As music fans, we’re all well acquainted with the concept of the break-up album. Shattered relationships can be rich pickings for musicians and often the artist’s angst can be the listener’s gain. Your own favourite might come from Fleetwood Mac or Abba, Bruce Springsteen or Bon Iver, Kanye West or Bob Dylan. Or maybe it’s Beck’s Sea Change which, for my money, is the most stunning break-up album of them all. Each and every one is a work of exquisite, painful beauty.
Most intriguing of all are the albums where relationships within bands fall apart, but the band somehow manages to hold it together to chronicle their private heartache for the whole world to hear.
Pavo Pavo’s Oliver and Eliza have just done this very thing; as their relationship crumbled they made a conscious decision to continue the recording of their soon to be released second album, 'Mystery Hour'. In a few weeks’ time you’ll be able to judge 'Mystery Hour' for yourselves as it hits the streets, courtesy of Bella Union. It’s been a part of my life for a few weeks now and it’s deeply intelligent, moving and stunningly self-aware while still managing to be gloriously accessible. There are nods to Bowie and the Beach Boys, Lennon and Pink Floyd. There’s immediacy and a depth throughout, from the opening title track with which Eliza’s pure, soaring voice all the way through to the laid-back beauty of ‘Goldenrod’. Each song feels genuinely ‘crafted’ and after all these weeks tunes like the bouncing ‘100 Years’ and the exquisite ‘The Other Half’ continue to grow in stature.
Just before Christmas I spoke to Oliver in his apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. As Oliver and Eliza have been open about the circumstances of the album’s origins, I asked Oliver to tell us about the album and how it came to be recorded in the immediate aftermath of their break-up.
“I thought about this album as a focussing from the last one, more compact songs, more trying to fit the whole universe into one song instead of the different images and different moments that there were on the first record. It’s really a good collection of singles. As the record was written shortly after Eliza and I split up it’s very much made up of heartbreak songs, it’s that kind of album - very personal lyrics and very much about relationships, not even explicitly our relationship. We remained friends and collaborators so it seemed like an interesting opportunity to make something together, which isn’t usually how heartbreak albums go. I wrote it over the course of summer and fall after we split up and once the songs were in place I got Eliza back to sing them and give some feedback. It was an interesting process making this album while moving into a new chapter of our friendship.”
“We’re taking the future one record at a time. We both have lots of new songs, newer than this album, that are being recorded. Eliza’s working on a solo record that’s going to come out early next year which is really exciting, it’s her first thing, and I’m working on some solo material. We’re keeping things flexible at the moment.”
I asked Oliver if he thought that there might be a temptation for listeners to attempt to over-analyse the lyrics on the new album.
“I think there is, but I tend to over-analyse lyrics and I kind of like that process, imagining things about the characters behind the music. I’d be pleased to have anyone read more into the lyrics than is necessary.”
Oliver continued to discuss his feelings about the impending release of Mystery Hour;
“I guess counting past bands that I’ve been in this is maybe the fifth time doing this but the second one with Pavo Pavo and, well, you just don’t know what people are going to make of it. I’m definitely proud of it and I actually feel a little bit less nervous around this one than I did around the last one, for whatever reason, maybe an acceptance that people are going to make of it whatever they make of it and if this one doesn’t resonate the next one will. I hope people get it and see it through the lens that I see it. I hope there’s enough of a collective consensus that aligns with my hopes.”
Oliver then spoke a little about his current listening habits;
“I grew up in a classical music family and that was pretty much my whole musical diet when I was a teenager, and then, just like any teenage boy from New York I got swept up in Indie rock. More recently I’m listening to more instrumental music and electronic music and I’m also getting more interested in folk songs, like Gillian Welch and John Cale’s Paris 1919. I’m kind of split right now between interest in really tight song-craft and interest in completely more abstract and colour based electronic music and ambient music.”
Let’s hope Oliver and Eliza are in a good place, because their broken relationship has produced a classic break-up album.