“We wanted Northwest to be a vessel”: an interview with experimental-pop band Northwest

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Northwest is a unique experimental-pop band located in London, UK. Currently Northwest spends their time in Spain where they recorded a series of the live show videos.

The band consists of two members Ignacio and Mariuca who are self-taught, open-minded and extremely interesting, talented and creative people and artists.

They explore different genres and dimensions and are in full control of their work. Northwest often collaborates with other creatives and recently they founded their own label Tempel Arts.

Read the interview to learn more about Northwest and their unique world. The questions are answered by Mariuca.

Art is the most human thing there is.

How are you? How are you feeling?

We’re doing fine but, like many of us, quite tired of this situation.

Did this current situation impact your creativity in any way?

It did. We obviously lost a very important part of creativity, which is performing live and connecting with our listeners face-to-face, and also some very important basic rights, which obviously affects you mentally, but we decided to focus on the positive side of things and, as a result, gained a lot of time for creation and reflection. 

We finally had time to accept commissions for soundtracks and things like that, to learn new instruments and software, write new songs… think about life in general, gain perspective. One of the best things we did was finally founding our own record label Tempel Arts, which was something we had in mind for years.

You are definitely more than a music band, you’re writers, performers, models, directors. What’s your background and how did you come up with the idea of Northwest and that it will be bigger than just music?

Humans are complex and have different ways of self-expression and communication, and we’re no exception. We love music, but we also love cinema, visual and performative art, literature… When we decided to create Northwest, we sat and wrote down on a piece of paper what we wanted Northwest to be. We both wrote a very similar thing. We wanted Northwest to be a vessel, a playground or a lab where we could play, experiment and express ourselves as freely as possible, and that’s what we’re trying to do

Regarding our background, Ignacio has been doing music all his life. Before Northwest, he had a band called Al Berkowitz and released several records with them and on his own as well as soundtracks for documentaries and short films. At first, he taught himself how to record, produce, play instruments… which I find very impressive in a time where there weren’t YouTube tutorials. Later in his life, after finishing his degree in psychology, he got a BA in musicology and a master’s in composition. 

And I, studied digital design and during my time at the university I founded a video production company with my best friends and started making music videos for free for our friends. Even though I’ve been writing songs all my life, I didn’t start making music properly until very late in my life (I was almost 25). Like Ignacio, I’m self-taught. I have never studied music. Actually Ignacio taught me how to play 4 basic chords on the piano and that opened a whole universe for me. I started learning more on my own and from then on, I dove deep into production, engineering, recording, etc.

Where are you located now? And does the environment affect your music?

We’ve been living in London for the past 5 years but right now we’re in Spain. We came here only for a couple of months but because of COVID we decided to stay longer.

Yes, I think you cannot write in a vacuum. Everything around you affects you, whether you like it or not, so the environment is a big part of the music you end up creating.

How did you come up with the idea to film live performances and was it hard to organize it during COVID?

When COVID happened all of our concerts were cancelled. We had been working for a long time on this live show and we felt sad and frustrated that our listeners couldn’t see it because of COVID. We talked and decided that making a live recording would be a nice thing to do. They cannot come to see us but we can try to bring the live performance to them, even if it’s virtual. 

We were going to do it in La Nave Que Late which is a restored warehouse that our friend Mela uses for all sorts of events but then she showed us the derelict warehouse next to it, which they use for storage and even though it had no electricity, we felt it was the perfect place. In the middle of the concert it started raining and because it’s an abandoned warehouse, there were leaks on the roof. We decided to continue even with the rain falling down on us. Luckily no gear was harmed and the whole concert with the rain has something magical about it. We were also super lucky to have our very talented friend Álvaro de la Hoz behind the cameras.

Your music is dark and sometimes scary (in a good way), if there was a soundtrack to the underworld I think “Sun” would be a perfect one. Moreover, it reminds me of arthouse movies. Where do you find the inspiration, and were you ever offered to write music for a film or a TV show?

We don’t want our music to be scary! Hahah but I guess some of the harmonies and effects we use, that are normally found in contemporary music, are associated with darker more auteur kind of cinema because of film directors like Kubrick, so it makes sense that you feel it that way, even though it’s not our intention. Lately, we’ve also been very into soundtracks composers such as Colin Stetson, Bobby Krlic or Mica Levi who usually work in the “new terror” genre (films like Midsommar, The Lighthouse, etc) so I guess some of that might be reflected in our music.

Over all, we’re greatly inspired by artists and bands like The Beatles, Radiohead, Portishead, Fiona Apple, Elliot Smith, Mark Hollis… we admire them because they make timeless music and they have never been afraid to experiment, and that’s what we’re trying to do as well. We actually made a mixtape and a playlist with some of the artists that have made us, if anyone is interested.

And answering your last question: yes! Both Ignacio and I write and compose soundtracks for films, documentaries, podcasts… The majority of them are unreleased because they’re being shown in film festivals but you can listen to some of them on our record label Tempel Arts.

What’s your music and lyrics writing process like? Do you combine both together? And who is responsible for what part of music and lyrics writing?

Northwest is a 50/50 collaboration. We don’t have a fixed position in the band but until now, Ignacio has been in charge of the production and I have been more in charge of lyrics, but we both write the music and we’re open to completely switching or mixing positions in the next records.

We both like to work alone, so each of us would compose or write something in solitude and then we will send each other what we’ve been creating and then the other one will take it from there and vice versa.

Guide us through your recording process. Your music is deep and has a form and I see it as a sphere, for some reason. How long does it take you to record music, find the right sound, write the lyrics?

That’s really cool to hear!

All songs by Northwest are very heavy layered, there’s hundreds of instruments and vocals happening at the same time, so it takes us a lot of time to record, produce and mix them. Normally, years.

You mentioned that you recorded music in different countries. How does it usually happen? Do you book studios or travel with your equipment? It sounds like a lot of fun to do what you love wherever you go!

Yes, it is fun. At least for us. We’re very lucky to be making music in 2021. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, the advanced and affordable technology there’s available and the second hand market you can have a totally professional (and portable!) studio for like 2000 euros. 

So answering your questions, we recorded around 90% of it on our home studio (which travels with us, like you said), then we recorded a tube organ in a church in the middle of the English countryside and some vocals and piano in the studios of City, University of London where Ignacio was studying his master’s degree at the time. 

How did you find your aesthetic?

I think, it just occurred naturally. We never consciously said: “we’re going to look like this”, we just naturally gravitated towards what compels us aesthetically speaking. But it’s an ever changing thing like the music we make. It will evolve with us. 

You’re not only musicians but also theatrical performers. What goes into creating your show and music videos? How do you come up with the ideas?

I wouldn’t call ourselves theatrical performers, but thanks for the compliment! It’s true that we work very hard to do the best shows and videos we can but, since we’re completely self financed and don’t have any corporate support or an advance from a record label, we normally work with very tight budgets and limited resources which forces us to really use our imagination. 

I used to get very upset about not having money to do all the things we had in our mind but, with time, I’ve learnt that the best art comes from limitation. That’s when creativity really shines. Some of our favourite videos have been recorded with one crappy camera with no money in 1-2 days.

You mentioned financial aspect and I think one of the most important questions for the artists with big ideas is the financial aspect of it indeed. How do you support your projects?

Thank you for this question. I think it’s very bad how obscure the financial side of music is, so thank you for giving us the opportunity to shed some light on it. We wished somebody had explained to us these things when we started.

We started earning money from music around two years ago. Before that we financed everything with our savings, with other jobs (cleaning toilets at a b&b, teaching Spanish & guitar, coding websites…) and grants (I was lucky enough to earn a grant for my animation project Fotogramas). Then, when we started making money from music we were able to finally finance music with music. Our income comes from different sources (mainly royalties, streaming, the negotiation of rights of use of our music in TV and films, records and merch sales, donations from our listeners and commissions). 

How did you know that this is something you had to do, that art and music is your path? Was it natural or you had to fight for it?

We definitely had to fight for it, and we’re still fighting

Ignacio was very sure that he wanted to devote his life to music from a very early age. It took longer for me to realize it, but at 24 I remember feeling that if I didn’t try I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

Anyway, it took us both a long time to really take it seriously because we both grew up in an environment where music (and art in general) was, at its best, a nice hobby to have but never a full time job. We didn’t have any reference. We didn’t know anybody who made music professionally and our parents, even though they were very supportive of our artistic side, didn’t encourage it as much as a career choice. We all saw people like Thom Yorke on the TV but nobody in our inner circle believed that life was within our reach. And when nobody sees that possibility you also become blind and start believing that’s out of your reach

My father actually is a great musician, but he, of course, had a day job. My mother used to tell me that I sang out of tune hahah. She now regrets it and is super supportive, but I always tell her that she was right! Of course, I sang out of tune, I was 12 years ago, but I had the rest of my life to get better at it. That’s the thing. You don’t have to be born with an otherworldly freakish talent to pursue something. It’s good to have an innate talent, but it’s nothing if you don’t work on it. Working hard is everything. It’s also the only thing that gives you the confidence you’ll need to fight those outer (and internalised) voices that tell you: you can’t make it.

So what is music and art for you?

I think, the sole existence of music is a surreal thing. If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t make any sense at all, but it also makes perfect sense hahah. Art is the most human thing there is. It’s older than civilizations, the coin and the markets. It comes by default.

It’s a way for humans to communicate with each other above borders and languages, and it’s quite an effective one. It goes deep and to the core very quickly. It touches something very primal in us. 

I remember listening to my favourite artists when I was young and feeling truly and deeply understood, less alone in the world. I still feel that way. 

And what would you say to someone who wants to become a musician but doesn’t know how?

Start with whatever you have in hand. 

For years, my only way of making music was just writing the lyrics on a piece of paper and composing the melody in my head. I didn’t know how to record, how to play an instrument… so a paper and my memory was all I had for years.

Then, when I was 15 I discovered post-rock music and I would put lyrics and vocal melodies to Mogwai and Russian Circles songs.

Then at 19, my parents bought me a second hand laptop that had Garageband and started making funny songs for my friends and so on so on… 

Ignacio recorded a whole LP when he was 17-18 with the microphone of his computer. 

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Thank you Ignacio amd Mariuca for taking your time and answering the questions and providing with the photos. And you definitely got a new fan 🖤

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