Chris Ryan’s musical ‘day job’ – insofar as you can have such a thing – is to front cult Belfast jazz punks Robocobra Quartet, an intricate act that straddles the genre boundaries between their two unlikely influences, utilising both power and technical, fiddly depth.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Ryan might want to do something different as an aside from his main outlet, and Sorbet – named for the way the band are intended to clear his and his listeners’ heads between bouts of the heavier stuff – are just that.
New EP ‘Life Variations’ has a distinctly spiritual element, being three songs designed to deliver a specific tone and feel. “They all share musical/ lyrical themes around life, death, birth, rebirth, and all that good stuff,” Ryan explains. “In a way it’s 3 pop songs, but in a way it’s 3 parts to one whole composition.”
“The name Sorbet is a statement,” he continues, “in that I see it as a route to try different approaches and cleanse my own musical palate (and hopefully the listener’s too). A little while ago I came to the realisation that Robocobra Quartet works best when the compositions are loose concepts and everyone throws their two cents in and improvises around it. A really anal compositional note-for-note approach loses something in ‘band’ set-ups and so it was obvious I would be better doing that kind of writing for a more appropriate medium – Sorbet!”
The record, naturally, is something of a product of its time. “I live alone in Belfast and those few months of extreme lockdown were the perfect medium for artistic endeavours that work best in isolation, like composition or writing,” Ryan says. Hopefully as we navigate out of COVID-19 it’ll make sense to work collaboratively. Everyone knows limitations help creativity and a global pandemic is one hell of a limitation.”
From his own living room, Ryan utilised his contacts to bring in a Hamburg-based record label, Bureau B Records, to release the EP on vinyl. “They came to see Robocobra Quartet when we played there a few years back and we kept in touch,” he explains. “During lockdown in April I ended up finally getting time to organise and finish a lot of music I’d been working on over the last few years I asked to see if they’re interested in this EP (and an album out next year) and thankfully they were! I didn’t think anyone was going to give me the time of the day.”
The EP that emerged is textured and nuanced, and will lead to a more subtle LP, later, that’s a far cry from Ryan’s main musical outlet.
“The production that led to this is all one big swirly mess and that’s how I like it,” he says. “Lots of players on the upcoming LP are folks I’ve produced records for before. I also do a lot of experimenting when recording, so one hand washes another. For me I don’t really like the idea of dividing up myself/ my business/ my art in terms of separate titles or company names or even social media. In a way it’s just one whole life so why not let everything bleed into one another?,” he asks?
The record certainly does so, bleeding life and music into an intense, spaced-out whole.