INTERVIEW: ELDA (Andrew Woodhead and Aaron Diaz) (new album Shiny/Things and touring 7-14 March)

Aaron Diaz and Andrew Woodward with Kari Eskild Havenstrøm
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ELDA is two Birmingham-based musicians, pianist Andrew Woodhead and trumpeter Aaron Diaz. They have a new album out which features Norwegian vocalist Kari Eskild Havenstrøm, and are about to go on the road as a trio for a few dates around England. Andrew and Aaron spoke to Peter Bacon:

LondonJazz News: The core of ELDA is the two of you. How did you meet and what is it that keeps you playing together?

Andrew Woodhead: Aaron and I started playing together about five years ago when he came back to Birmingham from Gothenburg. We’re struggling to remember exactly how we met but suspect it may have been through mutual friend (and incredible bassist) Chris Mapp.

We have a lot in common musically, and I see ELDA as a distillation of all those aesthetics and influences, as well as a vehicle for the electronic side of our musical personalities. We started bringing in special guests to play with us as a way of pushing the music in new directions and bringing an element of unpredictability and excitement to the gigs.

LJN: The band’s new album Shiny/Things features Kari Eskild Havenstrøm. How did you meet her and what does she bring to the band?

AW: I met Kari in 2013 when we played together at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the Trondheim/Birmingham Exchange, we had a great time working together on that project and I’d been looking for an excuse to bring her back over to the UK ever since.

ELDA seemed like the perfect fit for Kari’s amazing vocals; I think her presence really 'grounds' the music and gives the electronic elements something to crystallise around. Her versatility makes her great to work with, and on this record you can hear her moving between beautiful melodic passages, textural/'noise' based sounds and (on the last track) creative phrasing and rephrasing of lyrics.

LJN: I first heard the two of you separately and playing acoustic instruments. You are both increasingly using electronics, as does Kari on the album. What drew you to the 'knob-twiddling' side of modern music? Do you regard it as 'just another instrument' or is it more than that?

Aaron Diaz: I got into electronics as a way to harmonise and ‘multitrack’ the trumpet in live performance after recording an album with lots of brass accompaniment in the arrangements. At the time I was really influenced by the sounds of trumpeters such as Neil Yates and Arve Henriksen who always incorporated electronics as part of their sonic palette, and I kept adding elements of their technique to my set-up.

Recently, the biggest jump I have made is from analogue equipment (mixing desks and ‘pedal’ loops) to a laptop set-up, which has blown so many musical and sonic possibilities wide open.

I guess electronics could be seen as an instrument-in-itself, one approach is to use it as a way of broadening one’s instrument (in my case the trumpet), being able to place it in different musical situations.

As a horn player improvising in a traditional, acoustic setting, you're given your space to improvise until ‘your time's up’ or physical fatigue sets in, then you often become removed, and/or inactive from the collective music making you were once a part of. Electronics allow me, through the use of reverbs, delays, looping and sampling to remain musically active and in the moment throughout the entirety of the performance, not limited by the acoustic instrument.

AW: I think the tipping point for me delving into the world of electronics was being asked to do a freely improvised solo gig for the first time. The venue in question didn’t have a piano and I really didn’t feel like I could get the same kind of nuanced response from a keyboard-with-a-piano-sound, so I decided to do the gig on a minimal set-up of Pocket Piano (a tiny lo-fi synthesizer with a handful of keys and a few different synth modes) plus a Loop pedal. This set me off on a year-long project exploring this set-up which eventually culminated in my first solo album, Pocket Piano Improvisations.

ELDA in performance
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I really enjoyed working within/against/around the limitations of the hardware set-up during this time and added a few bits to it gradually, but now like Aaron I’ve embraced the laptop as a way of massively expanding the possibilities of what I can do musically. The pitfall of the laptop though is that its limitlessness becomes its own limitation in a way – it’s easy to get caught up in what is possible as opposed to what is the most musical thing to do in a given situation, so I’m constantly having to check myself in that regard.

Where Aaron’s electronic set-up is an extension/addition to his trumpet, I see my electronics and synths as a completely separate instrument to the piano; on the face of it there’s a keyboard shaped thing in front of me but the actual physics of the sound production are totally different and as a musician you have to change your approach.

LJN: You are very busy on the Birmingham scene, but do you get much chance to tour with a band? Are you looking forward to being on the road?

AW: The last tour I did was for my solo album in 2016, and it’s a very different feeling being on the road with a group. I love the way the music develops over the course of consecutive dates, you start to feel some of those almost-telepathic musical moments creeping in, and it really makes you collectively think about the essence of what you’re trying to say – I always think the music gets a lot leaner and more to-the-point as a result.

We recorded Shiny/Things at the end of a short run of dates in 2016, and I think you can hear some of that empathy/collective energy in the record.

LJN: I know from the regular gigs you organise under the name Fizzle that you are not a fan of labels – every line-up is described as 'Improvised Music'. But how would you describe ELDA’s music to someone who had never heard it? And what are the influences the three of you explore in this group?

AW: You’re right, I don’t really believe in labels! I think genre has ceased to be relevant for so long now that it’s almost become a bit of a music-interview trope to say that…

AD: I’d say… freely improvised electronic music, taking inspiration from such Scandinavian art/sound labels as Rune Grammaphon and Hubro.

AW: The Hubro label is a big one for both of us, we’re always swapping CDs of theirs between us. I love Morten Qvineld’s album Personal Piano, it kind of smushes together two really different worlds, mixing quite gristly lo-fi texture-based stuff with hooky almost-pop elements. I like that he’s not afraid to make music that’s 'pretty' as well as challenging, often within the same track; I think that’s an idea we’re striving towards with ELDA. Soundwise I’d say we definitely take inspiration from groups like Supersilent and Food.

LJN: How much of Shiny/Things was pre-composed and how much created in the moment? And how will the live gigs compare to what one hears on the CD?

AD: We approached the recording a bit differently to how we had performed together before, which was pretty much plug-in and play. We had recorded an EP previously in 2015 and were conscious not to gravitate to the same sounds in the making of Shiny/Things. We put together a bunch of short composed sketches that we could use as platforms for collective improvisation and some of them made it through to the final album.

On the gigs that followed the recording of Shiny/Things we would allow some of that material to creep into our sets whilst playing, be it a melodic line or chordal pattern, but there were no ‘tunes’ added to a setlist.

AW: I would say every gig will be different! We have our Sheffield acoustic gig, in Leeds we’re doing a brand new double-trio collaboration with the incredible Treppenwitz, and our Birmingham and Oswestry sets might feature some very special guests (watch this space…)  We’ll revisit some of the album material on this tour, but will be doing some new stuff too.

LJN: Might there be another album as a result of the tour?

AW: There aren’t any studio plans this time around, but we’ll be recording the gigs (especially the new collaborations) so you never know!

Me and Aaron are always cooking up the next ELDA plans though, we recently premiered a new collaboration with mbira player Millicent Chapanda and vocalist Didier Kisala at Ideas of Noise Festival in August 2018. They brought a much more direct, groove-based energy to the band and we’d love to explore that more.

AD: We also recently spent an afternoon in the studio with Chris Mapp and Sam Wooster, and their expansive electronic set-ups. We’re sifting through the sessions with the same approach to our last two sessions with Kari, with a view to put another record out in the year sometime along with some live shows. (pp)

ELDA, featuring Kari Eskild Havenstrøm's Shiny/Things is out now. The band is playing the following dates:

7 March: Notes and Sounds, Sheffield
8 March: Open Source Arts, Leeds
10 March: Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
11 March: Improv's Greatest Hits, Bristol
12 March: The Lamp Tavern, Birmingham
13 March: The Vortex, London
14 March: The Noise Upstairs, Manchester

LINK: Andrew Woodhead's website 

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