We spoke to Haiku Salut ahead of their Metaphysical Virtual Reality Show at a secret location in London.
With Leeds being subjected to an especially violent (and thankfully single-day) monsoon that has left the city practically floating and turned gutters into rapid rides for the piles of auburn autumnal leaves that have built up alongside the city streets, Haiku Salut’s show – the first of their latest tour, and the first of their 2018 lamp shows – offers a welcome and homely reprieve. Inside, the space is filled with enough sofas to rival any self-respecting furniture showroom, while onstage a phalanx of mismatched lamps of varying shapes and sizes and sundry trinkets such as porcelain dog statues give the air of walking into the house of a delightfully eccentric elderly relative.
Amid this backdrop, their copious collection of instruments resembling a secondary school music room gone rogue sitting nestled in among the piles of performance space paraphernalia, the trio of multi-instrumentalists that make up Haiku Salut – Barkerwoods Sophie and Gemma, and Louise Croft – are models of easy going geniality that belies the effort and technical achievement that putting on the multisensory experience that will commence shortly. In between making short work of their pre-show pizzas they detail, with wry and knowing laughs, the logistical difficulties of transferring the vanload of lights and electronics from kerbside to venue in the midst of the day’s relentless torrential downpour – that most fittingly unique of problems for an unapologetically unique band.
Of course, it was dealt with efficiently and effectively, and that night’s show would prove to be the characteristic sonic and visual delight that we’ve all come to expect and the whole episode almost plays out their career in microcosm. Through head-down diligence and constant quiet achievement the threesome have taken an individuality that, in less capable hands, would prove barrier and have instead made it a selling point. Even though they themselves struggle to pigeonhole or describe their singular melding of the organic and the electronic (they closest they’ve come thus far is ‘baroque-pop-folktronic-neo-classical-something-or-other’) they’ve created a body of work that has beguiled and enchanted and has gained them an ever-growing and loyal fanbase in the process.
As their profile has expanded, some interesting opportunities have come their way. Prior to releasing third album There Is No Elsewhere they were approached by the similarly idiosyncratic BBC radio staples Public Service Broadcasting (not that Haiku Salut are strangers to Beeb airplay themselves) to collaborate on their own third album, the mining-themed Every Valley. While on paper the union of two unique musical entities looks like something that could lead to a procedural butting of heads, for Haiku Salut it was a total pleasure. “The spec they gave us was very much of the kind of thing that we’d write so it came very naturally, really,” explains Gemma Barkerwood “as they had an idea of what the song was going to be about and they’d heard ‘Hearts Not Parts’ and really liked it and came to a point of ‘either we could recreate it or we could just get you to do it seeing as you wrote it in the first place. I think we were lucky in that their processes in terms of how they write and how they perform were similar to ours, to an extent.”
“while we might not be able to pinpoint an exact piece of music that our environment inspired I think that it does affect you as a person in terms of your outlook”
Turning focus to current record There Is No Elsewhere all three agree that it’s an evolution of the musical direction that has captivated many over previous releases Tricolore and Etch And Etch Deep, albeit with the caveat that their characteristic expert melding of the organic and the electronic has now introduced new element to the mix, such as the full-bodied brass band which brings the epic and expansive ‘The More And Moreness’ to a close. The new record draws heavily from found sounds gleaned from the Derbyshire idyll the band call their home, and Sophie describes how the area “has quite a sheer and dramatic landscape, and while we might not be able to pinpoint an exact piece of music that our environment inspired I think that it does affect you as a person in terms of your outlook and therefore you know that it’s going to come through in the art that you make.” “There’s the Bow Wood” adds Gemma, referencing the area namechecked on the record via the song of the same name before continuing to describe, with a laugh of near disbelief, how “there’s a lot of found sounds from there and it’s just a walk that we take our dog on sometimes!”
While Sophie concedes that the area has “helped create some of the atmospheres” that feature on There Is No Elsewhere she’s similarly quick to point out that their songwriting methods and practices continue to have a fluidity to them, describing how it remains a process where “we write pockets of things like melodies or samples and they go into a folder and get patch worked together.” It’s a description that seems at odds with their output to date, which has always been a showcase for intricately-layered compositions being put together in an accomplished way to become cinematic wonders. The fact it continues to act as such is arguably not only testament to their technical abilities, but also their development and growth as a band – it’s a theory that both Sophie and Gemma gingerly agree with, with the latter describing how over their three records to date they’ve arrived at a point where “I think we’ve learned each other’s strengths, and we now better understand the sections that maybe we’ll all be good at.” It’s a claim that leads Sophie to add, with admirable candour, that “If I’ve written something on the piano then I know full well that Louise will be able to play it with far more expression. We know each other better as writers and performers.”
But whatever changes and subtle developments they’ve made to their processes over their trio of records, there remains some constants. Firstly, that few bands around seem able to perfectly capture a season quite like Haiku Salut have managed to encapsulate autumn. It’s difficult to pinpoint specifics, but their output has seemed to consistently offer an aural equivalent of multicoloured foliage and the smell of mulched leaves and express the season’s curious sensation of atmospheric contemplation. While it might seem like an obvious observation, all three Haiku Salut members respond with the kind of awed surprise of people being introduced to an entirely new concept. “I’d never thought about it like that,” beams Gemma “but I’m happy with it!” It’s a trait that Sophie puts down to her own underlying love of the time of year that has subconsciously filtered through into their music, adding that “I’m a huge fan of autumnal things, and while I don’t think we set out to make autumnal music I do love the feeling of autumn and just reading and listening to things that are quite autumnal. Not necessarily sad things, but maybe things that are quite reflective, it’s a time of change and I like that.”
The second constant has come in the form of the trio’s eschewing of lyrics, and their output’s perpetually instrumental bent. Talking earlier this year, the Melbourne-based artist Evelyn Ida Morris described how they approached their release of mainly instrumental piano record that explored their own non-binary nature with a feeling “of excitement, as I was finding a territory in these pieces that I wasn’t sure how else to express at the time – given that I’d not yet realised language for what I was feeling.” While their relationship with that particular medium had its own specific appeal given the nature of their work, they also admitted to revelling in creating work which wasn’t shaping audience’s opinions.
“there are pedals on one side of the stage that are linked to Louise’s accordion, so often whoever’s closest has to make sure that everything clicked in properly and the right settings are switched on.”
It’s something that Haiku Salut can relate to, and when Morris’ observations are put to them Gemma Berkerwood talks of “having to respect the consumer. You can quite easily spoon-feed people but I think there’s something quite lovely about letting people discover things for themselves and interpreting it how they like. I love it when we talk to people who’ve all interpreted it differently.” It’s a view shared by Sophie, who draws from her own personal experiences to detail how “as a consumer I find that I don’t always enjoy something if someone has explained exactly what the song is about and where title came from before they’ve performed it. There’s no art in that then – you might as well not play the song! I do think it’s important to value people as interpreters.”
A large of allowing people to interpret their work lies, all three admit, with their live show. With their regimented mix of the organic and the electronic and their penchant for instrument-swapping (often mid-song) throughout their shows the question begs to be asked: how big a consideration is having to play live during the band’s writing process? Gemma admits that “there are a few songs that we’ve had to tweak for a live setting, which we’ve never had to do before”, with her bandmates adding that as part of their developing writing processes it’s becoming more and more of a consideration.
“Knowing of the care and consideration that go into their shows makes the organic feeling of homely togetherness that permeates both their record and their shows all the more special. “
To illustrate the dedication with which they’ve approached this potential hurdle, they divulge how Louise Croft took up trombone lessons in an attempt to partially recreate the brass band sections alongside the pre-existing trumpet skills of Gemma Barkerwood (who mischievously adds that “we keep trying to get Sophie to learn the tuba, but she’s not having it…”). Nonetheless, it remains an intricate process – Gemma talks of how their instrument-changing ways mean that “just getting your stride slightly out of time just throws everything out of kilter”. More than that, it’s a real case of teamwork, with Sophie talking in detail about the on-stage ergonomics which mean that “we rely on each other a lot in a live capacity – there are pedals on one side of the stage that are linked to Louise’s accordion, so often whoever’s closest has to make sure that everything clicked in properly and the right settings are switched on. So we do rely on each a lot. But it’s alright on the whole, we’ve got used to sending subtle signals to each other.”
Knowing of the care and consideration that go into their shows makes the organic feeling of homely togetherness that permeates both their record and their shows all the more special. Watching a room full of people sat in a venue that’s become the largest front room in Leeds, enraptured at the dazzling dualities of sight and sound on display you can’t help that their self-described mission, via new record There Is No Elsewhere to send a message of community and togetherness has been consummately accomplished.
Catch Haiku Salut’s Metaphysical Virtual Reality Show on Friday 2nd November in a secret location.