Darwish’s debut album has been worth the wait - the hotly-tipped multi-instrumentalist fuses jazz, indie and electronica with ease, creating a stunning signature sound. Lyrically he draws on the pain of love and loss, and dreams of connectedness. The release, ‘Reclamation’, is out on Two Rivers Records, and has had radio support from Jamie Callum and the BBC. Darwish’s live show is breathtaking - he’s a top jazz bassist who has played for the likes of Sting, Imelda May, and Newton Faulkner.


Debut album - Reclamation

You mix techniques and genres to create something unique. How would you describe your music?

I would say that it draws on all my musical influences, which are many! I grew up listening to a lot of Indie. I love bands like Suede, The Smiths, Talking Heads, Radiohead, REM and countless others. I love the narrative in the songs of those bands so I think from a songwriting approach I’m influenced by the sentiment of those bands. Then the other aspects that enter musically are harmonically influenced by Jazz and groove, Acid Jazz was big thing for me bands like Young Disciples, Jamiroquai, Guru as well as all the jazz infused Hip Hop like A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde so those elements all meet somewhere and they ultimately define my sound.

What were the key themes when writing the album, and what’s your process for writing?

The album really explores a sense of longing. I suppose that I’m at a bit of an in-between stage now where I’m no longer really young but also not old and there was definitely a feeling whilst writing this of ‘what is my role and where do I belong in this world?’ There are the somewhat clichéd themes of love and loss but also longing, desire, confusion and resolution. Hopefully it conveys some of the shared experiences that we have as human beings all muddling our way through this collective consciousness.

My writing process is slightly haphazard. I often start with an instrument and just from playing around I will come up with a riff or a chord sequence or something that grabs me and moves me in some way. From there I will tend to build up the song in stages. Sometimes I may just have a verse that I’m really happy with and then spend ages coming up with a chorus then a bridge and so on. Sometimes it’s quick and sometimes painfully slow. Occasionally I will sit and write a whole song but it really does vary. I would say that my writing is more often than not done in stages and layering. There could be dozens of variations of this until the final outcome is achieved.

Darwish - pic Terry Tyldesley

What’s the story behind The TV Says?

This was one of the songs that I just sat and wrote really quickly, probably in a couple of hours. This was around two years ago and the migrant crisis was at its peak. I was looking at all these images of people piling into boats, drowning on the journeys and then being met with some animosity and hostility. I started to think about what would drive you to have to undertake such a perilous journey and to leave everything you knew and it just saddened me so much that I wrote this.

How was the album recorded and produced?

I had a studio, just one room in Netil House in Hackney. I pretty much went in every single day over the period of about 3 months and would work all day regardless of what I had on in the evening. As I just play for my living I often found myself exhausted by the time I got to my gig in the evening. If I was away touring I would take my laptop and produce/edit and rework stuff on flights and in hotel rooms. But I religiously stuck to it. I wrote almost all the album in the studio.

The entire album was tracked; there was no playing together at all! I did not want to use samples and VST’s so I recorded everything. I would sing vocals, mic up guitar cabs, bass cabs, synths and acoustic instruments in the studio. Sometimes I would record my piano at home too but I didn’t use any soft synths or sampled beats or anything like that. I couldn’t really record drums during the day so that was always writing time as well as guitars/keys/vocals. I usually got Wes in on a Sunday night and we would track all the drums then. In fact the room weirdly sounded great for drums …just randomly a good sounding room.

I got Ben Sommers in to track the horns and play solos. He was great and actually made the horn arrangements he did on the fly on each session he was in.

The trumpet and flugelhorn was done by Yazz Ahmed and in fact she came in about a year earlier to lay down some parts on skeleton bits and bobs that I had. One track, ‘No intention to fall’ ended up in the same key as something she had played on that didn’t get used so I built the track around her lines!

You have some very beautiful, very short instrumental tracks on the album like Alghusq and Al’Ahad. Did you enjoy breaking with traditional album format?

I really felt that there needed to be an exploration of some of the instrumental sides of my music. I did enjoy breaking the format. I was also incredibly conscious of this. The album has a whole shape and when you listen to it in running order it makes sense that some tracks bleed into these instrumentals and then back into the next track. It also helps introduce people to the idea of instrumental music as a vehicle alongside the song form. I’m massively inspired by various genres of instrumental music and Al’Ahad for example was written after listening to a lot of Angelo Badalamenti whom I adore. He has written all the music for David Lynch over the years and in particular his scoring for Twin Peaks is hauntingly beautiful.

What instruments did you play on your album?

I sang all lead and backing vocals. I also played Guitar, Electric Bass, Double Bass, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Synth, Synth Bass and percussion.

Did you play any unusual or DIY instruments?

I used a few things that didn’t make it on including Kalimba (an African thumb piano and Tabla) but not really anything too crazy. I think mainly there was a lot of synth manipulation and just some different amping and pedal combinations were the most ‘out’ things.

Who were the guest artists? Hamish Balfour on Piano, Rob Updegraff on guitar, Yazz Ahmed on flugelhorn, Ben Sommers on Saxophones and Wes Gibbens on drums.

How important is the live show to you?

I’ve increasingly realised just how integral the live show is. I always believed that the studio is a magical place where you are allowed to make things that you don’t have to recreate live. So it’s cool you can have layers and layers of BVs or several guitar parts. People have been doing this for an eternity anyway and not live. If you look at D’Angelo’s vocal layering for example. that comes straight from Marvin Gaye and Sly. Listen to the ‘What’s going on?‘ Album. There are layers of vocals within that and he never had those same layers live, it was just different materials he used in the studio and that’s ok.

The album is heavily layered and I love that but it’s a bit different live. I love the freedom live, that you can change tempos or have different parts and instrumentation. For example there is more synth bass live as there are tunes that I’m playing on guitar and in those ones Hamish is playing synth bass with his left hand. I have managed to actually find quite a ‘full’ sound live and it’s working great but that comes through gigging, you find your feet and everyone finds their place.

Darwish - pic Terry Tyldesley

What were the joys and the challenges of becoming a front man for the first time?

It’s a challenge in the sense that I can no longer just hang around at the back looking moody! It’s a different beast having to stand at the front and connect with an audience. Also singing. How you feel emotionally, how tired you are all of these are factors. I could more or less be in any state of tiredness and play an instrument just as well but the vocal is such a delicate thing and it’s taken me a bit to get my head around that. If I have a gig I just have to get sleep the night before or it doesn’t really work as well. Also nerves effect the voice in such a different way too, you can get dried out tighten up…. all of these are factors that I had no experience of. I was always singing but it’s still my newest instrument.

However the more relaxed and used to it I get, the more I enjoy it. There is a freedom and feeling I can’t quite articulate when you connect with the song and enter that twilight zone of something spiritual, and I love that. It’s amazingly liberating. I’m also enjoying learning about the different qualities of my voice and how to shape my vocal around the song and employ more dynamics.


You’ve played bass with artists like Sting, and Newton Faulkner, did you pick up some tips from them

I have worked with a lot of artists and really when I think about it I guess I did pick up some tips. I always remember Newton having to go to bed early ….he used to just say ‘right I have to go to bed or my voice won’t work!’ and as I mentioned earlier that’s something I look back on now and think ‘oh yeah …no shit!!’ Also Newton loved to open up a bit live and let people do their thing musically …he’d give you a solo or we’d make up some jam in the middle of a tune for a while or something and that’s always the most fun when you let musicians play out and I try to have that freedom in my band.

I guess with certain artists you just see an unfaltering confidence and absolute belief in them. Sting for example was just so seasoned. No messing at all. Knew what he wanted, knew what he needed to do. …and has that wealth of experience and can command a huge audience. He also just loves music. We chatted about Jazz, Coltrane, Monk the double bass …it’s clear he still loves music. I think inadvertently every artist I have ever worked with I have picked up tips from. I think the common denominator is all the Artists I have worked for who are big/well known seem to still adore Music.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I have quite a few gigs in, including some South West dates at the end of May. I got some great reviews and very positive reactions to the album so I think keep gigging and maybe try and get some good support or something similar. I think this is the year to put the live show in place, try and get a good reputation maybe a booker or agent. Then hopefully next year could be the one with Festivals etc. I mean I’d love to do some festivals this year but it’s a bit hit and miss when starting out.

I need to make some more live videos as I have some pretty chilled ones at the moment but there are tracks that are quite rowdy so need to capture those. Also I’m always writing and want to incorporate that into working with some other materials like film, photography or installation. I’ll just keep on I don’t really know how not to…. even if I don’t want to I can’t seem to stop…. I have an incessant need to write, make, play and express so I will just keep doing that!