Muscles of Joy: Room of Their Own

Glasgow’s Muscles of Joy, an all-female vocal-led septet, talk about building their own instruments and jamming away rather quietly

Feature by Simon Ward | 06 Feb 2012
  • Muscles of Joy

Some of you used to sing in the Parsonage, a 50-strong vocal ensemble whose eclectic sets included Joy Division and Jerry Lee Lewis numbers, how did you then come to form Muscles of Joy?
Jenny: We were all in the Parsonage except Esther, who joined later.

Leigh: I knew nearly everyone through doing hair, which is my day job. Sophie, Katy and I used to talk often about getting a band together and somehow we all ended up in my flat every week for a year just jamming away rather quietly so as not to annoy the neighbours. Esther helped us out – one of a number of people who stepped up when various members left to do residencies or art projects.

It seems like your performances are just as at home in an art space as they are in a regular live venue. Do you feel more comfortable playing in either? Where have people been more receptive?
Ariki: In an art space there has been a bit more freedom, a different... focus of expectation. We've been asked to do some interesting collaborations or responses to space that wouldn't necessarily work in a conventional music venue. This has made things a bit more playful which has helped our music develop in a more experimental way.

How do you write music? Is it done collectively?
Leigh: Yes. All the music comes from jams in the studio or whoever's flat we've ended up in. Different people will remember a bit, say what they like about it and then we pass round the original and just start working on it again, maybe joining it up with another bit. We record everything we do, then pick pieces that we feel work. Sometimes not everyone is present when a song starts but it is always expanded collectively. We all contribute to the lyrics and we've used words from members' visual arts practice.

I heard that you've been sculpting your own instruments. What have you made?
Leigh: Anne-Marie built two marching machines from wood as she didn't have a drum kit and Ariki built a reverb plate to play and sing into for part of an installation at the Transmission gallery – it's about two metres by three metres in size. We have been talking about bringing it back out to incorporate into our performances.

The album was produced with [Park Attack founder] Jamie Grier. Is he open-minded when it comes to experimentation? How did you get on together?
Leigh: Jamie was perfect, along with the amazing recordings we got with Andy Miller [Mogwai, De Rosa] at Gargleblast. Jamie and Ariki had collaborated on a sound piece with the reverb metal plate. One of Jamie's particular interests is how frequencies move and react in spaces and at one of his performances with the plate he invited us to sing into it while he mixed and added other sounds. We knew from that that we were all like-minded.

And aren’t you heading off to America. I imagine you'll be pretty excited about this? Where will you be playing shows?
Leigh: We’re particularly excited – by the time people read this we will have done one show in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. We’re playing the opening night and it will be one of the few times that electric guitars are utilised. Esther joked that it’s so brand new and with such fantastic acoustics that it’s like a new toy and we're frightened to break it!

In 2012, Muscles of Joy are Esther Congreave, Anne-Marie Copestake, Katy Dove, Leigh Ferguson, Victoria Morton, Jenny O’Boyle and Ariki Porteous.

Playing CCA Glasgow on 10 Mar. The self-titled debut album is out now via Watts of Goodwill.