Naima Bock: A Transition to Tradition

Much of what has dominated the UK’s musical discourse over the past decade has been the explosion of post-punk and the rise of the sneering, the jagged and the abrasive. For those who want to listen at gigs or at home, how often and at what intensity you listen is up to you; however for those performing, there is less of a choice. So at what point, and at what cost, could the musician say ‘that’s enough now’, or ‘can we tone it down for the next one?’

This is the kind of situation Naima Bock may well have been in when deciding to leave Goat Girl, and pursue a more grounded, refined musical direction. Inspired by childhood exposure to Brazilian and English folk, these more traditional sounds inform Naima’s debut solo album ‘Giant Palm’. The new direction was forged in collaboration with producer Joel Burton, who lends his interests in Western Classical, Global Folk and large-scale arrangement to Naima’s solo ideas.

This influence, alongside involvement with folk collective Broadside Hacks and collaboration with many musicians during the records creation, gives the album a deceptive sparsity. Or more like a grand restraint – much the result of a more considered approach from all musicians, and sonic masterminding from engineer Syd Kemp.

The honesty and clarity in the music on upcoming album Giant Palm could be attributed to Bock’s time spent in both the English and Brazilian countryside, cities that aren’t London, or simply outside of a band setting.

Having recently returned from a lengthy European solo tour supporting Rodrigo Amarante, Naima is set to release her debut on Sub Pop records on July 1st. We caught up to discuss going solo, travelling and overcoming blocks to creativity.

How are you feeling about the album coming out?

I feel good about it! For me it’s a funny thing because I haven’t listened to it in such a long time. We recorded it in September of 2020, so it’s been a while now and the process was actually really quick. So it’s been fully done for over a year, and I’m very excited to release it.

Half of the album was written during that summer of 2020, but half I’d written over the three years before. Me and my producer Joel had been playing gigs, and decided to do the album, just as something to do, and he knew a bunch of really good musicians to get involved with the arrangements.

You’ve just finished a solo tour and some of the album is quite sparse, however over 30 musicians were involved – how did that all work?

The choir take up a fair portion of it, I think there was like 15 or something? And then there was a horn section, violin players, myself Joel and Sid and then my Dad as well.

Even your Dad was involved?

Yeah, he played some guitar and percussion, and he also recorded the vocals for me. But we got loads of people involved in it, which was great because sometimes listening to your own music can get pretty boring, so it’s what makes it fun for me. We got a test pressing through, and the best thing for me was to hear people’s parts because it just reminds you of them.

Was there anything that drew you away from the post-punk scene you were in with Goat Girl, and back towards more traditional sounds for your solo material? 

I think I did just get a bit tired of loud bands. We’d been in that scene since we were 15 or 16, and it was really fun for the first few years, but then I just got a bit tired of it. I think I needed a big shake, because the touring wasn’t making me happy, and if we’d have been a bit older and wiser we probably could have made it work in a way where I just wasn’t on the touring party. We’ve talked about that, but by the end I just couldn’t tour anymore.

Moving away from the scene wasn’t particularly my ambition because I did really love everyone in it, but I did also know it wasn’t the music I listened to. But last year I was really lucky to meet the Broadside Hacks lot and the Shovel Dance Collective who had similar musical interests.

I suppose there’s a real dichotomy between that scene and the more traditional Brazilian music you grew up with?

Yeah, the stuff I grew up with was mostly Brazilian, but the also English folk – half from my Mum and half from my Dad. I feel like a lot of the post-punky stuff was completely necessary when you’re young and you just want to get some aggression out, but then later on you seek a bit of nuance in music. I still really love loud music, stuff like metal and hardcore, but to actually play I’m more interested in good melodies and something a bit more emotional.

And considered? You mention that as a strong element of your music.

Yeah, I think considered. I can’t take full credit for the considered nature of the album, because in my attitude towards music I’m not a perfectionist at all. Most of the time I’m the person that’s like ‘it’s done, its finished’. But luckily the people I worked on the album with like Syd Kemp and Joel Burton were trained musicians so they were more considered. Working with people like that also helped because I was very used to the more kind of ‘fuck it’ attitude towards music. A bit of that attitude is still good because it has saved me from getting too stressed or precious about songs, so I’m not willing to fully give it up.

How are things going with Broadside Hacks? It must be a completely different kettle of fish to what you’ve been playing in the past.

It’s really nice. I guess there’s so many people in it, so it can be very loose which can get a bit confusing. I haven’t done it in a while because I was in Brazil from February and have just travelled a hell of a lot. I’m playing with them soon which will be nice.

I was interested to ask about your prowess in gardening and your interest in green spaces generally. How does it help your writing process and inspire your music?

Well for me the gardening thing was necessary after I left the band. I think what musicians have to do, from my experience anyway, is very ungrounding and kind of ironic considering a lot of musicians have mental health problems. They’re constantly thrown into situations that amplify those problems, like lack of sleep, lots of travelling and very little money – not to be too pessimistic about it or anything! I think after some years of that I feel like my soul needed some green, and I’d always grown up in cities so I was never a country bumpkin or anything, but I moved to the countryside for a little bit and started doing gardening.

Then I started my degree in archaeology, because it seemed like the only academic career in that vein that meant you could travel as well as be outside – and you also get to find cool shit. I did a lot of pilgrimages and hikes and stuff like that which inadvertently helped with the writing. I think the hiking helped because it strips away a lot of the ego. The more walking I did, the more ‘myself’ I would feel, and that eventually leads to good songs, because they’re coming from a more honest place.

I find it helps in the removal of fog that can set in through just being in cities?

There’s a funny thing. Especially travelling around Europe, you see how much you just pick up on whatever the dominant atmosphere is in a certain city. I think it depends on the kind of person you are, but I really pick up on whatever the kind of feeling is. London is a great city but it’s also stressful as shit. Everyone’s rushing around, trying to make themselves into something and be successful, so the hiking was something that negates any sort of productivity and what we consider to be productive. For me it isn’t about making anything which is nice, it’s just doing something because it feels good.

Words: Dan Webster // Photos: El Hardwick

Naima Bock’s debut album ‘Giant Palm’ is out July 1st via Sub Pop and Memorials of Distinction. Pre-order the album via Bandcamp.

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