Inspiration often strikes when you least expect it. Or, in Emmett Elvin’s case, when he’s doing something utterly mundane.
“I’ll be in the middle of doing the washing up and a piece of music will be beamed into my head,” he explains. “More often than not it frog-marches me up to the studio. And once I start putting something together, I generally keep going until it’s completed, even if that means a 16-hour stint. I’m pretty much constantly generating music, often against my will.”
Judging by his prodigious work rate, you wonder how Elvin finds time to do household chores at all. Not only is he a prolific painter and illustrator, he also holds down three jobs as keyboardist for Knifeworld, Guapo and Chrome Hoof. Now he’s ploughing ahead with a solo career. And the very wonderful Bloody Marvels shows a whole other side of his ability.
The album is a feast of dizzying endeavour, with Elvin turning his hand to guitars (acoustic, electric and slide), pianos, woodwinds, percussion and the odd twang of banjo. The instrumental textures range from ambient noise to leftfield rock, proggy dexterity to down-home country blues. “Back in Suffolk where I formed my first bands, nearly everyone knows me as a guitarist,” he says. “So they were quite surprised, even a bit disappointed, to see me forge some kind of identity as a keyboardist. This album’s in part an answer to the ‘Why aren’t you playing guitar anymore?’ question.”
Elvin isn’t quite flying alone. Bloody Marvels’ entourage includes various sax and string players, plus Knifeworld’s Chloe Herington on bassoon, Beverly Crome on French horn and Richard Larcombe on harmonium. The album’s rich panoply of styles was partly inspired by the likes of Basil Kirchin, Bernard Herrmann, Van Dyke Parks and Gil Evans. All of whom, Elvin offers, “seem to be searching for that magic chord.”
Bloody Marvels is different again to 2013’s Emmettronica. An assemblage of pieces from his vast archive, spanning 1998-2005, that album concentrated on electronic and sample-based music. Emmettronica II, meanwhile, is currently in the works.
Elvin became a professional artist in 1993. Given that he has designed for books, comic strips, storyboards, animation and record sleeves – as well as offering paintings for sale on his website – how do the creative fields of art and music compare? “When done properly, they should both involve leaps into the unknown. With both disciplines, the more you practice them the more access you gain to ‘that place’ where the real stuff resides. And all the rewards that come with it.”
When push comes to shove though, he knows which one means more to him. “When
I was about 21, I made a vow to myself that I would use art as a way to make a living in order to keep the music completely sacrosanct,” reveals Elvin, whose listening tastes also extend to the more confrontational arm of prog: Zappa, Soft Machine, King Crimson. “I couldn’t possibly have done it the other way around. I absolutely adore art, but music is the big one. And always has been.”
Emmett Elvin (6 & 12-string guitars, resonator slide guitar, piano, recorders, percussion, mandolin, banjo)
Soft Machine and Deerhoof slugging it out at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Bloody Marvels is out now on Bad Elephant