The ambient-electronica-jazz soundscape City is the new album from Manchester guitarist and composer Stuart McCallum. Featuring a handful of seasoned musicians it finds McCallum stepping further into the world of electronica but still maintaining a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments. He launches the album with a live show – 4 August, RNCM, Manchester – and heads out on tour in the autumn.
When recording jazz-electronica how much of it is processed versus live instrumentation and how does it translate in your live shows?
All of the music is initially written on acoustic instruments and then recorded into the computer. We then do a lot of processing and add the electronics and then we might change the composition to fit with the electronics, which may involve re-recording the acoustic instruments. Overall we try not to think about it too much and make music that sounds good to our ears. Live we can play acoustically, using synths and trigger samples to recreate the sounds on the recording.
City features a host of guest instrumentalists and guest vocalists. Which type of musician is easier to work with?
Everyone is equally easy and challenging to work with. I generally try and surround myself with nice people who are into the kind of music we make so that it stays a fun process.
Much of your past work has been collaborative and you’ve worked with a range of people on City. Do you ever work entirely alone and which do you prefer?
Yes, I do do solo concerts, which I really enjoy because of the freedom that you have to move between sections and tracks at will. I also work alone in the studio a lot, which is a lot of fun. That said, I also really enjoy collaborating with other people so that I don’t have to make all the decisions, and generally because they are great at what they do and really inspiring to work with, so they bring things out of me that I wouldn’t be able to do myself.
Are you currently pursuing any other projects?
Yes, I’m currently working with Peter Gabriel’s label, Real World Records, on a project. I also work in an acoustic guitar duo with Manchester guitarist Mike Walker. And I’m working on a collaborative album with some musicians based in Brisbane, Australia, and some from the UK, which is a lot of fun and an interesting way to work. I also lecture part time at Leeds College of Music, which is great because I get to work with lots of talented and inspiring young musicians.
How has City evolved from your previous work?
I wanted it to move in a more electronic direction so I asked Richard Spaven – drummer for Flying Lotus, Jose James and Guru – to produce the record. I’d worked with him with the Cinematic Orchestra and we also worked on his solo album together and just had a really good personal and creative rapport, so it felt like the right thing to do. There’s also vocal tracks on the album – featuring Manchester’s JP Cooper, who has recently signed to Island Records, Sharlene Hector from Basement Jaxx and Sophie Barker from Zero 7.
Is the city of the title Manchester and how has the city itself influenced your music?
I guess that Manchester has been the city that has had the greatest impact on both my personal and creative life as I’ve lived and worked here for 20 years. I grew up musically within the community of musicians of Manchester so I only write and play the music the way that I do because of living here.