The Blackheart Orchestra are one of the busiest progressive pop bands on the UK scene. Late last year they released Mesmeranto, an intensely rich listening experience, that easily feels like their best album yet. Behind the songs and atmospheric brilliance of the band is the musical partnership of Chrissy Mostyn and Rick Pilkington. Ask them both what they really love about music and I’m sure they will tell you that it’s performing live in front of an audience. Fast forward to 2020, the duo touring future, like it is for so many other musicians, is on hold for the foreseeable future due to covid-19’s cultural carnage. But in times of despair, we humans are a resourceful lot, and have turned to the internet to reconnect musically with each other from all around the world. That said, on the eve of Chrissy and Rick’s second instalment of The Big Armchair online concert series, I caught up with Chrissy to talk about life in lockdown and playing music online.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in so many ways. But I’m sure music has been a respite for you like it is for most of us. Chrissy, what music have you been listening to during these times?
It really has altered our lives massively, from being on the road most of the time to having all of that just stop in an instant caused a fair bit of emotional whiplash but we adjusted and found new ways to pursue our passions. I have been listening to quite a lot of music, and have been revisiting some of my favourite albums along with some newer releases. I actually made a Spotify playlist called ‘Songs To Weather The Storm’ which includes many of the artists that have been keeping me company during these crazy times including Soap & Skin, Nick Cave, Philip Glass, Daughter along with about a hundred others!
Have you been maintaining somewhat of a routine while under self-quarantine? Can you share what you have been up to?
It is hard to think of life on the road as being routine but it really is. We just fall into the swing of it – another venue, another city etc, but we approach each night exactly the same. I must admit at first lockdown was incredibly tough and it certainly has altered our lives massively. The vision of what we expected the next few months to look like was replaced with emptiness and I must be honest I had a really hard time with that. I watched way too much news and I almost went into what felt like mourning. A few weeks of anxiety and nightmares led to the decision to stay away from the news as much as possible, which was the best decision I could have made. I wasn’t trying to hide away from reality but having fear fuel every minute does nothing but harm. After I unplugged the TV ideas started to flow and motivation seemed to come to life again. We made a big decision to unload all of our equipment even the PA and the lights out of the tour van and set it up in Rick’s living room. Playing music again felt like we had plugged our dead batteries back into the mains and we came back to life. For the last few months we have been playing online festivals, doing interviews with music media, writing our next album, plus doing our online concerts which have been unbelievably successful and satisfying for us. We call them Big Armchair concerts and the next one is on our Facebook live this Friday June 26th 8pm BST.
I understand you have been creating new music too?
We have, the next album is pretty much written and ready to record, we can’t wait until we are allowed back into the studio.
Chrissy, last October you and Rick released your latest album Mesmeranto. I know you wound up a series of album launch shows last year, but do you feel a little disappointed not being able to get out there and play those incredible new songs this year?
We do, we are totally addicted to playing live and had so many live dates lined up, it was really sad to see our plans just vaporise, but hopefully restrictions will ease soon and we will be able to venture out on tour again in the meantime we are adjusting and discovering new ways to share our music and stay connected with our fanbase.
You have more recently though made a concerted effort to play some online shows. How strange does that feel without the presence of a live audience?
We were absolutely terrified before our first Facebook live concert, I mean I couldn’t sleep for days before I was terrified, which is insane as together we have played in excess of well over a thousand live shows but I think it was the fact that we were venturing into unknown territory. That said we absolutely loved it and even though we couldn’t see the audiences faces staring back at us we still felt very connected to them which is a strange but wonderful feeling, the support was pretty overwhelming so we are actually now really excited about the next one.
Nonetheless I guess it’s good for the soul to do something that you love?
Absolutely and the quality time spent with our fans really filled our hearts up and reminded us who we are. We are so very lucky.
Forgive me for asking but Rick gave everyone a little bit of a scare early this year. Can I ask how he’s going?
He did indeed, this year has been full of surprises. We were touring in Scotland when he was suddenly taken ill. He ended up in a hospital in Glasgow for over two weeks which was a little scary for me, but he quite enjoyed his stay and he is doing much better now thank you.
More recently I noticed you have been encouraging Rick to publish his poetry writing. I’d love to see something like that happen. How’s it going?
This is a touchy subject as Rick is very shy about revealing his poems to the world, they really are beautiful though and I am still trying to gently pursued him. Wish me luck!
One of the songs from Mesmeranto that I keep coming back to, even still months later after it’s release, is Violet. With your new online show just around the corner, I hope you play it for everyone?
We’re really pleased you like Violet, it was the very last song added to the record and is probably the most stripped back production wise, consisting of just piano and bowed guitar, it turned out to have a real intimacy about it. We actually played it on our last Facebook live back in May so it probably won’t be added this time, however the last concert is still available to view over on our Facebook page.
Will you use the opportunity to perform any new songs too? Or I’d be definitely curious to hear some of your tracks performed in a whole new arrangement.
Yes, we are adding a couple of brand new songs to the set that have been created during lockdown, one called Sleep and one called Astronaut. We frequently get requests to play some of our older songs off the early albums, so for our next Facebook Live we have been working on new arrangements of a few older songs, one of which we haven’t played live for over ten years but now feels brand new again! We’re quite excited about playing them again.
Finally Chrissy, until next time, any last thoughts?
Just that we hope everyone is doing ok out there, even in these strange times there are lots of gifts to discover, one of them being stillness and space to reflect, when usually we always have our foot down heading to the next venue. That said we are more than ready to venture out into the world again and we especially have a huge hankering to return to Australia. It’s been nine years since we’ve played there, we loved the two Australian tours we did so much and we’re ready for another adventure down under!
Check out The Blackheart Orchestra’s ‘The Big Armchair 2 Concert’ via their Facebook page tomorrow at 8pm (BST). You can also connect with The Blackheart Orchestra via their website. You can also follow The Blackheart Orchestra via their Twitter feed. Follow them on Instagram. Watch them on You Tube.