Musical Discoveries: What led you to the decision to release Passive Aggressive, an album featuring some of your best collaborative work?
Nicola Hitchcock: The winding up of Mandalay's business affairs took a long time and eventually took its toll on me and I became quite ill, contracting the Epstein Barr virus, a form of Glandular Fever. I ended up lying on my couch for weeks on end unable to do much at all. Month by month I began slowly to improve and with the help of family and close friends I eventually managed to pack up my belongings and move to Devon for the healthy air and easier lifestyle, only to have a car accident a week later!
The accident exacerbated the Epstein Barr symptoms and put me back where I started, so I didn't have the mental or physical energy for writing, playing, programming, producing and/or mixing new songs. So being asked by such great collaborators to add vocals and lyrics to their music was a wonderful opportunity which came just at the right time for me --plugging a microphone in and recording and editing a few tracks of vocals was something I could do and it was a joy given the material I had to inspire me. Being able to engineer and record my vocals at home in my studio meant I could choose my own times and set my own schedule.
I realised after a while that I had a body of work that I was really proud of--some tracks had been released, some not. Although I had set up a website for myself giving information about all my collaborations, I didn't feel I could expect my supporters to go out and buy a whole album just for one track of mine, so the idea was born to release my favourite tracks all on one album, as a thank you really to all the people who had supported Mandalay and had continued to contact and support me following Mandalay's demise.
Is there any particular song on Passive Aggressive that is close to your heart?
Yes, without being funny, it is the song "Heart." A very close friend of mine, actually my best female friend, was critically ill in an intensive care unit in hopsital. I went in to see her and she was lying curled up in the middle of the bed, unconscious. It was only a standard hospital single bed and she's a tall and sassy woman, but she looked so small. I felt so helpless. I came home. Didn't know what to do with myself. Turned on my computer, brought up the file with Chris' track in, plugged in the mic and and just started to sing.
She's doing really well now but she was in hospital for nine months so it was a long haul. I love her very much and only had the guts to tell her "Heart" was about her recently, when I sent her a copy of the album.
Do you find it difficult at all to write lyrics and melody to another persons musical ideas?
It depends. I think of myself as a traditional songwriter so if the structure is erratic, or just a few chords all the way through, with no evident verse, chorus etc., then it can be frustrating for me. Although I can unhook myself from that discipline when there's a strong feel to the piece that takes me on an emotional journey, like I found with "Heart."
I really enjoy getting a piece of music, not really listening through to it, transferring it into a stereo file within a session, plugging the mic in and just going with whatever comes--it's a great release for me to have that complete freedom of expression, surrendering myself to the music, letting it lead me wherever.
Mandalay appeared to be garnering significant attention before and after the release of Solace. And yet, it appeared that just as doors were beginning to open, you decided to disband. How did you tackle such a difficult decision?
It was actually late in the day for me. I had been hanging in there through very challenging times. I think it came home to me in the US that if Mandalay were to become successful, as was looking likely in the US then, it would in reality mean that I would be spending more and more, if not most. of my time with people that I was having a great deal of difficulty being with, and I knew that for the sake of my health and well-being I had to get myself out. So in a way it was the sniff of success was a wake up call to what was happening within Mandalay and more particularly to me, working within it.
It was a very difficult decision, of course--I had been working in partnership with Saul Freeman for seven years--so much that I felt euphoric after I had made it.
Some fans feared we'd heard the last of your lovely voice. But obviously you were working after Mandalay split. Is it rewarding to release Passive Aggressive to the fans who have waited several years?
Absolutely yes. And I'm looking forward very much to working on a new album.
Now that we've seen such a stunning collaboration release, do you have plans to put out another solo album? What will it sound like, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?
Hmmm, what it will sound like I can't say exactly. I'm getting a great collection of unusual and strange, and also more traditional, percussive/acoustic instruments together. So I am planning to make and work with my own sounds--probably mess with them a bit electronically, along with playing more traditional acoustic instruments. I want to invite several guest musicians in as well to add different flavours and personalities into the mix--there will be songs--there may be abstract musings--there may be short instrumental/ambient pieces--there may be vocal only tracks--we'll see.
As first and foremost a guitarist, do you ever find it strange that you have done so much electronic music?
Actually I wouldn't consider myself "first and foremost a guitarist." Mmainly I dabble. I've been lucky enough to inherit my father's good ear for music so I can quite quickly pick up how to play a "new" instrument, and I've never had the will to learn an instrument properly. I remember having piano lessons as a young girl and mostly I would have the tune down after one or two plays and I'd sit playing it, staring at the music in front of me, pretending I was reading the dots.
So, it just didn't work for me really. I'd say I dabble and ideas come and play themselves, and now you (we) can capture the vibe and feel of those dabblings so easily on a computer and edit them, things couldn't be better for us "dabblers"! Really though, I do know my basic chords and scales on the guitar and piano but I'm self-taught and I wouldn't call myself a "proper" musician, though I can sometimes do a pretty good impression of one.
Clearly, the fans love your work in the electronic arena. Do you have any particular producer or artist that you would love to work with?
Well, I wanted to work with AIM a while back but that didn't come off. Actually at the moment I've not been listening to much electronic music. I find I'm more into leftfield/acoustic/experimental music like Syd Matters, a totally inspirational album!
However, I would definitely love to try working with Hive--their Working With Sound album is great--the Memory Band and Diefenbach.
How can fans help get the word out about your album?
My manager would be best to respond to this I think! I know it helps to get reviews posted out there on the internet, on as many sites as possible, like Amazon, CD Baby etc., and my supporters have been great at doing that for me--thank you!
The other thing of course is to play the album to as many people as possible--obviously--and hope they like it and buy it and keep passing on the word. Maybe buy it as a present for friends' or family members' birthdays, christmas, etc. Phone in or email radio stations to request it, that kind of thing. Just letting people know it's out there and getting them to hear it, that's all you can do. The rest is--whatever happens--for more ideas I'd have to pass you over to Ian, my manager.