Manchester duo and long-time collaborators Chrissy Mostyn and Rick Pilkington are The Blackheart Orchestra and have recently released Diving for Roses. The band have drawn comparisons to Kate Bush, Ellie Goulding, London Grammar, Pink Floyd, Steve Reich and Ludovico Einaudi and have toured extensively in the UK, Australia and New Zealand in recent times. Both are multi-instrumentalists, using ancient synthesisers, electronic drums, acoustic, electric and bowed guitars and bass to create a sound that is sometimes fragile, sometimes epic but always engaging. Read on to find out more.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. What’s the story behind The Blackheart Orchestra and how would you describe your sound?
We met by accident in a rehearsal room in Manchester a few years ago. I was in a rock band and Chrissy was doing a solo thing. We hit it off straight away and decided to do some singing and writing together which we really enjoyed. I foolishly suggested why don’t we do a couple of gigs together like just for fun, which ended up in 148 gigs in our first year. Our sound has evolved massively. We started off as a two-piece singer songwriter duo and now we’re a two-piece orchestra. It’s been said we sound like an eight-piece band and we’re proud of that especially as everything we do live is live. We made the decision right at the start not to use any supporting tracks in our show. Our problem is we can’t stop buying old synths, odd percussion things, ancient keyboards – every abandoned instrument we can find, and our stage has become a sound factory of strings, keys, buttons, knobs and faders that provides us with a kaleidoscopic approach to making music where there are absolutely no rules. Reviews have described our sound with words like symphonic, haunting, ethereal, enchanting. Both on our records and live we like to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard. That’s the only rule. (Richard)
What motivates you and inspires your music, aesthetic and vibe?
We don’t seem to think about motivation, I guess we are pretty much addicted to creating and performing. It’s a definite need for us and writing is very cathartic. It is very difficult to actually say where the songs come from. They seem to write themselves most of the time and often we only discover what the songs are about after they’ve been created. I think that we are inspired by every place we visit, everyone we meet and everything we see, hear, read, watch and experience, all our songs seem to have an emotional element to them. (Chrissy)
You’ve worked together creatively for a few years but The Blackheart Orchestra is a relatively new project – how did it come about?
Yes, we made three albums under the name Blackheart but after the Songs From a Satellite album the music began to evolve more rapidly and started to take on a whole new form, so much so that we thought it needed a new identity. So, one summer evening as we were watching Ludovico Einaudi in the grounds at Blenheim Palace we made our big decision and became The Blackheart Orchestra. (Richard)
I found it hard to put a specific label on your sound. It has elements of folk, rock, electro, ambient and more – do you see yourselves working outside genres? Is that important to you?
Very much so. Genres can be great if you naturally fit into one, or they can feel very restrictive if you don’t but attempt to. They can create boundaries and build electric fences around music and creativity. Luckily many people are open enough to embrace just music. We put out what’s within and it’s extremely liberating and exciting to have no idea where you are going to end up. We just follow our instincts, what we do feels very natural and authentic to us, there’s no ‘oh we most create something different!’ but if people perceive us that way I’m incredibly flattered. (Chrissy)
We both have very different musical backgrounds and love and listen to lots of very different types of music and when you flatten the fences, remove genres and pour into your mind every kind of music you love along with every experience and feeling you ever had, every person you ever loved, every song you ever heard, every album that ever turned you on, every brilliant artist you’ve ever seen live and then switch on the blender and let it all pour out in whatever shape, sound, style and colour it chooses, then you can get some interesting, emotional, natural and very human music. (Richard)
For me, the overall sound on your current album Diving for Roses has a delicate balance of accessibility and experimentalism – would you think that’s a fair assessment? After all, you have gained recognition in the prog, indie and folk scenes which is quite an achievement.
I think that is a very fair assessment and very well observed. Can I quote you on it? As we’ve just been saying there are lots of different styles that come together in our music and maybe that allows the more broadminded followers of many genres to find something that they can relate to in what we do. Accessibility? Yes, we want to create music that will touch people, make them feel something and that they can remember. Experimentalism? Yes, we have a non-conformist attitude and want to build in an element of surprise with our music maybe with sounds,textures or instruments, like the way we used the sound of Chrissy’s breathing and her heartbeat to create the drum loop on Breathe, and how all the strings on the album are actually an acoustic guitar being played with a child’s violin bow. We love to experiment. (Richard)
What’s up next for The Blackheart Orchestra? Any gigs planned, or is there new music on the horizon, other projects?
There’s lots happening right now. We are still busy promoting Diving For Roses but we already have lots of new songs ready to be recorded, so hopefully the next album won’t be too far away. We are also collaborating with a Copenhagen composer on a track and the first fruits of that are very exciting indeed. We have been asked to compose the music for a film which is a daunting but challenging task that we’re looking forward to and we have a big UK tour starting in August that takes us non-stop through until the end of October then we are touring Germany for the whole of November. (Chrissy)