Taken from their collaborative new album ‘Aerial Objects’, we find out how a hotel in Tbilisi inspired this evocative composition
Simon Goff is a Berlin-based musician, composer and sound engineer whose violin-playing can be heard on award-winning scores such as Joker and Chernobyl. Katie Melua is a singer and songwriter whose 20-year career in the music industry includes eight Top 10 albums and modern standards such as Closest Thing To Crazy. She’s also a musician who is constantly exploring new ways to bring her songs to life. Just one example is her 2016 album In Winter, which saw Melua return to her native Georgia in order to work with the Gori Women’s Choir.
The duo first came together in 2020 for Melua’s Album No.8 and, from those seeds, a new more experimental collaboration has grown. The result is Aerial Objects, a sextet of compositions that explore the emotional effects of different spaces and architecture. Those spaces include Goff’s native Yorkshire, Manhattan, and a hotel found in Melua’s hometown of Tbilisi. It’s the latter, the first single from the project and an evocative homage, that the pair dissect for us here…
Katie: This is about a hotel in Tbilisi which massively changed my opinion of what was happening in Georgia culturally from 2017 to 2019. The building used to be an old printing house. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels and I just couldn’t believe that my home town had managed to create this stunning hotel, which was both sensitive to the local culture, and cool, and comfortable and just really killing it on the world stage. For those that don’t know, Georgia is a pretty small country in the Far Eastern part of Europe, bordering Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the Caucasus Mountains surrounding it on the northern side.
Katie: It’s how that hotel made me feel, when something is done really well on such a big scale; it had such a positive effect on me. I also wanted the listener to be immersed in the senses, and the storyline to be just one layer of that. There is the mention of a relationship but it’s just one layer, which they can pick up, but the song isn’t driven by the narrative of the emotions.
Simon: This was the second track we wrote. We started with an ambience, but, because I wanted to start this by beginning with a pulse, the pulse for Tbilisi Airport was the first thing I added with the bass and the cello and I thought it was a good place to start. So it starts with a kind of rhythmic pulse and we built from there and it was very much centred around this violin and strings chordal pattern that’s at the top of the instrumentation.
The song is very much a celebration of architecture and spaces, and what spaces can do to us, and so I wanted it all the production. I was pushing for this kind of euphoric, very uplifting feeling from the moment we started the song and I feel like we got somewhere good with it. The rhythmic side of it, working with the band and creating these pulses and these spaces that all lock in together to create this forward movement in this song, was very important.
IN THE STUDIO
Simon: To find this we set up in the studio and initially played the song together as a band. Then we dived deeper into the individual parts, splitting out the drums, bass and guitar and building it up so everything fit together driving forward the feel. The ensemble of strings is a mixture of live performances and small loops that all combine together. Throughout the whole of the record, there is lots of interplay between live, acoustic performances and parts that have been cut up and manipulated both digitally and using analogue tape.
Katie: In this new body of work, our two artists’ worlds have merged to create a new space: Simon on the violin, analogue processing and synths, coming together with my world of traditional records rooted around the pop song. Lyrically this work has allowed me the freedom of imagination to address how environments shape my thinking and state and how the use of language and story-telling influence me. Simon is a true artist in the studio. I have never seen anyone be that fluid in the recording environment, where the process of engineering becomes a performative art form in itself, an extension of his composing on the violin.
Simon: For this record, we had spoken about trying to give Katie space to explore a different approach to lyric-writing than she had done before. My first instinct was to push away from the standard form structures of verse-chorus, so when we started improvising we did these pieces that purposely never landed where you expected them to. Katie’s sensitivity to melody and pop writing, naturally created incredible hooks that these improvisations began to give new context to. This was and has been very exciting to explore.
This whole process has been one of discovery and giving space to each other. Katie’s fearless commitment to exploration has really been wonderful to work with and witness. The sensitivity needed for this kind of process has allowed many things to surface, from us discovering the differences in how we listen to and hear music and lyrics, to our own deeply personal life experiences. The record for me is a representation of us exploring the space that exists between us and discovering a common voice from within it.