Seventh Harmonic Interview:
Sandwiched between Rampaging Noiseniks
Caroline Jago tells the story of Seventh Harmonic. Uncle Nemesis listens
Part 3: Halfway to madness - the later
misadventures of Seventh Harmonic
The story so far. We’re up to 2001. The
new, expanded Caroline/Eilish/Kate/Amandine/Paul line-up of Seventh Harmonic
was going strong at this point. The Ascent had been very well received,
Amandine was making a big impact, lots of gigs were happening - did you
have that ‘This it it!’ kind of feeling, that sense that it was all coming
together and success was just over the horizon? From a punter’s point of
view (and also as a promoter) it did seem as if Seventh Harmonic were definitely
coming up to that elusive breakthrough point at this time.
I guess in retrospect then yes,
it really did feel like this was it - that things had crystallised, and
that we stood on the verge of something really good. But I’m not sure whether
it really registered at the time - things were always moving so fast I’m
not sure how much time there was to sit back and let the sense of achievement
sink in. There was literally only several weeks to bask in the glory before
Amandine left thus rendering The Ascent obsolete, and I had to crack
on with composing a new album!
yes - Amandine left rather abruptly, towards the end of 2001. If I recall
the story correctly, you came home one day to find that she’d had left
you a ‘Dear John’ type letter and vanished to France, never to be seen
again! How did this unexpected hitch go down with the band? I imagine there
was a certain amount of stress and swearing behind the scenes...
It was September 2001 - I remember
it very clearly, as the last time I saw her was September 12th, and I was
still mesmerised by footage of the twin towers being replayed endlessly
on News 24. She came around to pick up her stuff as I was going away for
a week (she’d had some personal problems which meant she’d been crashing
at my house for some time), looked at the TV, emitted her trademark ‘fuckin’
‘ell!’, then turned around and immediately started discussing her own problems
before bidding adieu. I came home a week later to a letter from France
with no forwarding address saying she wasn’t coming back. This was less
than two months after the release of The Ascent, and we had four
gigs lined up, so it had a wider impact on a lot of people outside the
band. In addition, I was left seriously out of pocket with an unpromotable
album. So yes, you could say she wasn’t the most popular person on the
planet after I’d informed the rest of the band...
And so Kate (and her dulcimer) stepped
up to the front and became Seventh Harmonic’s new lead singer.
off to Kate big-time for providing that seamless transition. She had started
working on backing vocals with Amandine, so it was a suggestion that was
put in the arena almost immediately. But yes, it was stressful for her
- anyone who saw Amandine knew she was a hard act to follow, and Kate hadn’t
sung for quite a while. She bit the bullet, started having weekly singing
lessons, and worked extremely hard to ensure that the show could go on!
As it happens, the whole thing turned out
very much for the best. The more recent tracks I’d written had moved on
from The Ascent, in both a darker and also more Eastern-influenced direction,
and I’m not sure those songs would have suited Amandine’s style or tastes;
whereas they were perfect for Kate, who had both interest in and knowledge
of Eastern vocal styles and languages.
This line-up did actually have an unexpected
asset in that the dulcimer was now right under the noses of the audience,
and given that most people had probably never seen such a contraption before
I think this did scare up a bit of additional interest. But obviously Kate
was very different to Amandine, not just in vocal style: the on-stage personality
of the band was wrenched in yet another new direction. Did this cause any
bother, or did you just shamelessly blag your way through the gigs as if
Kate had always been there? Did anyone actually say, ‘Hang on - that’s
not the singer on the album and/or at the last gig!’ ?
I think people were actually becoming
quite used to our ever-changing vocalists by that stage! We just got on
with it, and hoped that people would appreciate that we were giving them
a bit of variety!
The next episode in the Seventh Harmonic
saga came in early 2002, when you played the Eurorock festival in Belgium.
On the face of it, the opportunity to appear at a major European event
should be a great boost for any band, but as I recall it all turned out
to be a bit of a Spinal Tap-style disaster. The experience of playing a
major Euro-fest - at least if you’re a relatively unknown down-the-bill
band - isn’t quite the glorious experience it’s sometimes assumed to be.
So, what was the full gory story....?
(Takes enormous breath.) OK. We
managed to get booked for the second day of the Eurorock festival. Basically
all the established acts played on the first day and all the struggling
impoverished bands played the second day - the organisers struck on the
genius idea of the former being in essence
paid by the latter, as yes - you guessed it - for us minnows, it was pay
to play. Well, we had to bump up our European profile, and as most European
festival organisers don’t touch UK acts with a barge pole, we had to like
it or lump it.
So off we went on the Eurolines coach.
First hurdle was, it being January, the weather was abominable so we were
hugely delayed and staggered into Antwerp at an ungodly hour, eventually
locating the hostel the organisers were supposed to have booked us into.
(Only booked us into you understand - we had to pay for all that ourselves
as well.) Hey, guess what? They hadn’t bothered to make the booking, so
as the hostel was full, we were forced to sleep in the stinking boiler
room, where one room was apocalyptically hot and the other was Arctic temperature
- goodbye to any remote chance of sleep. We had to be up early in the morning,
so double checked with the hostel owners that they’d be around to supply
breakfast and book us a cab to the venue (if we weren’t there by 10am,
we’d simply be struck off the bill, no matter what the reason was. No refunds,
of course!) Next morning - a Sunday - there was no-one to be found. When
it got to 9am I was reduced to a steaming pile of hysterical terror, and
simply ran out onto the deserted street imploring any English speakers
to please help.
We found someone who told us how to use
a Belgian phone box, found a cab number and ordered the cab for us. We
made it to the venue with seconds to spare. The band order was decided
by picking names out of a hat at 10.30am, and I was praying with all my
might that we’d get a decent time. In possibly the only act of fortune
for the entire weekend, we got somewhere around 7pm. Unfortunately, that
still left us with nine hours to kill - of course there were the other
bands to watch, but this venue was in the middle of nowhere next to a motorway,
and all we really wanted to do was find somewhere we could have a decent
breakfast and relax, rather than hanging around the venue all day.
At that point, there was really only one
course of action to take to avoid evaporating with stress, and that was
to blot it all out. The bands only got 1 free beer per member but we found
a way around that... We befriended another band from Sweden called Severe
Illusion (who had managed to bag the final slot at 10.30), established
that they could lend me both their bass and Minidisc player, and proceeded
to drown our sorrows with them...
Suffice it to say, I remember very little
after 3pm, and only came around when finally onstage when the first disaster
of the night occurred - I’d forgotten to plug the Minidisc we’d borrowed
into the mains with the result that it swiftly ran out of batteries, and
we stood there looking very silly as 95% of our musical output vanished
into the ether. However, since the huge venue had failed to fill with anyone who
wasn’t from one of the other bands it wasn’t as if it really mattered;
but it was supposed to be a competition and I had been informed by one
of the Side-Line magazine crew that we were very hotly tipped to win one
of the categories. The prize was the chance to play a bigger festival in
summer; but that didn’t matter either as Eilish informed me on the coach
up that she couldn’t make that date as she was booked to play a friend’s
Anyway, another Minidisc player was procured
so off we went again, whereupon Kate forgot all the words to ‘Inside’.
Hey ho. Off we came, drank some more, and all piled back onstage a couple
of hours later to improvise with Severe Illusion - we had no idea what
they sounded like, even what sort of genre their music was (a kind of harsh
power electronics as it turned out) but who cared anymore? The other two
did a fantastic job, and I set about demolishing a drumkit that someone
had unwisely left miked up on the stage. The hall emptied. We got a cab
back to the hostel, whereupon I passed out.
We spent another nightmarish day travelling
back on Eurolines - a delayed ferry journey due to the stormy weather conditions,
and lots of vomiting in the coach toilet from yours truly. When we returned,
I wrote an outraged rant to a newsgroup about how shocking the whole thing
had been - I don’t expect red carpets, but as well as being fleeced alive
the bands were treated like cattle. A few people connected with the festival
got wind of it and were not impressed, thinking it was just sour grapes
on my part that we hadn’t won. I think the evidence outlined above makes
it very clear that that prospect had never occurred to us...but anyway
- the festival never happened again, and I like to think that this was
not a coincidence and that I’d had a hand in no band ever having to go
through this experience again.
Towards the end of 2002, Promise
Of Sacrifice, Seventh Harmonic’s third album, was released. The album
has a confident, upbeat sound, as if the band were having fun with the
creative process in the studio. But, knowing the inevitable shenanigans
that seem to attend everything Seventh Harmonic do, was that really the
I’m glad it sounds like it was
a fun album to make, but sadly nothing could be further from the truth
- I think it’s safe to say it drove me halfway to madness and still can’t
hear the damn thing without emitting an involuntary shudder!
I couldn’t find anyone suitable with enough
free time to produce the album (John Interlock was my first choice of course,
but he was too busy with his own band). Although I was nowhere near confident
of my abilities as a producer, there was no choice but to do the job myself.
So, I started spending 12 hours a day in the studio to get myself up to
scratch. It all happened thanks to the fact that I’d got myself on a music
production course with Community Music - a kind of externally funded collective
mainly urban artists get equipped with the skills to make a career out
of their music (Asian Dub Foundation were their most well-known alumni,
and put a lot back into it after they got their deal). There were about
a dozen of us on the course, and we worked together on a lot of stuff,
which as you can imagine made for interesting listening (ethereal drum
‘n’ bass is better than you’d think!) So I could never be accused of neglecting
the kitchen sink, I decided to incorporate elements from this incongruous
environment in a subliminal way on a couple of Seventh Harmonic tracks,
so the drum loops you hear on ‘De Terra Fons Exoritur’ and ‘A Ship, Dreaming’
are actually speed garage loops I un-sped. Booyakasha!
As part of the project I got some free
studio time, so despite it coming so soon into the new line-up, we had
to grab it with both hands. Yep, you guessed it - this resulted in almost
all the vocal parts being written right there in the studio...again! Eilish
managed to do all her violin parts for the whole album in an afternoon;
whilst Kate constructed her vocals/lyrics whist recording in the odd times
she could get off work. My production work took several months. I was experiencing
this nightmarish Groundhog Day where I was going back and forth to the
studio every day, nudging and tweaking and gradually honing the tracks,
thinking everything is sounding great on the studio speakers, but getting
home, playing them on various stereos - and the day’s efforts seemed completely
wasted. An average night’s sleep started to clock in at around 2-3 hours,
which impacted on my mental health to the extent that my girlfriend left
me, and my relationship with Kate in response to certain band matters started
to rapidly deteriorate...
‘Parisina’ (with our old vocalist Fionna)
was the first track to be done, and pretty much set the scene for the rest
of the album in every way. Fionna was visiting London, I’d just dashed
off a piece whilst experimenting with the posh consoles in the nice University
of Westminster studios we got for two weeks in summer while the paying
students were on holiday, and Fionna was still keen to sing with us. Fionna
agreed to come into the studio and see what she could come up with. On
the way there I thought, ‘Shit! Lyrics!’, grabbed the nearest appropriate
book (an anthology of Byron, Keats and Shelley) from my diminutive collection,
opened it randomly on the tube and what lay right there on the page sounded
great to me. Fionna agreed, and it was laid down from scratch in a couple
of hours. I have to laugh when I listen to that song - it is probably my
favourite one on the album, but everything about its construction happened
even more by pure chance than usual. Normally, at least the main body of
the song was painstakingly constructed before the others improvised over
it, but this one was made so quickly even the crescendo part happened as
a consequence of me jumping when the guy I was supposed to be working with
walked in unexpectedly while I was playing it!
In amongst all this, I was approached by
the Greek folk group Daemonia Nymphe at one of our gigs who were interested
in working with us. I literally only had time to give them a few tracks
that didn’t make it onto the album and some lyrics, and I thought little
of it - until they came back with what they’d done and I was blown away
enough to instantly include two of the tracks - ‘Immortal Selene’ - and
‘To The Mother Of Gods ‘ on the album. We tried to start work on a separate
album before they unexpectedly found themselves pregnant and had to return
to Greece halfway through. Anyway, to cut a long story short, eventually
the bastard was finished, and I escaped to Russia for a fortnight to try
and regain my sanity (a place not recommended for this purpose, by the
After the hassle of creating the Promise
Of Scarifice album, all the stress building up between Kate and yourself,
and the ordeal of the festival in Belgium, is it fair to say that things
were never really the same within the band? Were the cracks starting to
The Eurorock experience was enough
to put everyone off; especially as Eilish even had to take unpaid
leave for the privilege, if I remember rightly. It was very frustrating
- my main ambition with Seventh Harmonic was always to play beyond the
UK, a country I’d found an inhibition for many years; but Eurorock had
proved how utterly impractical it was for the rest of the band. We were
subsequently offered a US tour which we had to turn down...
In any case, mainly due mainly to the aforementioned
issues between myself and Kate, before the album was even returned from
the pressing plant she had already decided to leave, but she stayed on
for a few months longer in order to promote the album. We did four gigs
after the album release, and called it a day.
One of those gigs was at the Hinouema
club - London’s home of left-field industrial, powernoise, and neo-folk.
Did you ever envisage Seventh Harmonic making any headway with the neo-folk
I personally had been getting
more interested in the dark ambient/neo-folk scenes - something I tried
to explore in some songs on Promise of Sacrifice - and there was
a small crossover in the fan bases, which is how we got the gig. But live,
those were not the songs we were performing, and I cannot pretend that
gig was a success. We played with nice wafty images of lakes and forests
as our backdrop, which was swiftly replaced the moment we got off with
Our gig at the Verge in Camden was advertised
as our ‘last London gig’, because whatever the future held I had felt that
we had achieved all we could in London; and as a consequence this meant
that any future plans I had to go further afield were no use to Eilish,
who had started to pick up a lot of extra work as a result of her performances
with Seventh Harmonic anyway.
Promise of Sacrifice was not a fantastic
success - it didn’t really have the opportunity to be, but in any case
that didn’t bother me unduly. After all, I had intended to make a darker
album with the full knowledge that it would alienate those who were attracted
by ‘Ascent’ tracks like ‘Inside’ and ‘BC’. By the time the final gig came
around, I couldn’t wait for it to end, and though I suspected it wouldn’t
be the final chapter, I was really grateful to at last have the chance
to have a rest. After putting out 3 CDs in as many years and being entirely
responsible for every aspect of the band (composing, recording, producing,
promoting, financing, managing, and personnel counselling to name just
a few!) I really had had enough.
But this was not the end of Seventh
Harmonic after all - as we shall see in part 4...