In Conversation: Shards

In Conversation: Shards

In the studio with composer Kieran Brunt...

On a street close to Berlin’s Görlitzer Park Clash is led through a pair of heavy set doors typical of the type found on most apartment blocks in the city.

Untypical though, is that we arrive at a smallish cottage nestled haphazardly within the courtyard. It begs further inquiry but for the time being we’ll take it in my stride. This is Berlin after all.

- - -

- - -

We’re here to meet Kieran Brunt, composer, singer, producer and leader of London based vocal group Shards ahead of the release of debut album, ‘Find Sound’. He’s been using a small but well equipped studio housed in the cottage as base camp for a two-week writing sojourn. And he’s got wine! The perfect host.

Its release marks a great milestone for the group who only came together in 2016 after Brunt was asked to put together a choir for Nils Frahm’s Possibly Colliding festival at the Barbican that summer. The success of the shows led Brunt and Shards to join Frahm in his Berlin studio (Saal 3) within the historic Funkhaus Berlin to collaborate on choral arrangements for the 2018 album ‘All Melody’.

‘Find Sound’ marries the twelve voices that make up Shards with sparingly used textures of synth and percussion, showcased beautifully on lead single ‘Summer Sickness’. The ten tracks that appear on ‘Find Sound’ were recorded and produced in Italy at Palazzo Stabile, a house and studio in the hills of the Piedmontese countryside where the group lived and recorded together during a two-week residency.

Back in Berlin and red wine in hand, Clash invites Kieran Brunt to reflect on Shards’ journey to date, the new album and their place within choral music.

- - -

- - -

How did Shards come together?

By chance I got asked to do this thing at the Barbican with Terry Riley. He’d made a new piece for a boys choir, my school choir, and the person who normally conducted the choir couldn’t do it so they asked me instead.

After that, Chris Sharp [head of new music programming at the Barbican], called with a crazy idea: Nils Frahm is doing a festival at the Barbican and wants a choir for the weekend. Instead of hiring-in a choir why don’t you make a new one?! I asked friends and friends of friends to do it - all professional singers but who had done a mixture of things in bands and as composers and not solely just choral singing.

I knew it would have to be quite a flexible, open minded group. And it just worked! It was this crazy three days of rehearsal, soundcheck and gig with Nils. I’d been chatting with Robert [Raths - label founder] from Erased Tapes since then and then Nils asked us to go to Berlin to work on his next album.

- - -

- - -

How was it working with Nils Frahm on ‘All Melody’? What did you take away from the experience?

Nils was looking for new ideas to bring into his music and I think the buzz of energy of the choir that weekend struck a chord with him. I came over for a few days to work with him on some arrangements but as I had also been working as a teacher I had to fly back to do a school concert one evening and fly back to Berlin the next morning! It was such a cool process and incredibly inspiring place to record [Funkhaus].

These are genuinely some of the best sounding rooms in Europe for recording orchestras. It sounds amazing but also looks stunningly beautiful. All the little elements of the building’s sound design are perfectly designed, drawn, painted and carved. It’s such a beautiful place! He [Frahm] has these incredible ears and the studio is basically his laboratory.

- - -

- - -

We were taken in there as specimen for him to study and take little ideas from. He was listening and interjecting but we were just running and I was trying things out with the choir and saying try this or try that and he’d be there ready to record. He’d then go away and take out the bits he wanted.

So much of the process was about workshopping which also formed a big part of how we made ‘Find Sound’. I was sat there listening to this music and I’d write stuff down and print out sheets for people to go away and sing for twenty minutes and then I’d write something else and so on. When we made our album I basically did the same thing but ditched the printer and got everyone to bring an iPad to make things quicker!

- - -

- - -

What’s the idea behind 'Find Sound'?

The concept for the record is that each track is a kind of abstract little picture of the emotional highs and lows of early adulthood. It’s up and down and that was very much a conscious decision. All the tracks are quite short. I wanted them to be bursts of energy of ideas rather than a slow meditation on something.

The singers in the choir are really some of the best singers in the country. They sing and tour in amazing choirs but what I’m trying to do with the group is combine this idea of skill and ability and range but then also having that fragile element. That’s definitely a big part of the album.

- - -

- - -

Take recording. It’s often this idea of perfection, purity and precision and i think there is a gap which can celebrate the cracks and the breaks and the fragility. I think that comes from my love of anti-folk stuff from the early noughties like Diane Cluck, Jeffery Lewis, Emmy the Great and this kind of super lo-fi stuff. I love the texture of those voices.

On the song 'Thoughts' from the album you can hear at the beginning a mouth moving and crackling. That wasn't the best take by far but that imperfection for me is really important for the sound of the album.

- - -

- - -

What is your goal with Shards and its place within choral music?

We’re trying to create a new space for the idea of choral signing. I hope that this record is something which is more approachable to people who have got no understanding of classical choral music.

If people listen to our record on the radio and then go home and look up more traditional choral music then I’d love the group to be that portal. But the spaces which people hear and enjoy choral singing are surprisingly limited and one of the big spaces that you don’t hear it is on the gig stage and that’s really what I want to do. A choir making original music and performing as a band, that’s a big motivation behind this.

- - -

- - -

Scala Radio is really interesting and they’ve played quite a bit of our music. I feel like their ethos about music and listening to music is similar to mine: the idea that you shouldn’t have to put things in certain boxes and enjoy them separately.

They’ll play a Beethoven piece followed by a Thom Yorke song and you can tell why they’ve done that because it’s like delicate piano, crooning, soft singing, harmonies. I love that they’re mentioning all this music in the same space and really glad they’ve thought Shards fits in that context because that’s exactly what I want it to be. 

Traditional choral music is important and it’s a huge cultural heritage, especially in England. I’m so glad it’s being preserved but I think there’s lots of other places to take it and this is the space we’re setting our sights on. 

- - -

- - -

‘Find Sound’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

Words: Nicolas Graves

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

 

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine