Willard Grant Conspiracy
The organic Willard Grant Conspiracy have never been a conventional band. As they head our way, Rachel Devine uncovers their latest bold collaboration
Willard Grant Conspiracy, the disparate alt.country band led by the gravel-voiced Robert Fisher numbers in excess of 40 musicians from all over the world. Since Fisher started it all off in 1996, the group’s output has been prolific: seven full albums in 12 years. With the eighth, Pilgrim Road, the Conspiracy reaches Scotland. Pilgrim Road is primarily a collaboration between Fisher and Scottish film composer Malcolm Lindsay. After a chance meeting at a WGC gig in Edinburgh a few years ago, Lindsay gave Fisher a CD and offered to provide the strings for his next album.
They made a tentative start via email but when they met again in a studio in Wales – Fisher was recording vocals on a Jackie Leven album – they hit it off and decided on a full-blown collaboration. ‘I think it was at that point we gained each other’s trust and switched from me doing some strings to doing some songwriting,’ says Lindsay. ‘We tried to write some songs over the internet but we both felt we would be better off sitting in the same room.’
Fisher travelled to Glasgow in 2006 and the two spent 11 days locked in Lindsay’s studio. By the time they surfaced, half the album was written.
‘It was a productive time,’ says Lindsay. ‘Then Robert went off on tour and phoned me halfway through and said: “Why don’t I come back after this and we can finish it off”.’ It was an unconventional process but there has never been anything conventional about Willard Grant Conspiracy. Lindsay is officially WGC member number 39. Number 38 is Jackie Leven. ‘We were both very proud of that,’ he says. ‘It’s a privilege to be part of something that’s very organic in nature and very outward-looking. A lot of bands are quite inward-looking but working with Robert, even as the 39th member, was a very joyful thing. Robert works in all sorts of different ways with different people over the year. He’s very open in the way he works.’
Lindsay, who has written music for the films 16 Years of Alcohol and Young Adam, brought some diverse influences to the table. Listen closely to hear echoes of Gallagher & Lyle, Joni Mitchell, The Blue Nile, The Water Into Wine Band and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Fortunately, in a roundabout fashion, they dovetailed with Fisher’s. ‘When he first arrived in the studio he spent two hours playing tracks he really liked and I think I had heard of about five of the bands,’ he says. ‘We had different but complimentary tastes.’
Fisher agrees: ‘For two people from very different musical world we found it very easy to find common ground and it helped us to create music that neither of us would have got to on their own.’ Lindsay adds: ‘The production took way longer than the creative bit.’
In addition to members of Glasgow band Doghouse Roses, the album features Leven, Chris Eckman from The Walkabouts and classical cellist Robert Irvine. The various constituents – joined by Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb – will come together for the Queen’s Hall date. ‘It’s an 11-piece band but it’s quite minimalist and emotional,’ says Lindsay. ‘I think what we strived to do was create something beautiful out of something sparse.’
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 15 May.