Jo Robinson and the magic behind "Ethereal Pop Songs"
SaraoMusic new album
Composer Jo Robinson has travelled the world playing in groups across a wide range of genres but has always preferred creating music in a more introspective way, far from the stage. Jo has written pieces for dozens of film, theatre and dance projects and this year she came knocked on our door with a proposal that was as captivating as it was original: Ethereal Pop Songs. We are fascinated by the sensitivity that emanates from the tracks and the magical way in which they were recorded. That’s why we invited our new writer to tell us what lies behind Ethereal Pop Songs, an album full of hidden surprises.
This new album has a really unique sound. How would you describe your musical style? Could you give us a couple of musicians as references?
Thank you! It doesn’t seem that unique to me! I have to say that the vocals, harmonies and piano of Agnes Obel were a major inspiration. As well as Yann Tiersen’s simple, heartfelt melodies, Polish pianist Hania Rani’s sensitivity and Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds’ intensity and sense of experimentation. We are living in a time full of minimalist, neoclassical music and it’s a genre that I’ve always identified with.
The sensitivity of the music is all over this album; what was the inspiration behind the compositions?
I’m glad it transmits sensitivity. I believe that every musician has an inner quality that is natural and instinctive, which they easily express without too much effort. For me, it’s sensitivity. When I play the piano, that’s how it comes out. But like everybody, we can enjoy these “free” gifts but we also have to work on the qualities that don’t come so easily; to break through that glass ceiling and get closer to your potential. In my case, I think I need to work on intensity.
Jo y la sección de cuerdas
Where did you record the album? How did you get that special aura that surrounds all the tracks?
I live in a house in the middle of a forest, in the magic hills of La Garrotxa, Catalonia. There are no neighbours, but there’s a hermitage about a hundred metres from the house. There’s written evidence that the site was a spiritual pagan burial ground more than a thousand years ago. That’s where we recorded! The place has a peace and tranquillity that moves everyone that passes by, and it really helped capture the sensitivity and essence of the music. I felt extremely fortunate to be able to record the strings there – Sara and Edgar are very sensitive, professional musicians and I’m really happy with their interpretations of the pieces.
When you listen to the album it’s surprising how the warmth of the sound envelops you. How did you manage to give the tracks so much volume and texture?
Thank you! I’ve always loved warm mixes, so I really try to capture that feel myself. Textures, like sensitivity, come really easily – I have so many ideas and melodies inside and the challenge is not to overload the music! One must try not to add more than what’s necessary.
Technically, volume is a more difficult matter (for me.). Sometimes you can get a fuller mix by using fewer elements, because more space is created for each part, more body, more character. It’s a game and I’m still learning how to play … I have to say that the voices really helped achieve that warmth. The two vocalists transmit so much, but in different ways. Fiona’s voice is incredibly intimate, pure and modern. Jacqueline’s has so much personality, body and richness. The harmonies I wrote play with these qualities and create a warm, enveloping sound.
What’s your favourite track on the album – or the one that you most enjoyed writing, and why?
Maybe they aren’t the most obvious ones, but ”Fresh Outside” and “Sunday”, no question. “Fresh Outside” wrote itself. For me it’s full of light, and I enjoy the harmonies, particularly the way they descend during the chorus. And I love the way Jacqueline sings. It’s such a simple arrangement that it sounded complete even before we mixed it.
“Sunday” makes me think of a modern Western – those landscapes, colours and feel. Like “Fresh Outside”, it took on a life of its own as I was writing it. I really like where it takes me when I listen to it.
How come a woman of the world like you, who has lived in so many places, came to find this magical yet out-of-the-way place where you live now?
Pure chance! Or maybe not… I’ve always travelled and I’ve found myself living in weird and wonderful places. I’ve been blessed that way. I feel very fortunate that I can live and write here, and that my children are growing up in such a beautiful place.
Do you have any other creative projects in mind?
Wow! Lots! At the moment I’m starting to compose music for period dramas. It interests me because it’s an intimate style with a lot of sensitivity, but with really elaborate arrangements, using the whole orchestra and all its colours. I hope to one day conduct an orchestra during the recording of one of my compositions. Fingers crossed!
Certainly, there are some things we don’t get to see every day, and one of them is how “Ethereal Pop Songs”, one of the most magical albums of our in-house label SaraoMusic, was recorded. In the following video, we invite you to follow Jo (and the musicians Edgar Casellas and Sara DeCorso) in their search for the purest and most original sound.