Published on October 11th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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We were sufficiently taken with Hejira’s recent “Litmus Test” single to include it amongst our favourites of that particular week. Then we checked out their forthcoming debut album Prayer Before Birth, and found ourselves well and truly bewitched.
As such, we flung some questions over to the band’s guitarist Alex Reeve to find out more about the LP, its forthcoming launch party at the Clapton Round Chapel on October 31st, their TraumTour series of events, and how they came to sign for Matthew Herbert‘s Accidental Records label…
Congratulations on a beautiful album. How long has it been in the making, and have your thoughts turned to its follow-up yet?
Thank you, really good to hear that the record has resonated with you. I guess you could say the record has been in the making for about three or four years. We had all been writing together in different combinations on other projects before fusing them together and becoming Hejira.
After working on material for a while we had a pivotal meeting with Matthew Herbert who expressed an interest in working with us and encouraged us to actually get on and start making the record. After this turning point things came together quite quickly, in a matter of months or so.
Who are the 18-piece ensemble you’ll be performing the album with at its launch party? Did they play on the recordings?
The 18-piece ensemble will consist of the core members of Hejira with a choir and a trombone section. For the record we put together a ‘scratch’ choir out of friends and volunteers and on the same day recorded a trombone trio in the attic of our studio the ‘House of Dreams’.
In an ideal world we would have got everyone who sang or played on the record to perform with us but it just proved impossible to make this happen unfortunately.
Why did you decide on the name Hejira? In tribute to the Joni Mitchell album, or the actual “flight or journey to a more desirable or congenial place” itself?
I think the name Hejira definitely came onto our radar because of Joni Mitchell, we are all fans and love both that song and the album. The fact that it also means departure or journey in Arabic also really resonated with us. Hejira, and this record in particular, marks an important and formative moment for us all, both collectively and as individuals. This journey or growth that Hejira represents really encompasses this.
How did you all find each other? Was the range and scope of your different backgrounds a motivation for getting the band together, or is it incidental?
Although we all come from quite diverse origins we all grew up in London. I’ve known Sam and Alexis for more than a decade as we met playing in a youth jazz Big Band as kids, believe it or not!
When Sam and myself decided to start working on a new ‘project’ together we had quite a wide focus on what this could be; it wasn’t until Rahel became involved that it all started to make sense. Alexis completed things and with him it really started to feel like a band.
How would you describe the album to those who haven’t heard it yet? Feel free to be as abstract as you like…
The record is quite challenging in places, it requires a certain patience from the listener as it grows through the first half. The second half is more immediate and in your face, almost disconcerting and frightening at times. I’d like to think that it’s the kind of record that with every listen you hear new elements and take something different away.
How did Matthew Herbert come across your demo? What is he like to work with?
Sam actually plays in Matthew’s band performing his One Pig record. He got involved with us quite early on and really encouraged us to get on and actually get the record done. He has been so supportive throughout the whole process from the writing stage right through to us putting our record out through his label Accidental.
And how did the Seb Rochford remix come about? Are you fans of Polar Bear and/or Acoustic Ladyland?
We have lots of mutual friends. I think I met Seb properly at Tom Herbert’s house (who also plays in both Polar Bear and The Invisible). Seb, Sam and I were talking about the possibility of doing a ‘swap’ and after a few months or so the remix appeared as if by magic!
His other band Open Souls are also absolutely amazing and are coming on the TraumTour with us on the 18th of October in Cardiff. We’re programming a TRAUM stage as part of this years Swn Festival there.
Did you play any festivals over the summer? If so, any particular highlights?
We didn’t hit the festival circuit this year actually. We’ve kind of been doing things our own way, more out of necessity than choice. We curate and host a night called TRAUM, which has grown a lot over the past two years, so we knuckled down and concentrated on this during the summer.
We managed to put together some really exciting bills and then turned our focus to booking our own TraumTour across the UK which we begin this week.
Finally, have there been any albums from 2013 that you’ve especially enjoyed?
I’m eagerly anticipating the new Arcade Fire record as we’re all massive fans. Other highlights from this year have been Hello Skinny’s eponymous release, The Invisible’s ‘Rispah’ and Owiny Sigoma. Also look out for our good friend ESKA’s forthcoming Gatekeeper EP.
Hejira, thank you.
Prayer Before Birth will be released on October 21st through Accidental Records.
You can buy Prayer Before Birth on Amazon.