We are particularly excited to welcome Neil Grant aka Lo Five into the fold this month and he has constructed an achingly beautiful mix for us that plays with ambience, hauntology and delicate electronics. Neil’s instinct for melody is now well-known on the scene and here he constructs an hour-long mix that is as bright and ethereal as Will-o’-the-wisps at twilight.
This month we get a chance to find out more about the man behind Lo Five and Emotion Wave, both projects having enjoyed success and recognition for their scope and ambition. However, back in the day when Neil was but a lad, it started so differently and the original musical path he was on may have opened up alternative vistas.
Growing up in Liverpool Neil listened to his dad’s record collection – Beatles, Dire Straits, Kate Bush, Bruce Springsteen and some classical guitar music like Concerto de Aranjuez and Cavatina. Then in his teens he discovered Nirvana which kick-started his learning the guitar. Encouraged by his school headmaster he embraced the music of Jimi Hendrix, leading to him being in a band for a few years and listening to a lot of Verve, Radiohead and Super Furry Animals. Growing up Neil admits to not being a fan of electronic music (speaking to Fourculture in 2015):
“In my teens I had a snooty view of electronic music as being quite cold and distant – new wave synthpop stuff like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Gary Numan were all I had to go off in those days and it just didn’t talk to me. I can appreciate them a bit more now as being intentionally distant and isolated, but at the time I saw them as lacking in feeling or soul. It was only when I was 18 or so, during a break in band rehearsals, a friend played this free NME CD that had Boards of Canada’s “Roygbiv” on it – and it flipped a switch for me, it was a complete turning point in my appreciation of music. I must have played that CD a few thousand times. It was the first time I heard electronic music that had an emotional impact on me, but I couldn’t explain why, that was the appeal that kept me going back for more – how is it that a bunch of notes played in a certain order can get this response? After that I was hooked, total BoC fanboy ever since – even now most of the electronic music I listen to seems to owe something to them.”
So many have been dragged in by Boards of Canada and it is evident in his music that Neil absorbed and re-tooled the warm and fuzzy electronics he heard from the Scottish duo. His instinct and deftness for creating electronic compositions is borne out of that love of the organic enabling him to infuse his music with a powerful and rich emotive quality.
Lo Five has been producing electronic music for around 3 years or so now and has been releasing music on a regular basis throughout that time. It seems with each release Neil has been refining his sound, pushing it a little further along the creative path. This last year particularly has been a prolific one with the release of his debut album When It’s Time To Let Go on Patterned Air Recordings, a pastoral and organic record of found sounds, field recordings and downtempo electronics. It is in short, a dizzying and emotive journey of discovery and nostalgic yearning and simply quite, quite beautiful. Read our review of the album HERE.
Previous releases have been confined to the shorter form of EPs but no less dazzling in conception and delivery. Look To Me For Love, Future’s Promise of Salvation, It’s All Right and Be a Light Unto Yourself encapsulated his distinctive sound and ear for the haunting and ethereal.
Live, his performances are warm and deep normally accompanied by psychedelic visuals and always performed with an air of charm and sense of whimsy.
Neil is also the driving force behind Liverpool electronic night Emotion Wave; held every three months at 81 Renshaw Street, it features three electronic producers who play half hour sets interspersed with DJ sets. Some of the names to have graced the back room include Polypores, Double Echo, Jean Michel Noir, Mark Peters, Aerospherix, Impulse Array, electronic music leviathan DJ Food and of course Lo Five himself. Having been running for two years now the night has grown in both size and recognition and is now seen as one of the most exciting and relevant underground nights in the city.
The Jupiter Room fired some questions at Neil to find out just what makes him tick:
The Jupiter Room: What is your earliest musical memory?
Lo Five: Sat at my parent’s record player with a big pair of headphones (with the curly wire) on, listening to Kate Bush and feeling all excited. I seem to have this image of a spinning orange CBS record in my head that pops up every now and then, I probably used to stare at the turntable when I was a kid and just zone out.
TJR: What did you grow up listening to?
LF: Before I got into psychedelia/grunge in my teens I listened to my Dad’s ‘Brothers In Arms’ by Dire Straits to death. It has everything that album, in terms of drama, and I love the production of it – peak 80s for me. Also used to listen to a lot of Phil Collins, which could be why I always add horrendous amounts of reverb to my snare hits.
TJR: Where do you draw your inspiration from, both musical and non-musical?
LF: Musically it could be from anywhere. To be honest I don’t listen to much ‘electronic’ music, as a lot of it doesn’t do anything for me. The stuff that matters to me tends to make me feel elated or sad, which is what I’m usually trying to achieve with my own stuff. A lot of the time I’ll pick out and fixate on a particular part of a track because it makes me feel something, but then the rest of that track ruins it. I think that’s why I like some vaporwave stuff, as they pick out the best bits and just loop them.
Non-musically, I’m interested in things like human perception, consciousness, enlightenment etc – anything that attempts to explain the swirling mass of energy that seems to exist outside the window of our eyeballs. It’s endlessly fascinating to me that perception is subjective to the observer and our experience of the world is basically a mentally constructed dream, coloured by the self-conditioning filter of our memories.
TJR: Why did you choose the name Lo Five?
LF: It was a bit of a play on Lo-Fi and the subdued low five greeting. It sort of suited the messy music I was making at the time, but it feels out of place and uncool now with all these dystopian futuristic names floating about. I didn’t put enough thought into it at the time, clearly, but I’m stuck with it now.
TJR: You started out playing guitar, why did you transfer to predominantly electronic instruments?
LF: I got into guitar because I became a Jimi Hendrix obsessive in my teens, so was originally trying to emulate him, which is folly. I played in bands for years and that methodology sort of carried over into my first explorations as Lo Five – but I quickly found that I tended to use the guitar a certain way that was, creatively speaking, quite restrictive. I think you fall into a comfortable method of playing that works for you, which is hard to break out of. Also, the sound and performance elements of the guitar brings expectations and connotations that I was trying to avoid. I like the idea of playing and nobody having a clue what it’s going to sound like, basically.
TJR: What set-up do you use for recording and playing live?
LF: For recording and composing I use Logic Pro, where I’ll use various soft synths and sampled sounds, or record stuff straight in. I sample lots of sounds with my Zoom recorder then feed that into a sampler. I used to use Logic for live performances but it was too restrictive and a bit flaky, so I’ve moved over to Ableton Live. I have a couple of midi controllers that allow me to be flexible with the arrangements and also play notes, tweak effect knobs etc. I’ve also got this wonky sounding wooden toy piano which I fitted a contact mic to – I run that through an FX unit and recently started playing it live as well.
I’m also trying to get more in to the visual side of things, so recently acquired an old Kodak slide projector, which I’ll use in combination with a video projector to hopefully get some unexpected results.
TJR: Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
LF: It’s a bit of both really. Sometimes I’ll spend time tinkering around with melodies or rhythms, then when something clicks it’s not long before I have the bones of a track mapped out. After I’m happy with the arrangement I’ll spend ages tweaking the sounds or making smaller changes to the arrangement.
Sometimes I’ll just spend a while experimenting with recorded sounds or trying to make a sound that appeals, then let that guide where the music goes. I’m leaning towards this way of doing things now, as it feels like a more intuitive way of music and it leads me down unexpected paths.
TJR: When is your favourite time of the day or night to write/record?
LF: Nighttime or early morning is best because it’s so quiet. When everyone else is asleep and there aren’t any other expectations of you, there’s no rush to get things done. That’s not the case for me most of the time though, as I’m too tired to do anything.
TJR: What are you listening to at the moment/who should we be checking out?
LF: I’m not really the person to ask about current musicians because I’m so crap at discovering new stuff. Currently I’ve been rinsing 80s soul/pop stuff like Luther Vandross and Alexander O’Neal, mainly because I really like that ultra-slick production and the funky synth basslines. I’ve also been listening to The Caretaker a lot, because it’s so evocative, doesn’t really require any effort and just has this creepy but soothing vibe that washes over you.
TJR: What are you currently reading?
LF: I’ve just finished Hiroshima – a first person account of the bombings told through various people who were affected. It was written by an American journalist who met and interviewed some of the survivors – all told in this detached, factual style, which makes it all the more harrowing.
On a lighter note I’ve recently started Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, which explains how the human brain has evolved over time to have a negative bias (basically to survive life-threatening situations) which is kind of redundant for the most part in modern life. It explains why people tend to remember and dwell on negative experiences/beliefs more than positive ones. On the plus side, because of the brain’s neuroplasticity you can basically think yourself into being less reactive and stressed and more accepting and compassionate – literally changing the makeup of your brain to make yourself less reactive and more accepting. It sounds a bit new age bollocks the way I’ve described it but it’s a solid science read
TJR: Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
LF: I originally had a completely random bunch of tracks in a playlist that I kept adding to / removing from, but it wasn’t working well as a mix. I’m not very good at mixes frankly, as usually nothing flows nicely into one another. I recently heard Polypores’ superb mix and realised I needed to try harder, so it feels more fluid now and the hope is that it takes you on a soothing, muzzy journey through comforting fuzzy drones and sweet, sweet melodies.
TJR: Describe your music in three words.
LF: Personal, uninformed, irrelevant
TJR: What’s your favourite sound?
LF: I love the low pulsing drone of a tumble dryer. I used to sit behind my mum and dad’s one and bask in the sounds and warm scented air. I think it must be something to do with being in the womb, I just found it very comforting.
One of the self-service tills at the Sainsbury’s by mine has a clipped ‘beep’ sound when you scan an item, that I really like. I keep meaning to record it but I’m worried someone will see and think I’m a complete westhead.
TJR: If you could make music history, how would you do it?
LF: I’d like to be the first electronic music producer to read the bedtime story on Cbeebies. I’ve been practising for 5 years. I’d also like to play on top of St George’s hall like Ringo Starr did that time.
TJR: What’s next for Lo Five? Where can you see you sound developing? When are you playing live next? Are you planning your next album?
LF: At the present I’ve got a few remixes that should be out on various releases soon. I’ve also made a couple of new tracks – for Upitup Records and another for a Caretaker tribute which is being assembled by Alex Koenig of Nmesh.
I’ve deliberately taken a break since my album, to let ideas ferment and just let things present themselves to me – rather than jumping straight back in and forcing something that sounds the same as the last album. I feel like I want to make something more fluid and unconstrained than before, though I’m not exactly what form that will take yet. Maybe a little more sparse too? I’m in the process of experimenting so we’ll see where it goes.
My next gig is at an all-day fundraiser for We Shall Overcome – a charity that opposes the austerity cuts imposed by the Conservative party. It’s at EBGBs in Liverpool on Saturday 30th September and there are some ace bands on – you should definitely come along and join in the righteous fun: https://www.facebook.com/events/472190496483865/
Huge thanks and major props to Neil for taking the time to answer some questions and put together the mix for the show. Hope you enjoy the mix as much as we have.
Lo Five on the web:
This show was originally broadcast on Thursday August 31st on Fourculture Radio.