Feature: Robin Mullarkey
Interview by Marc Kets
Robin Mullarkey along with vocalist, co-writer and soul mate Anna Stubbs make up Brotherly, the newest exciting act to emerge from the vibrant West London scene. Having already slung his bass on tours across the world with musical luminaries such as Zero 7, 2 Banks of 4 and the mighty Ty, Rob has a musical pedigree that reaches far and wide across the musical stratosphere from jazz to broken beat to electronica to M-Base to soul all with a serving of African influences for good measure. His ethos for Brotherly is simple, "We want to make music that sounds great. That's all." Anything goes, and with their latest single "Put It Out" already exciting tastemakers and inflicting mayhem onto dance floors all over the globe they look set to leave their mark on the musical map with style, grace and high quality musicianship.
Where did your journey into music start?For me, it started immediately, as my family was working musicians. We lived in high-rise flats in Rochdale. Music was always around, and I didn't discriminate in my taste. I remember being about 4 yrs old and my favourite tape had Joseph's Technicolor Dream coat on one side and Heavy Weather by Weather Report on the other. That tape saw a LOT of rotation.
I've just finished reading an article on David Axelrod where he states that the problem with music today is that most people in charge of releasing the product wouldn't know one note from the other on a piano if their lives depended on it. As a trained musician do you find that one of the pitfalls of the industry is that it's moved away from "the sound" and more towards being a marketable product?Of course it is a pitfall, but I feel privileged in that the music we make, which doesn't make any attempt to pander to market heads, still finds a sincere and enthusiastic audience around the world. That is very reassuring.
You pride yourself in that you use live instrumentation on your records and not a few samples glued together by an MPC. Has Brotherly always had a live band in mind, or was it a natural progression from your background in jazz that this project would be a live from the get go?I think it's important for a recording to sound the best that it can, regardless of the restraints of the live line-up, that's why the beats are sometimes programmed (often on MPC 2000XL I should confess) or the vocals are treated in a way which may be impossible to reproduce live. That said, I try to use a canvas of rhodes, synths, rich vocals and harmonies to give a cohesive sound to the project, and I always manage to work a guitar part into the track, because I love the instrument despite it's relative absence in genres that Brotherly are associated with.
How would you describe your sound?It is music that you can appreciate on many levels. That's the whole object. If a melody and groove are what you need from a track then you're off, but for those looking for more there is a lot of intricate rhythm and harmony, which makes the music sound unique and also makes it a lot of fun to play.
Where does Brotherly sit in the greater scheme of things? Where do you hope to see the band in the years ahead?Brotherly is the main musical focus for Anna and myself, but of course we need to work as freelance musicians to pay the bills. Hopefully in time the project will support itself and we can spend more time in the studio and on stage.
You've gone on tour with Zero 7 on numerous occasions. How did you hook up with them, and would you like to achieve the same degree of success with Brotherly?The Zero7 hook-up was due to a mutual friend, Demus, who put my name forward for an audition, and I got the gig. It's been a fantastic experience and hopefully an ongoing one. I find it very hard to visualize Brotherly achieving the same success, and I would be happy with a fraction of it, but they came from very humble beginnings, and Gilles Peterson played a great part in their success. One thing that Brotherly and Zero7 have in common is that it is sincere music, and not intentionally tailored to a marketing niche. It is just the music, which naturally comes out of collaboration.
Has the touring meant that your own projects have had to take a back seat? Would you like to continue doing so, or is Brotherly the priority at the moment? How important is touring for you as a musician? Do you find that you learn as much as you entertain on tour?I think I can work Brotherly into my other gigs for the time being. I have been juggling commitments for my whole career like any working musician. It's amazing how it always works out in the end. Touring is a learning experience for sure. I get excited about seeing new cities. I always get up (relatively) early and do some exploring, get a feel for the area before the gig.
You've worked with everyone from Eska Mtungwazi to Ty to 2 Banks of Four. Have their been any particular sessions with any of these artists that have stood out, and why?They are all great every time. I'm serious! I've taken risks to weed out the gigs I didn't enjoy so much, and at the moment I seem to enjoy all my work, so it's paid off! Top gigs include Ty at Montreuax Jazz Festival (my 1st with him and no rehearsal), Eska at Cargo NYE (not happened yet!) and of course the 2BO4 Japan tour 2004. Also played a storming set with Natalie Williams at the Jazz Cafe last week.
What would you say has been the most important/influential record of the past few years, and why?I would probably have to say "No Use" LP by Jazzanova. It was a huge influence on Brotherly, as it succeeded in mixing melodies, amazing beats and amazing production - all the good stuff. Ursula Rucker is at her best. Clara hill track is timeless I reckon - and it's my ring tone! Also Rob G and Val Etienne sounding great plus some more experimental moments. It holds together well.
Who are your influences? What influences you? What influences you away from music?D'angelo, Jazzanova, Lewis Taylor, Beady Belle, Miles, Slum Village, Wayne Krantz, Joni Mitchell, Mahavishnu, Boards of Canada. Common, Radiohead, Aretha, Nancy Wilson, Led Zep, IG, Demus, Robert Mitchell, Gilles Peterson, Benji B, co-op ... loads of stuff. Every kind of music is an influence of some kind. Away from music - fatherhood is having a big effect on my life.
You're involved in the London scene. What are the pros and cons of being seemingly at the center of the universe for the sound that you are pushing at the moment?As a gigging musician, there are massive benefits to living in the capital and I doubt I would be working with these fantastic musicians if I lived out of town. As for cons, yes London is pricey, but see "pros"! I've also been lucky in not experiencing any crime here 1st hand. I think it's all relative to the density of population.
You're involved with your fellow Brotherly member, Anna Stubbs. How do you balance life together as musicians and life together as a family?We've been together for 11 years, since meeting at Music College in Leeds. We have always worked together with no problems. It gets more difficult with a 1 year old climbing on your head but you learn to be more efficient.
In the 50s and 60s great Jazz musicians would travel the country and sit in sessions where they could. There are hundreds of stories of the likes of Dizzy Gillepsie and John Coltrane joining in on random sessions, just because they had the thirst to play. Is it the same with you? Do you find that people are more likely to accept avant-garde forms of music now, or have we gotten more conservative as time has progressed?I don't think that non-improvised music is necessarily more conservative. 5 years ago I only played jazz gigs, mainly on double bass. You do have to be very devoted to the music. I would often practice 6 hrs in a day and a lot of my friends would do more, but although I have practically left that behind, the work I put in will always be with me and it influences any music I'm involved with. I feel that the music I make now is more relevant and more edgy.
How would a Brotherly track come into fruition? Does it all start with a jam session?No, It's usually from a more considered starting point, often from a rhythmic problem that needs solving, or maybe I'll hear a track on the iPod or in a club and think "it would be really interesting if used this idea and fit yesterday's idea against it". I often start off with a rip-off but by the end you'll never spot it. For example, one recent track was inspired by Bill Stewart drum groove in 6/4. Then I could hear a kind of Mahavishnu guitar part against it, and once Ben had added some percussion Anna added vocals it became something new. On other tracks I will make a beat work in different time signatures or tempos, or the same melody in different keys to give the track a kind of subconscious cohesiveness. Even if it doesn't work out, it's a starting point!
How important is someone like Gilles Peterson to the world of music at the moment?Gilles is the Don and I have a lot of respect for him because he's still going for it! He will be around for a long time if he stays young and fresh...
Five records that changed your life and/or your thinking?Common - Like Water for Chocolate Joni Mitchell - Hissing of Summer Lawns Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children D'Angelo - Voodoo Donny Hathaway - Live!
Introduce your band to us.Aside from the core of Anna, and myself the other members of the band are involved in the live side of things and contribute in varying degrees to the recordings. Martyn Kaine is an old friend who I met living in Leeds, and amazing drummer. We share a studio together, and he has helped with programming on some tracks. He has played for Reel People, Eska, Natalie Williams. Simon Colam is also a fellow Lancashire lad and plays a mean fender rhodes in band, and also with Ty, Nathan Haines etc. We needed a 2nd keys player to make the tracks work and enlisted Moloko keys man Phil Peskett whose job involves playing over hard chord changes, and making weird noises. Femi Temowo is on guitar and brings and brings a great vibe to the stage. He has a nice Benson-esque sound, which is just what I wanted. Latest addition is Ben Bryant on percussion who I spotted with Heritage Orchestra and he really stood out for me. I love what he's doing on gigs and have just put him on some of the recordings. On BVs are Tawiah, who I met working with Eska and is also involved with Mark de Clive Lowe, and (needing no introduction) UK R&B legend Natalie Williams.
How important is the West London sound to the music world at the moment? Why do you think that a corner of London has managed to give the music industry and a few DJs a much-needed kick in the ass?I think that Dego and IG in particular are making a massive impact on music around the world, whether directly or otherwise. Great as it is though, this community seems very small compared to, say, the garage or D&B fraternity. Should be interesting to see if it stands the test of time. I'm slightly dubious. Didn't Bugz get to 39 in the charts or something? Shame that's the best we can manage with such a killing tune!
What do you think of groups like Sa-ra Creative Partners, who seemingly have thrown the rule book out the window and gone for the musical jugular with their very unique take on funk, soul and jazz?I love what they do. There is something unfamiliar to me in their process, which is maybe why it sounds so exciting. Dego played me their stuff before it blew up and even those early demos were deep! I love the fact that they put Steely Dan tracks in their Straight No Chaser play lists though!
What's your most overused phrase?Don't know about that, but I've noticed that everything I say to my 1 yr old son, Lucas, is a question! What does that say about my fathering talents? And you're asking me the questions...
Marc Kets, Nov 2005
All Basic Soul Features
- Red Rack'em
- Phil Asher
- Colonel Red
- SK Radicals
- James Pants
- Dubble D
- Paul Murphy
- Elliot Bergman
- Karen P
- Yukimi Nagano
- Jon K
- Ryan Hunn
- Kevin Beadle
- DJ Simon S
- Kirk Degiorgio
- Tyler Askew
- Ben Westbeech
- Bruno Hovart a.k.a. Patchworks
- Kelvin Brown
- Robert Mitchell
- Robin Mullarkey
- Larry Heard
- Lost Idol