dystopian comic book idea for us. There will be an animation coming out soon set to some of our music which Naiel is involved in so watch this space.
Can we expect any new material from you during the rest of 2015 or will you be focussing on touring/promoting Ornithophobia?
We’re recording all of the UK tour dates so we have the option to make a live release at some point. We always have new music on the boil.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
We thought it was only fair to run the guys through our quick-fire style interrogation questions to see if we could 'break' them....
CD or Vinyl?
Camping or Camper Van?
Shower or Bath?
Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
Mac or PC?
Acoustic or Electric?
Coffee or tea?
Skiing or Sunbathing?
Fry up or Sunday roast?
Car or motorbike?
Wine or beer?
Batman or Superman?
Both are shit
Up early or a lie in?
To beard or not to beard?
God or Google?
We'd like to thank the band for taking time out to answer our questions and we wish them every success in the future. Troyka are playing loads of dates throughout 2015, check the list below. We'll be at the Vibraphonic Festival in Exeter on March 19th to check them out and to take some pictures.
Feb-18 Salon Iksv Istanbul, Turkey
Feb-20 Royal Northern College of Music Manchester, United Kingdom
Feb-25 MAC Birmingham Birmingham, United Kingdom
Feb-27 Capstone Theatre Liverpool, Uk
Feb-28 More Music, Hothouse Morecambe, United Kingdom
Mar-04 Kammerlichtspiele Jazz Club Klagenfurt, Austria
Mar-05 Unterfahrt Munich, Germany
Mar-06 Moods Zurich, Switzerland
Mar-07 Bern University of the Arts Bern, Switzerland
Mar-08 Porgy and Bess Vienna, Austria
Mar-12 Sheffield Student's Union Sheffield, United Kingdom
Mar-19 Vibraphonic Festival Exeter, United Kingdom
Mar-26 Moving on Music Belfast, United Kingdom
Apr-02 Spin Jazz Oxford, United Kingdom
Apr-26 JazzArt Festival Katowice, Poland
May-08 Trondheim Jazz Festival Trondheim, Norway
Jun-21 Vancouver Jazz Festival Vancouver, Canada
Jun-24 Rochester Jazz Festival Rochester, NY
Jun-25 Rockwood Music Hall New York, NY
Jul-03 Sudtirol Jazz Festival Bolzano, Italy
Jul-04 Sudtirol Jazz Festival Bolzano, Italy
Interview by Steve Muscutt