Folktronica? Baroque-pop? A Derbyshire dales Efterklang? People have perpetually struggled to wrap up Haiku Salut’s soundbite into a handy soundbite. But in the grand scheme of things does such pigeonholing matter? The answer, when their output is as good as it is, is an emphatic no.
Though often uttered in the same breath as the phrase ‘imaginary soundtrack’, the talented trio’s output to date is so much more. A swirling, gorgeous aural kaleidoscope of sounds where skittering electronics are intertwined with accordions and acoustic guitars, they make music ready-made to lose yourself in.
Naturally, such inventive tones deserve a live show in a similarly, befitting, imaginative mould. Enter the annual ‘lamp show’ extravaganzas, which see the finest use of on-stage lighting since David Byrne did that dance with the lampstand during Stop Making Sense. With a veritable phalanx of on-stage bulbs programmed to flicker in time with the ebb and flow of their music, they’ve transformed a regular performance into a dazzling, multi-sensory experience. Better yet, they’re currently touring it, with London shows landing on the 15th and 16th. Seems the perfect time to have a quick Q&A, no?
Never one to take the easy way out, the responses to our email questions come with a note, adding that “Robbie, our lamp person, interviewed us. I recorded and transcribed it in the tourbus”. Derbyshire’s finest, unorthodoxly resourceful to the last.
Looking back at Tricolore and Etch And Etch Deep, did the attention they received surprise you and cause you to perhaps re-evaluate what you as a band were capable of? Has it shaped how you’ve approached the next step – whatever that might be – going forward?
Gemma: We were very surprised about how Tricolore was received! We are proud of that album. We were finding our feet though, compared to Etch And Etch Deep it seems like a collection of songs.
Louise: It wasn’t planned as a whole album.
Sophie: Etch And Etch Deep was more of a focused effort. We had more of an idea of how we wanted it to be.
Louise: Our next album is due next year and it’s bigger and braver than the previous two.
Sophie: We are continually surprised by how well our music has been received which has given us the confidence to push things into areas we might not have touched otherwise. We can’t wait for people to hear it!
How do you think making your two records to date have shaped the band’s development, and how do you feel that it’s manifested itself on any new/future material?
Gemma: Etch And Etch Deep was more electronic whereas the focus of the songs on the first album was using the interesting instruments…
Sophie: …and the loop pedal…
Gemma: Whereas on the second album we were writing the songs we wanted to write from our influences.
Louise: It has a dancier feel and we focused more on structure.
Sophie: We heard things we liked and heard noises that we liked and explored them. There are prettier sounds on Etch And Etch Deep. In terms of shaping and manipulating sounds we’ve definitely developed in that respect.
Louise: We’re always learning and developing new things and ideas. The next album is all the parts we’ve enjoyed the most with added party.
Gemma: Yeah, on the new album we worked with Glastonbury brass who are amazing and there’s a huge depth to the new songs. This time around we’ve explored frequencies that make glasses fall from tables.
Do you feel that creating moods and sensations via wordless music presents more of a challenge from a creative/songwriting perspective than that of a more lyrical bent, or does it give a greater sense of creative freedom?
Gemma: With lyricless music people can interpret things how they want to so it gives more scope for people to enjoy it.
Sophie: You’re kind of narrowing what the song is and what emotions you can feel if it has words. But then again it does mean that it doesn’t have a focused message…
Gemma: Yeah, like song writers like [Mammoth Penguins frontwoman/solo artist] Emma Kupa. People really attach to the songs.
Lou: Without the restriction of lyrics we can be more creative with the structure of the songs, there are more changes and more things going on. More creative freedom!
Both of your albums to date – the second especially – meld traditional instrumentation with more modern technological elements. How big a part of your musical make-up is bringing the organic and the electronic together and how big a challenge is it to get the two sides to reconcile?
Louise: We never really meant it be that way. We bought interesting instruments to start with and then pulled in other influences as we went along.
Sophie: It wasn’t a challenge but it wasn’t really a goal either. From a recording perspective, the real instruments are often recorded as loops and pieced together and the electronics are bounced into audio and manipulated…
Gemma: Yeah we don’t really treat organic and electronic as separate things.
Having worked in projects both lyrical and instrumental in nature, which comes more naturally to you now that you’re two albums in as Haiku Salut?
Sophie: Wordless. Once you’ve stopped writing lyrics you get out of practice of it. You’re not as good at it any more.
Gemma: That’s like any instrument.
Given Etch And Etch Deep centred around the theme of communication, looking back were you trying to create an overarching sensation or atmosphere and if so how successful do you think you’ve been in achieving it?
Sophie: Well… there was a period of change for a few of us when we wrote those. I mean.. no one died or divorced or anything but our outlook on the world changed a bit. I like to hope that’s implied in some of the titles and in an overall feeling.
With you about to embark on another series of lamp shows, how did the concept first come about? Do you think it adds a whole other element to the music or is it more of a natural visual extension of what you’re hoping to create sonically?
Louise: We wanted to add something visually. The lamp shows give Haiku a different focus. It’s more of an art piece. When we play a normal show the focus is very much on about swapping instruments and the movement around the stage but with the lamp show the focus shifts and we kind of almost blend in with an art installation.
Sophie: It was Gemma’s idea initially. We wanted to do other things that also worked within the realms of Haiku. Like releasing our book of haiku too.
Gemma: It sits well with our music. It’s very analogue. It’s not fully digital lasers, it’s real bulbs with real voltages.
Louise: Yeah, it brings the old and new together.
With your music to date having consistently had a cinematic quality have you ever toyed with the idea of dabbling in soundtrack work, and if so how do you think the process differs from making a ‘normal’ album?
Louise: Over the past year we’ve been working on the soundtrack to a play about Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.
Sophie: It’s been a really interesting experience for us. When we write we’re often looking for what the focus of the track is going to be and turn that inside out. But with a soundtrack the focus is on something else and the music is there to aid the emotion and atmosphere. We’ve had to scale a few things back, be more minimal.
Gemma: We’re involved in the performer integration side of the play too, we’re advising on the tech that means actors will trigger and manipulate sounds and music from the stage rather than having someone off stage doing that.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s the idea of turning theatre in electronic performance (like Bjork) on its head and having electronic performance within theatre. It’s been really fun.
Louise: The ultimate aim is to get the play in schools and public spaces and inspire young girls into art, design and STEAM subjects.
What above all else do you hope people take away from both the lamp shows and the record on its own, be it an overall emotion, sensation or message?
Gemma: The lamps shows are very immediate. You see it and almost forget what it is, it happens and it’s gone. You feel that something special has happened and then it’s gone.
Sophie: With the record – I have records that I think very fondly about. It would be nice for our record to be that record for people. Is that completely narcissistic?