With today’s music industry guaranteeing few composers a stable career, it pays to be as dexterous, versatile and ambitious as Solomon Grey. The London-based duo comprising of Tom Kingston & Joe Wilson compose gripping soundtracks for film and tv, as well as crafting boundary-pushing, neo-classical alternative pop that fully realises their artistic aspirations. Since issuing Selected Works, a mixture of early singles and soundtrack cuts for Decca in 2015, the duo have composed bigger scores and developed further with the backing of the Mercury KX imprint. They released Wonderful World, one of the ‘most personal’ songs from their forthcoming LP, last week and were gracious enough to discuss their creative process and the vinyl revival, in our new interview. The duo play an intimate, seated show at Band on the Wall next month and release Human Music next week.
When did you first get together to create music? Was it with pending assignments or particular goals in mind, and was it all clear when you did where your collaboration might take you?
‘No way! Nothing but darkness for a good few years. We wrote everything, tried anything and didn’t have any agenda at all. It just got more and more intriguing and serious as time went on. It’s only in the past few years those have become parts of our work. Soundtrack work has really pushed us with goals of what to create. Deadlines and a large number of pieces to write gave us a kick up the backside. Looking back on it all now (16 years of sitting together) we have been pulled gradually, over years into it becoming our job’.
Your film and TV work, created for acclaimed series such as The Casual Vacancy and The Last Post, represent some of your most dramatic and emphatic composition. How do you know when you’ve found the right sound or motif for a piece and having scored multiple successful pictures, what do you have ambitions to score in future?
‘Well we just write a lot of music that’s informed by our research and ideas about how to work on the project. All of this is normally outlined during the first meeting. What we want to try and how we want to do it. If it feels right then we and the director start to make a plan. Then it’s just a case of presenting a plethora of ideas and music and seeing what inspires the rest of the team and we go from there. We always write music before any filming begins so when edits do start to come in it is already interwoven with the other tools the director uses for storytelling. We have a few things in the pipeline. We would absolutely kill to do a film next but really, if we get the freedom to write what we want then any project excites us.’
Soundtrack albums have been integral to the vinyl resurgence of recent years, and composers from SURVIVE to Angelo Badalamenti have seen their worked lapped up on wax. Have you been surprised by the popularity of vinyl and the contemporary OST in recent years and does it affirm what you strive to do with Solomon Grey?
‘Not really surprised, very happy. It’s a beautiful way of hearing things and has a relationship with the artist in a much greater way than online (not for everyone of course). The OST rise has, in our opinion, risen at the same time as the dominance of modern tv viewing. People have a greater incite into music with film/tv because of their broader viewing options and also the higher quality. SURVIVE might be an obvious choice now but at the time it was groundbreaking in the tv world. I love that people are getting into this genre. It’s a fun and exciting new era for this type of music. We are only just scratching the surface with how we interact with it all but Solomon Grey hopefully has a place in it all.’
Having discussed instrumentation, it’s important to highlight that vocally, works such as your new track Closed Door are absolutely sublime! Who are your favourite vocalists and at what point did you realise that harmonies, such as those on Closed Door, were a strength of yours?
‘We love every type of vocal, from raw to considered. We are very into technique and where a vocal sits. There’s lots of people who do that incredibly. For us, it’s about relaxation. After a few demos it’s pretty obvious to us where the vocal is heading and while you are trying to get there a few lovely random things happen. The harmonies for Closed Door in particular originate from how we performed our last tour. Looping and harmonising vocals. Building a stack in the moment. We have done it for years but on this album the idea was there from the start and integral to the way the track worked and was written.’
Upon its launch last year, the Mercury KX imprint with which you’re to release your new record, was described as a ‘post-classical’ label, for artists creating ‘music at the fringes of classical, alternative and electronica’. Are you proud to be a part of the label and do you feel that a clearly-defined outline for a label helps to reassure artists of their creative direction and to create with conviction?
‘Well it has definitely helped us that we were put onto this new label. It’s the right thing and has the right energy. We were slowly joining up the two areas of our work: soundtracks and our band releases, and just at the right time KX came along and let us do exactly what we wanted. Very very happy.’
Some people may be unaware that if they head to your site, they can sign up to receive your EP The Dathanna for free! What can you tell us about the EP and how does it differ from your most recent work?
‘It was the first time we really explored the cinematic side of our music. We threw everything at it and it was an incredible journey. We went all the way down the coast of Ireland and back to the place where we started writing the first Solomon Grey album. This lighthouse at the south west tip (the teardrop) of Ireland. It started so many things for us and still has echoes in what we do now. [We] Think we even still used some of the channel/track settings for a starting point on Human music.’
Have you seen footage from Nils Frahm’s latest project at Funkhaus Berlin? What are your thoughts on his new record and who else is really exciting/inspiring you so far this year?
‘Watched this a few times already. He’s so great, love what he’s doing and all makes a lot of sense to us. That studio is incredible! It’s so great to put yourself in these places/positions which connect you to the work in a different way. When we start writing for a new project, it is always hand in hand with a new way of looking at how we work. It’s exciting that way. We become more playful in the way we write and less reliant upon old tricks.
But also, it doesn’t have to be a huge change or an expensive studio. Many things can put you in this head space for work. A new synth, going to another studio for a day, working with someone else, using some recordings from your phone, whatever it is, it is a stimulus and can end up being vital or just part of the journey. We sound like t***s. That’s enough for now. See you at the gig!’