Working on a royal commission to provide ambient music to accompany the growing of 20 million flowers, recently completing a new album, only to plant the only copy in the earth and delete all the digital files — it’s safe to say Erland Cooper doesn’t choose to release music in the most traditional way. Headliner chats to the Orkney Islands-born, London-based composer about depicting the nature of his Scottish island home from his studio in London, his royal commission, the times his music has made burly Glaswegian men cry, and trusting his friend Paul Weller with the manuscript of his latest album, that is quite literally, under the ground.
While Cooper is based amongst the mad rush of London now, his upbringing couldn’t have been much more remote — he spent his formative years growing up in the archipelago of Orkney, a cluster of islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland. His home, and in particular its natural landscape and wildlife, is a significant reference point in his music, which is mostly piano, strings and analogue synthesiser-based.
The last time Headliner spoke with Cooper, he was sat in the foyer of London’s Royal Festival Hall, about to go on stage with friend, frequent collaborator, and all-round rock royalty Paul Weller. Cooper spoke of pinching the key to the music building of his school in Stromness, so that he could spend as much time there as possible.
“Even though I don't live there, my parents' home is there,” Cooper says in his measured and soothing Scottish accent.
“I still call it home. I’m like a ferry looper [an inhabitant of Orkney who is not a native but has come from the mainland, i.e. across the Pentland Ferry] – I come and go. So I get to go there every couple of months, which is great. I write about my relationship with the natural world.
"I think there's a misconception that you have to be in that natural world all the time to write about it, but I enjoy the critical distance that my studio gives.”
Without the mention of his working with Weller, you’d be forgiven for thinking Cooper’s seeming preoccupation with classical instruments and remote expanses of countryside would make him a total stranger to the world of alternative indie music.
Not so — before this stunning solo project took off, he was busy with Erland and the Carnival, which he formed with former Blur and The Verve member, Simon Tong; and The Magnetic North, which also includes Tong, and fellow composer, Hannah Peel.
But the solo endeavours are now going so well that he recently put pen to paper with Mercury KX, the neoclassical home of such prestigious peers as Ólafur Arnalds, Lambert, Luke Howard and Isobel Waller-Bridge.