The 7″ single Carnival/Canter on the DIY imprint ITLAN based in Edinburgh, Scotland marks the welcome, and long overdue, return of Tissø Lake, the recording project of Ian Humberstone.
I blogged about his album Song Of The Black Dog in 2008 but since early 2010 he has gone off the radar.
Now he’s back and the good news is that the single will be closely followed (on April 14th) by a re-release of ‘The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold’ which was recorded in 2005. Unless you live in America and snapped up a copy of this on the now defunct Banazan Records label, the ten tracks on this mini album will also be new to you.
Both records are highly recommended for lovers of quiet, introspective folk music. I love ghostly yet intimate quality of his songs which, to borrow a line from the song I Am A Lake, leaves you with the feeling of being “breathless and alive”.
Ian very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his song writing and the background to these releases:
How come The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold was only released in the U.S and why has it taken 8 years to reach Europe?
The Hollow Wood and Wondrous Cold was recorded when I was still in my teens, making music with whichever instruments fell to my hands, borrowed microphones and a reel-to-reel recorder salvaged from a local sixth-form college (it was headed for the skip, though with some care it’s served me well since). There were few people interested in releasing the album at the time and the best offer came from a U.S. label who wanted exclusive rights to the album. Those rights only recently expired, freeing up the record for re-release.
The two songs on the new single have celebratory titles and the instrumental, Canter, has a joyful, baroque feel. Carnival, however seems more melancholy and reflective. How would you compare the single’s mood to that of The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold?
I wouldn’t say there’s a huge shift between the records, as there are upbeat and more reflective tracks on each. I think the real difference comes from the way the records were recorded, as the single was tracked live as a duo, in-between bottles of Jarl in Edinburgh, while The Hollow Wood was recorded alone over a longer period of time. Perhaps that’s rubbed off on the tracks, as there’s maybe more of a carousing feel to the single while the album is more delicate and focused?
Your songs don’t just seem to be about nature but completely immersed in it. There’s wind, mist, rivers, lakes and woods but the landscape you evoke is largely devoid of people. How do the songs come into being and do you have a misanthropic streak?
I think a lot of the songs are borne of solitude, as inspiration and clarity usually come while out alone in some forgotten corner of the world. If you watch the mist hang over a meadow or stumble upon an abandoned house while walking with a friend, you share the moment and it’s wonderful, but go alone and a creative thread starts to unwind which might find its way to a song. So I wouldn’t say I’m misanthropic, but I certainly value solitude as a creative, productive state. That said, many of the songs are filled with references to people, though these are maybe too oblique to be picked up on by an outside observer.
Three Songs was released under your own name. Is there any particular reason why you still prefer to use the Tissø Lake alias?
Tissø Lake began as a solo project but quickly picked up a lengthy cast of contributors, who would sift in and out of the line-up depending on availability. Robin Spottiswoode was most present of these and we played a few tours together as a twosome. With that in mind, Tissø Lake seemed the right name to release the new 7-inch under as the record recreates the sound of those live sets and Robin’s arrangements are so prominent. I also like the idea of Tissø Lake being left open for the future as a collaborative project, although I think most new releases will be under my own name.
Robin Spottiswoode’s inspired violin playing brings a special dimension to the sound – are they any plans to make a full length album with him?
I’d really like to, he’s a great player and arranger, as well as a good friend. Unfortunately, we’re living at opposite ends of the country just now, so not any time soon, but hopefully, one day.
The single is the first release on the ITLAN label and, like all your work, is on limited edition vinyl. I’m assuming therefore that you are no great fan on MP3s or CDs. I was wondering if you have you any thoughts on Neil Young’s Pono digital audio player?
The Pono player is interesting and I think more competition for iTunes and Spotify can only be a good thing for artists and consumers, and the sound quality argument is also a valid one. I’ve nothing against MP3s or CDs, but I’m interested in the physicality of music on vinyl; there’s the texture and size of the artwork as well as a ritual element to flipping the sides. Music is more of an event on vinyl and I like to interact with objects in the real world as much as I can. Who really wants to look back on a life’s work through a laptop screen?
Is there anything else listeners should know about these releases?
Well, I’m quite proud of the artwork on these. The sleeves were designed using hand-coloured picture postcards found in a secondhand shop, and the labels were created by hand using Letraset transfer lettering. They’re nice looking things.