April 6, 2022
Words by: Arthur Cross
t l k have emerged from the waters of Bristol’s experimental electronic and improv jazz scenes with a musical maturity beyond their years. Their sound encompasses the immersive and delicate synths and piano of Drukqs era Aphex Twin, the layered vocals of Björk’s Biophilia and Bristol’s own trip-hop beats all of which are stunningly held within a delicate nu-jazz cocoon. t l k’s music is not however held down by the weight of influence but rather rises and thrives from them into new realms. This is stunningly realized within their first EP Strength In Tenderness which was only just released in spring this year. Here we discuss the visual and sonic creation surrounding this collection of tracks, how practice fits within the project and hunt for hints of what’s to come next.
You recently released your first EP ‘Strength In Tenderness’ your first longer format piece of work. How did it feel then to have the freedom to curate a full EP?
Hey Factory. Curating and releasing the first EP was definitely freeing. It speaks to a feeling, and is testament to a beginning, to putting tracks out autonomously and decisively. Realising the power in that agency.
Interestingly enough some parts of this EP for example the track ‘Frame of Ted’ actually came out in 2020. I was wondering how your first singles settled and found a home in this EP, was the EP even an idea at their point of creation?
T: This first EP is a compilation, a nod to the times. Threads of consistency and a palette of different headspaces. The tunes all came to being through a need to process something, to move through a psychological sticking point. Releasing the singles, then consciously bringing them together came later. Having said that, IWNU and Frame Of Ted were originally one track, and Most Alive ending with field recordings of the River Frome called for an outro from its inception. Releasing these tunes as a cohesive project marked the shift from a pretty introverted, bedroom-oriented production environment to a translation of the tracks to much more expansive live contexts.
You have previously mentioned that t l k delves into and is influenced by the ‘Bristol Jazz’ scene. I wondered what you felt made Bristol’s stand out sonically from other cities’ jazz scenes?
Liam: It gets weird here… there’s a lot of comradery and inter-project collaboration, with heavy influence from electronic music and a bunch of other styles, people getting creative with different pedals and hardware.
James: Bristol balancing the city feel with green spaces is definitely reflected in the music… the organic blended with the synthesised.
T: Definitely can’t speak for other cities. But there’s a deep-rooted ‘Bristol sound’ that feeds its way into much of the city’s happenings, too. It’s a feedback loop between social environments, DIY creative culture and really skilled makers that push and build one another. There’s some great crossovers happening between Bristol and other cities, too – it’s cool that music facilitates that collectivity.
When talking about your music in the past you have mentioned the idea of an ‘inner child’. This made me wonder if you feel you are letting your inner child speak or speaking to your inner child when creating or performing your music?
T: Much of my adult life has been making space for dialogue between different internal selves, the inner child being fundamental to those conversations. Attempting to see these selves with more awareness has allowed for fuller connections with others. It’s so closely tied to identity that it definitely makes its way into the music and visuals that form – often it’s the making that allows for those dialogues to take place.
We have you here in Factory rehearsing almost every week. I wondered how your time here has been and what your ethos is around practice?
L: We love Factory.
J: We like the tea…
T: …the natural light…
L: …it doesn’t smell sweaty… In terms of ethos, we communicate how we feel about a session, how things are going, what we want to refine. Imprinting a sense of song structure ahead of time.
J: There’s lots of space for reflection, yeah. Arranging tunes before we get in the room together, too.
Taking this into the performance does this ethos and your interaction with your songs change at all?
L: The controlled chaos… it allows for experimentation both in practice and on stage.
J: Yeah, a rigidity to the foundations in practice allows space for experimentation on stage.
L: In rehearsals we get energy from each other. When we play live, there’s another level of energy from the crowd.
In terms of t l k’s aesthetic a strong focal point of your artwork depicts rendered bodies intertwined or self-reflecting. What inspired this?
T: The bodies are visualisations of the selves fragmenting and interacting. Sometimes reconciling, other times in conflict. They’re similar in form but hold different shades, colours, tones. Shouts to Marina Victoria Space for the renders.
Other visuals surrounding the project include your self-directed music video for ‘Next To The Mirror’ where the dancers wear specific white clothing. It’s something you also seem to wear onstage. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
T: Neutrality, uniformity. Also one less thing to think about…
L: I’m a chef. Cooking up some chops. Nah, I can’t chop.
L: You were a choir boy right Jame?
Lastly, having finally released this new body of work are there any plans for new recordings or will you just be immersing yourselves in performance for a while?
L: Retirement is on the horizon…
T: Pshhh. We’re beavering away. Playing some cool shows as we move into Spring, some festival appearances over the Summer. Some new material taking shape… both solo, intimate stuff that I’ve developed on residency at Snape Maltings, and more band-centric tunes too… will all emerge when it’s gestated.
L: It’s the difference between realising a fully fleshed out idea that T brings us, and building new things together from the early stages. I’m looking forward to blending the timbres and drum production that T brings with acoustic feels.
Photos used taken by Khali Ackford – @khaliphotography