Best known for his work with genre-bending jazz rockers Robocobra Quartet, Chris Ryan’s solo outlet, SORBET, is an entirely different kind of project.

Described by Chris as a “musical cleansing of the palate” (hence the name), it’s out via Hamburg based Bureau B Records today, and deals with specific feelings and senses, being very much ‘feel’ based.

I spoke to Chris ahead of the release, and he had this to say about ‘Life Variations’…

Congrats on the new EP. Can you talk me through the concepts behind it?

Thanks! Life Variations is a collection of three pieces of music that all share musical/lyrical themes around life, death, birth, rebirth, and all that good stuff. In a way it’s 3 pop songs but in a way it’s 3 parts to one whole composition.

Is there a certain amount of life examination going on for you at the moment, and has it led anywhere in particular musically?

Yeah. I spent some time in Sao Paulo last year as part of the PRSF/ British Council Musician in Residence and it made me think a lot about my life and identity. I’ve also always been interested in having an outlet for the kind of hyper-specific writing I’ve always enjoyed doing— a kind of writing that just doesn’t make sense to prescribe to a band.

If you have that kind of urge I find it’s much more appropriate to use sheet music or ProTools or these kinds of fixed mediums as opposed to the ‘band’ method of getting ideas across orally.

I’m a big fan of vinyl releases – was that an important part of the release for you?

It certainly does make it feel real for some reason, especially with a short format release like an EP. It looks really cool – it’s a one-sided 12 inch so the B-side is unpressed and is just smooth black vinyl.

How did the connection with the Hamburg label come about?

They came to see Robocobra Quartet when we played there a few years back and we kept in touch. During lockdown in April I ended up finally getting time to organise and finish a lot of music I’d been working on over the last few years I asked to see if they’re interested in this EP (and an album out next year) and thankfully they were! I didn’t think anyone was going to give me the time of the day.

Is the approach to this work quite distinct to your normal Robocobra stuff?

Definitely. The name SORBET is a statement in that I see it as a route to try different approaches and cleanse my own musical palate (and hopefully the listener’s too). A little while ago I came to the realisation that Robocobra Quartet works best when the compositions are loose concepts and everyone throws their two cents in and improvises around it. A really anal compositional note-for-note approach loses something in “band” set-ups and so it was obvious I would be better doing that kind of writing for a more appropriate medium— SORBET!

How does your production work impact on what you record yourself?

It’s all one big swirly mess and that’s how I like it. Lots of players on the upcoming LP are folks I’ve produced records for before. I also do a lot of experimenting when recording so one hand washes another. For me I don’t really like the idea of dividing up myself/ my business/ my art in terms of separate titles or company names or even social media. In a way it’s just one whole life so why not let everything bleed into one another?

I guess in the current situation, producing new music makes sense, but have you found the promotion different to what you might normally do?

Going back to the idea of composing for the right medium— I live alone in Belfast and those few months of extreme lockdown were the perfect medium for artistic endeavours that work best in isolation like composition or writing… hopefully as we navigate out of COVID-19 it’ll make sense to work collaboratively. Everyone knows limitations help creativity and a global pandemic is one hell of a limitation.

How have you found the treatment of artists through corona so far?

It has obviously been a woeful response on the UK & Irish government’s side, although I have found it interesting to see a move towards arts funding being more democratised. Both in terms of gender/background/age but also skewing away from the traditional “non-commercial” genres usually funded.

I’ve always sat on the fence between the jazz world and the rock/pop world with Robocobra Quartet and we would just barely sneak through the fence with arts funding because of our semi-improvised background, but these days straight-up pop music is getting similar funding and the reality is that’s because it needs funding just as much as anyone else.

How will Sorbet and Robocobra Quartet work going forward – do you hope to eventually tour both?

I do have some plans to make SORBET happen live when the time comes. Namely a live set-up that makes it really agile to travel and adaptable to venue/ spaces of all kinds. So my idea is to be able to design it in a way where the band does more traditionally touring and SORBET does more occasional one-offs etc… Wow, imagine a tour where I open for my own band, my god I would feel bad for the ticket buyers…

What are the plans for ‘Sorbet’ going forward?

There’s a full-length album that I’m really proud of that will be out early-mid 2021!


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