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Troyka: Chris Montague talks Thom Yorke and avian apocalypse

It’s difficult to categorise Troyka. The instrumental trio who hail from London have been talked about as a jazz/electronica band, but really they’re just three blokes who like to experiment with music. Ornithophobia, the band’s fourth album, is no different in this approach, whether looking at the contrasting songs, ranging from mellow sounds to psychedelic jazz rock, or the album’s theme, a dystopian London where a flu epidemic turns people into human-size birds. Chris Montague, Troyka guitarist who has ornithophobia (a fear of birds), took time out from their touring schedule to talk about their upcoming Sheffield gig, Thom Yorke and his feathered fears. Have you found the reception to Ornithophobia different to your previous album so far? Yes, the album has been received very well in different areas to the previous releases. In the past we were seen as very much a jazz group and had very little contact with any other genres of music press. Ornithophobia has opened us up much more to the non-jazz audience and press, which has been very cool. At the gigs there have been new fans who probably wouldn’t have gone to a jazz gig, but will come to see us play. Why did you choose your fear of birds as the album title? I wrote the track ‘Ornithophobia’ early on in the cycle of this record and it set up the theme for the album. It is a condition I have had since very young and we all agreed it had a macabre tone which appealed to us. It seemed like a fun thing to do - to see if we could run a thread through the whole album. Ornithophobia has been referred to by one reviewer as “Thom Yorke’s dream”. What do you think of that? I am a big fan of Radiohead, or any band that can defy categorisation and keep evolving like he and Radiohead have managed to do for so long. I like that they use different elements to make up the whole of their unique sound and nothing is off limits if they can use it to improve the quality of what they do. In Troyka we all share these values too. If you’re reading, Thom, we’d love to do something (as if he ever would!) Why did you feel it was important to feature someone outside of the band, Petter Eldh, for the first time, and what does Petter bring to the album? We spent a lot more time recording this album than previous efforts. There is a lot more layering and overdubbing to get bigger textures and depth. In doing so we went past the point of our skill levels with mixing and editing. At this point we decided to be bold and ask Petter Eldh - who plays with Django Bates Beloved Trio and is a monster musician - who is a good friend of ours and has some very unconventional music on his own label he had mixed, which we loved. We gave him free reign to alter and edit as he saw fit. This was a big move for us, as everything we’d done in the past had been closely controlled by the three of us. The gamble has worked and we love the new direction he brought to it. Naiel Ibarrola illustrated the dystopian comic book of the album’s theme, an avian apocalypse. What was it like to see it come together with the music and how did they feed into each other? Naiel is an amazing artist and we knew he was a fan of our music. When we told him the theme of the album was based on ornithophobia he ran away with some very cool ideas and came back with this whole narrative which illustrates the album. It was very rewarding to see the music and imagery come together. I think it sets the exact tone for the release we wanted. How do you think all of your different musical tastes and influences contribute to the overall sound of the band? We all share just enough of the same tastes and enough different tastes to make the blend an interesting one. I think we are also defined as much by the music we collectively don’t like too. This makes decisions very quick in rehearsals for us and we can get to a sound quickly by having a broad palate of references to draw upon collectively. Do you think the unpredictability of your music attracts a niche audience? I think it definitely attracts a certain type of listener. We are definitely not a mainstream jazz act and often the more pedestrian audience members have commented that we change styles and groove too often. As listeners in this band, we all like to be challenged and our audience do too. We always set out early on to be different to other stuff out there. This is your first album with Naim Records. How did you link up with them and how have you found the experience? We have wanted to work with them for a long time now and always thought they had the best roster of bands. I like how things have gone so far and it definitely feels like we have stepped things up in Troyka as a result of having them on our team. Has your writing process changed since the last album? We have been doing things more or less the same for a while with writing. We will bring tunes individually to a rehearsal and then will all chip away and add or remove things until we feel it is right. What has changed is the recording and editing process, which hopefully makes the new album stand out more. Was it good to be back in the studio recording an album following Live at Cheltenham Jazz Festival? How was that as an experience? Cheltenham was a one-off event. I’m not sure my nerves could handle that again. We had one chance to make a live recording, which was also a live broadcast and a gig. The night before our lead trumpeter (the hardest job in a big band) pulled out due to illness. Luckily we managed to get Noel Langley to come and sight read the music, possibly the most Jedi display of musicianship I’ve ever witnessed. You’re playing Sheffield Students’ Union on 12March. What can we expect? We’ve been out on tour for a while now so everything is nicely bedded in. We will be up for taking plenty of big risks with the playing as we get more comfortable with the material. Expect a mix of wronged up grooves, free improv, ambient melodies and Troyka bizarreness. Artwork by Naiel Ibarrola troyka.co.uk )

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