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North Atlantic Oscillation

The appliance of science (with Sam Healy)

By • Feb 15th, 2019 • Category: Feature

With a name like North Atlantic Oscillation, Sam Healy’s band seem unlikely to be pushing Ed Sheeran-style acoustic pop into the charts. Named after a weather phenomenon, the complex, rich soundscapes rely heavily on, well, science, with all manner of gadgetry involved in the production of new album ‘Grind Show’.

However, Healy doesn’t have a scientific background. “I’m more nerdy, a wannabe scientist – I am fascinated by it but as an amateur.” He tells the tale of a friend who gave up the profession due to its cut-throat nature.

“You imagine you have scientists fighting the good fight but it’s not all eureka moments and accepting your Nobel prizes,” he smiles.

However, when not making music Healy works on computer graphics and animations, including the band’s video and art work. Like the music, it’s highly technical, and while the band essentially make pop tunes, there’s rather more to the overall sound which relies heavily on studio… well, trickery?

“I’d not consider that a negative thing or slight,” says Healy, his Irish burr not diminished from 15 years living in Edinburgh. “The kind of music I like, a lot of it is using production as another dimension of creativity.” He namechecks The Doors as “the first band I went nuts for,” through Hendrix and Velvet Underground, then via Pixies and Sugar to electronica – “Leftfield, Chemical Brothers – not too esoteric,” he smiles.

So with all that in the mix, what kind of music is he making?

“It’s a total cop-out,” he admits, “but after trying to categorise it more eloquently, it‘s electronic rock… it has romance, rhythms, and verse-chorus, but wearing heavy disguises.”

“If you think of the studio in this day and age, which really just means a computer and decent mics,” he continues, “it really is an instrument every much as a drum kit or guitar.”

And all this studio work takes time – this is the first NAO album in five years.

“The main reason (or the hiatus) is because I released a solo album in 2016 – I haven’t just been twiddling my thumbs!” Healy insists. That release, the second under the Sand monicker, moved further towards the studio with its ambient passages mingling with the still-present ear for a hook.

Indeed, aside from producer Pete Meighan’s input, ‘Grind Show’ is a solo effort and, he concedes, there’s a lot to do.

“It takes a while to put together, and a lot of trial and error – there’s the below-the-surface part of the iceberg, all the songs that got junked or had bits recycled or changed character. It’s a good thing with albums that you don’t have to show your working, as a lot of it isn’t pretty! But you have to make mistakes to know where you want to go and that process takes time too.”

And that’s something that doesn’t always lend itself to gigs either.

“I want to approach it differently, tech lets you do so much with a live show and do something interesting, just to get away from the whole ‘bloke standing on a sticky beer-covered stage’.”

I note that Tiffany is in town – the ’80s pop icon who made her name playing shopping malls. “That could work, he laughs, “tearooms, garage forecourts – you can play anywhere.”

But there will be tech in tow.

“In the past we’ve put a lot of effort to make it as live as possible without sacrificing the complexity of the recorded stuff and that’s really hard, it does require hardware – the interface between the machines and humans.”

‘Grind Show’ is out on November 16. More at
This article originally appeared in the Selkirk Advertiser

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