Nueva

  • Nueva
  • 2021-02-02

London-based harmony folk band Nueva is Fiona Fey, Rey Yusuf, Monica Viñoly and Josh Considine. Despite the challenges of lockdown, they’ve just released their first single and a winter warmer of a video by filmmaker Donshades that brings the band together. We caught up wtih Fi, Rey and Don to find out more.

We love the traditional music, but we don’t always like the traditional messages.

First up, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Fi: Before Nueva, Rey and I both worked together in Tell Tale Tusk, which was also folk and harmony singing based. Before that I spent most of my free time on activism, in particular with UKUncut, trying to highlight the link between corporate tax avoidance and the cutting of funds to public services. Aside from that I worked in a series of dead end jobs. (Interesting fact, people often yell ‘get a job’ at activists, we all had one, in general activists are very busy people!)

Rey: I used to work in post production/video editing, comes in handy as musicians are expected to do everything in production and marketing nowadays.

Don: I have a background in theatre and performing arts before I got into working as a filmmaker in a commercial design and advertising studio. After a few years working in-house there, I left to set up my own studio practice.

Fi: I think ‘got into’ is a bit of an understatement, he seems to spend every waking moment doing it, watching, imagining, playing with ideas for it!

Who are Nueva?
Rey: Nueva are, Fiona Fey (vocals & guitar), Rey Yusuf (vocals and guitar) Monica Viñoly (vocals & violin), Josh Considine (Cello). I met Monica as we both play in All Cats are Beautiful and Monica studies Music Therapy with Josh at the University in Roehampton.

Who did you take inspiration from?
Fi & Rey: We’re obsessed with vocal harmony, so we love groups like The Staves and Mountain Man, as well as being influenced by old swing artists like The Andrews Sisters, The Boswell Sisters and The Mills Brothers. We’re also inspired by experimental music, especially when they are experimental with their voices, like Mount Wittenberg Orca (by The Dirty Projectors and Bjork)

Also it’s important to mention much of the inspiration we’ve got from brilliant bands we’ve seen around the London folk scene. Bands we’ve seen at small but incredibly important grassroots venues like The Green Note, Jamboree and The Harrison, plus the many many festivals. We must have been to at least 5 a year before we even started working together.

We usually write our music outside and we definitely take inspiration from nature (which was useful this year since we actually couldn’t get together anywhere else!) Whenever we’ve tried to write inside we find it fails miserably.

Don: As a filmmaker I’m forever inspired by whatever it was that I last watched. Even if it’s something that isn’t to my taste. It’s strange that more recently I’ve been getting inspired as much by things I dislike as by things that I like.

In terms of filmmakers who I continually look back to for inspiration; Maya Deren, Jan Svankmajer, Michelle Gondry, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Jonas Mekas also the experimental filmic artworks of Dora Maurer, Andy Warhol, Peter Greenway, Orson Welles… The list gets long and exhaustive and that’s just the filmmakers. I get much of my inspiration from dreams, working on my allotment and bimbling around art galleries.

We’ve written a song about climate change and that’s something we’re interested in talking about, the environment and the world we live in as well as about our feelings about it.

Why the name ‘Nueva’, what do you stand for?
Fi & Rey: ‘Nueva’ literally means ‘new’ in Spanish. We started learning spanish during the first lockdown which is how that came about, and at the same time Monica joined us, bringing her Spanish heritage and cultural influences and Josh’s partner is also Spanish, although we didn’t know that at the time, but it’s a nice synchronicity.

Rey: I really liked how the word “Nueva” felt to say, how it sounded, and what it meant. New beginning . New Band. New Music, New approaches.

Fi: Maybe when we’ve been around a while we’ll have to change our name to ‘Old’, or ‘Antigua Nueva’ Lets see.

Rey: In terms of what do we stand for? Well-

Fi: There are definitely political and human themes in our music.

Rey: We’ve written a song about climate change and that’s something we’re interested in talking about, the environment and the world we live in as well as about our feelings about it.

Fi: Much of folk music is written about traditional values and while society has changed and progressed, some of the lyrics feel somewhat outdated, so there are times where we reboot lyrics to older songs to make them more relevant to modern times while staying true to the spirit of the music. For example, we’ve done our own arrangement of ‘Bonny Boy” but we’ve updated some of the lyrics to make the relationship in the story less heteronormative.

Folk music has to change with the times to reflect the thoughts and values of the people and the society that they live in or else it will quickly become irrelevant. Some people get upset about that but folk tunes have already changed to fit the times and storytellers worldview anyway (look at all the changes the Grymms brothers made to fairytales!) so why not change them for the better going forward? We love the traditional music, but we don’t always like the traditional messages.

If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would you love to work with?
Rey: I’d collaborate with Fiona Fey. Fi: (laughing) And I’d collaborate with Rey Yusuf. Haha. It’s actually a really special thing when you find someone you work so well with, we often talk in half sentences when we write, we get so in sync that we seem to know what eachother meant without really having to explain.

A typical conversation would be:

-I like the…
-Yeh, me too.
-But without the…
-Yes! Exactly what I was thinking.

Rey: It’s been a real dream to work with both Monica and Josh as well, really inspired by everyone’s attitudes to the music and the project.

Fi: Other big artists? Paul Simon… one of the best songwriters ever! And I love Neil Hannon for similar reasons, he’s orchestrations are massive and I love how he’s not afraid to be funny or silly at the same time. Sincerity has its place but it’s not the only way to write. Playfulness has a place in music.

Rey: I’d love to work with Lianne La Havas, her voice and songwriting blows me away every time, and Skin from Skunk Anansie is a big hero of mine, would love to belt out some harmonies with her.

If we’re talking collaboration as a band, we’d love to collaborate with the Moulettes, to bring in elements of their groove, heaviness and experimental sounds.

Famous artists aside, we’ve been really lucky to be surrounded by amazing musicians in our lives; we get to jam and play with musicians of such a high caliber. Everyone we work with now are people I’ve dreamed of working with in the past having been to their gigs and been inspired by them. We’re really lucky and are really grateful to have access to such an amazing sharing community of musicians around us.

Humans like to think we can find ways to conquer nature, but essentially nature is the more powerful force, it carries on regardless.

Tell us about your debut single ‘Summer’s Lament’. What’s it about?
Rey & Fi: It’s about not having had the opportunity to experience the summer of music and shared experience - the arts, the culture, the shared things. It’s also a recognition that no matter what’s happening socially and politically with us humans- nature just carries on doing it’s thing. It doesn’t stop its natural cycles.

Fi: Nature always prevails, whatever humans do. Through our behaviour we are having a heavy impact on the things (to our extreme detriment if we’re looking to an environment that we can survive in {we have a song about this coming soon}) but it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s us as ‘humans’ (we forget we are animals under this umbrella) who are under threat, not the planet. Humans like to think we can find ways to conquer nature, but essentially nature is the more powerful force, it carries on regardless.

When did you write it and where did you record it?
Fi: We wrote it in Autumn just as the seasons were changing.

Rey: I’d already written a guitar part in lockdown, played it to Fi and the lyrics just came out of her, singing it from start to finish in one go - I loved when that happened, it was such a good feeling.

Fi: (laughing) A Muse gave it to us in the garden, this is why we can’t write inside. Muses won’t come in!

Rey: We finalised the string parts as we recorded them - it was great to try out different ideas during the recording session and using what works best. It was a really fun way to work, before I’d usually insist on knowing exactly what we’re doing before recording, but as the strings were done in our home studio we had the freedom to just try stuff without being restricted by time/money.

Fi: We recorded the guitars at The Premises studio and everything else at home. Then it was Mixed and Mastered by Rupert Gillett who’s become our go to guy because he knows how to make things pop whilst keeping it natural.

How does ‘Summer’s Lament’ represent you?
Rey: (laughing) It shows we’re moaners… Haha, just kidding. I’ve been learning in recent times that it’s better to acknowledge if things are shit and not pretend everything is ok or try and smile through it. Give that feeling some space and time to process, and that makes it easier to move forward. I think that represents who we are because it’s healthy to be honest and say if things are bad. Honesty is the value.

You worked with Donshades on for the video. What were your ideas when you approached the video?
Rey: It was all a bit last minute which kept it exciting. When discussing what we could do Fiona said she always wanted to film around a fire, it’s something Don and I had been discussing separately for a while too so when she suggested it felt like the right thing to do. Monica was in Tenerife and Josh was locked down elsewhere, but because it was a debut video we absolutely wanted all of the band members to be in the video.

Initially we thought about having screens in the film but hadn’t figured out what kind yet. We wondered about us filming ourselves first, and then Monica and Josh playing along to us, but Don had the idea to have us watch them around the fire, which made it much more straightforward as they could just film themselves in one shot, it all got done really quickly which was really satisfying.

How did the filming go? It looks like it was a really cosy shoot with all the candles and fire, what challenges did that present?
Fi: We have filmed around a fire before, but all that came out was the fire so there was the challenge of filming in the dark.

Rey: My bum hurt from sitting on a log for a long time!

Fi: Very Hot Feet!

Rey: But saying that, it was an amazing experience. Really magical to see the song come to life in that way

Fi: Don wasn’t near the fire, so had to drink a lot of whiskey to keep warm. We momentarily forgot how to play the song - that was a challenge - because the only time we’d all played it all the way through was in the studio back in September!

Rey: Oi - I’d practised my part! Haha. Smoke in my eyes was a challenge!

Don: This was a lockdown project and from the start we knew we’d have just the three of us, in an outside space being distanced as per the restrictions. Also that we would make the film with available resources. I had the projector in my studio and the fire bowl in the garden and the iPhone in my pocket. Also lots of candles left over from Christmas.

Shooting at night is always tough. I was adamant that I wouldn’t use any lights, just the candles and the fire before bringing in the projections.

Tell us about the projections. Who features in the footage?
Don: For me it was the first time shooting on an iPhone so there were learnings about how far you can push that particular camera, especially with the desire to do in-camera projections and rephotographing the images of Monica and Josh. You can push the phone camera quite far it turns out.

The main creative challenge was bringing the band together. That desire led first to the idea of screens, around the fire then to the idea of using a projector to beam Monica and Josh into the garden in a way that could be a dream or an apparition or a memory conjured by the ritual of sitting playing folk music around the fire in memory of the summer.

Monica and Josh are both there and not there at the same time, much like so many connections that we’ve had in the collective experience over this last year of lockdowns and zoom chats and remaining distant.

I was trying to capture that spirit, that spectre of remote collaboration in a way that would be a development beyond the new established visual language of the tiled video wall that has been ubiquitous across our digital platforms over this past year. Most of all though, it was fun to play with a projector in the garden.

What are your hopes for ‘Summer’s Lament’?
Fi: I just hope to be able to play it live at some point. That’s about as far as I’ll let myself hope in the current situation.

Rey: For me, because it’s our first single we’ve put out as Nueva, I hope that it will connect with people and that it will bring them along on the rest of this journey with us.

Don: The reaction to the film has been fantastic so far. I think filmmakers are similar to musicians in many respects; we all hope that as many people as possible will get an opportunity to see the film, hear the music and hopefully be moved by their experience of the work.

What are your other plans for 2021?
Rey: We’re going to finish recording the album, releasing singles along the way.

Fi: We’re aiming to release a new song every month if we can. By the end of the summer that would mean we have a full album as a hard copy to offer as in the folk world, having a physical album is still very important to fans.

Rey: We do have gigs in the pipeline, but we will have to see how the situation progresses, what the state of the world is like and if they can happen

Don: I’m working on a feature documentary that I’ve had on the back burner for a while, quietly fermenting. It feels like now is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with that project and bring it into fruition. I’ll say it’s Glastonbury Festival related, but that’s all for now.

People are moved by different things so best make what moves you in some way.

Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourselves one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
Fi: Make what you like, not what you think other people will like. And make lots of it because some of it will be shit anyway - so just make more because when you make more you get better at making and so all the more amazing stuff will come out as a result. There’s a story in Art and Fear, where one group of students were told to make a pot every day for 100 days and another group to to make one pot but they had 100 days to do it. Obviously the group who made a pot a day became masters after 100 days whilst the students who spent 100 days making one pot made shit pot. Make it and get it out! Onwards!

Also work with other people who also work to serve the art above all things. Ask yourself the question, always - is this serving the art, or are there other reasons I’m doing this? Leave your ego at the door!

Rey: Fully immerse yourself in music and arts, or whatever it is that inspires you. Soak everything up because it will inform what you do, or don’t do, and you will meet some great people along the way.

Fi: It doesn’t matter if people like your music or not. Best just to make it anyway.

Rey: I agree, there’s space for all of it, people are moved by different things so best make what moves you in some way.

Don: I’d definitely echo what Rey and Fi have just said to their former selves. Having spent much of my life working commercially I’d say to my older self “Fuck Commercial”. What matters is to make things that give voice to the chorus of voices that sing inside. They all sing different notes, to stick with the music analogy; sometimes that’s a chord, sometimes it’s a discord.

Personally I’d go back and say to myself to amplify the discordant voices as they usually have something interesting to say. Turn them into a short film, a sketch, an animation. Keep making, always make something every day and done is better than Perfect. If ideas develop out of this cacophony into something more commercial and you can ride that vibe, then go for it, but start with the personal, put yourself in your work and go forth.

Watch the video for ‘Summer’s Lament’ on YouTube above. For the latest about Nueva, check them out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Bandcamp. For more about Donshades, head to studiodonshades.com.

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