British instrumental band Haiku Salut formed in 2010 and is comprised of Sophie, Gemma, and Louise. The three bandmates released their first EP in 2011 and are now dropping their debut album Tricolore on the How Does It Feel To Be Loved? record label. Sophie, with input from Gemma and Louise, gives the scoop about their cheekily self-described “Baroque-Pop-Folktronic-Neo-Classical-Something-Or-Other” sound and new album in the following interview.
Jen Dan (JD): Hello Sophie (and Gemma and Louise)! I was taken by your lovely instrumental “Los Elephantes” and its accompanying video that gives visual shape to the transient moods in the song. Your new album, Tricolore, is out mid-April on How Does It Feel To Be Loved? How did you become involved with this London-based record label? Did you attend any of the original club nights from which this record label is an offshoot?
Sophie: Thank you! We were asked to play at one of the How Does It Feel To Be Loved? presents… nights in 2011 and Ian, who runs the label, spoke to us about all of our favorite bands and our relationship started from there. Unfortunately, we live about three-and-a-half hours away from London, so we’d never actually been to the club night — just heard about its legendary status from afar!
JD: Louise, I read that the idea of Haiku Salut was kickstarted by you receiving an accordion for Christmas in 2010. Who gave you the accordion and was it on your Christmas Wish List?
Louise: It was a present from my Dad and, yes, I asked for it! He found Geraldo (the name of the accordion) on Ebay, but he was supposed to be more of a decorative feature. I don’t think he wanted to play baroque ‘n’ roll shows. Consequently, Gezza has been admitted into palliative care following a chronic lung problem and we have another one aptly named “The Fridge” by his previous owners.
JD: I’m very picky about my preferences for instrumental music (well, maybe for music in general…), but your compositions caught my ear in a good way. What are the main instruments that you play on most songs? I can hear accordion, guitar, keyboards…
Sophie: That’s good to hear! There’s also piano, glockenspiel, sampler, drums, melody horn, ukulele, and trumpet.
JD: Your debut EP, How We Got Along After the Yarn Bomb, was released in 2011. Did any of the songs on that EP make it onto your new album?
Sophie: No, we wanted all the songs on the album not to have appeared anywhere else. There were a couple of tracks from Tricolore that were written about the same time as How We Got Along After the Yarn Bomb, but they didn’t seem right to include at the time.
JD: I read that you booked your first show as Haiku Salut without having any songs written yet! That’s awfully nervy of you. Were you that self-assured that you’d have the time and ability to create some interesting tunes before that first gig? Did it all go according to plan?
Sophie: Awfully silly of us, more like! It was actually a day festival that we were putting on ourselves and at the time we thought that it was an adequate deadline. It wasn’t self-assuredness; a deadline purely meant that we had to provide form to the concept. We wrote our first five songs in a very intense four-week period in the company of Louise’s dying house plants and a very disgruntled guinea pig.
JD: What are your musical backgrounds? Did you all play in the band at school and take music lessons, or are you self-taught?
Sophie: When we were younger, Louise learnt classical piano and Gemma classical guitar, so there was some musical background, but we’ve learnt everything else as we’ve gone along. Some songs seem to need a certain sound so the person not doing a lot in that bit learns how to do it. One song needed trumpet so Gemma learnt that particular melody on the trumpet. We wanted some electronics in there, so I sat down and learnt how to make some beats. People see all the instruments and seem to think we’re prodigies; we’re not — we’re just absolutely average at lots of things!
JD: There’s some great live video footage of you online, like for “Sounds Like There’s a Pacman Crunching Away At Your Heart” (An absolutely winning song title right there!). How do you like playing live versus recording in the studio?
Sophie: I think we prefer playing live; there’s more of an immediate feeling of “YES! WE DID SOMETHING!” That’s not to say we don’t enjoy going into the studio; the guys we work with are big friends of ours and we always have fun ridiculing everyone’s mistakes and often have a break for a roast dinner halfway through the day.
JD: When you perform live, do you riff on your tunes or do you try to keep it as close as possible to the original structure? If you do stray from the template, how do the three of you keep it cohesive so it doesn’t turn into chaos?
Sophie: If we were to ever write a Haiku Salut rules and regulations document, the first policy would be “don’t stray from the template.” The way we patchwork the songs together means there are certain triggers for other parts of the songs; it would be chaos if we didn’t stick the original structure. Chaos, I tell you.
JD: I’m really enjoying the synergy of “Los Elephantes” and its video. Who directed the video? Whose visual concept was it? And on a more superficial note, who hired the melancholic cutie in the video?
Sophie: Ha! That melancholic cutie is Louise’s sister’s boyfriend! Rumor has it he was spotted in Heat magazine the other month. The video was made by a very talented bunch of people called Albion Sky Productions. We gave them the song and they wrote the story board and had complete control over the whole process. They did an incredible job.
JD: When you create a song, do you envision it as a narrative that’s unfolding, or a pervasive mood, or a color, or…?
Sophie: At the beginning we used to write the songs with a secret narrative because it helped the song along. That sounds completely pretentious, doesn’t it? At the time we were just being silly and it worked. Now when we write, the mood of the song is determined by the phrase of the first instrument that is brought to it. I might suggest writing a song to a color! Good idea!
JD: Are any of you by chance singers too and do you think in the future you’d want to branch out with vocals added to your instrumental compositions?
Sophie: We’ve been in a band together before where we all sang (and so did the other five people), but the idea surrounding that band didn’t seem to be the music. It was mainly a philosophy. None of us would consider ourselves singers though. If we were to include vocals to any future songs, it would need to be used as another instrument. I think people rely too heavily on the vocals and lyrics being the main focus of music when it really doesn’t need to be that way!
JD: If you could provide the score for a film that already exists, which film would you pick?
Sophie: The Studio Ghibli-produced film Spirited Away.
JD: What are some of your favorite soundtracks/scores for or instrumentals in films? My faves are the score for director Michael Winterbottom’s Jude, the score by Ryuichi Sakamoto for Wuthering Heights, certain instrumentals from A Single Man, and the opening theme to the film Animal Kingdom.
Sophie: The soundtrack of the animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville is incredible and Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack to Amélie, which is an obvious choice but it’s just perfect! There’s also a film called Dead Man’s Shoes which was filmed in the next village along from ours. There isn’t a specific score for the film, but the songs picked for the soundtrack couldn’t be better.
JD: Can you please list your official site(s) online where we can find out more about you and Tricolore?
JD: Surprise! I have one final question for you: Can you please divulge a secret that you haven’t revealed during any other interview yet?
Sophie: We are the pioneers in the bum-bag (fanny-pack) revival and are planning a range of Haiku Salut bum-bags for both practical and fashionable reasons.