Building Anew: Orlando Weeks Interviewed

A lift-shift informs his enchanting solo return...

Last time I spoke with Orlando Weeks was four years ago, when the world was quiet, uncomfortable and riddled with uncertainty. Adapting to the newness of fatherhood and juggling the apprehension of embarking on a solo career, he seemed ready for change yet unabashedly honest about his disdain for it.

Now, with two records under his belt and a third, ‘LOJA’, arriving a matter of weeks ago, the London native has found solace in the sunnier streets of Lisbon, Portugal, where the colourful cobblestones and tranquillity inspired a sound he’d been searching for.

First off, you’ve had a pretty big life change since we last spoke – how did you decide on moving to Lisbon?

OW:  It was a combination of Covid and then my son being born, it just put everything back a bit. I think it’s funny that I knew that was the intention one day, or at least it was mooted now and then. I think it stayed in my heart and my recollections as an extremely beautiful place where we would have a nice time. And it’s proven to be just that.

I’m glad to hear! How do you think moving to Lisbon has impacted your creativity? 

OW:  I mean, I really love being here. I think in the same way that when you’re  giddy with that excitement and newness and for me, that is a very helpful context or backdrop when trying to make stuff. I’ve found that my productivity and my general everything has increased and I think that is because I’m here, because I’m in the throes of it. I’m having a nice time, and the people I’m around and my family are having a good time where we are glad that the gamble of doing it has paid off. 

You’ve just brought out your new album – where does the title, ‘LOJA’, come from? 

OW: When we got here, it was decided, and fairly, that I was taking up too much space being here, but I have a very small recording set up in the in the apartment, and then if you combine that with making lots of other bits and pieces it starts being domineering, the presence of it all. So, I started looking for somewhere like a studio share, and I went and saw a bunch of people.

I spoke with corners of basements that I could have rented for however many years a month, and then I started looking for somewhere that wasn’t advertised as a studio. One of them was the loja, which means store or shop, selling things like razors and pens and tomatoes and pears and Christmas trees. It was in a bit of a state when I found it, but it had good light and enough space for me, and it was near enough that I could drop my son at school, get there and be there for the day, then walk back and pick him up. It’s been a revelation, really, just to have a space that I can go to where the only point of being there is to make stuff and if it gets untidy, then that’s okay. And if it looks nice, then it’s me that made it look nice. 

How long did it take you to write and record the whole album? 

OW: I started writing it almost immediately after the end of touring Hop Up , and then I thought I had a record until I did a session with the brilliant Nathan Jenkins. He’s very practical, and I don’t mean this as a negative, but he can remove the romantic vision that I had of us just moving straight into recording out of the equation and and really asked whether I was ready, and the answer was ‘no’. So everything got pushed back. He went off and started doing some work recording with Carly Rae Jepsen and just suddenly got extremely busy.

‘Hop Up’ had been such a cloistered recording experience, being in Nathan’s room, basically just the two of us often wearing masks inside. The whole thing was really claustrophobic in a way that it wasn’t free. I was so pleased we were making happy music because I think if we hadn’t, it would’ve been tough. Suddenly I thought, well, we could find a studio in a residential place and go, and I can ask all the musicians that I’ve become friends with through touring and and and being out there if I could come and do some recording for ‘Loja’.

What were the other inspirations behind the album? 

OW: You know, in a way, as much as the record is a bit about moving to Lisbon or about how the newness of the place can reframe very simple things or colour them, it also just made me very aware of what I had left.

I guess the personal rut that I had found myself and to some extent. I am a very habitual person and what I ask of the day in terms of getting to the end of it and feeling good is uncomplicated. I find it quite hard to look around that. So if I have a place to sit like a desk and can write songs or do drawings or make typefaces or whatever it is that I have set myself the job of doing that day, I could be anywhere. When we were in London, I just became very insular again, which is something that often happens to me.

My partner saw that it was time for all of us to move, and I put up a bit of a fuss at first because I’m just bad at change. 

Do you miss London?

OW: I don’t miss it other than I miss some people.  It required a lot of faith to move but I still have moments where I imagine if we hadn’t done it, and I’m so sad. I saw a lot of people when I was back for my Copeland Park residency, and like I say, before we left, I became very insular. I think anything like this makes you or pushes you to assess some of those relationships in a really good way and does the heart grow fonder, you know? 

When you were writing the album, what were you listening to? 

OW: The person I have now, and I think probably then as well, was Bill Callahan. I’m not a particularly broad church. I find someone that keeps me company, and then I just spend all my time, musically, with them. I’ve had it with PJ Harvey and Arthur Russell, I just find a real companionship  in that one artist’s output. Once I knew we were going to be doing it more as a band, I refound a love for The Cure.

There’s a podcast I like called Chatabix with David Earl and Joe Wilkinson, and David is a huge Cure fan. He makes all these jingles, and he would dismiss them maybe, but I think some of them are amazing! They definitely have a bit of Robert Smith-ness about them. I don’t think that they’re in the record, or you’d be hard pressed to find them, other than at the end of the first song, ‘Belonging’. I think that’s maybe the most Cure relevant that it gets, and it wears it lightly.

I listened to a lot of Michael Stipe and R.E.M, especially ‘No Time For Love Like Now’ that he did with Aaron Dessner from The National in lockdown. He would do these funny videos from beautiful corners of his house like beautiful pink and green-lit things like, I don’t know, falcons or porches or something. 

Did you also create the artwork for Loja?

OW: I think that’s been one of the main things about having the loja is that I’m making work that I will continue to make irrelevant at the record, whereas with previous records, I’ve definitely made visual work to suit the album and then once the album was finished up, I’d move on. Now, I’ve started to find my rhythm with the visual work that I’m making that is separate from and will continue beyond the lifespan of the album.

How interlinked are your music and artwork?

OW: For ‘A Quickening’, those shapes were a very good shorthand of the amorphous blobs that you would see when you went for a first scan at the hospital, and then the act of making them small and then blowing them up so they’re huge and sculptural and communicating with each other, it was relevant to that record, and then ‘Hop Up’ was a response to ‘A Quickening’, because I wanted it to fill in some of the blanks that have been missed in the story of that experience, so ‘Hop Up’ was meant to be the lighter side of the story. Using the cyanotype, the process of making them is that they must have to be exposed to light to work.

Beyond that, I don’t want to spend my life making cyanotypes, it just served its purpose beautifully for that I thought. Even just being able to spend time away from songwriting and  making prints and vice versa is a really nice way of relieving some of the tension and  becoming unstuck basically. 

What would you say your favourite song on the album is and why? 

OW: I don’t think I have a favourite song, but ‘Tomorrow’ was an absolute pain in the neck to get to get right and I don’t think I have. I think ‘You & the Packhorse Blues’, there’s a better song in there, but I wanted it to be on there. I’m sure that over the course of time, I will maybe change my mind about those things and find fault with other things and decide that actually something is exactly right down the line. I feel like that I have always thought about that, about songs on records, that this is just this is the best it can be for any kind of time period that I can foresee,  and I would rather exist than not exist.

How was working with Rhian Teasdale from Wet Leg like on your new single ‘Dig’?

OW: I’d met them really briefly at Glastonbury when I was on before them at the Park Stage and we’d said hello, and they’d asked me to be in a video. I’d said that I was very flattered, but I wouldn’t be able to, I just didn’t have the confidence to do that.

The good thing about it was that it meant that I felt like I had enough communication that I could ask, even though I hadn’t taken him up on the offer and done a favour,  I could still ask! The timing was amazing, they’re a massive band, touring the world and doing brilliantly and it happened that one weekend I was in the UK and Rhian was visiting friends in Isle of Wight so it was very nice to record it in person. It was a total pleasure, everything that comes her way she deserves. 

You also have previous collaborators Katy J Pearson and Tony Njuko on the album – how do you decide who works best for certain songs? 

OW: With Katy, I just love her voice and we get on very well. She introduced me to Rhian and to Oliver from Caroline who plays on ‘Tomorrow’. She came and sang with me at the Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and we’ve done some odd stuff, like making videos, and I love her very much, so that was a fairly obvious one. Tony has supported me on a couple of shows around the UK, and I just think he’s a seriously gifted musician, writer, producer – I love what he makes.

With Ollie, I love that Caroline record so much, he came and supported me at the Copeland Gallery just because I wanted to hear him play the fiddle. It’s not a complicated decision, it’s more asking and seeing if people are available and if they like the song and if it’s going to be a nice thing for them to do. 

Will you be doing more exhibitions like Copeland Gallery?

OW: If I’d had the chance, I would have done something like that for A Quickening, I would have liked to display those prints more. The idea was just that I had made all of this visual work that was kind of as relevant to the time as the record is. I thought that  I also wanted to try and do something new. I’ve been a touring musician for 20 years, I’ve been up and down the UK and what I haven’t done before is put on an exhibition. I had enough where I felt like I wasn’t overstretching myself and I thought it would give a fresh lease of life to my experience of playing music, and it totally did.  

It’s the first piece I’ve ever done where I played keyboard and organ all the way through, there was enough newness to the whole plan that it was exciting. I think maybe that’s a big part of what moving here has done, it’s made me take stock and made me question, ‘why am I doing that? Is there a real point to doing that?’, and if there isn’t, don’t do it and if there is, then do it, and do it properly!

Are there any sort of other art forms that you’re also keen to explore? 

OW: I’d still like to keep making prints and doing drawings and I’ve never really made a proper graphic novel. The Gritterman was like a musical storybook, but I’d like to do more sculptural things. I don’t want to be a photographer, I don’t really want to get into something where there are too many stages to the process. I mean, that’s why I like running because I don’t need any gear! 

What do you have planned for the rest of the summer? 

OW: I’m hoping to do, maybe not till the end of the summer, another gallery, and we’re just looking at potential places, somewhere in the UK or maybe even in Europe. There’ll be a tour at the end of September and beginning of October that I think will be announced next week, and that’ll be a not a gallery or an exhibit tour but I’m trying to think how to bring some of the some of that with us in some way. I think that’s it – for now. 

‘Loja’ is out now.

Words: Becca Fergus
Photo Credit: Kate Friend

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