Interviewin’ With The Filthy Six’s Nick Etwell
Filed under: Interviewin' | Posted by: jody
Nick Etwell is a man of many talents. He can speak Swedish, has a mean sense of style, taught Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett to play piano, and is currently celebrating the release of his latest record, The Filthy Six‘s The Fox (out today via Acid Jazz). I had the chance to speak with him before watching a bunch of bearded Scandinavian men throw each other around at the Roundhouse in Camden. Here’s what he had to say.
Jody Orsborn: Tell me a bit about The Filthy Six. How long have you been playing together? How did you link up?
Nick Etwell: The band started in it’s first incarnation about ten years ago. We used to do a monthly night at this really great, dingy little basement place in Soho called the Tatty Bogle. I think it was a brothel in the day and a club by night! We would just play old late 60s Blue Note tunes by Lou Donaldson, Grant Green and the like, and get our friends down for a boogie and a nice hang. We did it every month for two years almost and by the end of it was getting busier and busier and had a really good vibe about it. But it was kind of just for fun back then really.
JO: Every month for two years? Did you feel like you were running out of material or that you were getting burnt out?
NE: No, it was one night a month where we’d get all our friends together for a little party and play some great music. Each month we’d try out new tunes and ideas. It was a really fun night and was just beginning to get a proper buzz surrounding it when the place shut down. The night stopped and we lost the impetus. We were thinking of finding another venue for it but we never got around to that. We should definitely start it up again sometime though!
JO: Was it always the same group of people performing?
NE: The line up changed around a bit at that time but there was certainly regulars. By the time the night stopped we had a pretty settled group. It was around then that I started writing my own music for the band, because before then it was all just covers. I started to write tunes along those same lines [60s Blue Note Soul Jazz] as what we’d been playing and it snowballed from there. It was always just about getting the right people together and playing some cool music and then it became more of me writing new stuff and putting on gigs to perform it. The lineup went through a few variations; the guitarist moved away to Sweden so we had to get a new guy in and we changed organ players a couple of times but eventually we arrived at this lineup as it is now, more or less about five or six years ago. That was when we recorded our first EP. We sent it around trying to get interest from people and used that to get gigs around London and festivals in the summer, stuff like that. We tried to put on at least one gig a month somewhere, as it was something nice to have going on aside from our other work.
JO: You mean because everyone plays with different bands?
JO: Yeah, everyone’s a freelance musician and plays with different artists, different bands, so It’s hard to get everyone together in the same room at one time, let alone to organize gigs! But, i’ve really tried to be a bit more proactive with it in the last few years. We did our first full-length album for Acid Jazz two years ago now and we’ve just finished the new one.
JO: Tell me about this new record? What sound were you going for?
NE: Basically, if I could choose the time period in which to live my life, I’d be living in New York around 1967! I take my inspiration from that era of music, especially the Blue Note recordings at that time, and I just want to create something that can sit happily alongside that. A homage to that style i guess. I wanted to make an album that sounded like those records – ‘Blackjack’ by Donald Byrd, or ‘Midnight Creeper’ by Lou Donaldson – rich, warm sounding, all recorded live onto 2 inch tape. Everyone in the same room playing together. No overdubs.
JO: There’s no overdubbing?
NE: Only hand-claps and vocals. Basically, I wanted it to sound like an old school record. All analogue production, vintage mics, gear, recorded and mixed straight to tape. The perfect combination! it’s going to go out on vinyl too so I wanted it to sound proper. We had 2-3 rehearsals and recorded it over two days with only a couple of takes per song and then mixed it in one sitting. 13 tracks in 16 hours. In, down, and out very quickly. its the way music was recorded back in the old days. They were recording so much music all the time then there was no room for messing around!
JO: No six months in the studio?
NE: No chance! we ran through the tunes, tweaked them, recorded them and went home. done in a matter of days!
JO: Vocals is something new for you, right?
NE: Yeah, the first album was purely instrumental. I had thought about adding a vocalist for a couple of tunes but hadn’t worked out the best way of doing it. I’d had this idea ages ago of doing a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Girlfriend” but with the same groove and feel of Archie Bell and The Drells’ “Tighten Up” (which i think’s from 1967 funnily enough? Maybe 68?! ). Anyway, i had this idea and then we got offered a live session on this great show called the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show, BBC 6 Music, and they had all their artists that year performing a cover from ‘Off The Wall’. It was the perfect opportunity to work out the arrangement and it went down a storm! The guys in the studio loved it, the audience loved it and the band loved it so we decided to put it on the new album. We played it as an instrumental originally but I thought it’d be a cool track to get vocals on so we got this guy Brendan Reilly in. He’s from LA actually, a great singer with the most outrageous voice. In the studio he was singing it this one way and I said, ‘I know it sounds a bit contrived but, in my head I’m thinking more of a Donny Hathaway thing. Any chance you can try something like that?’ He went back in the booth and absolutely killed it! It sounds amazing. I’m really pleased with the way it came out. Its exactly how I wanted it to be. It’s like a little slice of dancefloor heaven!
JO: Will that track be the single?
NE: Yeah, we are actually releasing it was a double A-side. I always loved how in the old days they used to release singles with vocals on one side and instrumental versions on the other. I always wanted to do one myself and now here’s the chance. It comes out a week on Monday! (23rd April)
JO: You are about to head off on tour in support of the record release. Where will you be heading?
NE: Starting off at my home town of Derby on Saturday, Newcastle, London for the album launch, Cardiff, Bristol and five dates in Ireland. I can’t wait for Ireland as I’ve only ever been to Dublin and Belfast before and with this trip we’re going out to Limerick, Dundalk and Galway too. We’re playing Communion nights in Belfast, Dublin and Galway. It’s gonna be so much fun being on the road in Ireland…there’s going to be an awful lot of Guinness knocking around…
JO: Speaking of Communion (Ben Lovett from Mumford and Sons label), obviously you do horns for Mumford and Sons, touring with them and have appeared on all of their records. How did you you get hooked up with those guys?
NE: Well, I used to be Ben’s Jazz piano teacher at school.
JO: Was he pretty good?
NE: My star pupil obviously!
JO: When was that?
NE: Over 10 years ago I guess. I taught Ben when he was 13, and I was probably about 24. I would teach him once a week and when you teach someone once a week for six years, you kind of get to know them a little bit. We had a really nice rapport and we basically just hung out once a week. After a couple of years we thought it’d be nice to put a group together for him to play with other musicians, being a piano player can sometimes get a bit boring playing on your own all the time. So, he got a little jazz group together with Marcus [Mumford] on drums and other friends, Luke on Sax and Ed on Bass. I was their coach and i’d get them to play all the things I liked playing; some of the arrangements from The Filthy Six, etc, fun stuff! I would coach them about once a month or so and it was a lot fun. They got to sounding pretty good! Marcus is a great drummer you know. You don’t get to see it much on the Mumford gig but he his. But yeah, we always got on well. A couple of years later, after they’d left school, I kept bumping into Ben on random gigs around London and then the four of them came to see The Filthy Six play at the Jazz Lounge, Glastonbury, while they were there playing their early gigs. I spotted them in the crowd, we found each other after the show and they were like ‘we’ve got a little band together now’ and that’s when i met the other half of what turned out to be Mumford & Sons. Ben gave me a shout about 6 months later and asked if I would play on a record for them, which was The Cave EP. It was probably about three years ago now, yeah, three years ago! I went into the studio and they played me the track and I was like, hey… This is really good! We did a couple of tracks and that was that. A few months later i recorded the album with them and it all just kind of blew up. It’s been fun, really great fun playing with them since.
JO: So you’ve been with them from the beginning. Do you plan to continue playing with them longterm?
NE: Yep, as long as they’ll have me or until we fall out! (laughs).
JO: With all of the guys in The Filthy Six playing for different bands (Duran Duran, Amy Winehouse, Basement Jaxx, James Taylor Quartet, etc), is it hard to keep a consistent musical style? Does it get confusing switching from folk to funk to jazz and so on?
NE: You get into whatever you are doing at the time. One week I’ll be with Mumford and the next I’ll go off and play a blues tour or something. Yesterday i was recording some 50s style Portuguese rock n roll. It’s quite random day to day with the situations and settings you go into, but that’s what we all love doing. You get the chance to play a variety of different music all the time.
JO: Is that what’s cool about being a gig musician, that you get to collaborate with all these different musicians on different types of music?
NE: It’s the best job in the world. You get to meet new people all the time, you get to make new friends and make good music, hopefully. Each day can be an exciting new project. Its great having so many different things going on but i’m now starting to move The Filthy Six higher up on my priority list in order to do more with it.
JO: How much of The Filthy Six’s music is co-written/ collaborative?
NE: I’m a real control freak. For my tunes, I pretty much write it all down and have a specific idea of what it’ll sound like. I take it the boys and 9 times out of 10 it works. Occasionally, they will be like ‘are you sure you want it that way?!’, and we’ll work out something different. But it’s my baby and i can be quite pedantic about it so the majority of the tunes are written individually.
JO: What about with the horn parts for Mumford? Is it a collaborative process or do one of you just come up with what it’s going to be?
NE: With the first album, they had most of the main lines in mind and I just had to come up with harmonys etc. although I did manage to sneak in the occasional extra line here and there! For the new album the boys had some plans for what they wanted and Dave and i (Mumford’s Trombone) came up with ways of making it work best. It’s quite an organic process really. They have ideas and we’ll be like, cool, or, let’s try it this way. then they either like it or they don’t. There was some quite epic double tracking recorded for the new record too, be interesting to hear how it all comes out.
JO: Are there any other acts out there right now that you think are doing anything really interesting or inline with what you are trying to achieve with The Filthy Six?
NE: The Daptone guys are probably the most high profile musicians that champion the use of vintage recording techniques and it really shows in their sound. It’s fantastic. Jack White has recorded at Toe Rag Studios in London to great effect. Ben Lamdin from Nostalgia 77 (who co produced the album) has achieved some lovely sounding records for Tru Thoughts Records, which is why we called him up to help us. I also like Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys. He’s great, I just listened to some of the new tracks he produced for Dr. Jones and they’re amazing. He got this great sound. These people are all using quality old kit; mics, desks, tape, I mean, there’s a reason why we still listen to all those old records from the 60’s and 70’s, and, apart from it being great music it’s because they SOUND great! That’s the sound i want to aim for, and the way I wanna do things.
JO: Last question, is there a wishlist of artists you’d like to play with?
NE: Elvis, naturally, but that sadly won’t happen. It would have to be Lou Donaldson. He’s what got me into the Soul Jazz sound. He’s the righteous reed! He’s playing Ronnie Scott’s at the end of May and I really hope I’m free to go. He’s well into his 80s but he’s still got it. I’m a massive Tom Jones fan too and i always said that if I got the chance to play with him, I would hang up my trumpet for good as it couldn’t get any better than that. Then I actually got the chance to play with him on a tv show – I even ended up recording with him on this track which never got released, gutted! – and I was getting all these calls from my musician friends saying “so… are you gonna give up now? Do it! Please stop!”. I was like, “thanks guys, you make me feel so special”… Charming. Needless to say, I welshed on the deal…
The Fox is out today via Acid Jazz. The band is currently in the midst of a UK/ Ireland Tour and will stopping in London, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 17th for their album release gig at The Social on Little Portland St. Tix are £5.
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