Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Review + Q&A: Ivan The Tolerable- Black Water/Brown Earth + The Aleph (2022, Up In Her Room Records, Echodelick Records)

No less than three albums will UK solo artist Oli Heffernan AKA Ivan The Tolerable have released this year. One of them, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (Library Of The Occult Records) flew under Weirdo Shrine’s radar, but the other two have boldly found their way to the editor’s desk. Last year of course I talked about his incredible album The Long Year (ft. his Elastic Band) and interviewed the incredible American poet Karen Schoemer who featured on the album. This year I felt like the musician behind that album and many many more deserved a little extra attention, and therefore I hit him up for a chat, which he generously indulged in. Vinyl pressing issues might mean that the albums talked about below haven’t quite reached their target audiences yet, but they will, and you need to know about them and about Ivan The Tolerable.

Black Water/Brown Earth (2022, Up In Her Room Records)

Before jumping completely within the skin of his alter ego Ivan The Tolerable, Oli Heff was in King Champion Sounds, with members of The Ex, and collaborating with illustrious rock icons like Mike Watts of the Minutemen, and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. This is just to say that he is a veteran musician, a skillful sound maker, and you know, he’s been around the block a few times (just check out the incredible musical library he is building with Ivan The Tolerable alone!).

On Black Water/Brown Earth, his second of three albums in 2022, Heff called in the help of his Dutch friends Mees and Elsa in King Champion Sounds again, and wrote the album in a long distance session. The album feels like an excursion in nature, featuring bird song, flowing water, pots and pans percussion, and a genuine feel of wandering about and experiencing the outside world with eyes and ears wide open. It is a band effort too, with organic sounding drums, the characteristic saxophone, and droning synths. Out of the two albums on display here it is probably the most likely to return on a live stage somewhere as a vibrant jam session.

The Aleph (2022, Echodelick Records)

The Aleph is a rather different beast than its predecessor. Much more than painting a certain atmosphere in nature it feels like an immersion into a different world. It is an ancient Mesopotamian world, guided by tribal drums, Morphine-like saxophones, droning synths, and an allround stifling atmosphere. Is it free jazz? It is definitely free…and the rhythmical excursions are definitely quite out there at times. But there is a strong repetitive element to The Aleph as well, a drone, a pulling power that takes the listener into a spin and sucks it into this “other” world. It is unlike anything I have heard before, really. An adventurous experience, both for musicians and listeners.

On The Aleph Heff did work together with Thomas House (Haress, Sweet Williams) who mixed the album and added some guitars, but it is mostly a solo album, and sounds like less of a joint effort too. In a way that makes it a more exciting listen because you feel that the music could go any direction its maker pleases, and yet it remains a coherent story that somehow resonates its background story and its artwork (check out the interview below).

So let’s meet the mastermind behind the sounds: Here is Oli Heff(ernan), Ivan The Tolerable himself! What drives him, where does he live? And how the heck does he make so many beautiful records each year…read on to find out.

How are you, and how have you struggled through the pandemic period?
Aside from the impending collapse of it all, I’m good thanks! How are you? The pandemic was a total shitshow – so many unnecessary deaths caused by an appalling governments colossal mishandling of the situation. I found the whole ‘stay at home’ aspect of it quite a blessing! I got 8 months off work and I’m not very sociable anyway so I got loads of music recorded and watched an awful lot of TV – there was a point where I thought I’d completed Netflix! It was the longest time I’ve had away from work and touring since I was a teenager, so it was a welcome break really. I think i made about 8-9 LPs in 2020-21 during covid, so yeah… PRODUCTIVE! I lost my day job at the end of it mind, but it’s all good now! Haha

Can you tell me about your musical background?
I guess it’s the same as most peoples – I started playing guitar when I was a kid, probs around 1994, just teaching myself as I went along by figuring out songs I liked, then formed a band with my mates at school, then more and more bands followed until we get to today! I’ve never stopped really, not for more than a month here and there anyway…I’m kind of the odd one out in my family as no one else is into music or plays an instrument which was kind of nice growing up cos I could just find my own way without being made to take lessons or listen to things that were forced on me. I liked that way. I’m a firm believer in just finding your own way to do things

Can you tell about Ivan The Tolerable, when is it just you and when do you have a band
recording with you?

Ivan The Tolerable started by accident in 2013 when I recorded a bunch of songs for my band at the time (Year Of Birds) but they were a bit left-field for a speedy garage band so we didn’t end up doing them and I just put the tape out myself to get rid of it ( I hate having stuff hanging around) and then I kinda just never stopped doing them – for the first 4-5 years it was just me playing everything but for the last 4 or so years I’ve got a lot more people involved – it’s kind of like a very loose collective pool these days, which is great for me as I can work on stuff a lot faster! IDEAL! I have three albums on the go at any one time (with three different sets of musicians) so while I’m waiting for people to do their parts on one album, I can crack on with my parts for the next one – it works well if you are as impatient as me ha-ha. I still do stuff on my own quite often, but i prefer the ones with other folks more as I’m lucky that I get to work with some of the very best people! I think I’m up to about 25-30 albums? I’ve lost count!

You music is like entering a completely different world! How do you go about creating it,
especially all by yourself? Is there for instance a narrative you have in your head?

Not really, I never have a plan really, other than to make an album and I just start recording and keep going until its finished – occasionally if I’m working to a set of lyrics, I’ll have more of a plan but mostly it’s just instrumental stuff so I can just do whatever, which is the best way to do it! No constraints and nothing to overthink! I guess that’s the key for me – I can just do whatever I like! I never spend a great amount of time recording an album – that’s not fun for me – I see it more like audio photographs of a moment, rather than some overproduced, overblown “artistic statement” – life’s too short for that kind of thing, i just love recording and like to do it fast! If once I finish an album I feel like I never want to hear it again, then I know I’ve overcooked it! ha-ha the thing I do notice is that I can make two different albums a few years apart with totally different people and totally different gear and it always still sounds like me – that’s a pretty cool thing I guess. Like some sort of intangible quality that is there but also isn’t…Dunno how it works, but it’s true! I can also hear anything I’ve done and tell you exactly what I was doing, where I was and how I was feeling when it was recorded – which goes back to the audio photo theory!

Where do you live and how does it affect your music?
I live with my girlfriend and a cat in Middlesbrough, England (Between Leeds and Newcastle, right up in the North East) and it has zero impact on my music other than I find it hard to find the right people to play with in my town. There are lots of bands and musicians but it’s all very indie/rock/acoustic/covers-bands kinda stuff round here so I have to look further afield for people who are into the more left-of-centre stuff, which is why I record a lot and play live very little! A lot of the folks who play on my records live in Netherlands, USA and Spain so practicing is a bit of a pain! Hahah! but I do have a UK live band finally so we can play shows if something good comes up – we played Astral Festival in Bristol earlier this year which was the first time we’ve done it and it was lots of fun – I’d deffo be up for doing more so we shall see…But anyway – Middlesbrough has no effect on what I do – its where I live and where all my friends are, plus it’s a relatively cheap place to live (not that anywhere is truly cheap anymore) but I could make these albums anywhere I reckon, and they’d
sound the same. I could spout a load of bullshit about how I’m influenced by the hills and the industrial heritage and all that, but it would be a lie! It’s all just rattling around in my head trying to punch its way out, and my head can go anywhere!

The first album I am reviewing is Black Water/Brown Earth, what can you tell me about its
conception and its background story?

I had a mental block between November and April this year where I couldn’t seem to get anything done – my head was just not in it (It felt like the end of the world at the time, it always does – but in hindsight I think I just needed a break) I had started a couple of sets of songs but I was making no progress on them and just annoying myself – so I shelved them for a bit and started a new thing that I wanted to be very simple, just me and two other people (Mees and Elsa, who play on lots of my stuff) we were in King Champion Sounds together for almost a decade so we are very used to playing together, so even doing it via email it still sounds pretty organic) so I sent them sketches for a bunch of songs and then when I got their stuff back I added some more stuff and then mixed it very quickly and it all just came together really fast – it was such a relief to finally finish something after 6 months
of frustration! The week I finished mixing it I got an email off the folks at Up In Her Room asking if I wanted to do an album with them (They had seen us play at Astral Festival) so I sent them it and they liked it so that’s how it all came about! think it’s a nice sounding record – I cycle down a river every morning when I go to work and I made some field recordings on my phone over a couple of weeks of the birds and the water and they are mixed into the tracks too…aside from those bits it’s just the three of us playing on it – the trio thing is always fun, working with a smaller palette is nice sometimes!

The second album, quite quickly following the previous is The Aleph, what can you tell me about that one?
The Aleph was one of the ones I started in Autumn last year, but I hit a wall with it and shelved it for a while. After I finished Black Water/Brown Earth I returned to this one and it all came together quite fast now I was back on the proverbial horse – I added few more synths and doubled some bass tracks up and then sent it to my pal Thomas House (he plays in Sweet Williams and Haress, and used to run Endless Records out of Brighton, who put out a couple of Ivan tapes and records over the years) and he added a bunch of guitars and then mixed the album for me – he’s very good at stuff so it was very painless- again! Mostly 1st mixes of everything are what you hear on the album – he’s got the good ears for stuff – I’m really pleased with this record – I’m normally guilty of the “throwing everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach whereas Tom is all about space and minimal layers – but I wanted a different sound and he’s totally nailed it – he’s a genius. I was reading a book
of Jorge Luis Borges stories while we were making the record and there is one story called The Aleph which is all about the idea of there being a point in space that contains all other points, from where you can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping, or confusion – which I really liked and it felt kind of apt, so I named the album after it.

The Aleph especially has some incredible artwork! Who made it, and what is the relationship with the music?
I did the sleeve for this one (PLUG ALERT! I have a side-hustle doing sleeve art for bands, check out @ackackackdesign on Instagram for recent work – I’m cheap if I like you! PLUG OVER!) The image is a close-up scan of the endpaper from a Victorian encyclopaedia which I really liked the colours on, so I matched everything else up to it and all the lettering is hand done, one letter at a time with Letraset from my personal collection! ha-ha. Old school cut and paste! I think it suits the music nicely though, which is always the main goal. I do most of my own sleeves but in the last couple of years I’ve had too many records out so got a few other people whose work I liked to do some here and there, so I wasn’t swamped – Limited Output (my old pal Chappy from Newcastle) did the sleeve for The Long Year, Jordan Warren did the sleeve for White Tears and Nathaniel Winter-Herbert did the one for The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe – check them all out, they are fine folks!

Now you have released two albums in one year, what is the next step? More recordings?
Playing live?

I think its three albums this year actually! The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe LP on Library of The Occult was earlier this year wasn’t it?! ha-ha – so yeah – 3! it’s not my personal best (I managed 5 in 2020) but it’s a strong effort! After The Aleph and Black Water/Brown Earth are released, I have another album which is already at the pressing plant which is due out in April (it’s not announced yet so I can’t say any more, but I’m
REALLY pleased with this one cos it’s the first time I’ll have an entire ITT album I am actual able to play live so watch this space…) but I have plans to record a new album for Library of The Occult during November and December as I have some good chunks of time off work, and then after that I’ve got a couple of live things coming up that I need to work on…that’s as far as I’ve planned! I love watching TV too much to commit any further than that! I’m still getting used to not really touring anymore – Brexit and Covid and everything getting so expensive has really made it impossible for the small acts to make it balance anymore, sadly! I toured Europe for a month out of the year every year for the last decade, so it feels weird not to have any stuff on the calendar but I’m sure I’ll get used to the idea eventually. It’s probably why I’ve made so many records over the last two years – I’m overcompensating!

What is your ultimate dream goal as an artist?
I don’t think I have any! I just enjoy doing what I do! I’ve never wanted to be a musician as a job, I like having a normal job (I work in a print room) and doing music around it – stops it getting boring – I reckon it would suck if you HAD to do music every day, especially these days with all the bullshit social media you have to do constantly – i couldn’t do all that, which is probably why I’m not much further on than I am! I like it the way it is though. But yeah, my only goals are to keep making records until I peg it – keeps me sane! It’s a good release for an overactive imagination. But BIG goals nah, don’t have any! I wish I’d got to do a Peel Session, but I never did, does that count? Probably not seeing as it’s no longer possible! I’ve kind of done everything i ever set out to do and more! I’ve made loads of records, toured in loads of countries and met lots of the very best people. JOB DONE! I would secretly love to make a record in Studio 2 at Abbey Road though, but shhh don’t tell anyone.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
Well, I’m going to go outside for a smoke, listen to the new Szun Waves album AGAIN and have a beer and then watch some TV. So you could do that if you want, but I’m not yr fuckin boss! DO SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVE! Eat a cake! Knit a jumper! Paint a room! Go for a bike ride! Have a sleep! If you are happy then, so am I.

Oli

Review + Q&A: Haress- Ghosts (2022, Wrong Speed Records)

Wrong Speed Records is a very interesting and relatively new record label from the UK, established by Joe Thompson, who you might also know as the bass player in Hey Colossus. It appears he has an exquisite and very wide taste in music, and Haress from Wales are the latest formidable example thereof.

When you close your eyes and listen to Ghosts, you can almost hear the morning mist crawling over the green Welsh fields, a river streaming nearby, the gentle tranquility and subtle excitement of another dawn in the countryside. The music is gentle, with explorative guitar parts, sparse and ephemeral vocals, a hint of folk in the bass lines, and other more experimental musical instruments that add to this atmosphere.

It harks back to the earliest of postrock days and the youthful naivety of Slint‘s Spiderland. It’s dreamier than that iconic album though, and in its folkier and quieter parts it also reminds of a very different Slint affiliate; Will Oldham, and his Superwolf colab with Matt Sweeney in particular. It’s sleepy music, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Having cited these 90s influences, it is perhaps cool to mention that Lungfish‘s Nathan Bell also added a bit of trumpet to the album.

Personally, I fell deeply in love with Ghosts. There is something about the guitar tone, the pace of the music, and the general tranquility that completely connected with me on a level that I cannot really put into the right words, and will therefore stop trying. Better to see if it connects with you in the same way…

I had loads of question for this enigmatic music group, which luckily Dave and Elizabeth (main people in the band) answered all kind of together as one person,  except question seven, which Thomas the vocalist answered…

Hi guys, how have you been these past pandemic years?

We were lucky we kept our heads above water, lockdown in the countryside was like a quieter version of an already quiet place.  Although it was a bad time there were many positives –

it was a treat to have some time, to be together with our daughter, I (Liz) collaborated and recorded a remote album with Dominic Plucknett from Van Coeur https://stillplucknett.bandcamp.com/album/bandas-sonoras ) and Haress got to do a Black Sabbath cover for the Supersonic online festival https://youtu.be/vNf7TaOjUiE ).

Can you introduce Haress? When did you meet each other and how did you start a band?

Hello, this is Elizabeth Still and David Hand.  We met each other through playing in a band called Red Panda many moons ago. Haress was formed out of necessity as the drummer from our previous band (Black Octagon – https://blackoctagon.bandcamp.com/ ) was becoming a parent plus there were location logistics etc etc

We decided to do a band that meant we didn’t have to rely on anyone outside of the two of us and where we could practice from home – try and make it easy.  

We first expanded the band when we played at our festival called Sineater in 2016 ( https://youtu.be/Rpfh8VsiPmc ) when Chris Summerlin (Hey Colossus, Kogumaza) and Pete Simonelli (Enablers) joined us on stage, it was a great thing to discover we could successfully and quite easily expand and diversify.

The heart of Haress is us as a duo, we mostly write the tracks so they can be performed that way. When we expand the band it becomes something different.

For the first record and Ghosts, Haress expands to include Chris on guitar, David Smyth (Kling Klang, Mind Mountain) on drums and Thomas House (Sweet Williams, Charlottefield) on vocal.  They also feature Nathan Bell (Lungfish, Human Bell).

I love the way “Ghosts” sounds! How did you decide on your sound? Is it a naturally evolving thing, or a very conscious result of planned decisions?

For Ghosts many of the tracks were quite new and hadn’t been played live. So this was an evolution. We were staying at Erbistock Mill (a disused water mill in Wales) so it was quite an intense process. Some things turned out very different to how we thought- but that’s the joy of collaborating with other musicians . Now the tracks can exist in different forms – we like that.

Can you tell me where Haress is from? Somehow I picture a rural surroundings…are you inspired by nature at all?

Haress are from a town called Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, right on the Welsh border: glorious countryside and a pretty remote little town, very much the rural setting you picture. We have lived here for nearly 14 years and then amazingly David and Chris have just moved here as well, which is great. Thomas currently lives in Zaragoza in Spain.

We’re totally inspired by nature, I’d say it was impossible to not be (living where we do) but nature has been a lifelong love. 

Can you tell me how you make music together? When do you decide when a song is a song? 

It’s usually the result of the interplay of our 2 guitars, often acoustic, often in the house, that then get shifted to electric at some point. Then we will try playing them live and this usually gives you a good idea if it’s ready yet. With the ‘big band’ version it’s usually an expansion of the 2 guitar parts – although while recording Ghosts there were full-on band collaborations from the ground up.

Can you tell me about the collaborations with other musicians on the album? 

This record (like the first LP) has our friend Nathan Bell playing on it. We once put out a solo record of Nathan’s years ago https://lancashireandsomerset.bandcamp.com/album/nathan-bell-colors ) and have played shows and toured with him over the years. He played trumpet on stage with Black Octagon once and I guess that sowed the seeds for a future recording. This record he went an extra step and came up with this crazy throat singing part as well! Sounds amazing.

Dave (Smyth) plays drums so emotively for us, knowing when to hold back in the arrangement and when to bring the heavy weight! 

Chris brings wizardry, expertly punctuating, creating texture and unexpected joys with guitar and Echoplex and unending knowledge.

Thomas‘ vocal happened remotely as well. We talk about it a bit but Tom sings on the tracks he chooses to. It brings a seismic dimensional shift to the band and the record.

What are your greatest inspirations for the lyrics? 

Thomas: The music, and what I know of where it comes from. I wait for stories and images that I think fit the feeling and intention, and then I expand on those or chip away at them until they’re what they should be.

What is your goal for Haress?

I guess just keep doing it: more collaborations, play more places outside of the ’standard’ venue

Will you perform live, and when will you come visit me in the Netherlands 😉

We hope to perform live later in the year with the ‘Big Band’ and we would love to play in the Netherlands

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after reading this interview?

Go outside