Roger O’Donnell has had a comprehensive musical carer playing keyboards for The Cure as well as working with the Thompson Twins and the Psychedelic Furs. Roger’s latest solo album is a series of classical instrumentals and features Julia Kent from Anthony and the Johnsons and Rasputina.
“It’s a part of a project by Giulio Di Mauro where he had certain artists re-work other pieces of music and then he put them in touch with another musician who performed that and then he got someone else to produce it”, explained Roger. “It was supposed to be an involvement with people that you’ve never worked with before. It was suggested that I work with Julia. I didn’t know her before that and it was really good, she’s an amazing player. It fell apart a little bit because we didn’t need a producer or anyone else involved in what we did because I wrote it and played piano and she played the cello. We did have one other guy involved for a bit but he said ‘this is pointless’ so he dropped out.”
Curiously Roger and Julia each did their parts of the album while in different continents. “We’ve only actually met once,” said Roger. “It didn’t seem to affect our ability to connect emotionally. It’s just a natural way to work for me, in fact I think I prefer it. You have time on your own to perfect it and make it sound the way you want it to, there’s no time constraints or studio pressure. As long as you connect emotionally there’s no problem.
While there were problems due to conflicting schedules, Roger was determined to finish the album. “It was too good just to let it go,” said Roger. “At one stage I tried to record the last movements with other cellists because Julia was busy. But I realised that I had written it for her and I really wanted her to play it. It’s easy just to stop, but I’ve been doing a lot of stuff at the same time, I wasn’t going to give up on it.”
The album looks at three classical stories. “We did Scheherazade, then when we met in London we decided to do an album and we thought ‘okay let’s do some other classic love stories’ and those were the first two that came to mind,” said Roger. “I suggested Tristan and Isolde, it’s a very English story, pre King Arthur legend time and Julia suggested Orpheus and Eurydice. They’re not literal interpretations, they’re just meant to set the mood for each part of the story. When writing the music I quickly found out that you can’t be literal you just have to use the mood that it gives you.”
The album is composed entirely of piano and cellos. “I wanted it to be classical, I didn’t want it to be electronic so that’s why I used the piano,” said Roger “I like the combination of piano and cello. I’ve written some cello parts for music before and I thought it was a great combination.”
To accompany the album, Roger has been putting out video clips for each track. “Originally I wasn’t going to release it digitally I was only going to release it on vinyl and so I figured the only way to listen to it online was through YouTube, so to put the whole album on YouTube that requires there to be a video. It’s been quite interesting trying to come up with ideas on how to represent the songs in video form but not literally so it’s been fun.”
“[For Tristan] I went for a drive to a river because I wanted to do one where I put the camera in the river and have it paddling but it didn’t work. So on the way back I just stuck the GoPro on the front of the car, pointing at the trees. And I put a mirroring filter and it looked quite nice.”
Roger will soon be playing Love and other Tragedies live. “Julia can’t make it because she’s too busy so I’ve got four amazing London based cellist and we’re going to play the album in it’s entirety,” said Roger. “Before that we’re going to have music from the albums that I’ve released on my label over the last 10 years, three of Hannah’s [in the Wars], three of mine, and three from Erin Lang, and I’ve arranged for it to be played by a string quartet.”
“Rehearsals are going to be interesting,” said Roger. “Since I’ve written them I haven’t played them so some of them I’ve only ever played once, so I’ve been re-learning them and it’s going to be really interesting with four people playing. So I’m a little apprehensive but I’m sure it’s going to be nice because they are all amazing players. I’ve worked with two of them before and they’re all really talented.”
Roger has also recently produced the latest album for Hannah and the Wars. “Hannah moved to London and my friend said ‘she doesn’t know anybody, especially music friends, it’d be cool if you hung out with her,'” remembered Roger. “So we did and we became best friends, she’s my best friend in London! We hang out all the time, I’ve been helping her out with the album and it’s been really fun and I play with her occasionally at her shows in London.”
Roger is also working on music for two ballet projects. “One of them is the Picture of Dorian Gray at Les Saison Russe in Moscow, the second one is an adaptation of Orpheus and Eurydice from this album. A Russian choreographer heard it and wanted me to extend it into a one act ballet. At first I thought it was going to be really difficult because it was originally three short pieces with just four cellos. But it wasn’t, I did it in a couple of weeks, it’s now 45 minutes and for a chamber orchestra, so it was quite an interesting process and it came quite easily.”
Roger O’Donnell’s album Love and Other Tragedies is available digitally through Roger’s 99X/100 label and will be out in physical form at the end of the month. Check out Roger O’Donnell’s website to find out more!