Interview | Inti Rowland on 17th Century Japanese Aviary (video premiere)

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Since we first met Inti Rowland – and he donated a song to our charity Christmas album a couple of years ago – we’ve been increasingly impressed and excited by his atmospheric and charming live performances and couldn’t wait to hear his music pressed to record.

His debut album 17th Century Japanese Aviary is a triumph – soaring strings recorded in a Scottish highland chapel. But don’t just take our word for it, have a listen while we catch up with the man himself.

For Folk’s Sake: I didn’t know you were born in Chile! Can you tell us a potted history of your life?
Inti Rowland: Well, yes, I was born in Chile in a little town called Ovalle in a hospital with 16 women in labour and 1 midwife to deliver all the babies, we lived in a shed at the bottom of my grandparents garden that was infested with spiders… needless to stay we didn’t stay long and returned to England where my mother is from. I grew up mostly in London, with stints in Devon, Wales and Ireland. Music was something that came to me over time, first playing piano and guitar before discovering songwriting, which then became the focus and the instruments merely a tool to work in song, as the craft of song writing came to the forefront.

How did you learn to write songs? Were there any people in your life that were particularly influential?
It’s just something that is honed over time, something I still work on actively every time I write, striving to achieve something that is honest, a song that hits you, whether you’re using words, melody or structure, each song is different and the subtleties are key playing with emphasis on different lyrics, dynamics in key places and importantly space between sound within songs, this can be a huge part of music that is carefully crafted. It’s something I will always strive to better myself in. I think all the people I have known have come into my songwriting, I’m very autobiographical, yet rather abstract about it.

Your debut album 17th Century Japanese Aviary is out now to critical acclaim! What inspired the record?
Haha, yes, we’ve had a lovely release campaign and got a lot of love from some great publications and the audience reach has been super too, we’re away on tour at the moment and the shows have been so so special. Yes I would say the record is almost entirely autobiographical, I think that for me, I feel that the majority of human emotions are universal, we all experience similar things in our lives, only the circumstances are different, be it love, loss, happiness, ecstasy, longing, therefore, writing from ones truth can speak to anyone, we all feel these things, songwriting is purely a means on expression or documentation of ones own life, I think at least bearing that in mind when writing, certainly makes it less self indulgent.

The arrangements are particularly beautiful. How did they come about?
Well I worked very closely with Sam Rowe my cellist and drummer and together we brought the arrangements to life, he is an incredibly talented musician and one who is firmly on the same page as me and understands what I want from a song and how I need to get it across, how the arrangements can pull focus to different elements of the songs, be it making a chorus race like a horse to distill pace to the listener or be it dropping swooning strings into silence to pull the focus to a whispered lyric. Arrangements have always been a hugely important part of the process to me, song writing is the bare bones expression and arrangements are the blood and guts that make the work live and breathe.

There’s a lot of space in the record. Did you make a conscious decision to do that?
Yes very much so, like I was saying before, I believe there is so much power in fragility and dynamics and space can be as important as the music itself, you only notice something with full force that wasn’t there before, like the first thing you see when you wake up after hours of shut eye.

What made you choose Scotland for recording?
We thought is would be fun to drive two old cars hundreds and hundreds of miles to an old church in the middle of the highlands, and lose one on the way and spent half the journey on an AA truck! And it’s beautiful of course.

Do you think the location affected the sound?
Yes it definitely did affect the sound, we’ve always chosen to work in spaces that act as an instrument in themselves. We even recorded the echo of a balloon popping in order to capture the natural reverb of the space, for mixing.

You were recently in Scotland with Nick Edward Harris, too. What did you get up to?
Yeah, we went up for a show at Byre Theatre in St.Andrews, it was super special, I had a lovely walk on the beach at 3 in the morning. Nick’s awesome too, we’re gonna be going on tour together at some point later this year too. We then had to shoot back to London for the album launch, I drove our massive tour bus from Edinburgh to london, ten hours straight, the band gave me a round of applause when we got home, like a pilot!

You have lots of amazing friends in music too – as well as Nick and Patch & the Giant, there’s Lucy Cait and Ben Yellowitz. How has that shaped what you do?
Yes, I’m very lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing bunch of people, it’s an incredible community, it plays a vital role in how we all work, we’re all there for each other on so many levels, I couldn’t imagine not having these people in my life.

Finally, What’s next for you?
Well, we’re gonna finish this tour we’re doing at the moment. Then we’re playing How The Light Gets In, in hay on Wye at the end of May, we’ve got so,e other amazing festivals over the summer (can’t tell you those just yet) and the next album really, it’s about half written at the moment, so I’m really really looking forward to demoing all the ideas for arrangement and then get recording in the spring next year hopefully! Oh and fit in a tour with Nick in the autumn too

Thanks Inti!