With The Paralian out now, the Dundee musician discusses the influence of the Angus landscape and North Sea on his work
A 'paralian', says Andrew Wasylyk, is 'a dweller by the sea, and as somebody who's lived in Dundee all my life, it seemed applicable.' He chose the word as the mysterious title for his third solo album, a suite of gorgeous, film soundtrack instrumentals which were written during a residency at the country house arts centre Hospitalfield, near Arbroath.
'They had recently had their ancient Grecian harp, which belonged to the house's original owner Elizabeth Fraser, restored,' says Andrew Mitchell, who chose the pseudonym 'Wasylyk' for his first album Soroky, a tribute to his own family history in Ukraine and the name of his uncle. 'It had fallen into disrepair, and the restoration was very expensive and time-consuming, so once it was done they were keen to have some music played on it. They asked me to come and write some music in residency, primarily in reaction to the house and the environment.'
Mitchell isn't actually a harp player himself, although songs composed on piano can be transposed to the instrument. Working with the harpist Sharron Griffiths, what he had intended to be a minimal suite of songs for only harp and piano turned into more extensive, fully-orchestrated compositions. The landscape, he says, has a lot to do with that, and much like his previous albums (Themes for Buildings and Spaces was, as the title suggests, an architectural exploration), The Paralian became a concept piece about the Angus landscape and its relationship to the North Sea around it.
'With each visit from Dundee to Arbroath I was seeing the mouth of the Tay estuary and the North Sea, and Bell Rock Lighthouse on the horizon,' says Mitchell. 'The imposing nature of the North Sea horizon started to infiltrate the work, and that developed piecemeal onto using drum, bass, brass sections, synthesisers and string arrangements. Some of them grew quite expansively, others stayed quite intimate, but the record as a whole straddles the neoclassical and jazz genres.
'Hospitalfield sits right there on the coast, and you get a lovely view of the sea,' he continues. 'I actually ended up taking a boat trip out to Bell Rock Lighthouse and saw cormorants and seals basking, I took field recordings which affected a lot of the album. There's a song on there called 'Journey to Inchcape', that's the name of the piece of rock the lighthouse sits on. Another song is called 'Welter in the Haar', which is a study of coastal light, or that's the idea anyway – the unique half-light you get in the winter on the east coast. All these thoughts thread themselves through the songs, some more literally than others. Half of the album is written from the perspective of land to the sea and the second half is written from the sea to the land, and I guess I was trying to romanticise that a bit.'
It's a record which only enhances Mitchell's reputation as a composer of thoughtful depth and emotional power, to add to his past life in The Hazey Janes, more upcoming work with Art of the Memory Palace, and his other vocation as Idlewild's bassist (he plays on their forthcoming new album). Alongside all this, however, he's also aligned himself with his home in Dundee throughout his career, and at the moment he stands at the forefront of the city's music scene while there's a renewed cultural focus upon Dundee.
'I've been lucky enough to travel a lot playing music, but I love coming back to this part of the coast, it's very beautiful,' says Mitchell. 'In Dundee we're protected from the North Sea, and it's only when you go further up the coast that you see its intoxicating spirit. The thing I find really fascinating is the duality of the sea, it's both oppressive and responsive; watching it is like asking a question and getting an answer. I like the myth of it, the feeling of, what's on the other side and is it for me?
'I write quite broadly, but it does help to have a focus to pull you back,' he says of the thematic wholeness of his albums. 'It's nice having a train of thought to write to, a story of some kind, but it's also about being creative and trying different things, and putting yourself in situations that you're not entirely comfortable with. I find that the grey areas are where the interesting things lie, and even if you aren't sure about them, if you don't know (whether something you try is) going to be any good, nine times out of ten something works in those situations.'