Citing Judas Priest as inspiration, acclaimed composer and virtuoso cellist Jo Quail is turning classical on its head with her left-field vibrations that have The Cure’s Robert Smith in her thrall.
Now on her third release, over the past couple of years she’s been making a conscious effort to step into a more experimental realm outside of classical, touring with U.S post-rock giants Caspian and performing twice at the Smith curated Meltdown festival.
New album Exsolve lands on 2 November, with the teaser trailer revealing a tense, shifting soundscape that toys with dramatic elements of heavy rock. It’s thanks, in part, to her decision to work with Chris Fielding, known more for his work with metal bands such as Conan, Electric Wizard and Witchsorrow.
‘Chris is really on it as a producer, and had no issue with my method of writing from a loop perspective, and dealing with all the various motifs that appear and withdraw throughout the compositions,’ she says. ‘Pretty much everything was reamped live, which brings the depth to the sound.’
Since launching her solo career in 2010, Jo has released a trio of albums and EPs respectively, and performed concerts of her works arranged for electric cello, orchestral ensembles and choirs everywhere from the UK to Australia.
With collaborations ranging from black-metal artist Myrkur and dark-jazz collective A-Sun Amissa to industrial musician FM Einheit, it’s fair to say that her melting pot of aural textures make for an always intriguing, never predictable output.
Ahead of the release of Exsolve, we catch up to learn what fuels her evocative sound…
What was the first piece of music you developed an obsession for?
Dark Sun by Stephen Montague. Hearing this incredibly powerful piece in a concert and being equally inspired by the arrangement if you like, and the use of non-standard instrumentation too; it created a chilling and other-worldly effect.
What’s the first live show you went to?
I used to go to lots of classical concerts with my mum from a very young age. First gig was probably The Black Crowes at Brixton.
What’s the first instrument you ever got hold of?
Piano, then recorder, then cello. And cello is my musical life now, though these days I include a few pedals too.
What is your worst musical habit?
Procrastination. I know how long it takes me to write and I know that the motif or thing I first fall in love with will inevitably get binned. It’s a daunting prospect but once I’m on the path, I write and play constantly and the pieces shape themselves with ease – it’s just the first jump that’s the trickiest.
What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve ever been given?
If you can’t hear or sing the note in your head you won’t make the shift!
Where do you discover new music?
Via my colleagues and friends and of course at gigs. A fair bit of YouTube too.
What’s your favourite venue?
Queen Elizabeth Hall, fantastic sound and crew and a beautiful stage!
Who is your current favourite band, artist or composer?
I’m listening to the new Judas Priest album a lot at the moment. It’s a very powerful return to form but appropriate and courteous somehow too, given their legacy.
What inspirations outside of music impact your music-making?
Many things: landscape, environment, literature, most recently watching a master blacksmith at work… everything feeds in.
What track of yours best represents your sound?
Whatever I have most recently written, in this case it would be Mandrel Cantus from my new record, but Gold from Five Incantations is a good place to start otherwise.
What’s next for you?
My new record Exsolve will be released on 2 November and I’m on the road supporting MONO throughout October and then Myrkur in December. I’m planning a big celebratory concert for Exsolve in the New Year, hope you can come!
01 Oct: Bristol, The Fleece
02 Oct: Norwich, Arts Centre
03 Oct: Glasgow, Classic Grand
04 Oct: Newcastle, The Cluny
05 Oct: Leeds, Left Bank
Jo Quail photo: (c) Simon Kallas