FOR some musicians, perfect sound proofing is an essential in any recording studio. For Mike Vass the opposite is the case.

The sounds of wind in the rigging, sails flapping and water lapping at the hull of his sailing boat Sweet Harmony have all proved central to his latest work Notes from the Boat.

Recorded on board at Inverkip prior to Vass setting off on a year-long sailing sabbatical, the 10 guest musicians – including Innes Watson, Mairearad Green and Anna Massie – arrived for a morning or afternoon’s recording and then left Vass to do his thing as he sailed south towards the Canary Islands.

“I’d been planning this sabbatical for a number of years,” says Vass. “The plan was to buy a boat and go off sailing for a year, so I recruited my brother Martin and we bought the boat together in spring 2016.

“We spent the summer of 2016 sailing around Scotland and then the winter refitting her for the longer trips.

“When the boat was ready I sailed her down to Inverkip from Ardfern near Oban and that was when I had the idea of making some new music on the boat before we set off.

“All the musicians did just half a day each before we left and then I did a little bit of work on my parts as we sailed and then I got the bulk of the mixing done when we arrived in the Canary Islands.

“It seems bizarre but the project started in the Clyde and ended in Lanzarote.”

The fiddler, multi-instrumentalist and composer is not a man who is easy to pigeon-hole.

His work, though always imbued with a sense of place, is influenced as much by classical and electronic music as it is the traditional music he grew up with. Yet he has always found inspiration in landscape and, perhaps especially, the sea.

His previous solo album, In The Wake of Neil Gunn, saw him embark upon a journey, both literal and musical, where he retraced the voyage of the famed author of Off in a Boat, and produced a record on the way.

It was an exceptional piece of work and marked Vass as one of Scotland’s most thoughtful and exciting musicians.

“In some ways I guess the new album is something of a continuation of In the Wake of Neil Gunn in that it’s boat-themed but in other ways it’s different in that it’s more of a collaborative thing, with the 10 different musicians.

“Neil Gunn was quite a big project for me and I feel like this new album is a wee bit lighter in content and is just a bit more light-hearted and fun,” adds Vass. “That’s the aim anyway.

“This is not a pristine and clean-sounding record. It has its own character.

“I think Anna Massie was one of the first musicians to come and record and she was recording quite a slow waltz I’d written for my sister’s wedding a few years before.

“It was a pretty windy day so you can’t help but get all the sounds going on. The wind through the rigging, the lines creaking on the cleats and things. So rather than try and get rid of all that I decided it would be better of it was all part of the sound.

“So that was kind of accidental. But there were some quite deliberate things that I would use, like winches or tools from which I could get a more percussive sound. The VHF radio features a wee bit as well. Just any wee sounds I thought were interesting and would work.”

Vass’s compositions are so unique, and carry such a weight of emotional intelligence, that one might assume this genre-defying endpoint was always his favoured destination. The reality, however, is more organic.

“Because I grew up playing traditional music, I think my listening was somewhat narrow,” explains Vass. “I would listen to every single fiddle player’s record that came out. I think that’s what I needed at that time as I developed my own fiddle playing but as I got older I realised I’d been missing out on a whole other world of music.

“I started to get back into listening to classical music. I’d played in the Highland Regional Youth Orchestra when I was a teenager and that had introduced me to composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams and [Hector] Berlioz and those are composers I still listen to regularly now.

“But as well as getting back into that type of music, I started to get into electronic music, which is a journey I think I’m still on. And being exposed to that opened my ears to new possibilities.

“And of course there were Scottish artists as well. I had a big obsession with Shooglenifty when I was a teenager and of course Martyn Bennett was a huge influence as well.”

This eclectic range of influences has helped shape Vass and, despite remaining a member of Scottish folk stalwarts Malinky, he remains committed to simply music rather than any specific genre.

“I’m not too worried about my music being categorised in some way,” says Vass. “My listening is so broad that I feel like I want to be able to make anything I want without restriction – whether that be purely electronic or simply solo fiddle or anything in between. The rules almost aren’t there anymore which is exciting.

“Yet, I also think that the melodies on the new record that I have written are definitely Scottish melodies. And it was the same with the Neil Gunn stuff. Even though the compositions are a bit more developed I think the melodies are identifiable as being Scottish and even Highland.

“I’m really looking forward to what music comes out of Scotland in the next five or 10 years as I think there’s going to be some really interesting and exciting stuff produced.”

Vass may indeed be a musician who is hard to place in a convenient box but his compositions’ ability to turn places into music is central to his work. And the sea will always be his favoured place.

Growing up in Nairn, Vass learnt to sail at a young age and it is a lifelong passion that is at the heart of who he is as a person and as a musician.

“I grew up sailing,” says Vass. “My dad taught me everything I know about the sea and I feel like it’s in the blood. I was touring so much in my 20s, and the festival season in Scotland unfortunately clashes with the sailing season so I had to make a deliberate choice to take on a bit less so I could get back to the sailing. It’s something I kind of need to be doing. That’s why I had to do that sabbatical last year – to get some sea miles in.”

Happily, Vass’s ability to combine his love of the sea with his music has already produced one stunning work, In the Wake of Neil Gunn, and there is no doubt his Notes from the Boat will prove to be equally compelling as he combines his roles as both master and composer.

Notes from the Boat is released on July 27. To pre-order visit