At the dawning of Sebastian Rochford’s new band Pulled By Magnets in this wide-ranging preview interview Seb talks about their first gig together, and looks ahead to 2019.
Maybe just starting with the first Pulled By Magnets gig, Where was it, what was the vibe in the room. and how did that go? What tunes did you play and were they quite new?
“It was at The Old Church in Stoke Newington, we’ve been recording there and wanted to do something low key but special before the end of the year. It’s always intense playing new music for the first time as you never know what people are going to make of it but for me, I just have to make the music that feels honest. It’s quite different to Polar Bear but I can hear the progression. Was a great feeling to play the music live for the first time and look forward to getting deeper into it.”
So the group I believe is a trio with Pete Wareham and Neil Charles. Is there a lot of free improv or how is it structured? Are you writing all the tunes? Will you bring out a record in 2019 and if so on what label? If you have a tiny audio clip to share that would be great to give readers a firmer idea.
“For me, there’s so much emotional depth and intensity to the way Pete and Neil play, Pete and I have shared so much and with Neil I feel, like Pete, he really understands what I write but I never know what he’s going to do next, as the foundation of the band this make me listen intensely. There’s a lot of room in there to improvise but there’s definitely structure and quite a detailed harmonic language too, I feel in the last few years my inner harmonic sound has changed.”
“These last couple of years I took some time to rediscover what it was I wanted to do and who I am as a musical being. I also went back to India for some time to reconnect with my family and roots there, I decided not to listen to any recorded music while I was there, just to the sounds/music around. I also by chance studied with a vocal master musician, getting lessons every morning. Was a really inspiring and moving time for me. I’d say the new music also has an element of what I started playing like grindcore/death/black metal but maybe not in an obvious way.”
“But most importantly for me, it’s music written from a place of honesty about where I am and how I feel about the physical and non-physical world.
“I started writing it when I couldn’t find any music that seemed to fit my feeling so decided to make my own, since then though I have found what I was looking for, just took me time to find it. The album is almost finished, we just recorded the last few tracks and hope to release it in summer/autumn 2019, maybe a track or two before then but don’t know how yet, I’m just focusing on finishing the music and visuals.”
Just to clarify have you finished with Sons of Kemet or will you sometimes still play with them? You go way back with the band: I remember seeing you in the early days before a record came out. What was the best thing about playing with the Kemets?
“I left Sons of Kemet in May last year, I had some really amazing and beautiful times with them but it felt right for me. I wish them many more adventures and successes.”
Looking back on Polar Bear what are your happiest memories? I must say and I mean this as a compliment I can only compare PB to Soft Machine! Were you ever a fan of Robert Wyatt’s? There was something about the Softs that defied any box you’d care to put on them, and I suppose that applied to Polar Bear.
“I have so many good memories with Polar Bear, when I read that question my mind goes to us laughing together and all the times we spent having fun off stage, also with Ingrid [Laubrock] and Shabaka [Hutchings] who played with us a lot and feel to me like another part of the band. I feel proud of the music we made, with the last album also feeling like a wave goodbye in gratitude. I don’t know Soft Machine’s music so well but I respect them and the part they and Robert Wyatt play in the history of music. I have one album someone gave to me that I used to listen to. To be compared to them in any way is a huge compliment.”
Has your basic kit changed in recent years? Talk me through what you are using at the moment and how do you adapt your set-up when on tour? For instance do you have a different set-up if playing in a tiny club to a big hall?
“My kit does change, for Pulled by Magnets I’m using an 80s Sonor Hi-Tech, an A&F snare from Texas and had some cymbals and gongs made especially by Matt Nolan. He’s amazing in that he always manages to find a way to make the sound I’m hearing, as I’m often asking him to do things that contradict. I’d say that my set-up generally changes for the music rather than the venue though I did alter my drums a bit for the sound of the church.”
What sort of demands does Andy Sheppard put on you as a player and how and when did you first work with him?
“Andy has a great balance for me, he knows what he wants but is also open to me finding my way to do it. It’s special for me playing with him, I feel in his music you have to let go and trust your instinct as it has a breath-like quality to it. I first played with him in duo maybe 11 years ago, it was a big thing for me as he was the first jazz I ever saw live and was my door in. My mother used to force me to go to jazz gigs, after she took me backstage to get her album signed and told him ‘my son is a drummer’. She also took me to see Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain and Art Blakey — I will always be grateful for that.”
I see you are on the new Mark Lockheart album. Can you describe Mark’s new music for this project? I very much enjoyed the Ellington project you participated in as well, a world away from Polar Bear. Did you relate to Ellington in the same way as Mark?
“There’s definitely a groove/riff aspect to it, and really expansive in its orchestration and arrangement. It’s really beautiful writing. I especially like the high dissonant flute parts. We for sure both love Ellington and I relate to the way he wanted to make his own interpretations of it. One of the things I love about Ellington is the radical mind within the beauty and genius of his music, every time I hear an album I haven’t heard before there’s something that blows my mind to how he thought of that. He’s got a such a unique and dynamic way of hearing a big band, it often feels so intimate. I think both Mark and I feel this way about him.”
At the London Jazz Festival you worked with Ethan Iverson I believe reading some listings. What sort of experience was that and what did Ethan say to you when discussing the project?
“Was really fun, he’s a great musician and a friendly person. Because of the nature of the concert we had to keep each piece quite short so he put limitations on the length of the solo sections. I felt though that in the context of the concert it worked well.”
Any other plans for 2019 at this stage particularly regarding Pulled by Magnets? Oh, and finally why the name?!
“It’s looking like next year is going to be quite busy already, I’m planning to play more with Pulled by Magnets, with also some more in beautiful and unusual spaces.
“Among other things, I recorded on Liam Noble’s new album with Tom Herbert which will come out next year; more with Jason Yarde I think; a new album with French bass player Théo Girard. I’m also touring more with Patti Smith which is always so fun and profound. Always an honour and privilege to play with her.”
“There’s also a Danish based musician Adi Zukanovic I’ve been playing with the last couple years and we’re talking about making some music together; he’s really inspiring to me and love just being around him.”
Sebastian Rochford, photo above: Wikipedia. Interview: Stephen Graham