By Juliana Russell
Rainbow Shark, consisting of the talented London-based Jack Levy and Bill Wright, released their new EP “A Light Echo”. Black on the Canvas had the opportunity to speak with the witty duo about their new EP, where we discussed the importance of experimenting and being open to new things.
Where are you guys calling from?
Jack: We’re in Northwest London. But we’re both from different places; London is kind of a new place for us both, I guess.
Where are you each from originally?
Jack: So I’m from Manchester, in the north—do you know it?
No… But I’ll look it up later! (laughs)
Jack: Yeah, yeah, look it up… It’s very gray, it’s very cold, and rainy… Quite miserable. But I love it. Bill?
Bill: I’m from a pretty small town called Cheltenham; it’s in the South West. It’s a very small, kind of boring town; Manchester is quite a cool city. (laughs) So I got the short straw there. But yeah we both moved to London, so we’ve got a new home, really.
How long have you been in London?
Jack: Bill’s been here now for… What, two years?
Bill: Two years, yeah, almost exactly two years.
Jack: And I’ve been here about a year. We were at the same university together for three years, then both moved down here, to focus on the music a little bit more, see where we could go to with it. That’s still the plan, really.
Yeah, cool, so that’s basically my first question, what’s your band about? How did you get started? I guess at university, you said?
Jack: Well, we’ve both played in bands pretty much all our lives, really. I started my first proper solo thing when I got to university, and called it Rainbow Shark. And that was basically just me and a laptop, playing around with loops. It was my first foray into electronic music, really. I’d always played sort of rock music, like guitar music… I guess you did, too?
Bill: Yeah, that’s what I grew up doing as well.
Jack: So it all became too much for one person to do. I heard about Bill, and he was a perfect fit, so it started from there, really.
Bill: I had seen Jack perform before I was involved. I’d seen him play a gig, and really liked it. So I was pretty pleased when he asked me to get involved. Again, it was quite new – I had just played typical indie, guitar-based music up to that point. It was a new thing to turn my guitar playing to. But I really liked it, because it opened up a lot of new music for me, and Jack introduced me to a lot of music that I might not have heard otherwise. I think it was probably what I needed; I was getting a little bored playing indie music. This was a totally different area that I hadn’t really considered, but it opened a lot of new territory.
Jack: So there was an old sort of cellar, almost like a cave, underneath my college, at university, and we’d get down there a couple times a week, and set up all the music gear, this sort of base just to make a lot of noise. We’d experiment with new sounds and stuff like that. So that’s where we started, we played quite a few gigs around Oxford. And since then we’ve played quite a few around London as well, over the past few years. These past few months we’ve been focusing on recording new tracks, and seeing where our sound can go, just branching out a little bit.
All right, cool. Where does the name Rainbow Shark come from? (laughs)
Jack: To be honest, I’m not really sure. I’ve got a bit of a thing for marine animals, especially sharks. They’ve always fascinated me. There’s a lot of marine imagery in the songs. I sort of have to reign myself in a little bit, stop myself from writing about the sea all the time! (laughs) But I mean, it can be quite effective. But I guess we don’t want it to become the main focus, sponsored by Sea World or something.
Bill: Yeah, it’s not like a massive theme.
Jack: Yeah, just something we kind of draw upon every now and then. The name’s from a… A like for sharks, and then rainbow… I guess jazzed it up a little bit.
So you kinda touched on this, but what are each of your roles?
Bill: It’s starting to change a little bit. But typically, Jack takes care of the electronics and is the lead vocalist, and I play guitar—acoustic guitar and electric guitar, but the last few months I’ve been writing songs on Ableton and on keyboard, putting beats together. I think we’re kind of converging a little bit. I write lyrics… We basically both do a bit of everything. Jack is a guitarist as well, and plays bass.
Jack: Yeah, but it’s becoming less and less clear cut. We’re both doing everything. Bill is the one that plays guitar, but sometimes I’ll take the guitar part – some songs work better for you to play, it’s just wherever it comes together the best.
Bill: Writing electronic music is newer to me. With Rainbow Shark, I don’t really write on guitar, it’s not really guitar-focused, but it comes in every now and again, probably less than it used to. And I’ll probably be playing a bit of keyboard when we play this record live. And Jack will play a bit of guitar, so… Long story short, it’s a bit of everything.
Jack: And when we play the record live, which will be soon, we’ve been talking about getting loads of people on stage. We want to make it really big, because the sound is a lot bigger than stuff that we’ve done before. So we want to get like ten people on stage.
Yeah, lots of different layers.
Bill: Yeah, we don’t want to rely on the laptop. It would be really cool to get others to help us out.
Jack: Yeah, if you fancy it Juliana, you should come down. Do you play an instrument?
(laughs) Fly all the way to London!
Bill: The more the merrier!
Cool, so what are some of your main influences and inspirations, musical or otherwise?
Jack: Okay. I grew up listening to the music from where I’m from, Manchester. So Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, that sort of thing. And in more recent years, electronic producers, especially UK producers. So Four Tet especially, is quite a big influence. Yeah, people like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada. What about you, Bill?
Bill: Yeah, we both have a massively broad taste. We both like all sorts of completely different things. I originally grew up playing guitar, and listening to a lot of… To be honest, I listened to a lot of bands from Manchester that Jack mentioned, like Oasis, The Smiths, Johnny Marr… I listened to a lot of guitar-based music. But I also just liked really good songs, like pop songs. “Last Christmas” by Wham! is one of my favorite songs of all time. (laughs) And you’re also hearing it quite a lot at the moment. So I guess I always had an ear for good pop music, from wherever. And as I got older, I’ve sort of branched out more to electronic music, bands like Massive Attack. But I listen to traditional folk music, and hip-hop…
Jack: Yeah, and I guess where we are is also an influence. Some of the songs that were written back at home, like in Manchester, were definitely… I think our songs are often influenced by places, like specific places. Like “Kerosene” off of this EP was very much written about a specific spot near the airport near where I lived, Manchester airport. It’s a viewing spot where the planes go by, a place where I’ve been going for years and years and years… I’d go by myself, I’ve taken girlfriends there, taken friends there, it’s just a spot that’s very personal to me. So places can definitely the music you’re writing, quite strongly.
Bill: It’s quite hard to explain why, but since we’ve moved to London you can pick up on it in the music. It’s quite hard to say exactly how… I guess it’s probably more urban than it used to be.
Jack: I agree. I heard a bus going past the other day, it braked, and I thought the brake sounded really cool so I just recorded it on my phone, which became an idea for a song.
Oh, that’s so cool. I do that kind of stuff too. (laughs)
Jack: Yeah, these are the sorts of things that you have to listen out for. They’re handed to you on a plate, so you’ve got to make the most of them!
So what’s your creative process like? How do you go about composing a new song? Like what programs do you use and other kinds of stuff?
Jack: So for the latest stuff, it’s very much based on Ableton. I guess we’ll probably start with a loop, or like an idea that’s been going around our heads.
Bill: I think loops are pretty key, especially to start. I think a lot of the time, we’ll maybe have a loop, and then a song will come out of it. The loop, then we’ll start kind of piecing it together more, with more of a structure. But we sometimes spend huge amounts of time just playing one loop over and over, and we’ll try out different riffs. Sometimes we’ll go back to the piano, figure out a kind of chorus or hook, and then flesh it out from there. It really varies.
Talk about your EP “A Light Echo”. What aspects are you most proud of? Which parts worked out particularly well?
Jack: It’s strange because the ideas came from such different places and times; some of the ideas on the EP were written years ago, and some of them were really recent. Which is quite nice when we listen to it, well certainly when I listen to it. It brings together a lot of different… The last four or five years of my life, really. Little parts of it are there. I guess it’s coherent in that respect, strangely coherent, considering it was written over such a long period, ideas that were just abandoned and then we thought we’d try out again.
Bill: I think “Make Me Heavy”, the first track, that one is quite nice one to listen back on, cause it was the first one we wrote together in London. It was quite a new sound for us, more soulful.
Jack: Yeah, I think it was because we did consciously decided to try something new. And we did that, we wrote these songs, and recorded them, and we’re happy with the results. We’ve tried something new, and it’s worked—I guess that’s something we’re proud of.
Bill: Yeah, it totally came from like playing around with ideas. It didn’t take a lot of effort, really; it just sort of emerged from the couple of ideas we were jamming on. It just fell together. It felt like quite a nice sort of way to start our musical production here. It was something we wanted to happen, and we didn’t really have to try too hard.
Jack: The vocals for “Make Me Heavy” were recorded at around 3 in the morning. I had them in my head, got out of bed and recorded them roughly… Got back into bed, thinking “Alright, I’ll record them properly tomorrow.” And those were the ones that stuck best. So yeah it did just sort of fall into place, really.
Yeah, that ties into my next question. I was gonna ask about challenges. I guess you didn’t have many challenges with this one. But in general, with your music, when you do face challenges, how do you overcome and deal with them? Creative or technical.
Bill: Yeah, with every track, there’s at least probably one session where we kind of hit a bit of a wall, and we have to be really patient with it. When we recorded the vocals for “Falling For You”, it just didn’t sound right the first time. We weren’t really sure why. The next time we had a go at it, we tried something different, we did it in octaves, sped the whole track up, and it just worked.
Jack: Basically, just leave it alone for a while, like if it’s not happening, just accept that it’s not happening, and come back to it another time.
Bill: Yeah, it’s important not to thrash out ideas just for the sake of it.
Yeah, you don’t wanna force anything.
Bill: Yeah, I think with that one we kind of put it down to experience. Now we know what doesn’t work, and we can put that behind us, and then the next time we got it. But, challenges do come up. I think we take confidence in the fact that things have worked before. It’s part of the process.
Jack: I’m quite superstitious as well, I’ll never record when there’s a full moon.
(laughs) Interesting, that’s funny. All right, so what are some of your future plans? Like what are you working on now? You mentioned a whole bunch of little ideas?
Jack: Yeah, we want to see where we can go with it. How would you describe the new stuff we’re doing?
Bill: We’ve always got new ideas, sort of coming together. We’ll have a new track out in January. It’s gonna be a stand-alone track, and again it’s quite different. But it still sounds like us, really. It’s very danceable. It’s got a big beat—a pretty in-your-face beat.
Jack: When we get asked “How would you describe your stuff? What’s it like? What kind of genre?” It’s really difficult, because I wouldn’t be able to label our stuff. We’ll probably just continue to experiment with new ideas, and not stick to any one thing, really, just keep evolving. I think that’s really important.
Bill: We have so many different styles of music. Whatever has the potential to work, we’re happy to dip our toe in. We’re recording stuff and putting it out, and basically being as productive as possible. And we’ve played a lot of live shows, but not in recent months. We’re gonna get that ball rolling in the new year, once we’ve figured out how to put the mini orchestra together.
Jack: And from there, it’s total world domination.
(laughs) So you said a mini orchestra?
Bill: Yeah. We’ll need lots of multi-instrumentalists.
Jack: Yeah, tiny instrumentalists for our mini orchestra. Well that’s probably not politically correct.
Bill: They all need to fit on the stage, so they have to be… What, like 5’ or shorter, probably.
Jack: Logistically and politically difficult, I think.
Bill: So if you know any sort of jockeys that play bass and can do backing vocals…
Jack: You know where to send them.
(laughs) All right, I’ll keep that in mind!
Bill: Yeah, we want to play as much as possible.
Jack: Yeah, get heard by as many people as possible.
Bill: It’s the only thing we want to do kind of long term. We’re not going anywhere, really.
Cool. So do you have any parting comments, final thoughts?
Bill: Yeah, the new EP is streaming on soundcloud. There’s also a previous EP which we did a couple years ago; that’s still on there, have a listen to that too.
What’s that one called?
Bill: That one is just self-titled. It’s a bit more guitar-y, less urban.
Jack: Still has the same qualities, sort of melancholic, with some big beats.
Bill: Yeah, it makes sense that it’s us, if you listen to both.
Still has your unique flair?
Jack: Yeah, exactly. (laughs) Yeah, I guess whoever’s reading, keep on listening. We’re not sure where we’re going with it, in terms of our musical style, but I think that’s exciting, that uncertainty.
Bill: Yeah, get in touch if you want to talk to us about our music, or just to chat and pass the time.
Jack: We don’t bite. My parting comment would be keep on dancing. Everyone just keep on dancing.
That’s a good piece of advice! (laughs) I like that.
Bill: Simple, but important.