Interview with Karen Reilly from The Neutrinos

15 February 2020

Interview with Karen Reilly from The Neutrinos ahead of their ‘Flood Light’ performance for Love Light Norwich in the Crypt.

Tell us a bit more about this performance and the collaboration between The Neutrinos, Sal Pitman and Vital Spark

We’ve been collaborating with Sal for around 15-20 years.  It was when we decided to go and record an album in Berlin because it made us feel different going somewhere different – and we’d done lots of gigs in Berlin and we found it quite an exciting and inspiring place. At the time we couldn’t afford a studio so we found a building we could take our equipment to and record.  The building was this amazing thousand room ex DDL radio station.  Our drummer had just left us so we decided to take another band with us (BK & Dad), a writer (Roz Colman), someone to do some tech stuff (Dan Tombs) and we took Sal to document and make art, take photographs and make films.  So there was this gang of us.  We called the project ‘The Butcher of Common Sense’, and we knew it would be an interesting experience for most of us.  But what happened from the project is that we all took a step up in our careers, taking things seriously and following our guts about what we wanted to do in the world and explore what we wanted to do with art.  BK & Dad started to explore making shows outside performing in churches, Dan Tombs decided to go and make visuals and amazing video stuff, Roz became a creative producer, and for Sal and The Neutrinos – we went off and made Klanghaus. The building in Berlin was so incredible, we actually recorded an album of the building – it sounded so amazing.  You could hear a difference in reverb in every room.  We decided we could go into every room and harvest the stories and history in each one of them.

And, going into areas of a building and making sounds responding to it – this is the very essence of what site-responsive performance is?

Yes, and when we came back from Berlin, we knew that something new was happening and we had new ideas of how we wanted people to explore music, and how we played music.  At the same time, there were more opportunities for people to experience Art Galleries and Museums at night.  The Sainsbury Centre asked us to play a gig in their main spaces.  But, we wanted to challenge what a gig experience could be there so we asked them if we could muck about with their tannoy system, hide between walls –  we asked if we could go into a corridor and make a big noise, can we go into that room and turn the lights off and play a gig?  And they said yes! And then more opportunities came along that gave us the occasion to perform music out of the normal style of venue and stage.  And actually, music gigs are brilliant – but the format is so conservative.  Music is often far away from being conservative where most bands want to break free and communicate something different.


Unfortunately, we know gig venues are few and far between which is challenging for many artists.  You guys are clearly pushing boundaries and evolving what a gig experience is with site-responsive work.

Yes. And it feels like most of the gigs we’ve done outside of venues have felt like a game of hide and seek. For us we know, when things are going right as a band, a performance or rehearsal can be uplifting and feel very special.  The communication between you is beyond words.  So, when we do site-responsive work and suddenly the stage isn’t separating you from the audience – the audience start to feel some of that specialness that we might take for granted in rehearsals. Buildings never cease to surprise me and the band! There’s always weird cupboards, nooks and secrets to explore.


So, do you bring an idea to the building or does the work come organically?

A lot of both! We have a catalogue of about 70-80 songs.  We quite often have to change how we play the songs so that it fits in the room.  We took Pulse Addict – a loud and clattery song – to Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank.  We slowed it down changed the detail to make it work there.  It’s an interesting process but we always have a lot of stuff to bring to it.

Photo: Karen from The Neutrinos

If you’re changing the parameters of your everyday gig, what does this offer the audience?

I think it is seeing something familiar through new eyes.  I think a lot of people locally will know the Cloisters; they’ll know it from antique fairs.  But, to be able to muck about with it – the acoustics are extraordinary – offers the audience something different.


How are rehearsals going?

There ain’t none! Normally we would.


That’s so exciting and terrifying!  Anyone who’s seen a Neutrino’s gig knows they’re always well put together performances.  There’s an element of things not going according to plan for a site-responsive gig – but sometimes magical things happen?

Yes! The good thing is if anything doesn’t go according to plan, no one will know.

If you look after the details, the other stuff just kinda seems to fall into place.  We never know what an audience is going to do – and actually they’re the wild card. In the Klanghaus shows – where we would have an audience of 25-30 people –  the dynamic of that audience could be vastly different.  Some people want to dance, some people want to hang back.  I think we’ve got used to expecting anything and being just responsive in the moment.  And, because we’re not separated by the stage there can be rare moments of jeopardy.  It’s about welcoming the audience in close and allowing them to hear stuff.


You guys are art-rockers so obviously you are going to challenge the setting of things, it’s your middle name?

I would imagine the performances will evoke lots of different emotions for people and that it may feel a bit strange. People may not quite know what’s going to happen, but I think one of the things we always do with our music is to make people feel secure.  There’s going to be some surprises! Our shows always have an arc – it’ll be gentle, mysterious…


How do you manage that arc if you’ve got three back to back performances?

Each one fulfils itself.  We’re used to doing lots of shows back to back.  The hardest bit is getting it all in place and remembering everything.  And that’s not just the lyrics.  Once it’s going – I’m in it.


Are you thinking of taking Flood Light elsewhere?

It was only a couple of weeks ago we figured out how the show would work.  So, it’s been a long journey, but things have happened quite quickly as well.  Initially, with Love Light Norwich, I approached LLN and said we’d like to do a Klanghaus, but as time ticked on, we couldn’t find a building that we could use in a completely Klanghaus way.  So, this is a different type of show, a hybrid of us just responding to a small part of a building – but if it works and people respond positively then we would like to do it again.


That’s quite a quick turnaround! 

Yes, and in terms of The Vital Spark – Jon Baker from The Neutrinos co-runs The Voice Project with Sian Croose.  Sian works with lots of women voice groups.  Jon wanted to work with the men’s voices, so he started a group to do that. I remember him coming back from the first session saying ‘Oh my god. This is amazing. This has got great energy’. Alex Rinsler (Artistic Director, Love Light Norwich) had just offered us the possibility of doing something in the Halls for Love Light Norwich, so I asked Jon, should we do something together with (what is now) The Vital Spark? The show is the result of an incredible pile of coincidences which happened within a couple of days at the beginning of the year.


There’s a real buzz for Love Light Norwich – it and offers a great alternative to Valentine’s day 

Love Light Norwich is a great antidote to Valentine’s Day. Alex said it would be a good idea to get big groups of people out which is great. I mean how bored are we of just seeing two people at restaurant tables? And it’s free. And actually, it’s quite a challenging part of the year – it is dark. It’s such an exciting idea to put the light back into the streets.  If you’re feeling low and lonely – you can experience this instead.


What do you think people can help to support a local music scene?

I went to a gig put on by my friend Chris in Rabbit – in the basement.  It was small and sweaty, and the band was pretty much in the audience – that felt pretty exciting.  People are putting gigs on in the sort of DIY way which we’ve always found quite exciting.  NAC’s new sound system – it’s amazing.  It sounds like a new venue without having to be in a new venue.  There’s also Jurnet’s in Wensum Lodge as well.


Lots of venues in the City need help to stay open…

I think there’s only so much you can get from Netflix.  People, without sounding soppy, need to be around other human beings, and if we isolate ourselves, we put our mental health at risk.  Human interaction, conversation, being with people is what most of us get a lot out of.  It’s a bit like when vinyl disappeared, and everyone bought CDs, but now vinyl is back! And, it’s partly back because people want to hear imperfections of vinyl, the crackle, the humanness of it.  So, I have a certain amount of faith that we will keep things going.  But, other good ways of supporting? Just giving yourself a night out to go to a gig.  Maybe trying Jurnets? The Cactus Café is free… It’s very heartening watching people connect with music and sharing music.


Your single Pulse Addict/ Angels is out on Friday 14 February 

Pulse Addict has been played by Gideon Coe, BBC 6 Music, so that feels very exciting! We decided we want to make recordings we’re proud of.  We put a stake in the floor – and it’s taken a couple of years to get to this point.  We were so surprised when we had so much national attention with Klanghaus we didn’t have any music press.  The theatre critics loved it! We’ve just started to get national radio plays so I’m hoping we can keep the momentum going, and we’ve found a way of recording music that we enjoy whereby we enjoy the outcome.

Find Pulse Addict/Angels by the Neutrinos on all streaming services here