Portico Quartet’s Duncan Bellamy and Jack Wyllie gang up to face the quick-fire question machine
Hello, where are you right now and what can you see?
DB: “We’re in our studio. From my drum kit, I can see a piano with lots of plants on top, our computer and Prism Atlas interface, Jack with his saxophones, another piano with more plants, and an array of synths and samplers.”
You’ve always stood out for embracing electronics – what appeals?
JW: “We started off using effects pedals and contact mics to push the sound of the acoustic instruments live, but we’ve been introducing synths and drum machines and we use the studio more to craft our compositions. It’s not that we avoid developing our approach to acoustic instruments, but combining that with electronics is our way of moving our music forward.”
As journalists, we like a label. What would you say to people who have you down as a Mercury Prize-nominated jazz outfit?
DB: “Probably that they haven’t really followed or listened to us very closely.”
JW: “I wouldn’t describe most of our music as jazz. If you take away the saxophone it doesn’t resemble it very much.”
How much do you think perceptions of you, musically, matter?
DB: “You have to accept that, for better or worse, people have an idea of you and even if it’s inaccurate or outdated, there is little you can do to change it.”
Releasing an album isn’t the event it used to be. Discuss…
DB: “It’s just a function of the huge volume of music that is being recorded and distributed now. People’s attentions are under increasing strain and it’s impossible for an album to maintain its status in the way it once might have.”
You’ve put out two albums this year, is that your new normal?
DB: “It was driven by the pandemic and being bunkered down in the studio – making music being one of the only things we could safely do. It is nice to be productive, so I’m not going to entirely rule it out in the future.”
JW: “I’m not sure where we’re going to take it, but ‘Terrain’ came out very easily and we might dig more into that direction.”
They’re very distinct releases, can you describe the differences?
DB: “We set out to write ‘Monument’, but alongside this we developed ‘Terrain’. We just felt we had something to say about this unique moment we found ourselves in. Eventually the pieces insisted on being distinct releases, but they are bound together and connected somehow, even if it’s not obviously so. ‘Terrain’ is more of a mourning, and ‘Monument’ feels more hopeful, like a daydream of the better days we hoped for.”
So you intended to make this kind of record back in May and ‘Terrain’ popped out. It’s funny how that happens isn’t it?
DB: “Sometimes things just have a life of their own. Sometimes a space opens up that allows the music to appear. ‘Terrain’ felt very unforced, it really just flowed out very naturally.”
Back to those labels, do you wish people would stop mentioning the hang in the same breath as Portico Quartet?
JW: “I sometimes get a bit frustrated if there’s an over-emphasis on the instrument, as I don’t think that’s the interesting thing about our music. But it’s a part of our sound and important to our history. I’ve got no problem with people mentioning it.”