Jo Quail: Interview
Words & Photos: Anthony Firmin
We first came across Jo Quail at Tramlines festival and her looped cello sounds were intriguiging, mesmerising and absorbing in equal measures. So it is a pleasure to sit down with her at ArcTanGent festival for a chat where she is not only performing a solo spot but also taking part in a collaboration in Between The Shadow Drops as the last band of the day in the PX3 tent.
Jokingly we suggest that she didn’t just pick up the cello over the course of a few lunchtimes which she took in good humour and went on to explain she started playing when she was six with the Centre For Young Musicians. “I then went on to University where I did a performance degree but I then stopped for a long time because I didn’t want to be an orchestral player but I knew I wanted to do something different but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.”
How did you get back into the cello and looping? “I got back into playing the cello for a lady called Rose McDowall (Strawberry Switchblade) and I was suggested for a gig she was doing, I then slowly got back into it playing with other bands. There was a guy in one of those bands who was playing a Line 6 DL4 (a delay modeller) which has one channel of 14 seconds in which to do things and I began to experiment with it. There was an absolute plethora of cellists at the Centre For Young Musicians so there was always excess cellists for the orchestra so they would move us into cello ensembles so I was so used to the sound of 6, 8, 10 cellos. I think that is why I do what I do now.”
A single cello sounds so mournful but put them together and they have a much wider, bigger sound. Jo explains “it has the widest range of all the orchestral instruments and is the closest to the human voice, I may be bias because I play it, but when you play the acoustic cello I feel it speaks and when I play it I feel the vibations and every single part of every note. It is different with the electric cello and because I am using effects you don’t get that physical sensation.”
We went on to discuss her Tramlines performance. “I had a great time, it was a brilliant line-up to be on. One reviewer (not MR) described my performance as the most experimental but I don’t think that I am at all, I think my work is fairly straight. It was nice to read that it was someone’s take on it but I thought there was lots of genre bending stuff going on the whole day.”
Our discussion then digressed into the subject of genres. On the one hand they can be useful because it at least gives you an idea that you are not wasting your time but they can also be hugely distracting for both listener and performer. “To me there are no genres, it is either heavy or not heavy, or it is fast or it is slow, beyond that it is like a kaleidoscope.”
On stage these days she is usually seen with her electric cello however “I do have a really expensive normal cello as well which I use for session recordings and occasionally for performances and classical concerts, not very often these days, although there is a pianist I work with. The main reason I bought the electric cello was to save the life of my acoustic but also, whatever you are dealing with onstage, band wise, even if it is the quietest, most intimate situation, with a microphone you lose clarity of sound and there are a myriad of issues that can crop up. The electric cello is a lot easier because you have a feed for headphone monitoring, you can create a clean feed for front of house sound too. But… I went to play a concert in Australia last week and at some point during this journey the bridge was damaged by baggage handlers; this is the eighth time I have been around the world and it has never been a problem before. I unpacked my cello in Perth and the bridge was just broken but I managed to find a great luthier who stuck it all back together and put the strings back on. It is a bespoke cello which has lots of tiny modifications just for the way I play and was measured to exactly the size of my acoustic cello. I love this instrument, it is beautiful, it is a work of art and I am in love with my electric cello the way I am with my acoustic cello.”
The observant will notice there is a symbol on stage with her logo on it which was designed for her by Alex Unku, and Kevin Boys who is a master blacksmith who made her cello stand also made a physical logo for her to use onstage – “it is brilliant, it ties everything together but I can’t ever change my logo” she says laughingly although I mention it hasn’t been a problem for other bands like Iron Maiden and YES who have stuck with their respective logos throughout their careers and Jo nods in agreement.
Finally we discuss her future plans. “I have an album coming out in November titled Exsolve and was recorded with Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studios and mastered by James Griffiths and I have just had the artwork back and it is beautiful, it was done by Christian Fletcher out in Western Australia so it has a real international feel to it.” We are already looking forward to it.
Many thanks to Jo Quail for her time and we are looking forward to hearing her album Exsolve when it is released on 2nd November.