James Vella (Yndi Halda/A Lily) : two sides of the same coin

The Bearded Russian returns with another interview, this time with James Vella, member of Yndi Halda and mastermind behind A Lily .With post-rock having a bad time with dozens of Explosion in the Sky and MONO wannabes, I wanted to know what have they, one of the most promising bands in the genre,been up to.

It has been three years since Yndi Halda's debut, "Enjoy Eternal Bliss" was released and critically acclaimed. What have you been up to since 2007?

James - As a band, we’ve actually been working quite steadily for the past three years. We toured all the territories that our first record was released – UK, Europe, Asia, the US – and began writing the follow-up to that record, but we’ve done so sporadically, more part-time than bands usually tend to. The members of this band don’t spend a lot of time together – we all live far away from each other – and we’ve all been busy studying or working for the last few years, and so the work we’re able to do with yndi halda is a little spread out.

How different is the new stuff that you have been writing,compared to "Enjoy Eternal Bliss"?

James -To us, it seems very different. Of course, it’s the same 5 people working on the music, and so I’m sure there will be a lot of noticeable similarities, but we’re a little older now, a little more musically aware and capable. I’m really excited about these new pieces of music, they’re my favourite songs we’ve ever written and there is only a little bit of work left before they’ll be ready to record.

The new songs are vocal – we’re not an instrumental band any more – and it seems like the extremes of the first set of music are being simultaneously pulled in their own direction: the pop parts are a lot more pop now, and the classical-influence stuff is a lot more classical-sounding.

When are you planning to release a new album?

James -We have no strict release plans. We’ve just finished a set of demos of most of the new tracks, which should give us some idea of direction for the record itself, but we’re mostly just allowing Jack and Brendan to finish university for the moment, so we can start working on the album all together once we have a little more time. I’m hoping we’ll be finished by the end of the year, but there’s still a lot of work left to do.

A writer from the Silent Ballet said of your debut : "Few bands have come out of the gates with such passion, and this is why Yndi Halda has gathered such a following." .Does that ( and the rest of of press and fans ) pressure you guys in any way,when composing new songs?

James -There is a lot more pressure this time around than with the first album. The first set of songs was written while we were at school, an entirely unknown band recording its first tentative steps. I think it must make some difference to how we write and what we end up writing, but I don’t think we really find ourselves feeling nervous at all, more just more selective…perhaps because we don’t want to let people down, or perhaps because we’re just more mature songwriters now and so are more capable of composing exactly what we’d like to.

In the last few years the post-rock scene became a lot bigger. In an endless market of post-rock bands, what do you feel that you bring to the genre?

James -We don’t really think of ourselves as a post-rock band. None of us listen to “post-rock” music very much (we do all like bands like Do Make Say Think, Tortoise, Talk Talk, Labradford, Sigur Ros etc., but this isn’t by any means our genre of choice), and none of us really intended to make post-rock music. I understand why people consider us a “post-rock” band, but it’s not something we concern ourselves with. It’s never on our minds that we need to bring anything novel to the genre, because we don’t really follow it or consider ourselves within it.

Our favourite bands in the genre are generally bands from the first wave of post-rock, the bands that really defined the genre and sounded like nothing else at the time. I guess this is my impression of post-rock, that it was interesting and exciting at one time, but I can’t really think of any current bands that fall within the genre that I listen to often.

About A Lily. You plan to release a new album, "Joy and James: the songs I lost in the fog" by the end of the year. What can you tell us about it?

James - I’m really excited about the new A Lily record. It’s been with me for around 10 months now, and it feels great to have it finished. It’s currently being mixed, which will take a couple of weeks, and then I’ll figure out the release plans. In a sense, it’s a concept record, with one major theme running through it, and a few motifs that appear and reappear in various forms. I recorded the whole thing in my home set-up, apart from a couple of drum parts and some piano, and have some friends playing woodwind, brass and string arrangements – some of these friends are joining the live band, which will be touring once the record is finished.

Your debut "wake:sleep:" and follow up "I Dress My Ankles With God's Sweetest Words" are two very different albums, one electronic release and the closer to folk music. What influenced you this time, to write " Joy..." ?

James - Musically, the album is a lot more pop-centric than the previous records. The first album was written largely on a computer, while the second was an acoustic record that I wrote while I didn’t have a working computer. This new album is somewhere in between. I gained enough interest in acoustic music from God’s Sweetest Words to continue using real instruments as a foundation rather than addition, but remembered how much I missed making drum loops from home recordings when I started using a computer again.

I’ve never really written a “verse-chorus-verse” album, and I really wanted to do something like that on the A Lily record. Something that I can experiment with and have fun with, but that structurally resembles pop music.

Besides Yndi Halda and A Lily, you are also the owner of O Rosa Records. What is you main goal, with the label?

James - The main goal of the label is to return something to music in general. I feel like writing music is a beautiful thing, but something that’s necessarily very insular and a little anti-social, especially the way I write, alone at home. I wanted to do something in music that takes in more people and looks outward, and so for me the ideal way to do this is to release other people’s music, to present unto the world something that I feel it can benefit from.

Recently, however, I haven’t been doing so much with O Rosa. I work in music during the day and wouldn’t want to spread my efforts too thin. I’m maintaining the label’s back catalogue and making sure everything that’s been released previously is getting attention, but I don’t plan on releasing anything new anytime soon, unless something really special comes up.

How hard is to keep a label running,in the age of mp3s and digital music? In a time when anybody can download an album in a couple of minutes, do you believe that packaging and design/artwork are getting more important than before ( pre-internet! ) ?

James - I’m a huge fan of packaging. Maybe it belies the current climate, but I never download music rather than buying it. I always much prefer something tangible that I can hold. I appreciate that the immediacy is desirable, especially now than anything is potentially available at any given time, but I’m hoping that there are enough people who share my opinion and will continue to buy physical formats.

I don’t think that packaging is necessarily any more important than before – I’m not sure this will convince people to wait for a CD or vinyl rather than downloading, - but for me it always has been important.

What are your plans for the future?

James - Current top priorities are finishing and releasing the new A Lily and yndi halda records, and then touring both. Feels like a lot of hard work ahead…!

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