Unmoor Kiva is the latest project of Gemma Thompson (Savages, Bashan) and brothers/duo Adam Sherry and Sam Sherry (A Dead Forest Index). They first collaborated in 2015 when invited to write and perform together as an ensemble for Doug Aitken’s Station to Station Festival at the Barbican. It was that moment that they found themselves entranced in a new way of writing music, using an improvisational and open-ended approach. Now, as one, they’re in the process of creating a six-track debut release. It’s difficult to know what to expect. So far, they’ve played one supporting show and they’ve hung low on social media. No track teasers, no interviews and only three photos of the band have been released – each one, dark, stark and haunting in its veneer.
Musically, they’re a mystery too. Despite their post-punk alternative rock projects Savages, Bashan and A Dead Forest Index, Unmoor Kiva have this time taken inspiration from Nina Simone and Miles Davis.
Doing a good job of keeping us on our toes, Unmoor Kiva are set to play their first ever headline show this Thursday at The Shacklewell Arms for our ongoing ‘Eat Your Own Ears and Cool Brother Recommend’ January series. May the mystery unfold itself! Also on the bill are Porridge Radio, Great Dad and Jordan Cook DJ set (Crewel Intentions, Telegram).
Book your free tickets here.
Photography: Kentaro Takahashi
Cool Brother: Unmoor Kiva feels to me like a bit of a secret at the moment. You’re yet to release any music, you’ve played just one show and you’ve teased us with only a smattering of band photos – all of which appear bleak and atmospheric. What can you tell us to shed a bit of light on the picture?
Sam Sherry: We’ve been writing together quite intensely as a trio. In the summer of 2018, we begun finding a new methodology and dedicated a lot of time just sitting around a table, talking, singing, searching for something else. We began rehearsing religiously at Factory Studios, in Bristol – all the while, still singing at the table in a tiny living room; a hollow-body and drums with brushes. We were lucky to have our friend and very gifted photographer Kentaro Takahashi with us on some of these nights, which has helped us to introduce the band when our first live dates were announced.
CB: Could you explain your sound? Going from your band photos, I was expecting something dark and perhaps a little skeletal, but then I read that you formed over a love of ‘50s modal jazz and Nina Simone, and now I’m totally confused!
SS: I first heard Nina Simone's music when I was around sixteen years old, and I’m still constantly learning from her – listening closely to her and the musicians in her band, hearing things anew, over and over. ‘Live At Carnigie Hall’ is what really hit me. ‘The Black Swan,’ as an arrangement, is just perfection – it’s completely free. I would say that what we are attempting in Unmoor Kiva is simply a tribute to this unbelievable band. A few years ago, Adam got really obsessed with the song ‘When I Was In My Prime.’ It’s an early ballad and was recorded along with ‘Zungo,’ which may be the only known version. The way that she turns a traditional folk song into a complete original, haunting work is astounding. As for modal jazz, the work of Miles Davis and his ever-changing ensembles are a constant inspiration. No matter how famous ‘Kind Of Blue’ is, no write up can summarise the perfection of that record – it’s perfect on so many levels. It’s a cross section of so many complex forms colliding into pure simplicity.
CB: Would you say you’ve kept similar elements from Savages, Bashan and A Dead Forest Index, or are you a whole new sound?
SS: I feel it’s quite different now. We’ve had a lot of time to reflect and evolve as musicians since our previous projects were in full-motion. Gemma released a beautiful Bashan EP last year, so that sound is definitely closer to the bone. It’s all about moving forward and never treading water.
CB: What elements have you kept, and which elements have remained?
SS: Adam is fully concentrated on voice, as opposed to using guitar as a vehicle for the voice. We are still writing songs, but it’s wide open. Gemma’s work is becoming more cyclic and spacious. I’m trying to hit the right accents with the right shading… Hopefully it’s all in unison and moving in the right way.
CB: What made you all decide to join forces? You’re all in creatively fulfilling and successful bands already. Was there something missing, or were you each just itching to work with one another?
SS: I think that the three of us play very instinctively together. It is true that we are a family band! Gemma and I were married in 2016, and Adam and I are brothers… But we each have a completely different sense of rhythm. It’s fascinating to hear that coming together sometimes, and it’s pretty wild to me. Everyone has a different down-beat. The vocal and guitar dynamic surpasses anything that we could attempt with our previous band. We’ve also been through a lot together aside from music over the last three years. We’ve lived in London, Leipzig, Bristol and now we’re back in London. A lot of travelling, a lot of changes.
Photography: Kentaro Takahashi
CB: I read that you first collaborated in 2015, while writing for Doug Aitken’s Station to Station Festival at the Barbican. Is that how you and Gemma first met?
SS: We actually first met back in late 2013 when A Dead Forest Index were invited to join Savages on a U.K. tour. Station to Station at The Barbican was the first time that we collaborated on something from scratch together though, involving all six musicians. It was a real highlight of that whole period. The music was a sprawling, conceptual work based on the poetry of Octavio Paz, involving the dancer Fernanda Munoz-Newsome. It was a magic experience.
CB: And from there on, you developed your own improvisational approach to making music… What’s your songwriting method?
SS: A glimmer of an idea can come from a fragment, or something that Adam’s been working on vocally, and Gemma contrasts something melodic. It’s usually right straight away. It’s quite improvisatory and fast. An idea can take shape quickly and we have the whole outline drafted, or we have to work really hard at one thing again and again, but we usually know within minutes if an idea has some kind of expression with the right energy.
CB: How does this come into play when recording music and playing on stage? Do you remain improvisational, or is everything very much set in stone by that point?
We have some songs that are very set in stone, but I don’t think we play them in the same way every time. It’s a good point to be when the work is feeling set, but it has a life of it’s own and evolves over time. Recording is a tricky one for us, as we are finding more and more that we can only record live, as everything is in the feel.
CB: I know you’ve been recording at Bristol-based Invada Studios lately. When can we expect to hear the debut record? You must be so excited about it!
SS: Invada is amazing, and we’ve been really lucky to have had the opportunity to record there. Geoff Barrow introduced us to engineer James Trevascus last year and we’ve been working closely ever since. We’re still in early days, drafting out ideas together and discussing the next sessions, but our aim is to have the record out this year.
CB: How are you feeling about your ‘Eat your own Ears and Cool Brother Recommend’ show this Thursday? Am I right in thinking it’s your first time headlining?
SS: Yes! We’re really looking forward to it, thank you for having us.
CB: What have you been listening to in between recording and rehearsal sessions lately?
Nadah El Shazly – ‘Ahwar’
Djivan Gasparyan – ‘I Will Not Be Sad In This World’
Serpentwithfeet – 'Soil'
Matana Roberts – ‘River Run Thee’
Rahim AlHaj – ‘The Second Baghdad’
Sonny Rollins – ‘Saxophone Colossus’
John Coltrane – ‘Both Directions At Once’
Follow Unmoor Kiva on Instagram, Facebook
Follow Eat Your Own Ears on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
Follow Cool Brother on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter