New Sound 026 \\ Master collaborator Oli Rockberger reveals his new solo EP

6th August 2019

Oli Rockberger is behind many of the tracks that you’ve been enjoying over the last few years, having been an in demand keys player and writer with the likes of Jordan Rakei, Laura Mvula, Chris Dave and Becca Stevens

After spending the last two years touring with Laura Mvula, Oli is revealing his new EP ‘Terra Firma’, a five track alternative pop treat. Oli sings with a distinctive falsetto that evokes the likes of Bon Iver on this reflective offering.

‘Terra Firma’ is released on Human Static Records on 26 July. To celebrate the release, we talk to Oli about the EP and the inspirations that have gone into it. 

\\ You’ve worked with a lot of well known artists in the time leading up to ‘Terra Firma’; can you tell us about a moment or any advice from one of these artists that had an impact on how you approached the EP?

There was a conversation I had with Richard Spaven which was key in my finishing the EP. He heard the rough mixes and said he felt like I’d gone and hired the right producer to come and take my vision to a new place, except the producer happened to be me. It was really good to hear that from someone I highly respect and at that delicate stage of the process. I also wasn’t sure at that point how to best finish the EP. On hearing it, Rich felt instinctively that Patrick Phillips would be the right person to mix it for me. Having worked with Patrick on a number of projects, Rich felt that he would understand and preserve the color that I’d achieved myself already, whilst pushing it over the finish line sonically. And that’s exactly what he did. Patrick had in fact already made an impact on ‘Terra Firma’ indirectly via our collaboration on Rich’s latest album ‘Real Time’, recorded over five days at Real World Studios. Patrick was the engineer on the session, and working alongside him there had given me some inspiration with production and sonic approaches. So when Rich made the suggestion, it felt like the natural next step. I’m thankful for the recommendation and for Patrick’s fine work. I’m really proud of how ‘Terra Firma’ has come out, and feel that the process has now given me a clear vision in approaching my solo work moving forward.

\\ Which song on this EP felt most instinctive or natural to write, and why?

Working alongside artists like Laura Mvula, Jordan Rakei, Becca Stevens and Rich Spaven in the run up to creating ‘Terra Firma’ had inspired me to reach for more in my own music. So I approached things in some new ways here, meaning that all the songs ended up presenting challenges at various points in their conception! However, I’d highlight the single ‘Forgiveness’ as the most natural to write for a few reasons. It was the first song of the collection before the EP had taken shape, which removes some sense of expectation. Like my previous work, the starting point came at the piano and the piece follows a conventional song form. I also had a clear idea from the outset what I wanted to write about. All of this allowed for the writing to flow quite quickly in one sitting.

The production also happened quickly, but after the writing was done. In these ways ‘Forgiveness’ was quite linear in its process, which was familiar territory from my previous work. The other four songs were handled quite differently, and were much more mysterious to me. Their meaning was less fixed at the outset, which I let emerge and evolve as I went along. I also approached the writing and production of those at the same time, with these aspects feeding in to each other. This made the process with these songs far less linear than ‘Forgiveness’, which in turn led to some unexpected shifts in concept, structure and overall approach with them. At times it felt a little like chasing a moving target with these four, which also made them quite exhilarating creatively… and challenging! But that’s what I wanted, and they really moved me forward as a producer. In the end, it felt right to make ‘Forgiveness’ the single. I see the song as a bridge between the old and the new, which hopefully will help to bring my listeners with me in to this new territory…

 

\\ Having written songs for and with many artists, how do you know an ‘Oli track’ from one that you’d give to another musician?

When I’m in a writing or production role, my only real consideration now as to whether a track is kept for me VS an artist I’m working with, would be their desire and ability to take creative ownership over the piece. A good recent example would be with China Moses, a great artist who I’ve been working with on some of the writing for her forthcoming release. One of the songs we’ve worked on is a straight cover of one of mine. When I played it to her, it felt as though she had an emotional connection to the song. Then when she sang it, it really felt as if the song had been written with or especially for her. And I think that’s how it has to be to feel authentic. When I hear great performances of songs which were not written by the artist, I think it usually works because the artist has related to the song on a deep level, and has then been able to make it his or her own. It’s a rare synergy, but it’s magical when it happens. The other approach is working with an artist on an idea which they have in progress. On that tip, I had the chance to collaborate recently with one of my favourite artists working today, Jordan Rakei . ‘Speak’, from his latest album ‘Origin’ is an example of this, where he brought an idea in to the session which we then fleshed out together. This is equally exciting in a different kind of way.

\\ Tell us about how your 2019 is looking post release?

Solo wise, I have another self-produced EP, ‘Folk Songs’, currently being mixed by Patrick Phillips, and planned for release in October ’19. I’ve also begun work on a follow up to ‘Terra Firma’ which I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the year for release in Spring 2020. As far as writing and production projects, there are a number of exciting things in the works. I’ve been working for a few years now with a phenomenal electronic artist called Terrane. His self-titled debut album is coming out on A4WARD later this year, which I co-produced and also contributed a number of co-writes. We’ve started work on a follow up, and he’ll also be contributing a remix to ‘Terra Firma’ for a September release.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve also been writing with China Moses for her new album. She’s a great artist, quite unique, combining the Jazz legacy she carries from her mother Dee Dee Bridgewater, with the influence of singers and songwriters like Sharon Jones, Tina Turner, Me’shell Ndegeocello and Randy Crawford. I’ve contributed a number of co-writes to her forthcoming record which she cut in NY with Producer Troy Miller at the helm, and featuring some great NY musicians. I have a few co-writes on the forthcoming Shawn Escoffery album on Decca (date TBC), which is a real honour.  Shawn is bona fide UK soul/R&B royalty and undoubtedly one of the great vocalists working today. Otherwise there are plans in the works for future collabs with Rich Spaven, Jordan Rakei and Femi Temowo, as well as ongoing shows as part of Laura Mvula’s band. It should be a busy and exciting few months!

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