Isomeric: Griff Johnson and Si Cook
JUST a couple of miles outside Newbury, the village of Enborne is a tranquil part of West Berkshire, but possibly a surprising source of creation for a new “chill” album - featuring a type of music more usually inspired by exotic climes and warmer temperatures.
But it is here that Simon Cook - pharmaceutical scientist by day, mad scientist of the mixing desk by night - has his home studio, and along with former Newbury resident Griff Johnson, works his musical magic to create the mellow sounds associated with chill music under their new moniker Isomeric.
Formerly known as Tripswitchers (they changed their name because it was too similar to some other musical outfits), Cook and Johnson, who grew up in Newbury (he now lives in Guildford), met through a friend who knew Cook was looking for new collaborators. Originally Johnson, a prolific West End musical director, was hired as a session keyboardist, but the pair soon bonded over a mutual dream of reviving the vibe of party islands such as Ibiza in their heyday, where downtempo chill music helped revellers recover from frenetic and prolonged sessions on the dancefloors of the superclubs. “I think there was a feeling very early on that we weren’t going to be a gigging rock & roll band,” says Cook.
Inspired by their travels around the world - Cook says that quite a few of the tracks were penned in their earliest form while he was on holiday - the pair found writing together a natural and easy process. For the recording, they gathered live musicians and vocalists from a variety of sources - singers on their debut album include West End star Kerry Ellis and former Freakpower singer Ashley Slater; they have also worked with Newbury’s own Fiona Bennett, and are currently working “more and more” with a singer called Katie Holmes, whose “silky jazzy voice goes well with the beats.
“The 11 tracks aren’t just variations of each other, they cover a range of styles, and sometimes the tempos aren’t always ‘chilled’ as such - but relaxation is the common theme,” says Cook. “New production techniques make it easier to fuse the electro beats of the Ibiza era with the strong soul songwriting styles of the 1970s. We don’t let technology take away the musicianship, and we believe in the importance of good lyrics.
“However, we have to be very disciplined with the BPM [beats per minute] - you can’t have something over 100bpm and still call it downtempo.
“There’s no reason that just because we’re using electronic tools, we can’t use the methodologies of classical songwriting. That’s why we called our record label ‘Kolloidal Music’ - ‘colloidal’ means the mix of two things that shouldn’t go together, like the oil and water in mayonnaise. Our sound is simple, but there are layers of complexity, rather like what Brian Wilson did with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Sometimes the simplest things are complicated to achieve.”
Cook and Johnson have released their album, Tropic Of Comfort, on their own label, and in mp3 format only, at least to begin with, although Cook is aware that some music lovers “still like to hold a CD”. Central to such decisions has been the invaluable advice of Cook’s brother, big beat DJ Norman Cook (who formerly topped the charts with Freakpower, along with Slater). “He told me we didn’t need to sell our soul to a big record company, and could do it all ourselves. It’s been quite a learning curve for me - designing the album cover and so on. But it’s so immediate - one song made it onto the album having been finished just two days before its release.”
While Norman has had a full-time career in music since his days as bassist with The Housemartins in the 1980s, Cook likes the idea of the ‘renaissance man’, balancing his day job with his musical passions. “We all get labelled, but there’s no reason why we can’t be into everything.”
Cook admits that his brother’s technical know-how has been useful in helping him master the sound engineering techniques required to produce his own music, although the siblings certainly differ on musical styles: “Norman’s about the party; we’re more about the morning after,” jokes Cook. “Isomeric is about creating a vibe of dreaminess; a languid and lazy fluid sound; something blissful and sublime. We have a passion for music, and we hope that shows.”
* Tropic Of Comfort by Isomeric is available to download, as an album or by individual tracks, from iTunes, Amazon and eMusic.