In The Nursery interviewed about “1961”

On their new album “1961,” In The Nursery looked to that year for inspiration in both their songwriting and sonic palette. As the birth year of twin founding members, Klive and Nigel Humberstone, it provided the focus and direction needed to create their first regular In The Nursey album in 5 years.

Based in Sheffield, England, the Humberstone brothers have been making music as In The Nursery for over 35 years. Their cinematic style has incorporated elements of electronic music, classical arrangements, orchestral percussion and experimental soundscapes. Since their 2011 “Blind Sound” album, the duo have been involved in a variety of other projects, including “Aprirsi” (binaural soundscapes for dementia patients) and “The Calling” (a thematic soundtrack featuring the work of author Simon Beckett).

How did the idea come about to base the album around 1961?

Nigel Humberstone: “We can’t really pinpoint where we first got the idea. We’d been working towards doing some new material for quite a while. It’s been five years since our last studio album. We wanted to do something when the time was right, when we felt inspired to make new music. In between that, we’d been doing other projects, like ‘The Calling’ and silent film scores. I can’t really trace it back. 1961 is obviously our birth year, and then I found that it was a strobogrammatic number. It has a really nice design aspect for the album cover and stuff like that. We started looking into things that happened in 1961, and it all took off from there. It gave depth to the album, it gave us a meaning to go on and do some stuff. We really needed something that was going to inspire us, rather than just do a set of songs that have no connection.”

While you were doing those other projects, were you working at all on material that would make its way to this album?

Nigel Humberstone: “Yes, we’d be either rehearsing in our studio with our drummer, just getting ideas down, basic riffs and drum patterns. We had stuff that was already there in the background, and we pulled on some of it for the new tracks. It was a mixture of doing new pieces based around the inspiration of books or events from the period and sounds that we recorded. Quite fortunately, I’ve got a 1961 Ford Consul, so I recorded the engine using both binaural recording and electromagnetically. I’ve got this device that picks up electromagnetic fields and that’s incorporated along with the engine sounds. That created the basis for the track ‘Consul.’”

What was the lineup for the making of 1961?

Nigel Humberstone: “Essentially, the core is me and Klive, and then we have our drummer, David. Dolores is always there to give a little bit of input. She sings in French on one track and contributes backing vocals to a couple of others. We’ve always used a session cellist, who has a wider project called Session Orchestra. They get together a full-size orchestra to do session work for albums and artists. She put together a quartet that performed on about six of the tracks. She took pieces I’d written and transcribed them for the quartet. We always like to use live instruments, and I think this album has got the most live instruments we’ve ever used. Obviously, when we started out, we just did live; we didn’t have any MIDI or anything like that. “

Collaborating with other musicians, do you have the parts all worked out already, or do they have a hand in songwriting?

Nigel Humberstone: “I think generally we know the parts; they’re already written in MIDI or they are using sampled instruments. Then the real instruments, or the quartet, come in to play the parts and replace what was already there. Or sometimes, we used a blend of the two so it’s electronic and acoustic. Same with the harp; the parts had already been written with the sound of harp, but there’s nothing like getting a real harpist to play a piece. We do get them to embellish or do what we call a ‘wild card.’ We give them one take to do some improvised pieces, and if any of those work, we’ll include them in certain sections of the song. But the bulk of it is prewritten and then redone by live instruments.”

Do you do much manipulation of the recorded instruments?

Nigel Humberstone: “I think for this album, they’re pretty much untouched. We put a lot of effort into recording them and getting the different microphones for the strings and the contact mic for the harp, which seemed to work well. But they haven’t been manipulated afterwards. I thought about doing it, especially for the harp, for the track about the Berlin wall. I wanted to maybe make that a bit nasty, but I used other sound effects behind it rather than change the original sound source. We’ve always been Logic people, so we use Logic Pro 9, which is not the latest version but we like that for recording and then we transfer the tracks over to Logic Pro X for mixing and mastering.”

Are you planning on performing this album as a whole live?

Nigel Humberstone: “It would be nice to do it at some point in the future, especially to get the quartet to come and perform with us. It’s not an easy thing to plan for finance, so we’d have to pick a few occasions rather than touring it like that. But it would be nice to do it in its entirely. But for the time being, we’re just going to incorporate a couple tracks into our live shows and take it from there. Maybe a bit further down the line, we’ll look at the whole concept thing because I think it can work.”

When you decided to move forward with this album, were you completely focused on it?

Nigel Humberstone: “Once we got the concept, we got inspired a bit more and got the motivation. We’d been waiting for the right impetus to do something musically. So, once we got going, we stuck with it and that was our main focus. I think we had to wait for that moment where we felt that musically we had something to offer, and that it had meaning. I think with “Blind Sound,” we sort of reached an apex with where could take the In The Nursey sound and all the sort of different elements and characteristics, which we sort of merged together. We felt we couldn’t repeat that, and we didn’t want to repeat it, so we had to wait until it felt right. It’s difficult to analyze; it’s just when something feels right. Luckily, because we manage ourselves and have our own label we’re able to do that, we’re able to wait. We don’t have to work to other people’s deadlines. It’s great to do things like ‘The Calling.’ I really enjoyed doing that for the sound design aspects. And ‘Aprirsi,’ providing music to try to help people with dementia, and then also the latest film score ‘Fall of the House of User,’ that was a lot of sound design as well. It’s an area that I really enjoy.”

Do you have any other silent film scores coming up?

Nigel Humberstone: “We’re considering film scores, but we haven’t picked one that we really want to do at the moment. So again, it’s waiting for the right one to come along and the right one that will work in terms of getting clearance. The thing with ‘The Fall of the House of User’ is that it’s not the easiest film to get the rights to perform it live. Which is probably why we haven’t done it too many times.”

In the 90s you composed the score for the movie “An Ambush of Ghosts.” Are you looking to do more soundtrack work for new movies?

Nigel Humberstone: “We’d love to be approached to do a feature soundtrack, but it’s not something we actively chase ourselves. We have some agents who put our music out there for things like that. I think sometimes those projects just come out of the blue. I know that with An Ambush of Ghosts, it was a case of the music supervisor going into Tower Records in Los Angeles and picking up our album because he liked the look of it and then listening to it. It’s who you know, and we haven’t really gotten into it. Even though people are aware of our music in the film world, it’s difficult to get your foot in the door, even after all these years.”

Discovering new music through records stores is rarer these days. What are your thoughts about the changes in how people get music?

Nigel Humberstone: “We’re lucky we’ve got control of our music, including publishing and everything. We control how it’s put out there, so we have distributors we send product to and then we issue our music through iTunes and all the different digital service providers. But we’ve also been using Bandcamp recently, and that’s worked out really well for both digital downloads and physical sales. It’s really useful for people who work independently to manage the way they get their music out and how they present it. Bandcamp has been really good for us, and our own website has worked well too.”

You’ve always had strong cover imagery. Do you think about it differently now that many people are just buying downloads or streaming?

Nigel Humberstone: “Not consciously, no. With an image like 1961, the fact that it’s a number that you can upend and it still reads the same, hopefully people will see that when they get a feed on Facebook or Instagram, and hopefully it will create a bit of interest. I know it’s a basic cover in terms of it not being an image; it’s text . We have to wait and see. But the special edition in the CD tin, that’s been doing really well. People seem to like the personal touch on that, because we’ve hand assembled those ourselves and done lino prints.

What are your touring plans?

Nigel Humberstone: “In April, we’re doing a mini tour of Germany. We’ve got a date in Athens, Greece, shortly after that. I’m sure there will be other shows. We don’t tend to do a lot over here in the UK, but I’m sure there will be more that come off that mini tour of Germany. We’d love to go back to France; it’s always been a good place for us to play.”

With such a large back catalog, how do you decide which songs to perform live?

Nigel Humberstone: “It is difficult, and I’m not sure which ones we’re going to do.  It’s a bit like that with the set list. We want to do 2 or 3 songs from the new album, but which ones do we take out of the existing set? We find that the more up-tempo songs work well live. Obviously, there’s a couple we can do to bring things down and make it dynamic. It depends on whether we’re playing festivals or headline shows, because it determines how long you can play for. We play anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes.”

Does it depend on whether you are doing festivals or your own shows?

“Yes, with festivals, it’s usually a good idea of do songs that are more immediate to people who might not know you. Whereas if you’re doing headlining shows, people want to hear some of the obscure tracks. What has worked out well is going back to our roots and doing tracks from the early period, which are just guitar, bass and drums. Really stripped down. That’s gone well.”