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“How Neil Gaiman and an Australian string quartet found a shared love, described as a ‘gothy yoghurt starter'”


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Neil Gaiman is famous for his soothing and ethereal vocal style, which has been utilized in various mediums such as audiobooks and providing the voice for Snowball the cat on The Simpsons. However, did you know that Gaiman is also a singer? While he would occasionally perform alongside his former spouse, musician Amanda Palmer, The New York Times described his singing voice as “a novelist’s interpretation of singing,” which may have been slightly critical.

In the upcoming month, Gaiman will be showcasing his voice at the Sydney Opera House alongside the Australian string quartet FourPlay. How does he feel about performing on one of the most renowned stages in the world?

“Filled with fear. Completely terrified,” Gaiman exclaims. “I’ve had to rely on FourPlay for support. It’s reassuring to know that Lara is capable of singing.”

Lara Goodridge, a member of the music group FourPlay, has been a singer for 30 years and shares that she is just as nervous as her colleague Neil. Along with Shenzo Gregorio and brothers Tim and Peter Hollo, they all feel vulnerable when performing on stage. However, this vulnerability brings them closer together as they support and lift each other up. Despite the nerves, they find it exhilarating to experience such a raw and alive energy while performing.

How a goth English novelist and an Australian string quartet that does Metallica and Radiohead covers became a match made in heaven seems beyond words even for Gaiman, who recalls it as “like going on a blind date where you really hit it off”.

In 2010, the writer and musical group came together after FourPlay was hired by the Sydney Opera House to provide music for a live performance of Gaiman’s novella, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.

Gaiman and FourPlay perform at the Sydney Opera House in 2010.

According to Goodridge, writing a story with Neil is both satisfying and enjoyable. However, having Neil present during the process was initially intimidating. Gaiman chuckles and Goodridge quickly clarifies that the feeling was only temporary because they soon realized how great and amazing Neil is. This, Goodridge believes, is one of the reasons why Neil’s work is so magical – his ability to work collaboratively with others in a beautiful manner.

The performance in Sydney resulted in Gaiman and FourPlay embarking on tours in the US and UK, including shows at Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican. Gaiman recalls a moment on stage in Hobart where they collaborated with David Byrne and Brian Ritchie and credits Lara for suggesting they record the unique experience.

The eerie outcome of their album, Signs of Life, is a themed collection of songs centered on a newly created zodiac by Gaiman. It also includes some additional elements, such as a chilling poem he penned and recited about Australia Day in 2011, and a collaboration with Ben Folds on a track called The Problem with Saints, which focuses on Joan of Arc.

Sometimes, the delicate plucking and sorrowful bass in FourPlay’s music is reminiscent of Bruno Coulais’s soundtrack for Coraline, the animated version of Gaiman’s book with the same title. It appears that there is an element in Gaiman’s writing that can evoke an otherworldly and somber feeling.

“It’s comparable to a dark and mysterious yoghurt culture,” Gaiman ponders. “The one that seeps through. You were about to make a much more practical comment than that, Lara.”

“I was not,” Goodridge chuckles.

Neil Gaiman and Lara Goodridge collaborate on the song Bloody Sunrise, which has a dark doo-wop sound and is about vampires. Gaiman explains that he enjoys being able to share his ideas with Lara, such as imagining the song as a lost track by Petula Clark in which a grumpy vampire struggles to connect with others. Lara instantly understands and brings that vision to life, which Gaiman finds impressive.

Signs of Life debuted at No 1 on Billboard’s classical crossover chart and has floated around there ever since. “I’m still baffled, amazed, delighted and sort of gloriously weirded out by that. I figured we’d sell some copies to the FourPlay fans and some copies to the Neil fans. But instead it has become its own thing,” Gaiman says. “There are people buying the album who have no idea who we are, they just like it. It sits there on the charts, slowly becoming The Dark Side of the Moon of classical crossover.”

Although Gaiman is famous for his novels, TV shows, and comics, he has also written for musicians in the past. In 2011, he teamed up with Palmer, Folds, and Kulash to create the band 8in8, with the goal of writing and recording eight songs in eight hours (ultimately ending up with six in 12). When he works with FourPlay, he occasionally brings them lyrics or a written piece to set to music. Other times, Goodridge explains, “we will be improvising around a theme and Neil will be writing in the background, using our music as inspiration.”

Peter often asks Shenzo to combine his sound effects of a car crashing with a seagull noise. Gaiman expresses gratitude for being included in this creative process.

In March 2020, Gaiman was last in Australia, working on the finishing touches for Signs of Life as the world was shutting down. He considers that time to be a significant turning point in his life. Now, performing with these individuals in Sydney and Melbourne is a powerful gesture against Covid.

At the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, they will perform Signs of Life and also showcase “wonderfully peculiar things that no one has ever heard before,” as described by Gaiman.

“He mentioned a segment inspired by impolite terms from a Victorian dictionary which I believe is one of our most impressive accomplishments,” he states.

Goodridge explains that the length is due to the abundance of offensive language.

Gaiman notes that the Victorians had a strong preference for using euphemisms when discussing sex.

  • The latest release, Signs of Life, is now available. On 15 January, Neil Gaiman and FourPlay will be putting on a show at the Sydney Opera House, followed by a performance at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne on 18 January.

Source: theguardian.com