Once every generation or so, a live act comes along that knocks the breath out of an entire audience. Solomon Grey is one of those acts. Shivers, goosebumps, and mouths agape with hands pressed to hearts abound when Joe Wilson and Tom Kingston, the London-based duo known as Solomon Grey, take the stage at New York City’s historic Beacon Theatre. They’re the opening act for Above & Beyond’s Acoustic II tour, and while we expect a nice warm-up show as we settle into our seats, we certainly do not expect the breathtaking performance that follows.
Joe Wilson’s voice is otherworldly, something that might transform the structure of solid objects; water to wine, if our material universe allowed it. Halfway through their set, as he hits one particularly piercing high note, a friend seated beside us whispers furtively, “If Jesus could sing, he would sound like Solomon Grey.” Nonsecular references aside, Joe’s voice and Tom’s keyboard skills combine to form an unbelievably moving live performance that makes even the most agnostic among us wonder if there’s more to life than meets the eye.
Solomon Grey have made more waves in the past year with releases like 'Miradors' and ‘Diamonds’, a collaboration with Lane 8 on Anjunadeep, the moody offspring of Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats label. Their productions are haunting, wistful, visceral – and their self-titled debut album this year is an elegant display of the duo’s uncanny ability to squeeze emotion out of everything in a room. They’re soundtrack producers to boot, their most recent project being for the BBC’s three-part drama The Casual Vacancy, based on J.K. Rowling’s book. Yet, recorded work rarely matches the magnitude of a live show: Joe and Tom alone on a dark, empty stage, each seated on one side of a small collection of equipment, cutting through the air with chill-inducing crescendos.
It’s something we’ll never forget. So we asked the pair if DJ Mag might debut this video of their hypnotic track ‘Choir to the Wild’, performed live in a most unusual setting – a dark, underground car park in London. They fit right in. Just watch the video above.
Bonus round: DJ Mag caught up with Solomon Grey for a quick Q&A after their tour duties wrapped up…
Tell us about performing this song live... in a most unusual setting.
"It was in the underground car park of our publisher Music Sales, in the centre of London. It was the perfect venue for what we wanted to do, and we were just incredibly lucky that Music Sales got behind us. We had had a little look at the space a while before, although Ludovico Einaudi ended up doing a performance there first. It was a real success for everyone and it sounded incredible! We put in some staging and lighting and all of a sudden, you have a brand new space in the centre of town that has a loads of atmosphere.
"For us it was the first time we had added a string quartet and that was special. We had to think on our feet as we put the whole performance together on the day, but we were really pleased with how it turned out. It was the culmination of a lot of work for us on our live show. Watch this space for all the videos we shot of the performance. They should be out soon!"
What’s the meaning behind ‘Choir to the Wild’?
"'Choir To The Wild' came about when we were doing a writing session on the coast of Ireland. There was this huge window looking out to the sea and Tom just started playing the first chords. We just sat there and wrote what became the basis of that track in pretty much one session. It went through lots of different versions throughout the next few years and was finally finished when we were drawing our first collection of songs together in Australia.
"It has a whole section which is more of a sound-design moment than anything else, and was probably the start of us working more like that across the board. It's now an integral part of our soundtrack work. It's always hard to describe the meaning of a track... but sufficed to say, it was a personal and meaningful track for us and was always going to end the album. We did a version with an abrupt cut at the end which puzzled quite a few of the fans, so for the release of our debut album we recorded a new extended version."
How do you translate the intensity of the raw emotion in your live sets (like this one) to a recording studio?
"A lot of wrong turns. As with everything we have done, it has normally involved a lot of mistakes to find something that we are both happy with and connects with an audience. Try to perform the album exactly? Try to figure out if you are doing a representation of it? What stays and what goes? How to interact and what is vital to that and what isn't? And as always perseverance - just never giving up.
"This show feels like the most honest we have ever got with it. Just two guys, with a load of filters and keyboards. Sounds like a porno, but it is what we ended up doing and is going to be what we build on from now on. It's also given us some pointers on how to change the set-up of the studio back at home. It's just great getting away from the computer screen and building sounds primarily by using your ears rather than your eyes. You can feel what you are doing a lot more easily."
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.