If you need a reason to collaborate with someone on a profoundly beautiful new musical project, then the quality of their knitwear is as good a reason as any. Having been introduced to string composer and arranger Davide Rossi, Matt Hales (better known as the voice behind Aqualung) was immediately taken by, of all things, his jumper. From that solid sartorial opening, the pair began exchanging musical ideas that soon convinced them they were onto something special.
On their debut album, Lake Constance, the pair have pooled their respective talents to craft highly evocative, sophisticated soundscapes from swathes of cool, digital textures and towering layers of majestic strings. As you would expect from someone with Rossi’s pedigree, the richly poignant string arrangements provide moments of profound beauty that circle and caress the soul. Coupled with the crackle of electronics and Hales’ tender and reflective vocals, songs effortlessly shift from haunting melancholy to fragile optimism.
Below the pair give a little more insight into those early musical ideas, what it was like to finally sit in a room and record together and how they managed to get the writer of children’s TV show Charlie and Lola to provide the illustrations for the band’s artwork.
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What was the first album you fell head over heels in love with?
Davide Rossi: Tchaikovsky: Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra: Gidon Kremer/Lorin Maazel.
Matt Hales: Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.
When did you know you wanted to pursue making music as a career?
Davide: Around age 10 or 11.
Matt: I had no idea it could be a career, mostly I just wanted to BE Howard Jones When I was 17. My A level music teacher pointed out that all I did was make music or talk about making music or listen to music or dream about music. Perhaps that should be a clue as to what I might do with my life!
How do you characterize this current stage of your careers?
Davide: Decrepit teenager.
Matt: The calm after the storm. And before the next storm.
What are the key things about making music do you think you have learned along the way?
Davide: You need to learn to clean toilets properly.
Matt: As much as possible, make music you love. Then, whatever happens, you can be proud of what you made. Also, special music has a long, long shelf life, so you never know…. something AMAZING might just happen!
Had you two met before the infamous meeting triggered by Davide’s choice of knitwear?
Davide: Yes, in our knitted universe.
Matt: In this universe, no. But it was as if we had known each other before somehow. Though that might just be the jumper talking, helluva jumper.
What do you two remember about the first music that was sent between you?
Davide: Chocolate chips.
Matt: I asked Davide for some off-cuts, and as soon as I started listening to them, I was very inspired. Each snippet seemed to be to have the seed of something very lovely in it. So I grabbed the one that spoke the most to me and made a thing out of it in an epic all night session. And I loved it, and I really hoped…
Davide: … would love it too. And I wanted to make MORE.
Did you immediately think this all had the makings of a full-blown album?
Davide: Don’t know about that, but there was an instant recognition of quality, naturalness and easiness that was encouraging from the very start.
Matt: Once I knew that.
Davide: liked the thing I made. It felt like a sign; there’s something here that we should pursue. No particular goal. We just got excited about doing more, and each new piece we made felt like another discovery, that in time led to further explorations.
What was it like to actually sit in a room together and actually write and record?
Davide: It was like a very fruitful and fulfilling quickie.
Matt: Yes. In that, we’d have an idea and work fast, grabbing bits of violin and noises and not worrying too much about what it was. Lots of loops and textures. Then as soon as it was up on its feet, however wobbly, we’d part company. Only now, we were pregnant. Months later, the wobbly idea would have been worked on by both of us when we had the time and taken a more definite shape. Then we’d get together again and really quickly finish it off. So yes, a quickie in the broom (broom) cupboard, a long and creative gestation followed by a hasty delivery! Just a classic dysfunctional double act.
Did you start with an idea of how you wanted the album to sound?
Davide: I don’t think so. It was more like a feeling.
Matt: The whole thing was a nose-following, serendipity trusting wander into the unknown. We were just getting to know each other through the music we were making, often in different parts of the world. No agenda other than that. It was a lovely surprise when it turned out to have such a coherent sound!
Can you describe the typical journey of a song from the idea in your head to the finished product?
Davide: Cash or credit card?
Matt: Thanks, Dav, that’s REALLY great. Something like this: 1. Tiny wobbly idea sketched out together. Maybe just 30 seconds of music and a vague plan. WAIT 3 MONTHS 2.
Matt: Extends wobbly idea into longer, more produced track with lots of unanswered questions left in it. Send it to Davide. WAIT 3 MONTHS 3. Davide answers all the questions with a beautiful string arrangement and recording. Send it to Matt. WAIT 3 MONTHS 4.
Matt: Takes the arrangement and incorporates it into the track, adds more stuff inspired by the new strings. Send it to Davide. WAIT 3 MONTHS. 5.
Davide: And agree that it’s finished.
Did you ever disagree on the direction of a song/songs?
Davide: Almost always never!
Matt: One of the great things about working on a project with no agenda is that whatever happens is correct. Obviously both of us are experienced musicians and don’t want to make something pointless and shitty but that never seemed to come up. To my memory we never disagreed about it and I think everything we ever made we used – the 10 pieces on the album are the only bits of music we’ve ever made together!
How would you describe your individual approaches to making music?
Davide: Fake it till you make it…
Matt: I want to find something amazing then share it with the world! Why do you think you complement each other musically?
Davide: I’m short and fat, he’s tall and thin. Jokes aside (well, not really…) Matt is such a great songwriter and complements it with a unique voice. I guess I come with a bag of harmonic and melodic ideas. We come from two different worlds that are not so different in a way. I can’t sing though… not like Matt.
Matt: We have quite a lot of overlap – both having survived classical training, both collaborating with all kinds of artists over the years, both being old and quite foolish. But we also have our own areas of expertise – I guess I’m more of a producer and obviously Davide is a world-class arranger and player. Turns out we’re a pretty cool team. What were the main differences between working collaboratively as opposed to working on your own?
Davide: When two become one (Sporty Spice)
Matt: Other people are much more surprising. Whenever I’d get files through from Davide I’d be a bit giddy, not knowing what he’d done but knowing it was going to be magnificent! There’s an energy there that is hard to generate by yourself. Were there any musical ideas that, try as you might, you just couldn’t use or develop?
Davide: We are very good recyclers. I think we could get anything and make it sounds like our own. We have enough experience to see if an idea should be pursued or not right from the start.
Matt: there were a couple that almost fell over, almost went away. But between us there would always turn out to be a solution. Nothing went to waste!
Where there any tracks that were total pains in the ass?
Davide: Not that I can remember… if it doesn’t go fast there’s no point in following it. At least the process has been thus far… it may change in the future.
Matt: oh it will….
What do you think you learned about yourself in the course of making this album?
Davide: One thing I’ve learnt is trusting the process and its timing, rather than trying to manipulating it and chasing results at all costs.
Matt: That it’s never too late to make something new.
Do you think you have fully realised your vision of what this collection of songs should be?
Davide: I believe it went much further than expectations.
Matt: Yes, but in retrospect!
As a parent myself, I love the fact you got Lauren Child, creator of Charlie and Lola, to do the artwork for the record. How did you manage that?
Davide: It all fell so well into our lap.
Matt: is responsible for the Charlie and Lola reference and connection, whilst me for the Alfons Åberg one in Sweden… We are so grateful to Lauren and Gurnilla, both great writers and illustrators.
att: We’d always joked that the music we were making sounded like the work of some mysterious Icelandic composer, probably living alone on an iceberg. So when Lola’s imaginary friend Soren Lorensen came up at dinner one time we both jumped on it – so perfect! Brilliantly, when we approached Lauren for her permission to use the name she turned out to love the record and even more brilliantly agreed to do our artwork!
Do you have plans to tour the album?
Davide: World domination 2021/22
Matt: We’d love to do at least one Soren show. I think it could be rather lovely!
Is this a one-off collaboration or do you see yourself working together again?
Davide: Hopefully this is just the beginning of it.
Matt: More please!