By Andy Soloman
VANCOUVER — Seated in his London-based studio against a backdrop of synthesizers with notes taped to the wall, it’s immediately evident that Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) is a man completely immersed in his passion for music. This is a man, after all, who has designed his own ultra-high end DJ mixer in an ongoing hunt for perfection in live sound. Although he has been a highly regarded figure in electronic music for several years following the 2009 releases of Love Me Like This and the Vacuum EP, it’s since finishing his doctorate in Neuroscience that he seems to have finally had the time to fully commit to this lifelong passion. It is fitting then that his latest LP, Elaenia, is comprised of some of his most absorbing and personal music to date. Written for an evolving full band and taking inspiration from classical jazz, electronic music, soul, and even Brazilian pop music, it’s a testament to Shepherd’s musical intuition his ability to make something so personally controlled sound so alive and experimental on record.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of freedom in the record,” says Shepherd. “I mean I played a lot of the instruments on it, so a lot of the synthesizers and all that stuff, and they were all improvised, and then the stuff that was written down strictly was all the string parts and things like that, they were scored out. Things like the bass line on it, I’d actually already recorded it myself, playing it myself, and the drums as well, and with the bass part I actually wrote a score and was like, ‘I want you to play it exactly like I played it, but better’. I’m not a guitarist so I just played him the bass line on a single string, because I don’t play, but I had a bass guitar at the time with one string working, so I played the whole bass line on the low string — It doesn’t actually sound that terrible!”
Despite the painstaking attention to detail evident in Elaenia, the sonic and emotional range is best experienced in one complete sitting. For Shepherd it very much continues to be an evolving project – changing and developing as it travels through different venues in a live setting.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to do it properly, now that I’ve got help. I’ve got a sound engineer, I’ve got monitors, and I’ve got technicians and all this stuff. I can actually focus on the music and I can be a bit more free to do the music I actually want to do. And yeah, I think it’s irreversible at this point, because now I can have like, two marimbas and a whole horn section and things like this, and I’m definitely going to continue to evolve it. So in fact this tour we’re going to do in North America is going to be with an additional guitar – just to keep things evolving and moving and changing, and interesting to perform. The show is changing all the time, the music is changing.”
According to Shepherd the only way to keep things fresh and floating is to keep on writing, something that he’s happy to do now that he has more time to embrace his creative side.
“I’ve been writing some new music this week that I’d like to try out with the band, and we’ll see how it goes. I like the idea of it actually evolving on stage, and the stage being used as an exhibition for the music, but also as a place that we can experiment with it, because I think those are the times when the most exciting things can happen,” he says. “It could also go either way, who knows. But it’s exciting and it’s definitely interesting. I don’t like the idea of just going out like a machine and just playing the same dots that I’ve played before – it has to keep changing to keep it interesting.”
Floating Points performs live at Celebrities on May 4.BC, British Columbia, Celebrities, Renne Stamatis