Fyfe & Iskra Strings have recently collaborated to produce their first EP together ‘Fyfe & Iskra Strings EP 1’. It mixes classical elements alongside hip hop and percussive elements. Fyfe (Paul Dixon) is a 27 year old singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. James Underwood is part of Iskra Strings who have worked with The xx, Vampire Weekend, Ólafur Arnalds and many more. In conversation with Fyfe & Iskra Strings we discuss their new EP, the collaborative process, and much more.
Hi Paul (Fyfe) & James (Iskra Strings). Congratulations on the release of ‘Fyfe & Iskra Strings EP 1’, it must feel good to have that EP out there! How did you two come about meeting and what drew you to the idea of a collaborative EP?
James – Paul and I have known each other for many years having worked on a number of different projects. Our first connection on a Fyfe project happened when Paul sampled Iskra String Quartet’s collaboration with cellist/composer Peter Gregson ‘Chorale (Five) for his track ‘Better Man’.
Paul – I’ve always admired James’s playing as he’s been involved in a lot of projects and artist’s careers that I’ve also been a fan of. I made a decision to be intentionally more open to collaboration, so when James arrived to record some strings parts for another artist it was an opportune moment, which set both of our minds wondering what a direct collaboration might sound like.
In a nutshell, what words would you use to describe this EP to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
James – The EP is a journey through some of our different musical influences. Like the artwork the music is colourful and playful whilst also being intimate and emotional.
Did both of your usual approaches to composing alter when working with each other? If so, how?
Paul – Coming from the more alternative/pop music world, tracks tend to fit into quite specific structures and timings. Some of the tracks within this EP move fairly slowly, and some only have one theme which develops throughout, both of which are not my natural instinct. However I grew to love the liberty and space that that brings and I would be interested to explore that even further on future tracks.
James – Paul is one of my favourite songwriters and so I enjoyed having to think about song structures.
Was there anything challenging about the collaborative process?
Paul – We were both very busy juggling projects so there was a time pressure, but in many ways that limitation proved helpful in terms of having to be creatively decisive and not being able to second guess. Also we did a fair amount of remote working so sometimes I wasn’t sure if I might have taken a track too far, but I think in general our tastes aligned and progress was swift.
James, did you stick to writing the strings and Paul the beats, vocals etc. – or was there equal input for all instruments and parts from both of you?
James – Definitely my starting point for composing was to write for strings. Four of the tracks on EP1 started life as short string sketches and then rapidly evolved into something completely different.
Paul – A strings sketch was often the starting point whether chordal or melodic. In building from those points I may have caused James some frustration at times by singing string lines that were completely impractical, but I think that bore some interesting harmonic results, and he’s a very good player so it worked.
James – An important element of writing together has been the editing process. We would get together and record lots of ideas and then spend time reflecting and editing the results.
Paul – I agree, beyond the practical ‘who played what’ I think the overall main point of collaboration was the merging of two sets of tastes and influences.
Is there a song/piece in particular that stands out as a fond memory of the process? And how so?
James – I have fond memories of recording the piece ‘Foundation’. It was the first piece we recorded and so felt exciting and fresh. The beginning of a new musical adventure.
Paul – I think the most excited I got was making the beat on ‘Hold Us Down’ , it just felt outrageous, but also, so right. James said he was quite shocked when he first heard it, but I think quickly grew to love it. For me, those moments of musical worlds colliding have always been the most enjoyable.
Overall, what do you find about this EP that has meaning? Does it feel equally or more meaningful than a solo release?
James – Paul has been a part of my musical journey for many years and we have a special shared history. This EP is definitely an important marker in my musical output.
Paul – James has been very supportive of me throughout my career and an important sounding board at various points. I like to think that when you listen to this EP, in many ways you are hearing that relationship literally play out. I think it’s also the start of a new era of collaboration and enjoying stretching my writing into new territories.
Your Spotify Inspirations playlist has quite a mixture of genres on it! Would you say a fan of either R&B or neoclassical music would find an appreciation and enjoy your EP?
James – I think streaming is changing the way audiences listen to music and perhaps genres are becoming less important. Artists such as Olafur Arnalds or Nils Frahm are creating techno tracks or synth pieces alongside their piano compositions. It feels very natural to explore different genres whilst still keeping hold of your own musical traditions. Hopefully listeners will agree.
Paul – I think it’s hard to judge how an audience will respond, all I can say is that these are tracks made from a very honest place of musical enjoyment, and given how diverse both of our tastes are, I’d hope there was something for most listeners to enjoy.
Thank you for chatting with us! One final thing, is there another collaboration on the table or is it too soon to potentially reveal such things?
James – our new release is called EP1, I’m hoping there will be a sequel soon.
Paul – If James can put up with my incoherent musical musings, I think it’s safe to say there will be more music soon.