10 Questions With… Spirit Level

10 Questions With… A series that delves into fresh new releases from some of our favourite artists. With a focus on our Melodic Distraction hosts and wider community, this lil natter gives us an insight into their musical escapades when they’re in their studio, not ours. 

Following a bass-rumbling, heart-warming launch party at our bar last week, we catch up with Spirit Level about his debut album, ‘Conscious Drift’. Out now via our friends Emotion Wave, the record is an electronic odyssey which explores memories and their emotional associations, celebrating the eternally unfolding present moment whilst simultaneously mourning its perceived death. Also Machine host under the moniker Dr. Harvey, Harvey is otherwise a somewhat mysterious figure in Liverpool’s underground electronic scene – we’re excited to find out more about his story so far…

Hi Harvey – we’re loving your debut album ‘Conscious Drift’. Can you tell us a bit more about the process of making it?

 The album was born out of quite a chaotic process. I went through a lot of half finished tracks and ideas collected over a long period of time (2014 to present) and picked out bits I liked. Back in 2014 I had some ideas but not much know-how or hardware, so I had to retrospectively make them sound the way I wanted and re-record different parts. I think this process made me reflect on why I make music and why I feel like I need to do it. It got me interested in how a path is set for a piece of music to be made, where I was when I found that sample or wrote that melody, what was going on in my life etc. It was a powerfully nostalgic process and so was inherently bittersweet.

I think between 25 and 33 you change a lot as a person for so many reasons and that can be disorienting. I wanted to remember what I made from a certain number of years ago and why, because these tracks and ideas feel like flashpoints; things that I want to remember.

Some of the tracks are much newer, from this and last year. I think through putting it all together in this way it has come out very differently from how it would’ve if I had planned everything from the start. I hope that this makes for a more interesting listening experience.

Who were you listening to a lot whilst making the record?

 There are a few familiar suspects for me – John Beltran, Shinichi Atobe, Shed, GAS, Plastikman. They are never far away. I’ve listened to the album ‘Much Less Normal’ by LRNDCROY a lot, it combines so many genres of electronic/club music from the last 30 years in this amazing kaleidoscopic way. Also lots of John Fahey, this American steel guitarist – he seems to be able to create such complete music with just one instrument. Check out ‘On the Banks of the Owichita’. Route 8, Barker, and a lot of Squarepusher too.

What inspired the name ‘Spirit Level’?

 Hmm, that’s a tough one. It’s been kicking around a while! I think it’s a reference to using music to temper or mediate emotions, to coax them out.

After several years spent performing without releasing any music, how does it feel to finally get it out into the world?

 I’m so happy I managed to actually finish something. I find it hard to let go of something and say it’s finished, but I think that’s pretty common. You have to learn to let go!

What prompted you to base the album upon exploring memories? What are the importance of memories to you?

The inspiration was there already in various depths of memory. The potency of nostalgic moments form this kind of jigsaw or code that leads to later moments. I didn’t know initially that memory was going to be the theme, but going back through everything made me realise what it was all about. The memory theme was born out of the process of putting the album together.

Where would be your dream venue to perform these songs in?

Anywhere that is outside. As I’ve gotten older I sometimes find going to clubs kind of claustrophobic. I feel so much more relaxed when I’m hearing music outside. So probably an intimate open air festival type venue.

With many opportunities taken away due to the pandemic, did you manage to stay creative throughout that time and if so, how?

I think the lack of exposure to a diverse range of activities definitely stifled creativity, but a lot of the  creative parts were already done. I think it actually helped me a bit because I had more time to spend going through stuff, editing, putting the album together etc.

What was the last record you bought?

I just bought the first Department of Eagles album, ‘The Cold Nose’, as a Christmas present to myself. I’ve been meaning to get it for a while. It’s quite diverse and kind of visionary at times. ‘Sailing By Night’ sounds like what Radiohead went on to sound like from ‘In Rainbows’ onwards. And then you have these playful tongue in cheek moments, and others that sound like bedroom imitations of DJ Shadow. Unfortunately there’s some unadvertised surface crackle but that’s all part of the fun!

Are there any up and coming local artists you’re keeping your eye on at the moment?

I really enjoyed the ambient album that Loathe released this year, I hope they make more of that stuff. I also recently heard Modul0per who does liver modular synth stuff, which I really like. I would love to bring that kind of experimentation and spontaneity to my own stuff.

What’s next for you?

I’ve gone back to making new music straight away. It’s nice to just be experimenting freely again. Getting stuff released was always going to be the more stressful part, so I’m happy to be back in the free and creative part of the cycle. My plan is to work on 2 or 3 tracks for a longer period of time and layer up lots of textures, field recordings etc. I found a couple of CDs in the recycling on my street the other day – one Philip Glass and one Hip Hop sampler, so they are both going to feature in there somewhere.

I’d also love to start doing more DJing again. I’ve only played once since lockdown ended and want to play out some heavier stuff. I’ve got a big playlist of techno, electro and Detroit type stuff that I play when I have to drive at night for work that I want to turn into a set. It’s such a good time to listen to music loud, on bleak empty roads. The inspiration for ‘Miller’s Bridge’ on my album came from a late night drive through the north docks.

‘Conscious Drift’ is out now on Emotion Wave – check it out below!