We had a quick chat with Austel about her excellent new video and experiences as a musician in London and beyond
LITM) Your new video is stunning, slightly spooky and hypnotic all in one. How did you come to meet your collaborator Adam Stark? It seems like a match made in Heaven.
Austel) Thank you!
Adam and I met a few years ago performing as part of an amazing collaborative show put together by Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly), headlining the Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury Festival. We became fast friends and I started performing with Adam’s other bands, Rumour Cubes and Munro Fox.
After touring the UK in 2015, Adam and I started working together on some of my own songs. We really clicked and it felt like we were creating something that captured my songs in a whole new light. We have a great working relationship; sharing many of the same influences but often challenging each other and bringing new ideas into the studio.
Where did you take all those pictures and did it take long to make the video?
The photographs were taken in London, Devon and Cornwall over the past couple of years. Those locations are all really significant to me and I’m constantly wandering through the city, walking in the countryside or along the coast processing my thoughts and writing in my head.
Adam came up with an idea for the video through animating those photos in a surreal way. He writes lots of audio-visual software and algorithms, and spent a few weeks designing techniques to re-imagine the photos by warping them in space and time. We used these algorithms to create the video, sequencing imagery with the music. I love the hypnotic effect they have on the photographs – it feels a bit like watching one of my own dreams.
Who have you found inspiring over the past year that may have influenced your latest EP?
Musically, I’ve been really inspired by artists like Daughter, James Blake, Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins, Goldfrapp, Bat For Lashes and Bon Iver, particularly in how they use space in their work, allowing the compositions and arrangements to breathe… using electronica to emphasise certain moments or the human voice.
Around the time of writing Unfold, I’d just read Patti Smith’s books Just Kids and M Train. They had a huge effect on me and my sense of myself as an artist and young adult trying to find meaning in a sometimes quite isolating city. Books, stories, artwork, the contrast between natural and industrial landscapes, the way people treat each other… all of these things have a big influence on my work.
Back in the day, when I was actually a guitarist and played in bands, writing songs always started with riffs on the guitar first. What's your process?
It varies, but will often start with a lyric or phrase that comes into my head and can’t shake. I’ve got about a zillion notebooks full of half songs. Or I’ll be at my piano and everything just kind of comes out at once. Recently, I’ve started writing more from drum beats and bass lines – it’s fun to experiment and pushes me to write in a different way.
When working with producers like Adam or Duncan Pym (who produced Lost At Home), I’ll usually turn up with a rough arrangement I’ve put together on Logic Pro or recorded on my phone and we’ll build it up from there. They’re both brilliant producers, especially when it comes to crafting the delicate balance between dreamy, washy soundscapes and the more raw, unrefined moments.
You have done some amazing shows in the past and even played Glastonbury three times. What was that experience like?
I love playing festivals – they’re so much fun. Glastonbury is one of my favourite places on Earth. I was performing there in 2016 when the EU referendum result was announced. There was a really sombre mood across the site, but I walked down to the main stage and watched The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians perform on the Pyramid Stage. It was so inspiring and a reminder to me of how powerful and unifying music can be.
Have you heard of Imogen Heap? When I listen to your music it reminds me of her early material, although it's more pop.
Of course, she’s awesome! Adam actually works with her on the MI.MU Gloves. She’s a such a pioneer for music tech, so there’s bound to be some influence there.
Looking back on your career so far, there must be times you say to yourself: “If I only I knew that then.” Is there any advice you can offer new bands out there to help them on their way?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to surround myself with really good people who have my best interests at heart. I was quite young when I started out and would often just mould myself to what I thought other people wanted me to be. It’s been really cathartic and incredibly liberating to build this project up myself, with a team of brilliant people, and craft it the way I want to. If you’re not creating work that you really believe in and love then I think people see through that. Keep at it. Persistence is key.
Another pretty obvious but often overlooked piece of advice is look after yourself. It’s a really tough industry to be in, with constant highs and lows. Looking after your physical and mental health is really important.
You're based in London, have you had any great experiences gigging outside the capital? If so, which venues/promoters would you recommend?
I grew up in Devon and LOVE playing at the Exeter Phoenix. It’s still one of the best venues I’ve played. Festivals like Glastonbury, Truck and Beautiful Days have all been really good fun, too. My absolute highlight, though, was supporting Fleet Foxes in Ireland last year with Lyla Foy at Cork Opera House and the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. A totally surreal, totally amazing experience.
I'm gutted I missed your last show, I think we should book you another?
Let’s do it!