Corto.Alto - Is That It? (Interview)
Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Corto.alto is a jazz collective from Glasgow who have been releasing new music every 3 weeks for over a year from the comfort of Flat 435. With their final live track being released on the 26th of June, which will feature British jazz icon Soweto Kinch, Henry had a chat with the man behind the project, multi-instrumentalist and all-round good guy Liam Shortall. They talked about lockdown, Drum n Bass and the burgeoning Glaswegian nu-jazz scene.
Hey Liam! How have you been doing? How has lockdown been for you, still sane?
"Yeah man, it’s been alright. I’ve been loving getting the time to write new shit, work on stuff I’ve been meaning to finish and not having to play shit weddings. I miss playing gigs though - now is meant to be the festival season and I’ve been playing festivals in different bands for maybe 5 or 6 years. But maybe it’s quite nice to have a summer off from a heavy festival season cause then you spend the whole of winter just looking at yourself in the mirror. "
It’s great to see that you’ve still been releasing tracks over lockdown. How was it organising the other musicians and getting them to record from home?
"Lockdown has forced people to learn about home recording. It’s surprising because even doing a project where you’re just getting horn players to record themselves - and they’re the most ridiculous horn players - but they’ll send you a recording and it sounds like they recorded it in a fucking tiling shop. Like, how do you not know how to do that? It did surprise me seeing people who are absolutely clueless."
So what made you decide to release a track every 3 weeks in the first place?
"So I live in this flat on Sauchiehall street, which is the main street in Glasgow. It’s the busiest street in Scotland and it’s super noisy so you can practise and make as much noise as you want. That combined with just having everyone live really close to me meant I just wanted to record tunes."
"It wasn’t really supposed to me releasing music, I just wanted to put some videos up of my music. We recorded the first 4 tunes and decided we may as well release them every three weeks and after that, we were like 'Ah we may as well do it again' and then after that I decided to do it for a year."
"Also, I think the 3-week thing meant that I made myself accountable and has made me write more. Cause sometimes it would be like the Wednesday night and I’d have a tune due out on a Friday and I hadn’t written it yet and I’d be like 'Fuck, I’ve got to get everyone over and mix it and master it'. I wouldn’t have done that if it was a random release here and there."
So what are the influences on your music?
"I’ve always been into A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, that Afro-centric 90s New York Hip-hop, and also massively into Flying Lotus and Jon Bap and that alternative Hip-Hop. I mean, I’m definitely into jazz but I don’t really listen to it. I’ve listened to a lot of jazz but mostly when I was in college. Now I listen to a lot of Hip-hop, loads of soul music funk music, James Brown, D'Angelo but I also love loads of Jazz Trombone players, BB Johnson, Curtis Fuller."
"Yeah, it’s a massive spectrum of stuff man, I quite a lot of pop music and indie music - anything really, but NOT techno, definitely filthy Drum N Bass and Jungle, I’m into that."
Ah, so is there any other electronic music you are drawn to?
"I don’t really like Techno or Psy-trance or anything like that. But the crew, all the people I play in the videos with, we all hang out and live really close and we often go to the Hip-hop nights or drum and bass nights. We all listen to a lot of drum and bass as well and my flatmates are in Mungo’s Hifi..."
Yes! We love Mungos Hifi!
"So Tom Spirals, he’s an MC for Mungo's Hifi and another guy produces for them. So. I play a lot of dub music with them and they’re all massively into Drum n Bass. It’s so much fun and the easiest fucking thing ever!"
How did the Soweto track come about?
"I wanted to do something special for the last tune - I wanted to do it for the last whole volume, 4 tracks, and we were going to do some other special guests but lockdown happened and that all got cancelled. Luckily, Soweto can record from home and was still up for doing it."
"It’s been really nice though, he’s super nice and I’m super happy with it. I think I was expecting it to be a closing book type of track but it actually finishes super abruptly and I kind of want to leave it more open. After this, I‘m going to take a couple of months off and then work on a produced album, but yeah, it was super fun."
What's happening next - you’re not moving out of 435?
"That was the point of the 435 thing - I wanted to utilise living in the flat. The rent is super cheap because it’s brutally noisy - so no, I’m not moving out, I'm going to take a couple of months off this project and focus on pushing that before I write anything new. Also, I’ve been writing so much for the last year, I want to take a couple of months break just to work on a few other projects like Tom McGuire & The Brassholes."
"I am going to come back and definitely write an album - I don’t really know what it’s going to be like. I don’t want it to be too similar to what we already have - I want that to be a live thing and I want that to be a completely different experience."
I do love the 435 experience, it has a very homely feel to it.
"It was like a starter pack almost, I think it’s nice to be a fly on the wall to us just playing. That’s my bedroom, so we always just play, it's always an absolute mess cause there are hundreds of people coming in and out and are just playing. So, it's more like that. I wanted it to be more honest. Like, if I walked into the studio and wore a suit and recorded looking super serious I don’t think it would be me or the music."
Where’s the first place you’re going to be once lockdown is lifted?
"Just a gig! But I want to go to the bar I live above called Nice N Sleazy - it’s like the best place in Glasgow and it's just cheap and disgusting but I really miss having a pint there."
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