Rewind: Late 2011/early 2012. Future foundations were being excavated by a new generation of groove diggers, each one building deep house’s then-long-overdue new chapter.
Alongside the likes of Bondax, Kidnap Kid, Disclosure and Pedestrian, Maribou State – AKA Liam Ivory and Chris Davis – were one of those such acts. Emerging on Southern Fried with their critically acclaimed Native EP in 2012, the following year saw them drop an array of remixes, edits and EPs. Then, almost as suddenly as they appeared, they dropped off the release radar.
Besides the occasional remix and the healthy maintenance of a club presence as DJs, Chris and Liam had gone deep into studio hibernation. An album was bubbling on slow-cook setting. And its tender soulful meat is finally ready to feast on.
The timing is perfect in two very distinct ways: firstly, the once-exciting deep house explosion they’d emerged from is now more de rigeur than trousers and a whole host of copycat acts are inadvertently creating new routes for those, like Maribou State, creative enough to show us something fresh.
Secondly: The cinematic, organic soul of Portraits is the perfect soundtrack to any summer setting you have planned these next few months. Deep in texture, detail and dramatic instrumentation, there’s no doubt it will wrap us up nice and snug during the winter, too. But hey, let’s not wish the best months of the year away quite yet.
Signed to Ninja off-shoot Counter (the same label who also gave us Submotion Orchestra’s impeccable Alium last year), Maribou State – Portraits is the sound of a DJ/producer duo finding their feet musically and becoming a real band. Think Bonobo, think Andreya Triana, think elements of Culprate’s last album. Think essential summer listening.
This is their story on how they got here:
Liam: The last EP we did was November 2013. And the first demos appeared just after that. We didn’t know they were album demos at the time, we were just writing music, but we could feel that the stuff we were writing pertained a certain sound that could lend itself to a larger picture.
Chris: Before this we were trying our best to write music for the club. We were a lot more cautious. But when Truths came out we decided to drop those barriers and not give ourselves any restrictions. It doesn’t matter about writing bangers, the only prerequisite was to be happy with what we were making.
The duplicitous life of night time club shows and daytime songwriting…
Liam: We got the club music out of our systems during the weekend then we’d retreat back to our studio here in Hertfordshire and make music that we could zone out a bit more too instead of constantly searching for heavier and club-based. It’s quite a schizophrenic way to work! Playing, partying and losing sleep over the weekend then going back and writing more traditional style songs in the week.
Chris: It was very liberating going this deep and being able to explore the musicality of it all. We’re both self taught on guitar and piano so a lot of the live recordings are us. The strings are samples. It’s a mix of both.
The Holly Walker connection
Chris: Holly is a key part of the band and the album. We started working with her two or three years ago on our Tongue EP. We were both in love with her voice the second we heard her.
Liam: It was a natural choice to have her on the album and live. She’s only on two tracks but we used her voice in loads of other tracks. Little snippets of her voice and breaths. She’s scattered all over the album. We could have got those samples from elsewhere but we used her and she’s always there.
The live realisation
Liam: We always wanted to play live. It’s always been the end goal. But we never let it put restrictions on how we would write the album. We knew that eventually when the album was done we’d put the band together and play live.
Chris: We definitely didn’t let it affect the album writing process. The focus was on writing music that could feel and sound as best as it possibly can.
Liam: You can always change the songs to play them live. Worry about playing it after. It’s similar to how we play in the club; we write the tracks and then we do edits and tweaks to make it sound better in the club.
Chris: Our band is Johnny Cade on drums. Holly Walker sings and we will be getting Jack Pedestrian to come and play during the festivals. We’ll be looking to expand on that and get a string section and someone on bass very soon too…
The imagery that encapsulates them, their writing environment and their sound…
Liam: The cover art was done by a man called Jack Hardwick. He’s a very talented guy. The artwork process came together very easily. We’ve found it very hard to find the right imagery to fit our music before but Jack did a really good job.
Chris: We had a load of ideas but we were banging our head on the wall. But the way the songs were shaping up – in the way that we’d married synthetic and organic stuff – we really wanted the artwork to represent that. He came back with a whole load of ideas with landscapes smeared across black canvases. We love them.
Liam: The countryside is where we’re from and where we write so it reflects us. We’re in a very rural village. The studio backs out onto the woodland area so the environment has definitely had an influence on our music.
Finally… The Ninja sprinkles
Liam: It’s a dream come true to be releasing on Counter with Ninja. We’ve been fans of theirs for years. We got some demos together and put a wish list of labels over to our manager. They were top of the list and luckily they were interested. We had no idea what was going to happen when we started writing the demos but they really liked it and started developing it. Knowing who’s releasing the album, supporting it and speaking to us daily is amazing – we feel like it’s a real privilege.
Chris: It’s not just about the album, too. Counter have played an integral part in developing us as artists. The A&R is incredible and he really helped us bring it all together and make it cohesive. He gave it that final sprinkle of Ninja. We couldn’t be happier right now.
Maribou State – Portraits is out now. Buy now.