Along the glistening North Antrim coast, Herb Magee is documenting his worldview through a dazzling kaleidoscope of electronic music.
A prolific producer, Herb has released eleven full studio albums under the (punny) moniker Arvo Party – seven of which were released in the past two years alone. Needless to say lockdown has been a productive period for him, encompassing a broad range of electronic sounds. From Passenger's luscious synthwave to the ambient experiments on Devotions I-IV, it's immediately clear he isn't afraid to explore new sonic territories.
And on his latest tandem release, Herb still refuses to confine Arvo Party to one sound. Meticulously produced, vast in scope, ebbing and flowing with equal parts energy and emotion, Corpus I and Corpus II are bursting at the seams with ideas. Minm talks to Arvo Party about the new albums, the process of making them, and what it all means to him.First of all, congratulations on the release (or releases). Did you intend for Corpus to become two albums?
To be honest I wasn't really trying to write for any particular goal. There wasn't a concept or anything, it's just that I'm always writing and I'm always experimenting, and they turn into tracks I guess. I suppose the writing process for these songs started in October last year, on and off. There were kind of little bits that were coming out and I was putting them aside. That doesn't go with this, that's its own thing. And then in December my mum passed away and then everything sort of changed – The way I was looking at things, the way I was writing. I write all the time anyway: I'm quite prolific, but it's a bit of a curse at the same time because the control isn't always there. But I found it was just more and more and more for three months after that. And then whenever I had put everything together I sort of realised that, to me anyway, it felt like there was a bit of a journey. I could see the journey that I had gone through whilst writing.
...everything sort of changed – The way I was looking at things, the way I was writing.
In terms of the difference between Corpus I and II, it's sort of a birth-rebirth type of thing happening. Like a reincarnation thing is what's going on inside of my head. That's what I'm seeing when I'm writing, that's what I'm seeing when I'm listening to it even if it's not that obvious from the actual the music or the song titles.Your website describes the Arvo Party sound as "a lonely space between melancholy and hope". And on Corpus you can find yourself listening to an ambient soundscape one minute and a throbbing banger the next. Is this a glimpse into your worldview?
Yeah, I think so. On those two records there’s a few standard bangers so to speak. For me anyway. They're the kind of tracks where you start them and you know where they're going. And when you end up with it you know that's obviously a single. And then you spend months and months trying to convince yourself it's not a single. But for the majority of that stuff it does fit in that space. I'm always trying to fit in that space. If you take OTAMATONE for example, you could listen to it on a sunny day in a park and it's going to feel a certain way, or you could listen to it on a rainy day, sitting inside, looking through the rain and it's going to sound like a totally different track.
I don't know if thats a duality thing that I haven't realised or spoken to a therapist about. But that's the thing I always go for. There's a bit of sad in everything, you know? But that's just me. That's depression! laughs But there's also a bit of happiness in everything, it just depends on how you look at it. It's a different track to everybody, it's a different album to everybody.Any favourite tracks on the albums?
The ones that really stuck out for me were the first three on Corpus I: MODAL, WITCH and CYCLISM, which I felt like just live in their own space. There's something dirtier and grimier about those three, and I was really trying to do something different with those three. And they just sort of took own their own life.
LUV ME NOW is another sort of track that just fell through in about three hours, that I just loved. And the same thing happened with HYPOGEUM. Just had a little idea, and then before you know it you've got some song.Three hours doesn't seem like long from ideation to production.
Sometimes. And sometimes they'll start off as one thing and end up as a completely different thing. That's what happened with MODAL, over the course of about three or four months it ended up a totally different thing.
And CORPUS is different as well. When I started it it was kind of like a weird faux-Burial track. I was messing around with those sort of drum textures, and just fiddling around with that sort of beat. Like, "How does that work?", "What can I learn from this?". It turned into this whole thing, but then I sort of regressed a bit when the other themes came into it.
Every track's different. They're all experiments, really, I'm just trying to turn it into something that I think I've heard before.When did you feel it was time to release all this material?
With the Devotion stuff, they're more experimental, not sonically, but in the process. They're all just little experiments so usually I'll end up with four or five little experiments and then think maybe I can finish this. And every time I look at a devotions record it's half done, and then within a week it's finished. I'm like "Ok, I just wrote the rest of it, cool", and then I release it out a week later.
But with the Corpus ones, I was just constantly writing and then dragged them into playlists and tried to see if they would fit together. I guess you just tend to listen back and think "How can I improve this?", and then one day you just go, “that's done”.
I really try not to overthink it because I remember when I was in bands before, I used to be so precious about my ideas and I used to maybe overthink things. With Arvo Party I'm really trying to be less precious with my ideas and go with my gut instincts rather than thinking "What does somebody else want to hear?". I'm also treating the albums as a document of where I'm at in that period of time. So whenever you look back after the next 150 albums, it's going to be like "This is what happened, interesting".
I'm really trying to be less precious with my ideas and go with my gut instincts rather than thinking "What does somebody else want to hear?"Do you ever find yourself scrapping any ideas?
No, most ideas get finished as much as I can finish them. That's not to say that I release everything. I mean there's another sixty tracks sitting here that I haven't even released which are mostly finished. It means that I just kind of finish more and develop ideas a lot more than what I used to, whenever I was just a bass player in a band, and being like "Is this good enough?" and you have three people going "No". laughsYou mentioned you came from a band. Specifically, a grunge rock band. How did you find yourself producing electronic music?
I've always had an interest in electronic music. My music tastes aren't really strict to one genre – I've always been just a music fan. And I guess yeah, about 2015 I just got a laptop and got Logic and just started. And haven't stopped since.Was there much of a difference playing live as Arvo Party compared with your old band?
Massive. Absolutely massive. Being surrounded by other people on stage as well, where you sort of move as one group. But with this stuff it's a guy behind a laptop, on his own. Which never really made me nervous, I just thought this doesn't feel right. I always felt like I was cheating or something.
The first gig was just me trying to put together a tracklist of the biggest bangers that I had, pressing spacebar and playing some keys over the top. There was a lot of jiggery-pokery, I had some effect boxes. But all I could remember from that gig was that I'm pretty sure I head-banged the whole time!
I haven't been able to figure out the live thing and I'm not sure if I enjoy it. So I've sort of taken a step back from it. There's a lot of good electronic music that goes live really well, but I don't know if it's coming from playing rock music and playing in bands to switching to the other side of things which doesn't feel right to me. But maybe it will come.You've also done plenty of remixes as of late.
I'm never done remixing, and it's usually me pestering people being like giving me your vocal stems and I'll make something. I love working with singers, and with female singers. I love the female voice and it's so much nicer to work with, and I think it works better with electronic music. For me, thats just me taste. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, I'd love to be able to sing all this stuff myself but there's only so much autotune you can prepare yourself for.
One of the things I have found whenever I am working with vocals, whether it's Katy of Hex Hue, or Fiona of Larks is that I'll be writing and writing and writing, building a track, and then I find I have to strip so much back. It makes me realise how much shite I put into my tracks to fill out spaces and frequencies where vocals would normally be. And it's amazing how much you can strip back and replace with just one good vocal.Some of the tracks on Corpus are quite emotional. Did you attach any personal meaning to these tracks?
Massively. Some of them. I can sort of tell the ones that were written around December/January you know. But I think, a lot of these tracks I'll start them, and then I'll come back to them, and then I'll leave them, and then I'll come back to them. Because you have to that space between them otherwise you'll get lost in it. And I'll get sick of it – I'll never finish it. So a lot of them have an attachment to me, because of the amount of time I've spent in this room working on them. But I suppose it all depends on where I'm at, in that headspace at that time. And then I'll find I'll have started a little idea, and be like "oh this is ok", and then I'll go back to it in a particular mindset and headspace and it turns into this totally different thing.
I do release these things, and think "I've been listening to this for ages. I really like this stuff. I'm going to put it out there and if anybody else likes it: cool. If nobody likes it: fine."
I don't know about an emotional attachment to them though. I genuinely am really proud of everything on both of those albums, and I wouldn't just stick something that I've half-arsed out and be like "Well it's time to stick an album out" you know. I do release these things, and think "I've been listening to this for ages. I really like this stuff. I'm going to put it out there and if anybody else likes it: cool. If nobody likes it: fine." It's not about that, it's about the doing of the work for me.What's next for Arvo Party?
I don't know. I really don't know. I'm constantly writing but I feel like I should change something. I've had this thing in the back of my head that's been going "it needs to be weirder". So maybe I'll make things weirder. Probably more bloody albums. More bloody, weird albums.