This Mortal Coil - '93 interview with Ivo

Written by Nathan Medema on Mon, 9 Mar 1998 12:37:18 -0500.

Found this at Music Boulevard, thought it might be worth sharing...

Summer 1993 , # 27
by Karen Woods

THIS MORTAL COIL : The Quiet Corners, by Karen Woods

Side projects are common enough in the music world, but few of those adulterous little sojurns giving musicians a chance to work outside the parameters of their "real" bands have had the vision or the impact of This Mortal Coil. TMC are an amorphous community of talent who have created three breathtaking albums over the past nine years. The project was the love-child of 4AD label founder Ivo Watts-Russell--his ideas, his taste, and to some degree his character, brought to musical maturity.

>From the beginning, This Mortal Coil were mostly an exercise in interpretation, mixing original music by the artists involved with songs that already existed, then modifying those to suit, with airy, exquisite arrangements and the distinctive vocals of singers such as the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, Shelleyan Orphan's Caroline Crowley, Cindytalk's Gordon Sharp, Howard Devoto, and Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard. The cover songs came from sources as disparate: Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, Van Morrison, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Emmylou Harris, and Tim Buckley, Talking Heads, the Byrds, Colin Newman, Rain Parade, the Apartments. The three collections were like quiet corners in a loud and aggressive musical world, offering time and space to catch one's breath before the next aural assault.

Now that the project is ending, 4AD has released a US--only limited edition box set, containing all three albums--It'll End in Tears, Filigree & Shadow, and Blood--plus a fourth CD including many original recordings of the covered songs.

According to Watts-Russell, This Mortal Coil was born out of an offhand idea sparked by seeing Modern English (then a 4AD band) on an early American tour. "For the encore, they used to play two old songs and run them together," he explains. "I encouraged them to record those two songs like that. They weren't interested--but I still thought it was a good idea."

He asked a couple of friends to help out with the arrangement. "It was a good excuse to get Elizabeth Fraser and Gordon Sharp to come in and do vocals! ... For the B-side I thought of [Tim Buckley's] `Song for the Siren.' Liz said she'd love to try it." The project turned into an album, then into a cycle, with an ever-evolving cast of characters, many already associated with 4AD.

This Mortal Coil's musical subtlety and dramatic vocals are too intense to relegate to background noise. "I like the idea of something unfolding," muses Ivo. "Having to take the listening seriously, to give yourself over. It isn't the only type of music that is important, but it is something I felt was worth pursuing." He laughs. "A bit self-indulgent, I suppose."

Certainly he indulged himself with the box set. "Because," he explains, "it is very much over. It's not going to carry on. I wanted to put out a limited edition to tie the whole thing together and say, `That's what it was.'"

Though Watts-Russell admits the group has always sounded a certain way, he points out, "the basis of most of it is other people's music--music these artists hadn't written themselves. That's something well outside of any 4AD-ness."

A recurring element is Ivo's fascination for unusual, ethereal female vocals. He smiles. "The human voice is the most important instrument to me. Until recently, until say the Red House Painters, I don't think there were very many great male vocalists. David Sylvian, Ian McCulloch... I approached them, but they weren't interested... While there are many good and individual female singers."

As to how the music was chosen, he says, "I didn't look for the songs: they cropped up. At first, it was really important that the covers be of songs that weren't well known. I wouldn't have recorded a version of a Syd Barrett song or a Byrds song on the first album. It was important not to rehash. As the project went on--and definitely for the last one--I did want the Barrett song ["Late Night"]."

The only real criterion: the songs must be "very introspective, melancholy songs." They were; they are; and with the release of this box set for posterity, they always will be.

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