Good records remind you where you were when you first heard them. Great records do the same, of course, but are also gloriously transportive, immersing you within their own narrative in a move that’s engrossing, unsettling and wondrous. The swelling strings that drive ‘From The Sea/It Looms’, also known as ‘Chapters I & II’, are similarly absorbing and drop me back on that windswept boat, a new land emerging through the drizzle…
“I think that’s the beautiful thing about music and literature, it’s so visceral and you’re encouraged to project yourself into the art, almost become part of it,” Leon Vynehall reflects in a sleepy beer garden in North London. “And that’s the key thing when you say about feeling the responsibility with my nan and pops’ story, while it’s personal to us, I think it’s a story that everyone can relate to one way or another. It’s about home and family, belonging, love, doubt. It is a vanity project in a sense, but I hope it’s one where the doors have opened rather than being exclusive.”
The “vanity project” in question is Nothing Is Still, the breathtaking album, novel and short film that traces Vynehall’s grandparent’s search of a new life in New York, an expedition of dizzying proportions that only properly came to light after his grandfather passed away. “It’s one of those things when a family member dies, everyone sort of comes together and the way you start the grieving process is just by talking about them and exchanging stories.”
The first body of work that he feels fully comfortable labelling an album, due to it feeling “a lot denser and a lot more concrete”, Nothing Is Still explores new sonic territory for Vynehall, incorporating a ten-piece orchestra alongside his experimental electronic compositions that notoriously yearn for nostalgia.
While the story certainly benefits from a newfangled, cinematic scale, it also allows the gaps between previous releases Music For The Uninvited and Rojus… to be subtly bridged, linked by his love of lush, layered compositions, either in the club or for more reflective listening. “It’s a departure, but I don’t think it’s that sharp of a left turn,” he admits. “I totally understand it’s a stylistic departure, although I think it still sounds like me. I was talking to someone the other day and they were asking ‘have you learnt anything different about how you write this time around?’ I don’t think I have, I’m still doing the same things, I’ve just got a bit more gutsier at doing them. I’ve always littered other records with slightly slower tracks, it’s not always been purely four-to- the-floor kicks, I’ve always tried to do something different.”
Having always been a DJ that insists on aiming beyond the parameters of dance music, Nothing Is Still swerves from woozy sparseness (‘Drinking It In Again’) to the growling gut-punch of ‘Trouble Parts I, II & III’, each chapter constructed in painstaking, unorthodox fashion. “Everything in the music, whether it’s figuratively or directly, is connected to the book. The book was finished and I printed everything out and went through the whole lot and highlighted words and phrases that I could use as tools to write the songs. If it says the word ‘shuffling’ in it or ‘slow-spoken rhythm’, I knew that I needed to make it like that. For the mood and the pace of the chapter, for example ‘Movements’ is pretty optimistic, it’s got to have that feel to it, but also foreshadow things to come so you hear dissident chords, it’s always bubbling under. It’s super-intricate, everything considered, which is why it look a long time. I feel like it would have been such a disservice to write a whole book and then not to be considerate with the music and how it all connects. Even the film, the whole project is how these different mediums have a relationship with each other and connect.”
His meticulousness appears to have paid off, as Nothing Is Still boasts the strongest emotional connection Vynehall has perhaps ever forged with a listener. “I think it was that I didn’t want this family story to get lost for future generations,” he concludes, “and I was glad because I didn’t want it to be diluted or turn into Chinese whispers.” There’s nothing disjointed here; through the overlapping mediums that make up Nothing Is Still, we are part of the ambitious journey that Leon Vynehall pieces together with devastating clarity.
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