Laura Moody is a wildly alternative cellist, singer, and performer based in London. As a member of the genre-defying string ensemble, the Elysian Quartet, and a performer for Hot Chip, The xx, Aphex Twin, and more, she has toured extensively, performing the works of both classical and contemporary music in the great halls of Europe and all over the world. And yet, I was lucky enough to find her playing her superbly creative solo music in a small, smelly pub at a friend’s music series, and I have been a fan ever since.
Her unique sound has been compared to Kate Bush, PJ Havey, and Joanna Newsom, all song-singin’ ladies of whom I cannot ever get enough. Her debut solo album, Acrobats, came out last year and it’s beautiful. She’ll also be touring in Björk’s orchestra this summer. I decided this might be a nice time to check in with her!
Firstly, how did you start playing with Elysian and can you describe the mission of that project?
I met the other members when I went to Trinity College of Music to study cello as a postgraduate. They had already been playing as quartet for a couple of years with various different cellists. I initially thought they were pretty weird people to be honest, and didn’t get to know them until about a year in when out of nowhere they walked up to me in canteen and asked me if I’d like to learn Black Angels by George Crumb and go on tour to Taiwan with them. I joined the group and realized pretty quickly that they were hilarious, that I too was a weirdo, and that it was great working with these fellow musical misfits. Our mission was only ever really to play the music we found interesting but we were drawn pretty quickly into specializing in contemporary, experimental, and improvised music. That said, we were all into a lot of different kinds of music and so the music we played also spanned a huge number of genres and we collaborated with all sorts of amazing people. It was a wonderful adventure.
I just seem to have specialized in doing crazy stuff. If somebody’s got a gig and they have to ask, “who the hell can we get to do this” then I’ll usually get the call.
When did you start to write and perform solo and how does your music differ from that of the Quartet?
I’d always written songs but I never quite worked out what to do with them. I’d also sung classical music when I was a teenager but had given up for about ten years as it didn’t seem quite the right fit for me. Then in 2007, I decided to learn to sing again using a course I bought online and I had an idea for this song which became Oh Mother. I’d been touring a lot with a beatboxer and I’d been playing around with making beats using different parts of my cello in the same way a beatboxer uses different parts of their mouth. I then had an idea to sing this kind of blues song I’d had in my head over a beat on the cello and started practicing it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. My friend Kerry Andrew was running an open mic for experimental vocal music and, in a moment of madness, I signed up. It was terrifying, but went down a storm. I then got booked for another gig where I had a ten minute slot, so I had to write another song, and then a fifteen minute slot, and then half and hour… and so I gradually wrote more and more and it has now become the thing I do.
My own music is different from the quartet’s in that it’s entirely rooted in songwriting but I do use a lot of sounds and textures borrowed from contemporary and avant garde music. We were coming up with new sounds and techniques in Elysian Quartet all the time, particularly in our free improvised sets, and that’s something I’ve been very inspired by. Our violist, Vincent Sipprell, who tragically died in January, was an absolute genius at finding sounds you just couldn’t believe were coming from a viola.
You do a spectacular rendition of Nick Drake’s “Cello Song”. Are you generally inspired by Nick Drake’s music?
He’s one of the great songwriters for me. His music and lyrics are imbued with such poetry and mystery, which is an essential ingredient. If when I hear something I can tell exactly where all the ideas have come from and how exactly they’ve been put together, then there’s no magic. I demand magic!
Tell us about your debut solo full-length album Acrobats ?
It’s named after a line in the song O Lacrimosa: “We are but acrobats on these fragile sculptural branches.” It’s an album about walking emotional tightropes, about the risk of falling, about what it is to fall, to lose things and to carry on. It’s an album about loss in terms of both the grief and the liberation that can bring. A lot of my songs hinge on looking at both the light and dark of any given situation.
How has music helped to bring you strange experiences in life?
That’s not a question! That’s a night at the pub! I have many many stories because somehow I just seem to have specialized in doing crazy stuff. If somebody’s got a gig and they have to ask, “who the hell can we get to do this” then I’ll usually get the call. Music has meant that I’ve got to travel all over the world and do all sorts of things: I’ve played hanging upside down in a false moustache in theatres around the world, I’ve played in caves, boats, in a barn in Germany being dive bombed by bats, in sweaty clubs, in my own individual airborne helicopter… I’ve even played with Sporty Spice!
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A teacher once said, “if you’re finding it hard, that’s good because it means you’re learning something.” I think about that a lot and try to do things that make me push myself. I’ve realised that it’s not always about how instantly enjoyable a thing is to do, it’s how worthwhile it is to do. I try to do things that I feel are worth it.
The really interesting stuff happens when people start to chip away at those assumptions and embrace more of their experience into their art.
What advice would you give others trying to explore and discover their own unique sound as a musician?
I think it’s very tempting to edit parts of yourself out, to say, for example as I did for some time, “I am a cellist and therefore I’m not a singer,” or “I love Hungarian folk music but that has nothing to do with the electronica I write,” or “I am a microbiologist but that’s separate from my life as a composer.” The really interesting stuff happens when people start to chip away at those assumptions and embrace more of their experience into their art. The great mathematician and anthropologist Jacob Bronowski said, “every act of imagination is the discovery of likeness between two things that were thought unlike.”
Lastly, any future plans we should know about?
Well, apart from being super chilled on the road with Björk, I’m playing solo sets at some of the UK festivals and then touring Acrobats some more in the autumn and in 2016. I’m writing songs for a new album and I’ve also been given a two year residency at Aldeburgh Music (where Benjamin Britten is from, for the classical music buffs) to develop a new music theatre piece in collaboration with the sound artist Clay Gold. It is about big ideas to do with neurophilosophy and I’m terrified… which is why I’m doing it.