New Sound 025 \\ London pianist Rebecca Nash reveals her ATLAS project

29th July 2019
Pianist Rebecca Nash reveals a new album and a new project; ATLAS. 

London based Rebecca Nash and her band ATLAS are releasing ‘Peaceful King’, an album of unique and original compositions featuring some stellar UK talent. 

On the album is Rebecca Nash – (piano, keys) Nicholas Malcolm (trumpet), Tom Seminar Ford (guitar, electronics), Chris Mapp (bass, electronics), Matt Fisher (drums), Sara Colman (Vocals) and Nick Walters (Electronics). 

To mark the album’s release via Whirlwind Recordings, we talk to Rebecca about the themes on ‘Peaceful King’, as well as the record’s alluring artwork. 

\\ Can you tell us about the themes you explore on ‘Peaceful King’?

This is very much an album with a personal sensibility at its heart, but I think it explores topics and themes that are relevant to us all as human beings. Much of the material has been influenced by significant life experiences, places I’ve travelled to, memories from childhood, and also important personal relationships.  I would like to think that there is a sense of spiritual optimism and unity to the music too – not that I’m religious in any way. In terms of the lyrics, which were for the most part written by Sara Colman, the content similarly reflects the multi-faceted character traits that we can all encompass as individuals.

The title of the album was not a long thought-out process, I was just really drawn to the words ‘Peaceful King’ as a name for a piece before I started composing it, however I decided to use it for the album’s title because I feel more and more that we, as a race, are somehow moving forwards and backwards at the same time, living ever more fragmented and chaotic lives, where core values do not appear to be at the forefront of what we see in our everyday lives. This music and its title is my personal response to that.  

The song lyrics in ‘Dreamer’ are self-explanatory, describing how we can all slip out of the present moment and into the world of our own mind. Sara and I co-wrote the lyrics to ‘Grace’, and for some reason the film ‘Being John Malkovich’ kept popping into my mind throughout the writing process. I had this image of a person discovering a tunnel which turns out to be a portal into another world – just like John Cusack’s character does in the film – but instead of being spat out on the side of a motorway, this person enters a wondrous new universe with moons and stars and this then becomes their new reality. ‘Hot Wired’s lyrics focus on the importance of how we need to be alert, ready, and in the moment as human beings, not holding onto the reigns too tightly in life. I think it’s Sara’s lyrical take on the proverb “Man plans and God laughs.” 

\\ The title track has a beautiful arch that builds and grows into something grand and ear-catching. Can you tell us about how you begin composing your tracks?

I try to avoid having one particular approach to composing, I really enjoy the process of how each piece seems to emerge in its own unique way. With ‘Peaceful King’, I came up with that piano hook which sets up the vibe at the start of the track, and I really wanted it as a key focal point for the rest of the piece to hang off, like a musical thread which also worked as a strong contrast to the bigger melodic lines.  With that piece, I also knew right at the start that I wanted Nick Walters to create the effects, similar to those on his Paradox Ensemble album, ‘Awakening’, so I had him and the rest of the musicians in my mind when composing that track too. ‘Dreamer’ was unusual in that I woke up with the chords in my head one night; it’s the only time that’s ever happened so that felt special.

‘Tumbleweed’ was an interesting piece, the melody is all over the place, and on first writing I couldn’t really find a settled time signature so I just had to figure it out afterwards, and add in some bar lines after writing the tune. ‘Inishbofin’ is a nod to my Celtic ancestry, – one half of my family has a strong Irish lineage and so this tune incorporates elements of folk, but with a filthy bass line at the start.  The composition process was basically completely different for all of the tracks but what I would say is that with all the pieces, I had the individual voices of each band member in mind when writing them, as they all bring such particular musical characteristics as individual musicians which contribute to the overall sound of the band.

\\ We’re intrigued by the cover art, can you tell us about the woman on the cover?

I left Ning-Ning, the amazing illustrator who created the incredible album cover very much to her own devices with the design. After we had an initial discussion (and an epic Pinterest session), it was really important for me that she had free reign. Ning-Ning is an incredible face painter as well, and she wanted to use both skills to create the album cover. I explored many of the images, topics, concepts and themes of the music with her, and then she came up with her artistic response. I wanted a slightly ambiguous front-cover image that would allow the listener the space to interpret and choose their own response to it. Ning-Ning’s design is neither specifically male or female, nor one particular race, but more a fusion of many of the themes and messages expressed through the track titles and explored within the music.  

\\ You’ve played in a few different projects, what have you created with ATLAS that feels unique in comparison to your other works so far?

I have felt very lucky to be involved with what feels like for me the idyllic mix of different musical projects.  Having played in Paradox and Entropi for almost a decade now and more recently Sara Colman’s band, I’ve had the luxury of performing with three contrasting projects. Paradox Ensemble is the grooviest mini big band ever, and Nick’s writing is such a joy to play so I, having grown up in Bristol where drum n bass, funk, and afro-beat bands are aplenty, feel right at home in Paradox as it incorporates many of those styles. Dee Byrne’s Entropi continues to evolve in such an interesting way and her writing allows the musicians enough space to bring their own musical personalities to the table and this also creates quite a distinctive overall sound.  The music has very much developed out of a trust we all share within the band and I have learnt so much from the ten years we have played together, as well as from Dee personally. My more recent performances with singer/songwriter Sara Colman led to our working together on her luscious album ‘What We’re Made Of’, which includes a string quartet amongst many other beautiful elements. Her stunning and original songs make a wonderful contrast to the two other bands. 

I feel that Atlas has drawn stylistically from all of these projects, but it has other qualities to it too. I’ve also been able to integrate more of my traditional classical background into the mix, together with electronic sounds too. It’s been a gradual evolution, but I feel we are starting to shape and develop our own sound now which feels exciting. 

\\ How’s the rest of 2019 looking (from Aug/Sep onwards)?

So much energy has gone into creating the music, the mixing, and the mastering, I’m just looking forward to actually touring the music in the autumn. We’ve got some nice dates in the diary which start in September through to November, and then we’ll do some festival shows next year.  I am also looking forward to recording ‘Redefining Element 78′ –  a piece I was commissioned to write for Bristol Jazz Festival earlier this year. The wonderful saxophonist John O Gallagher joined the band for this project, and it was such a special experience to work with him so I cannot wait to get back into the studio to record it. Other things in the pipeline include further recording and performances with Nick Walters, a new album recording with the brilliant talent that is Sara Colman, a bunch of gigs with saxophonist Chris Bowden, and a brand new project with guitarist Steve Banks too. 

Order ‘Peaceful King’ by ATLAS via Bandcamp

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