You chose to record the new album in the Welsh countryside. Why was that?
Getting the environment right is really important. I looked around and thought a residential studio could be nice so we could go to the countryside and have that around us to inspire us. The studio is in the Monnow Valley by a little river so it’s a calming environment. The previous record, Sensible Shoes, we did in Bermondsey – it’s a different feeling recording in rural Wales rather than in South London.
In your promotional photos you’re wearing safari gear. Where did that idea come from?
Yes, I was on a gig, playing with a dance company in India and was thinking of the absurdity of the English safari suit and the idea of colonials walking around in these. So we got the clothes and thought ‘What are we going to do with those?’ And I thought, ‘I know a guy who has a bear costume’. His name is Russell and he said: ‘I’d love to do it’. This reflects our approach to music – it’s not po-faced and serious.
How much do you compose and how much is improvised?
Much of it is improvised. It tends to be a little bit of written material at the beginning and end of tracks – like a lot of jazz is. Because we’ve been playing together for a long time we’ve developed a language that is like an almost composed language in a way – but it’s not. It can go in a variety of directions. I think that is what keeps the music fresh. It means that a recording, rather than being a definitive artistic statement, is a snapshot in time.
How did you feel about your televised Mercury Award nomination for Sensible Shoes?
For a band like us to get that sort of platform to reach people is fantastic. Journalists can see it as a bit tokenistic, which I understand, but I think there’s such a value in highlighting the stuff going on outside pop music that is really good for people. People come to our gigs and say: ‘If it wasn’t for the Mercury I wouldn’t have known who you guys were’ and ‘I’d never really heard any jazz before but I heard this’.
It’s great to have stuff on Radio 3 but it doesn’t reach the masses in the same way: you get those three minutes on TV and the record sales go up hundreds of per cent. They used to have real wild stuff on TV. I was struck by the way that in the 1960s when they went to the moon, the BBC had Pink Floyd improvising to the moon landing. Why doesn’t that happen any more?
Your appearance on Channel 4 News involved improvising the theme music?
It was really last minute. We finished the Mercury run-through and went over. It was a very surreal moment playing the news theme with [anchormen] Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy playing with us. It was great! – Jon’s a pianist and Krishnan plays bass.
You record on US label Cuneiform. How did that come about?
I knew them from their classic British jazz reissues, such as Soft Machine and John Surman and avant-rock. [Founder] Steve [Feigenbaum] was really keen and said he already knew our stuff – our first label Flam, sold CDs through his mail order shop. We spoke a bit and it seemed like it was going to be a good match. They have been running that label for 25 years and he is really passionate about everything he puts out.
What get you into jazz in the first place?
I was in my early teens and I was listening to rock such as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa and more psychedelic groups such as Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd which led on to 1960s free jazz stuff like [saxophonists] Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. This led me to check out earlier jazz such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker and then more modern guys like [composer] John Zorn and [saxist] Tim Berne. I think I’ve come full circle – that interest in the avant-rock side has got stronger as I’ve got older. I’m remembering the things that got me to jazz and why I loved it and still love it.
Interview by Neil McKim
Led Bib will be performing at the Swanage and Brecon Jazz Festivals this July and August. For further information and upcoming tour dates see www.ledbib.com
Audio clip: ‘Hollow Ponds’ from Bring Your Own