Having only just recently released a gorgeous debut album, Beautifully Astray, at the beginning of April 2018, Abi Wade has long been an incredible talent in Brighton. Known for her stunning solo live show and for using a cello as her core instrument, Abi is a versatile musician whose sound exploration uses vocals, orchestral and choral arrangements, synths and location samples to create a mesmerising window into human nature and the abstract. As well as a musician, Abi has a collaborative audio-visual guise called Gestalt, with her partner Joel Wells, which has flourished since recently moving to London. We caught up with Abi to find out about her current live set, her view on her debut LP, which is now half a year old, and the incredible projects she does alongside her music.
You are in a five-date tour at the moment and, for something that goes past in a flash, an incredible amount of preparation has to go into it.
It’s going great. I’m really looking forward to playing The Rose Hill, I haven’t played that venue in Brighton yet. Lots of cool things are happening at that place. I do have a lot to get the set ready, but I have had the set ready for a couple of months now, so the days of mammoth rehearsal sessions are behind me. I’ll have rehearsal in the week before a show, at some point, but that is kind of it – just waiting to get into it on stage.
What is in an Abi Wade live show currently? I can remember you playing a phenomenal set at the wondrous All Saints Church a few years back and being amazed by the way you controlled so many different aspects of live performance.
It’s just me on stage – I use looping, I play the drums by using triggers on my feet, I play the cello and keys, there is a bass part at the bottom of my keys – but it’s all just me, making a lot of noise.
Do you prefer playing on your own or in a band would you say?
I’ve toured with people before but normally I only get a violinist in or perhaps a pianist. I think because I have written all the music myself, it is kind of easier to play it on my own; as you don’t have to organise anyone else, which is great, and you don’t have to pay anyone else, which is also great. That’s doesn’t mean to say I don’t like to invite other musicians to play as well, I do like playing with other musicians, but at the same time I’m pretty happy to do it on my own.
When writing your music, do you think about how it will translate live or is that a task for when it’s completed? I’m always amazed how you construct your songs on the live stage.
With Beautifully Astray, I tried not to think about it too much and to just freely experiment – I had an orchestra on the album, and there is no way I’ll be able to bring them on tour everywhere. I kind of just went for it when making the album, trying not to worry. It was a real logistical nightmare to put it all together live. The songs are quite different live, I don’t mind that as I think it’s nice for people see different sides to the song. Live, it’s a little more stripped back with the core elements and then on the album there are more musicians, layers and location samples – it’s two different experiences.
Beautifully Astray features a lot of field recording, something that has always been a part of your music – you must have a big passion for collecting them and then experimenting with them?
Yeah, definitely. I love to find interesting sounds and manipulate them into something. I’ve recently been to China to make some tracks around buildings, which has been great! Hitting big cylinders in an old power station. I love seeing how far I can manipulate and push a sound. There is a quality you get from live samples that you don’t get from plugins on music software. One is the uniqueness, as obviously no one else has got that particular sound, and the other being it gives it a place, a setting, which I like. I went to China as part of a project called Musicity with Nick Luscombe, who is a BBC Radio 6 Music presenter. A group of artists went out there to create these tracks that can only be listened to if you are in the place where they were initially inspired, though I believe this one will be available to listen to outside of China as well. It’s a really cool project which I’m really pleased to be a part of.
Your debut album, Beautifully Astray, came out in the beginning of April this year – that’s six months ago incredibly – looking back at the album, now that it’s been out in the public for that amount of time and you have most likely lived with it for much longer than that, is there anything you see in the album now which you didn’t necessarily notice or realise when making in?
I think it’s interesting when you live with something for so long and then you put it our there. It’s a peculiar feeling to have other people listen to it and then see the response that it brings. There are some heavy topics in there and I think people have been responding to the depth of them. I think it’s a little ambiguous about what I’m writing about, which is intentional, but maybe it’s not as ambiguous as I first thought. I’m always intrigued and interested by what people think and their thoughts around it.
You have a new single coming out in October – can you tell me a little bit about that song?
It’s off Beautifully Astray and is called ‘Hawk In Your Side’. It comes with a stripped back live version of the song. All tracks have their own character – this song is piano-led rather than cello-led and is about the idea of who you have around you makes you who you are. It is about my childhood, the relationship with the people that I knew when I was younger and just how that really forms you as yourself – it’s a personal song to me.
I love the imagery that goes with your music – the album and single artwork as well as your press pictures – can you tell me a little bit about the thought process behind them and how they came about?
They are all a partnership with Eley Kishimoto, a fashion designer who I’ve always loved. I wanted to do a picture in front of their Brixton mural, so I got in touch with them and they invited me to their studio – I was like ‘WOW’, all I wanted was to take a picture and they take me to their studio. They are all amazing people; they let me use their patterns for the album artwork, telling me the stories behind them, which matched with the ideas behind the album. The album is called Beautifully Astray, a journey of creativity and not knowing where you’re going to end up. I was really blown away by their generosity and their support for arts and creativity. Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto are both great people and obviously make such amazing artworks. I’m still in contact with them and have been speaking to them about an upcoming instillation I’m doing at the Brixton Windmill.
What have you got in store for your exhibition at the Brixton Windmill?
It’s at the actual windmill and not the pub of the same name. It’s part of London Design Festival and will run on 15th-16th September. It’s an audio-visual installation across all the floors of the windmill, progressing as you move through it, alongside projected images by Jake McGowan (a fellow Brightonian). There is also a pianist called Hinako Omori and my partner Joel Wells involved too, and we have all created the music together. It’s going to be really cool – we have d&b Audio who are supplying all the speaker systems, Shure Microphones provided microphones to record all the live samples we collected beforehand and it’s all tuned to the intonation of the windmill. The idea is to use the windmill as a symbol to explore the history and culture of Brixton up until now. I’m excited!
What else have you got planned for this year?
It’s very exciting, lots of crazy things happening. I’m doing all the installation stuff under my Gestalt alias, which is happening in a series of different locations around London. As Abi Wade, I’m writing a new track as a response to different words I got back from sending out previews, to be released next year. My stuff for Musicity will be released very soon and I will be going back out to China to perform those tracks in October. I have a UK and European tour coming up as well. I have an idea for an EP based around ‘water’, which is also in the pipeline / waiting to find a moment to do it.