NEWSFLASH: a mutant strain of avian flu is spreading through the population, causing those with the virus to undergo an inexplicable metamorphosis into… a bird! This surreal story, beautifully captured in the startling cover artwork, provides the underlying concept for Ornithophobia, the third studio album by UK jazz-rock outfit, Troyka.
The title, meaning fear of birds, isn’t the product of too much time spent watching Alfred Hitchcock movies, but instead stems from a childhood experience of Troyka guitarist Chris Montague.
“When I was about four years old, I dug up a decomposing seagull on a beach and got trapped in a hole with it,” he remembers. “I’ve suffered from ornithophobia since. We were having a laugh about it one day in rehearsals and we thought the track I’d written sounded like a good name for an album!”
Formed in 2007, the trio of Kit Downes (keyboards), Joshua Blackmore (drums) and Montague met when they were all students at the Royal Academy Of Music. Their sound was eclectic from the start, unafraid to embrace a muscularity that veered fearlessly towards the rock end of the spectrum.
We didn’t want to have massive solos all the time. To us that’s really fucking dinosaur territory.
Their debut 2009 self-titled album garnered a wildly enthusiastic reception, with one pundit christening the band as “King Crimson for the iPod generation”. In the wake of this, others have spotted echoes of Egg, Lifetime and other prog-orientated acts within their music. “I’d never checked out King Crimson, to be honest, until that quote was made about us,” Montague reveals. “We didn’t know what the prog reference was and the kinds of bands that got thrown at us. I think it’s because our music is so eclectic and there’s so many different styles in it, people can almost hear whatever they want to in the music.”
When it came to recording Ornithophobia, although they admit to being control freaks, they drafted in Swedish bassist and producer Petter Eldh, allowing him to refashion and recut the music in any direction he chose. “Once Petter had done his thing, the music was very different in shape and tone to how it had started out,” explains Montague. “Fortunately, we’ve got some good technology that allows us to replicate all the electronica-style elements that Petter had woven into the music. It wasn’t easy though. In order to be able to play the album in concert, we ended up having to relearn everything from scratch.”
While Troyka provides their primary artistic outlet, all three players are constantly busy with numerous other groupings, a fact of life Montague is philosophical about.“Being a musician nowadays, you have to get up early and go to bed late in order to try to fit it all in.”
Fast-moving and direct, Troyka steer clear of the usual theme-solo-theme format normally found in jazz. “We didn’t want to have massive solos all the time. To us that’s really fucking dinosaur territory. We don’t want to be doing that thing in jazz where it takes 20 minutes to warm up. We prefer to go straight to the heart of the matter.”
Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (Hammond, synths), Joshua Blackmore (drums)
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Ornithophobia is available now on CD and vinyl via Naimlabel