First emerging from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in 2005, Portico were originally a jazz quartet.
Their first album, Knee-Deep in the North Sea, was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize. But, after the departure of first percussionist Nick Mulvey then his replacement Keir Vine, they’re now a trio. Their new album, Living Fields, also sees them pursue an electronic direction.
“We just felt like we wanted to try something really new and not be so constrained by the lineage of the last three albums,” explains one-time saxophonist turned keyboard player Jack Wyllie.
“In that sense it definitely feels like a bit of a debut. It’s the same three people making it but the sound is really different.”
Abandoning some of their old instruments (“The saxophone is so idiomatic of jazz”) they found “liberating”. Instead they set out to experiment. “A lot of the songs have quite pop structures,” says Wyllie, “but the sounds and textures come from a more experimental place.”
Inspirations included the avant garde composer William Basinski, the Swiss writer Hermann Hesse and the documentary Nostalgia For the Light, about Chilean desert dwellers, whose themes of identity, memory and life and death accorded with questions the band were asking themselves.
“There’s a nice quote from one of the women who says at the end ‘Like the stars which must die so others must be born’. We used that to build the lyrics around and also some of the sounds in a more abstract way,” says Wyllie.
The album includes the vocals of Joe Newman of Alt-J (“I grew up a few doors down from his home in Southampton, I’ve know him for 20 years,” Wyllie explains), Jono McCleery (“We’ve played gigs with him in the past”) and Jamie Woon (“I lived with him for a couple of years”).
Only McCleery will accompany them live. “He’s quite adaptable - and available as well,” Wyllie quips.
As for the future of Portico beyond this album, Wyllie is unsure. “It’s too early to say, really. I don’t know if we will do another album. This might be the last one. We’ll take it as it comes.
“We’re touring with Jono and it’s really nice working with him. Maybe we’ll do a bit more of that then have a bit of time off.”
Portico play at The Wardrobe, Leeds on April 21.