Interview with Northcape

Interview by Jo Whitby.

As with most of the artists we feature on Cat On The Wall they have usually been recommended to us or we’ve struck up a friendship via social media relating to one of my various creative projects. Northcape is one of those artists who we came in contact with via my music twitter account, it seemed inevitable that we would eventually connect as we had many friends in common – that’s the way Twitter works and is probably why it’s my favourite of all the social networks. We loved Northcape’s laid back electronica and with new album ‘Exploration and Ascent’ due for release next month we thought it a great opportunity to catch up with Northcape and find out about the story behind the new record…

Cat On The Wall: Hello Northcape! How are you and what are you up to?

Northcape: I’m good thanks- enjoying the late arrival of Spring! I’m waiting for the full release of my new album “Exploration and Ascent” on the 14th of May, and also working on a couple of other projects in the background. One is a remix of the whole album, with each track mixed by a different artist, I’m very pleased to have got some brilliant artists on board and am very happy with the results. The other is hopefully the next Northcape release, and is continuing in the new album’s beat-driven yet chilled, melodic electronica direction, but with a slightly different focus.

COTW: Your new album ‘Exploration and Ascent’ has a very specific story behind it. How did you come to find the record by Eric Shipton and what was it about the expedition that inspired you?

Northcape: Yes it is quite specific I agree – but it also links in with some of my more general inspirations, I’m quite frequently inspired by places that I may, or may not, have been to and I think there is a strong ‘landscape’ element in my music. ‘Exploration and Ascent’ is the title of a compilation of two expedition journals (actually a classic of mountaineering literature), covering the search for a way into the Nanda Devi sanctuary in the Indian Himalaya in 1934 by Shipton and Tilman (written by Eric Shipton), and the first ascent of the mountain in 1936 (written by Bill Tilman). It’s specifically the first part that inspired this album more than the second, there is something incredibly vivid about Shipton’s writing, one of the reviews I have just read of the journal says ‘this is the most spectacular book I have read in my life’ and I think I agree. The book is full of possibility, and while the idea of searching for a way to somewhere that no-one had ever been before is in itself inspirational, it’s the fact that the book so powerfully evokes that particular place and the experience of getting there that really made it very inspiring. The idea of Nanda Devi itself, as a hugely impressive place that was cut off from the rest of the world, formed a big part of it as well. The original plan was for the album structure to be a kind of journey to replicate the real journeys described in the book, and that is still the basic idea behind it.

northcapeCOTW: What was your creative process for this album? Have you developed a set way of working since your first release in 2005 (do I have that date right?)?

Northcape: Yes the first release was 2005, although it’s no longer available as I think my music has improved since then! I wish I had a better system of working than I actually do, but the answer to the second question is ‘no’!- although there is certain software I tend to come back to quite a lot, in particular Native Instrument’s Absynth, and I always work in Cubase. I’m reliant on stumbling across sounds that say something to me, so it’s important for me to keep searching and experimenting. I generally have an idea in the back of my mind while working on a track, frequently something unrelated to music, and I try to channel that into some kind of recorded sound. I’m not really sure how it works, but I think I have a general vision of what I want to achieve, and then get there by a process of fortunate accidents.

COTW: I was fortunate enough to have one of my own tracks given the Northcape treatment (you can listen here: You certainly brought a chilled and atmospheric feeling to the track which I love. Do you approach remixing any differently to writing your own music? Is there anyone you are keen to remix?

Northcape: Firstly, thanks – I loved remixing the vocals on that track! I don’t have such a different approach to remixing than I do to original tracks, it’s easier in some ways as obviously you don’t have to start from scratch, but it can be hard to get the right balance when remixing. The original track has to inspire me; I find it very difficult to remix something that I don’t find interesting in the first place. I hear quite a few remixes where it is hard to tell that it is a remix at all, basically a new track, and I try to avoid that, I think the most interesting thing about remixes is the mix of the original track and new ideas brought by whoever is remixing it, and I think it’s important to be able to hear both. I’d be keen to remix anyone I listen to and enjoy. Obviously in one way I’d love to remix one of my musical heroes, but in another way it would be a very stressful experience and I’m not sure I could handle the pressure… More realistically I hope to remix something by Signal Hill soon (also on Sun Sea Sky -their excellent album is out at the end of this month) and hopefully that will happen in the near future.

COTW: How did you come to work with the label Sun Sea Sky Productions? Is being on a label important to you?

Northcape: Sun Sea Sky approached me rather than the other way round, but it was at a time when I was looking for a label anyway. I then found out that Sun Sea Sky had previously released Lights Out Asia’s classic ‘Garmonia’ and that, along with some of their more recent releases (from Boc Scadet and Boy Is Fiction), was enough to convince me. It’s obviously not strictly necessary to be on a label any more, many artists release completely independently, but personally I find being on a label is still preferable. Apart from anything else it makes putting out releases much easier, as well as getting reviews and distribution, Shawn (the label owner) really puts a lot of effort into what he does and it is very much appreciated. Labels obviously vary hugely, but good labels are associated with quality, and I find that really helps with getting an audience.

COTW: What are you listening to at the moment?

Northcape: ‘Wake Up To The Waves’ by Last Days of 1984 (on Dublin-based label Osaka records). A brilliant, chilled and powerfully nostalgic vocal electronica album that has been a favourite since I picked it up last year and deserves more listeners.

COTW: Finally, what are your plans for the near future?

Northcape: I’m moving house (and consequently studio…). I’d also like to spend more time outside- I’m aware these two things aren’t fully compatible…

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