Music Q&A:
The Blackheart Orchestra

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British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist duo comprising long-term collaborators Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington. Currently touring, they head to the north in the autumn.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
There are so many influences – between the two of us our musical landscape is pretty far-reaching. We love anything from atmospheric rock bands such as Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, Daughter, Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes to the new classical composers Ludovico Einaudi, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, to the electronic creations of Jon Hopkins and Olafur Arnalds and the out and out pop of Chvrches. As for our sound hopefully it is our own but I am sure included in its ingredients are everything we have ever listened to and experienced throughout the years. Our music is often described as “ethereal pop”, which actually feels quite fitting, as we often combine acoustic instruments with old synthesisers, keyboards, percussion, etc to create an atmosphere and mood for the songs whilst hopefully at the same time creating memorable hooks and melodies.

How have you evolved as a duo over the years?
Looking back over the last few years has made me realise what a huge journey it has been for both of us. In the very early days it was just two vocals and one acoustic guitar. Fast forward a few years and the stage is now cluttered with numerous acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mandola, keyboards, old synthesisers, omnichords, melodica, kalimba and drums and this collection doesn’t seem to be slowing just yet (I blame eBay). I think that not only has our collection of instruments expanded but we have grown a lot as artists. We have become much more confident and experimental and less scared to push boundaries. We are lucky that we are great friends (most of the time) so we can really open up creatively and allow ourselves to be vulnerable without the fear of judgement. I feel that this is really nurturing.

Were there many alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
We have spent the last few years, three albums and nearly 1,000 gigs under the name Blackheart. We developed an incredibly loyal fanbase but the name never felt completely appropriate, so last year we decided that our music had developed so much that with the fourth album it was time for a change and to find a name that not only reflected our current musical direction but that also developed and evolved the Blackheart “brand” on to the next stage. We decided on The Blackheart Orchestra as we were sitting in the sun at Blenheim Palace waiting for Einaudi to walk on stage but I think the leaders before that were Dear Lawrence or Brother. There was a pretty large list at one point.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?

We are just in the middle of recording the new album at the moment, which is always an adventure. It always surprises us how our songs seem to take on a life of their own once we take them into the studio, which is always fun. We are also shooting a video for a new single that is due out in September, so these things are pretty much keeping us out of trouble at the moment.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
We are an orchestra of just two people. We use combinations of instruments that no one would ever put together, like toy keyboards, omnichord and melodica, bowed guitar, piano and ancient synthesisers, drums, bass, kalimba and flugelhorn. We “think like an orchestra and sound like an eight piece band”, or so we were described on a live BBC concert we did recently.

Tell us about your worst live show.
This is a tricky one. We have had so many memorable shows, usually for good reasons but not always! But I think the worst show had to be back in 2011. We had set up at a gig and soundchecked and then for some reason not one person showed up to the show, so we packed everything away whilst feeling incredibly sorry for ourselves. Then on the way home we got hit by a 44 ton truck on the motorway when the driver fell asleep. Amazingly we escaped with only very minor injuries but our beloved old tour bus lost his life, so yeah, all things considered, that was a pretty crappy show!

Antonia Charlesworth

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The Blackheart Orchestra

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