Tender Central is the project of Devon born India Bourne, who as been a long time core member of Ben Howard‘s band as well as being a member of the super group A Blaze Of Feather. Much like her work with the aforementioned it is a rich soundscape that has strong ties in nature, bringing a naturally earthy atmosphere. There’s an almost classical sensibility to her music yet the inventive and ethereal electronic sounds keeps it incredibly fresh. It carries similarities to artists such as Massive Attack and Zero 7 yet is attuned to a more modern audience.
Vocally Tender Central soars, bringing forward angelic harmonies that are emotively layered. You cannot help find yourself under her trance when listening. Her latest album ‘The Garden’ is a shining example of this, across the 14 tracks you are treated an expansive, almost nomadic sound.
With this in mind we wanted to chat to India about her music, motherhood and being a musician and much more!
Kieran: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! How have you been and how has lockdown 3.0 been treating you?
India: Hey! I’m doing well thanks, feeling so happy my album is finally out in the world after 7 years of work. It feels like a real achievement as it’s been a goal of mine for so long and now it’s done I can rest a bit before my next baby comes! This lockdown has been a bit easier than the first mainly because my son’s nursery has stayed open so he’s been able to have playtime and contact with other little kids. The most heartbreaking part about lockdown 1 was that he had zero contact with other children for 3 months. This lockdown’s main challenge is that I am 8 months pregnant! So juggling the album release, other work projects and childcare has been a bit of a challenge, but I am also incredibly grateful for so much, especially our good health right now.
Kieran: You’re releasing your debut album ‘The Garden’ in the midst of pandemic, a toddler and a second child on the way as well as everything else you do, how do you manage it all!?
India: I think when you find something so enjoyable you can find the time somehow! Whether it be before my toddler woke up in the morning to write, or squeezing work into his nap times you just have to fit it in because there’s no other option. It means you have to be very resourceful with your time and strangely it has taught me to be more proactive than I’ve ever been in my life! I could be a real procrastinator with my work before I became a parent but now I feel I’ve got being focussed down to a fine art.
Kieran: How would you describe your debut album?
India: My third child! Haha honestly, I feel like i’ve poured so much of myself and my time and love into it that it’s like birthing something. I’ve also heard it said that your debut record takes your whole life up to that point to write, and I now know what that means, it is almost like ‘here you go, here’s me, here’s my whole life!’ Releasing your debut album can feel vulnerable in many ways but the fact that you do it despite that takes courage. Brene Brown says on vulnerability “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the centre of meaningful human experiences” which I find greatly uplifting.
“Releasing your debut album can feel vulnerable in many ways but the fact that you do it despite that takes courage“India Bourne – Tender Central
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a process getting it out, and a real journey within each song too. There have been many times I have felt disheartened and unsure of the next steps but behind it all I knew that one day it would be released, I would just have to work my socks off to do it. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’ve found it’s been the best way for me to learn and be creative with what i’ve got in front of me.
Kieran: What was the writing and recording process like for this album and did the pandemic affect it at all?
India: I was lucky that the pandemic didn’t really affect the writing or recording process because it was recorded over the last 7 years, and mostly pre-lockdown. I first met my producer James Jacob (Jakwob) in 2013 and we wrote my first Tender Central single ‘Wake Me Up’ in the best part of a day. We worked really quickly together, and seemed to speak the same musical language despite coming from really different musical backgrounds – him in dubstep, dance, jazz and metal and me classically trained cellist and bassist/vocalist in Ben Howard’s band. I was touring heavily with Ben for the entirety of my 20s so recording was squeezed into the short stints I had back at home in between touring. I was living in London then, so it was easier to do the day or two here and there. But James was also very busy so we had to grab our chances when we got them! I was never able to write on the road as my head was taken up with performing and the quick pace of touring, so writing was only ever possible when I got breathing space at home. Looking at the songs on my album there is definitely a strong theme to find my ‘home’ and stability in the fast pace of a life on the road. Where I did finally find my peace was digging a small patch of earth in my garden flat in Brixton. I am a terrible gardener but literally the calm I found in sticking bulbs in the ground and heaving a gardening fork through soil was great balm for the soul. Hence the song and the album name ‘The Garden’.
Kieran: Would it be fair to say that the forced stop of the live music industry helped you feel grounded and reacknowledge your sense of home?
India: Yes, I believe in ways it did, but a big part of that journey also happened when I became a mum in 2018 and had to stop touring and recording then. Life slowed to the pace of my son and the wonder I felt at his every expression and new word or development. Becoming a parent has been a huge gift in more ways I can say. Having someone depend entirely on you shifts your perspective; suddenly you are not the centre of your world and everything needs to reshuffle and readjust to this little marvel. But yes, when lockdown hit last year, it was another great reminder for me to slow down and take stock of what I wanted to do, let go of old beliefs or goals and to ask myself how could move forward in other ways.
Kieran: At what point did this realisation come in and was there anything in particular that triggered it?
India: Always by slowing down, quietening my heart, sitting still enough to hear my thoughts and being witness to the world around me. I am a person that can easily be swept away in thought, in anxiety, in the whirlwind of busyness and obligations which can leave me feeling drained, stretched and stressed by it all. Like I say in the song The Garden, ‘peace is hard to learn’. But when I stop for long enough, it is always there within me, like the blue sky above the clouds. And once I find the quiet and open myself up to curiosity, the rest of the world can unveil and reveal itself in such beautiful and surprising ways.
Kieran: How do these emotions and feelings play a part in your music?
India: Curiosity is at the heart of it all. A song for me always starts from a wish to learn something more about either myself or the world around me. It’s the unpicking of something I feel needs to be pursued and delved into. My name Tender Central for example comes from the song of the same name on the album. It’s a song to the heart, to my heart. I was puzzled by the seemingly dual nature of this amazing life-giving organ. Why is the symbol we draw so incredibly different looking to the visceral pump that it is? Why is it so talked about, sung about, and fixated upon as the symbol of love? I did some research and I was blown away. Among many other mind blowing facts the ones that stay with me are that firstly our hearts pick up information in our environment to help us navigate the world by using its own its own magnetic field (radiating out beyond our bodies between 4-6 feet!), and secondly processes that information in its own brain which it then sends up the vagus nerve deep into our brains. So we end up ‘knowing’ something before our head brain has had a chance to catch up. It’s so interesting that we use the language every day without realising the significance – ‘my heart told my head’ ‘we were on the same wavelength’ ‘they had a good vibe’. I also read into mythology around the heart and its symbolism and importance in several different cultures ancient and present. The information on the subject is endless and I feel I only really scratched the surface, but enough to feel my way into the music and to my own heart.
Watch the live recording of ‘Galloper’ here:
Kieran: Your music has real earthy tones and feels very close to nature, is this something you try and portray or do you feel this is subconscious?
India: Thank you, that’s nice to hear. It’s not something I’ve consciously tried to do, but I am lucky enough to live in the countryside very close to the woods and river so I am not surprised it has influenced me. Being close to nature has been a real gift living here and I love the fact that my son and child on the way will grow up with the wilderness on their doorstep. But nature is everywhere whether in the country or city, it’s just noticing it which is the important thing. Once you notice it, you start to appreciate it and care about it. We are definitely drawn to the wild, whether it be plunging into the cold April sea or getting to your nearest park in the city to catch a glimpse of a band of unruly sparrows, or watch the early spring blossom come out. In any writing block, getting outside and going for a walk with my dog is sometimes the only way through it.
Kieran: How does your own work differ from the music you’ve created with Ben Howard and A Blaze of Feather?
India: In my experience, every collaboration whether band, solo or duo is unique and brings out something different in you. Each body of work or song written therefore is a wonderous surprise and journey because you can’t possibly know where you’re going to end up! That’s the real joy of collaboration and why it’s so important. I love working in the band dynamic, especially with Ben and A Blaze Of Feather because there’s a long history there and we all slot in so well together. Both Ben and Mickey are incredible lyricists so finding the music in us all to work with that is a lot of fun. The main songwriter definitely steers the vibe and flavour of the piece, so the difference with band work and my own record is that I really feel this album is as ‘me’ as it could be in terms of sharing my deepest thoughts, challenges, and joys through the lyrics and music. Some songs I wrote alone at home, others were partly written and just needed extra guidance, and some were more of an exploration in the studio alongside a producer or co-writer.
Kieran: With live music temporarily on hold what is one thing you’re missing the most about it?
India: The chemistry in the room. The communication between the performers and the audience. The communication and relationship of the band. The tension and excitement and the ‘aliveness’ of the music. That feeling of being entirely in the present when you are truly submersed in live music is second to none. I find it all so exhilarating, whether performing or watching. And ahh I do miss it! Before the pandemic hit I was planning tours and an album launch show, but of course all that had to be put on hold. I was lucky enough to have been able to record and film 4 live tracks from the record with a full band back in September though, in place of an album release show. And there are plans to do more of that when conditions allow…
“That feeling of being entirely in the present when you are truly submersed in live music is second to none.“India Bourne – Tender Central
Kieran: What have been 5 tracks/artists/albums that have gotten you through these lockdowns?
India: This Is How We Walk On The Moon – Jose Gonzales. I love the groove and pace of this track, and the brass arrangement…Eden, Glass & Buka by Hania Rani. I find her tracks deeply calming, and I love the layering and production on them.I discovered the singing group Voces 8 they have completely blown my mind! I listen to a lot of them. Acappella sung like this really hits the spot for me.Kudaushe by Afriquoi – such an amazing song I can’t not dance to thisJohn Kanaka by Fisherman’s Friends! My toddler’s favourite song, so we’ve listened to this a lot during every lockdown!
Kieran: Lastly, do you have any funny/weird stories you can tell us?
India: I nearly had a very different life! After university I was very close to moving to Argentina with the aim to immerse myself in the language and eventually try to find work in orchestras and youth music projects. I spent a stint of time in Buenos Aires when I was 19 and fell in love with the place and always wanted to return. It was actually my husband who was a friend at the time who was the one encouraging me to go for it! But then I landed a job working for the English National Opera which I felt I couldn’t turn down. If I had gone, I may not be married to my amazing partner, or have our children, or have had the musical life I have had so far… I am so glad I didn’t buy that plane ticket!