The Nightjar are a post-folk quartet from London whose debut LP, Objects, came out last week. Recorded in rural Portugal, the album is a bewitching listen indeed: The Nightjar's music is evocative of wide open spaces, of flickering candles, and of a vast sea lapping at the shore of a pebble beach on a moonless night.
Ahead of a gig in Camden next month and a number of other live appearances after that, The Nightjar's lead singer Mo Kirby very graciously took the time to answer some of my questions about Objects and its constituent songs and sounds.
Image credit: Paul Blakemore
The Album Wall: Why did you choose to call yourselves 'The Nightjar'?
Mo Kirby: A nightjar is a bird with silent flight. It hunts at night, has a strange call, and nests on the ground. They are unusual birds with lots of interesting folklore attached to them. The characteristics and behaviour of the birds attracted us to the name, but we also heard that - very unusually - nightjars had been found nesting in marshland next to where we lived in London. We were already considering using the name, but that sealed the deal.
TAW: You describe your music as 'lo-fi post-folk'. What is 'post-folk', and how is it different from regular folk music?
MK: Folk music as a genre is very hard to pin down. To me, it is music rooted in and referencing a tradition, and it is shared and passed on in a particular way. I would feel uncomfortable describing what we do purely as folk music. We reference folk traditions, but we have taken it somewhere else. What we do is inspired by traditional folk music and folk revival, but it's developed in response to these...hence the 'post'.
TAW: You also describe yourselves as playing 'songs for the end of time' - what sort of end do you think your music evokes? How does the world end in the apocalypse for which you're providing the soundtrack?
MK: 'The end of time' does suggest the apocalypse, because we can't imagine existence without time. I think our music asks the listener to imagine the two are separable, time and existence. To me, the apocalypse is a manifestation of the moment time and existence separate.
Our music would be the soundtrack to some kind of post-apocalypse, the aftermath of a world destroyed by natural disasters.
TAW: Why is your album called 'Objects'?
MK: The theme of attachment, and liberation from attachment, crops up a lot on this album. The songs were written during a time of transition and during a significant journey. To journey freely, it's important to get rid of baggage - and I mean that literally and metaphorically. The title 'Objects' refers to the things we carry with us, and what it means to dissolve our attachment to these things.
TAW: Objects was recorded in a Portuguese farmhouse - what were those recording sessions like, and how did this environment shape the album itself?
MK: The album was recorded over a three-month period. This is pretty unusual, as independent bands at our level will usually save up to pay for recording sessions in a studio with all the equipment there and try to blitz a whole album in a few days. We had the opposite: an abundance of time and very little equipment. There were many long recording sessions, and we experimented with recording techniques and spaces until we developed a way of capturing our sound that we were happy with.
TAW: "Look, do not see. Hear, but don't listen to me." There's sort of a zen thing going on with opening track All Objects Will Cease, but then the line "I hear you object - all objections will cease!" kind of sounds like something an evil supervillain would say. What is this song actually about?
MK: I'm tempted now to say that it is about the trials and tribulations of an evil supervillan - I like that idea!
The song All Objects Will Cease is the song we took the album title from. It's about dissolving attachment and meaning. It's also about the difficulty of expressing meaning and emotion in words, and attempting to bypass language as a method of communication.
TAW: Objects sounds like an album that draws a lot of inspiration from the world around it. (In particular, it sounds like it exists in very close proximity to the sea, especially on tracks like Cockleshell and Black Waters.) What kind of places and environments have inspired your music?
MK: Landscape is a massive inspiration, and lots of different landscapes are present in our writing and recording. On our way to record this album in Portugal, we toured Europe and wrote music in response to our surroundings. We also sought out inspiring and evocative environments - for example, we recorded in the derelict concert hall of a deserted Soviet village outside of Berlin, and did some writing in abandoned shepherd huts in rural Portugal. I'm also keen on the uncanniness of suburbia and otherworldly industrial landscapes.
TAW: In addition to your own compositions, there are also a couple of interesting covers here, namely Dle Yaman and Hangman. Why did you choose to include these two numbers on the LP?
MK: Hangman is a folk standard - there are so many versions of it, and we have been performing it for quite some time. We included this in the album as it helps to establish our roots in folk tradition. Developing our own arrangement of the song shows how folk music evolves. Dle Yaman, an iconic Armenian song, was included on the album because it allows us to reference the universal nature of folk music; although traditional music can be very different from one place to the next, it is defined by people's relationship to it and the part it plays in our cultures and history.
TAW: What's next for The Nightjar? What are your plans for the future?
MK: Well, we've just released our album, and we are so excited to see it out in the world! We will be touring in the autumn, and we have a gig coming up at the Green Note in Camden on the 20th of April. We have been writing lots, and after a bit of a rest, I imagine we will get going on a second album.