It’s been a whole four years since the beloved ear-shattering guitar quartet from Philadelphia last came to our shores. Priding themselves as being one of the first bands in the US to do a full nationwide tour since the pandemic hit two years ago, they’ve finally been able blast out hit after hit from their latest record The Great Dismal with sold-out shows across the world. Whilst the lineup has fluctuated over the last 10 years or so, leader Dominic Palermo couldn’t have a better group of people to join him on the road, with Christina Michelle (Gouge Away) on bass and Benny Meed (Dead Swans) on drums. Ahead of their Brighton show at Green Door Store, I was lucky enough to speak to Nicky and lead guitarist Doyle Martin of Cloakroom about their return to the UK and the context behind that sample on ‘Say Less’.
Your first EP Downward Years To Come came out 10 years ago, how does it feel looking back on it?
Nicky: That’s a long time to remember! But yeah, we did that record with Kyle Johnson. So the lineup was a lot different. We didn’t really quite comprehend what we were doing, not that we do now either. But yeah, it felt young. Things felt more like a band, as recording Sons and Lovers still felt like the demo that got put together by us. Downward kinda felt the same, except that, got put on vinyl. It was also kind of the first time that I felt like we were starting to see what our sound might be. As far as like, where we’re at now it’s like a whole different planet!
(At this point in the interview, Doyle asks my girlfriend for a ‘tiny cigarette’ which we call rollies in the UK. I watch as he constructs it together and doesn’t even need to lick the paper to fold it.)
On The Great Dismal it felt like you took a more ‘cinematic’ approach to songwriting. Would you say that’s a fair statement to make?
Nicky: I mentioned Sound Of Metal in a previous interview, but I also watched a lot of movies by Yorgos Lanthimos and Akira Kurosawa during quarantine, so it coincided with us demoing the album. I think I watched a movie or two a day during that first year so yeah, I watched good shit, some bullshit, I downloaded the Criterion app at one point, which was cool because I would never usually have the time to sit down and appreciate shit like that. So yeah, it was definitely an art-filled time when we wrote the record.
I wanted to know more about why you chose that sample of a woman talking about shopping at a mall as a form of exercise for the song Say Less, what’s the context there?
Nicky: That song is about people speaking to you too much. Like whether it’s just on some like, punishing shit. Or if it’s like, someone just trying to like, talk your ear off. Or if it’s like some coke head shit, like, it’s kind of like a mixture of all that. So the video that we use is like, it’s like this pretty unused video of this lady that’s like, looks like she’s on a bunch of amphetamines at the mall. And she talks about working out at the mall through shopping. So it was it seemed like a good my friend sent it to us when we were in the studio and I just was like, “I’m gonna sample this”.
Doyle: Not a lot of views on it either before we used it!
You recently posted some photos of yourself with Full Of Hell, what can we look forward to hearing from both of you?
Nicky: They’re very close friends of mine, but aside from a live stream set and being on a few bills we’ve kept what we have planned for Roadburn Festival pretty quiet. So hopefully one day we’ll get to record something together unless it’s a complete disaster of course. It’s just gonna be me and Doyle but even then it’s always hard trying to get everyone to rehearse together. We’ll see how it goes.
Despite all the bad luck you’ve had over the years, do you feel like there are people out there that get the wrong impression about you? Do you still get accused of being a ‘tough guy’ band?
Doyle: I mean, we are a tough guy band dude, hahaha.
Nicky: It’s awful, we still get that from certain people online and in person. I think it’s just people don’t know how to handle someone that’s as open and honest as we are and things like that. And, you know, we don’t really follow the same guidelines and rules that everyone does. So like, we kind of alienate ourselves in that way. And the easiest way to misinterpret someone that’s put themselves in a different spot is the kind of like give them something that they don’t understand whether it’s like a being called a bully or like, whatever it is, that’s how they deal with not being able to understand that we just want to do things the way we do things.
What do you love most about touring the UK?
Nicky: Mostly just getting to see our friends that we don’t get to see face to face very often. We don’t have the same lifelong connections in mainland Europe so we consider y’all to be our real friends. Ben who’s filling in on drums is someone I’ve known for over 10 years, for example. We had fucking breakfast at his parents’ house in Worthing this morning with beans mushrooms and eggs, shit ruled. No matter how many times I come over here you guys still sound funny to me, I can’t get enough of it! I also just love being in Brighton in general, it’s for sure one of my favorite places to visit.
I know it’s probably a question you get sick of hearing about but is Horror Show done for good?
Nicky: Short answer, no. I don’t have the energy for it and the people that were involved with that like I owe them a fair bit of respect to just like not bother with it anymore. Every once in a while we would hit a show or something like that and I didn’t feel like it was disrespectful to Joshua who passed away or anything but… I’ve had the thought of like recording again, maybe a third final little EP but it just seems doesn’t seem right. Plus, the people that are coming back around, bringing their old band back and trying to do it again like they just end up embarrassing themselves most of the time and I don’t want to accidentally do that to myself. I’ve managed to make it this long without like not completely embarrassing myself.
Right, so my follow-up question to that is…will there be any more Death Of Lovers material in the future?
Nicky: I’ll probably do something again, like that. The thing with that was, I think that there’s a medium which existed for why I did that band was because, at the time, the lineup was a little bit more fluid as far as writing and stuff. But now that like, it’s back to like a band again new people. And there’s absolutely room for change. I think that like I can probably appease what I want to get out of Death Of Lovers with Nothing. In some sense, I would expect big changes because I’m not going to make the same record again. Maybe that’s when I’ll embarrass myself along for the ride!
Finally, when can we expect a new record from Nothing?
Nicky: I don’t think we can release records at the same pace that we did before the pandemic, but also it feels like there’s way less pressure now to do so. The Great Dismal felt like an amazing way to end being in this band for a decade, almost like closing the final chapter of a book. I got what I wanted out of an album during a fucked up time and now I’m hitting up shows with these guys and it’s sick.
Doyle: I think next year we might start writing again but for now we’re just chilling. I mean, when I joined the band you guys already had a bunch of demos ready to go.
Nicky: Yeah I want to feel less pressure on my shoulders, we’ll start up again when the time feels right. It will be good to write a record with Doyle and do it that way.
Doyle: Are you gonna tell people I did that? That I housed Nicky’s pint?
Nothing will play the Sunday of Outbreak Festival in Manchester on 26th June. Get tickets here.
“Everyone’s an arsehole” sings vocalist Gina Leonard on “Breakfast”, a statement of intent that sets the tone for many of Mumble Tides songs, passively aggressive. Mumble Tide are a band of opposites, they take their work very seriously, but not themselves. This merging of two worlds allows their charismatic personalities to shine through in every moment. After first meeting via a Gumtree advert that Gina posted in search of a bassist for their last project, the duo started hanging out more after Ryan’s previous relationship ended and the pair realised they had more than just playing music together in common. “I think if we hadn’t worked together beforehand in that setting as band members would have been very difficult to work together now” says Gina. “We almost have modes that we go into a little bit, because you have to be pretty brutally honest when you’re working with people in music. And sometimes a bit rude and harsh”. “It’s hard because you never really know when to turn it back on” says Ryan. “Occasionally we’re just like “Can you just be a boyfriend for a bit”.
Their name has been slandered by those around them as “The worst name ever” recalls Ryan. “I really like whales and I went to uni in Swansea where I didn’t study too hard…” explains Gina. “But there’s a place in Swansea called Mumbles and we were on our way back from visiting some friends there and I was saying to Ryan how the tidal range there is the second biggest tidal range in the world. And I also do Mumble a bit so we went with it”. Their whimsical personalities shine through in every aspect.
It’s a cold November evening when we chat to the duo about their new mini-album Everything Ugly, first connecting over our stints working at hmv, the dreadful loyalty card scheme there and the fact that we share the same roof beams in our houses. The down to earth nature of the duo is immediately noticeable, both sat surrounded by swathes of equipment in what appears to be a living room in Gina’s parents home, they are encapsulated by their craft in every aspect. We first ask the duo what the reaction to the singles released so far in the release campaign. ” I think we were a little bit apprehensive as there’s a lot of different sounds in the mix across the singles and we weren’t really sure how that was gonna go down” says Ryan. “But it’s been received really nicely and I think we were just happy with anything as we’d made it all here by ourselves and we weren’t really sure wether people would enjoy it. But we were just grateful that anyone was paying attention really!”. “And with the first EP you’re basically a new thing” continues Gina “But with this it’s a little tougher in a way coming back with more stuff and we didn’t leave much of a gap, we’ve been a bit relentless with releases which is maybe a bit demanding from people. But people have still listened which has been nice. We’ve found that certain people like some tracks and not others which is always interesting”.
The contrast in their sound is immediately noticeable on your first wade through the album as a whole, ranging from the indie anthem “Sucker” to the heartfelt folk ballad of “Bulls Eye”. But the one thing that glues the range of sounds all together is the enigmatic personalities behind it. “We don’t put loads and loads of thought into it but we both listen to a pretty wide range of music and I personally go through fazes where I listen to a lot pretty heavy stuff and it’ll be a month of just that so then I’ll think “Man I really want to write some metal” remarks Ryan. “And then I’ll bring a really sweet folky song and ask “How can we merge the two?”” adds Gina. “We probably should think more about it to be honest” she laughs.
The album was written with the space of 3-4 months, “About the second half of the ‘intense’ pandemic phase” explains Gina. The first song of which that emerged from the ‘sessions’ being “On My Deathbed”, which also took the band the longest to finish. “It was a bit of a nightmare” recalls Gina. “At the time I thought we were gonna do a disco pop record” continues Ryan. “Gina had brought “Deathbed” as one she’d written acoustically and it wasn’t fully formed but I thought “Oh this is going to be like Tennis or Tops and it’ll be a really indie record” but it just didn’t work at all”. “Then “Sucker” I was messing around with at New Years and I remember you brought that guitar riff and you thought “Oh that was a bit of fun we won’t do anything with it” but I said no we will because it was really cool” says Gina. “The last one we did was “Everything Ugly” which felt like a resolution track where we’d got most of it out of our system. It was a tricky time for everyone and other projects had disbanded. I’d also never been in a lot of long-term relationships and then I moved with Ryan into his childhood bedroom and have been living with his parents, it was intense. But we survived!”.
The dynamic of the pair often merges into one, both finishing each others sentences and continuing stories, you can tell that they come very much packaged together. Their songwriting is no different, they play their separate parts but will often compare notes to make sure their answers are always right. “Gina is 100% lyrics and melody” explains Ryan. “But there’s different ways we put stuff together. Sometimes she’ll have something fully formed on acoustic and then we’ll build it into the song it becomes. And then sometimes I’ll write a riff but Gina’s 100% the lyric mastermind”. “And i’d say Ryan is a lot better at production and having an idea of where the track is going to end up” adds Gina. “We have kind of defined roles but also we’re obviously super comfortable around each other so we can step on each others toes without it being too intrusive. As time goes on we’re writing more and more together and I was always nervous of that because for years I would just write on my own with a guitar and was very precious about it. But over the years I’ve gotten more into co-writing and writing more on the spot with other people playing which is so fun and exciting”. “It’s like a Venn diagram of placing everything and roles” adds Ryan.
Although the lines may be blurred about how the songs are formed, the content behind them comes straight from a clear place of reflection from Gina. “It’s very therapeutic and most of the time I don’t know what I’m singing about when I’m in it, but it does help to get this stuff out of me. I’m quite an oversensitive person that gets quite overwhelmed by things and that’s my outlet. I don’t think that much about lyrics. I am very passionate and when I’m listening I focus on the lyrics. But I don’t slave over them when I’m writing, I prefer when it’s coming from this place naturally. It’s all based on real things that have happened and all honest”. The content has to be kept fresh however and due to the constant output that the band create, lead times for releases can become a challenge. “I get very quickly over it and it’s almost as if once it’s written it gets stale” explains Gina. “It’s exciting when it’s getting written but if I have to sit on it for a year when we go to the studio then I really struggle to get back to the place it came from”. The delays within the vinyl production world have meant that any physical copies of the album have now been pushed back until Spring next year; something we all are becoming impatient with.
The DIY nature of the band exists within every aspect, from the music recorded at home, the bedroom studio to directing their own music videos. It’s not necessarily out of desire to capture a lo-fi sound that’s become so lauded in the independent scene, but “Mainly down to lack of budget and what equipment we have rather than intentionally” laughs Gina. “It’s funny though because a lot of projects we worked on in the past, we were lucky enough to work in situations where there was a lot of money being put into stuff within studios” continues Ryan. “But then when we came to do Mumble Tide, especially with the way it started as an underneath project, we kept the ethos of doing it for free and cheap. Especially with the first EP it was “Let’s just do it ourselves””. It also comes from a desire to have some control over their project, feeling as although their previous project had a big budget, that often outweighed how much creative freedom they had. “We’re also just both super into doing it and we love making the videos and coming up with these stupid ideas which sometimes work and sometimes don’t” says Ryan. “We think with the next thing we do we want to step it up a level and take it away from the DIY aspect. As great as it is we’d love to just create a slightly more hi-fi sound” says Gina. “We want to follow the EP pretty quickly” adds Ryan. “We did a couple of days with Ed Nash from Bombay Bicycle Club recently. It’s still a little while off but we’re following up as soon as we can and we’re lucky to have met so many great people through doing Mumble Tide that can help from different angles and seeing how that fits”.
From working with new people to touring with new people, the world of Mumble Tide is ever expanding. “We’re looking into ways of just doing it with us two for fun but with this tour and with the Liz Lawrence we had a drummer and a really old friend of mine John playing guitar and synths” explains Ryan. “It was a four piece but our next tour we are a six piece. We want to be able to change it up constantly where sometimes it’s just us two and a drum machine or whoever’s around and wants to get involved then can join in as well”. One thing that will never change is the bands love of the live show. “We started this project and released the first track during the first couple of weeks of lockdown so we’ve never really had the chance to do the live aspect of it. We’ve done a handful of shows and it was just amazing” recalls Ryan. ‘We did the lockdown thing of doing stuff with cameras but that was shit haha! That was horrible, the way they look at you” laughs Gina. “I got the need for it and some great things happened with it but doing the real thing is where it’s at” follows Ryan. “I think as well with our last project it was quite a serious electronic set up we didn’t get chance to go heavy or go loud with it. Whereas with this tour we could really go for it”.
We ask the pair finally to turn on their serious side reflect on the music industry as a whole, asking what they would want to change about the industry. “More women would be good” states Gina. “I’ve literally just exclusively worked with men. This tour we’ve got a friend to come and play with us but it’s been mostly men. I think that’s changing though which is great, with stuff like Fender’s campaign to get more girls playing guitar, there’s a lot of good stuff happening. I think it’s going in the right direction but there’s still a ways to go”. “That first, definitely!” remarks Ryan. “I also think the perception of the music industry by the people who aren’t in it where everyone bases their ideas of it off 1% of artists who are this enormous thing. We have a lot friends who are in these great band and are doing really well, but they’re not at Ed Sheeran or Adele level. And I think it would be great if people who aren’t in that 1% would stop having to apologise for not being in that 1%”. It’s a numbers game for most but Gina is happy with the stats so far “Most people who are in music or into music get it but everyone else is like “Poor you and your little band” but it’s not going that bad”. It’s not going that bad at all in the world of Mumble Tide, their wave will keep crashing on the shores of listeners ears for many years to come. “I wish my mum didn’t think I should be a plumber” says Ryan longingly.
The origin of the word Chartreuse is from the Chartreuse mountains in the region of Grenoble in France, but it’s more commonly associated with the liqueur that’s been created there by the Carthusian Monks since 1737. Often being described as sweet and spicy due to its mixture of herbal and secret ingredients. The same could be said for Birmingham based four-piece Chartreuse; sans the herbal part. Their music is at it’s core sweet, tender and vulnerable. It has a tendency to become spicier in moments of emotional outbursts or driven guitar leads, but the secret ingredient behind the band is well kept; but the darkness of it seeps through into each pore of their sound. We caught up with the band to learn about their brand new EP, touring life and lockdown projects.
Forming in the summer of 2014 with just originally singer’s Harriet Wilson and Michael Wagstaff, writing indie folk ballads, they then joined forces with brother Rory Wagstaff and Perry Lovering on the drums and bass respectively to form the unit that is known today. Their circumstances of meeting weren’t anything out of the ordinary, “We met through college and by circumstance we were all like “We all like to play music” so we just made a band and that was kind of it. We knew pretty quickly that we gelled quite well, it was something we all enjoyed doing together so we stuck at it. It’s not a great story!” explains Harriet. But the music that came out of the coming together is something more.
Originally I first saw Chartreuse perform in 2016 supporting Matt Corby at the O2 Institute in Birmingham in (where I still have one of their old posters on my wall from the show). But after the show nothing was to be heard from the band until three years later in 2019 when they released their debut EP Even Free Money Doesn’t Get Me Out Of Bed. The time in between was a time of embracing who they were, “We were just maturing, getting some songs ready. We didn’t want to release anything at that time as we didn’t think it was up to scratch really” explains Michael. “So then we came out with the Even Free Money Doesn’t Get Me Out Of Bed EP, and it’s all just carried on from there”.
They’ve now returned with their third EP Is It Autumn Already?, a collection of songs that focus on the realities of passing time, realising you’re not getting any younger and embracing the challenges that you’ve faced up to this point. The title is a line from “Things Are Changing Too Quickly”, “That song is about getting a bit older and things are starting to get a bit faster” explains Michael. “The older you get the years seem to go by a bit quicker in my opinion and don’t last as long, so it’s that fear of going through summer and then you’re watching the leaves fall and you think “Shit that’s another one gone”. We’re all in this weird rushing rat race that’s never-ending but also does end. It’s also realising that you’re not going to be young forever so making the most of your time. It’s not a negative but realising that you’re not here forever and appreciating the time you’ve got”.
The sound that Chartruese encapsulate on the EP is one they’ve become accustomed to; dark, ambient textures blended with jazzy piano’s and groove filled drums, but this time they’ve added a certain magic within each track that encapsulates on every listen. This force of mystique is one that flows out of the band naturally, “We’ve never spoken about it or said “We need to make it a bit darker” explains Harriet. “I guess just from working together for so long then that’s just what we all gravitate towards. When it’s the four of us in a room we’ll hear a song and then naturally we’ll go towards those darker tones because we’ve just worked that way for such a long time”. Being produced entirely by Michael in his home studio cabin, the band are in charge of every aspect of their sound. “This was the first one that we did completely ourselves” he explains. “In the other EP’s we did bits and bobs in the cabin and then we would take it to the producer Luke who did the first two EP’s”. It was a welcome challenge that looked to further his already formed abilities as a producer. “I loved doing it, i’ve always done it ever since I was in bands when I was 17. I was always the one with the computer ready to record because no one else would haha”.
The band credit John Martyn’s ambient works as an inspiration for the atmospheres they build, but when it came time to record the EP there was no direct influence feeding into the band other than themselves. “I can honestly say that I didn’t listen to any other music when we were making the EP” says Michael when asked if any influence creeped in during recording. “I think because it was the lockdown we were just trying to work as much as we could to keep our minds occupied. We were all working about 6 days a week so on that day off I didn’t really fancy listening to any music”.
Although recorded during the lockdown, this isn’t the bands lockdown project, “We had already planned to sit down and record during that time no matter wether lockdown or not, it just happened to be the perfect time” explains Harriet. A project that did occur of that time however was the Relaxation Tape For Nobodies Instrumental EP that saw the band push their sonic boundaries to the limits through folky guitars and ambient pianos. Songs on the new EP were written during the recording sessions but tracks like “Deep Fat” have been a part of the bands catalogue for quite some years with Michael originally penning the track when he was 18, but finding the right fit for the song proved difficult.”Every year we would try to record it and it sounded shit but then eventually we got to it and thought “Oh actually this sounds alright so we’ll carry on with it” he explains. “There are a few different recorded versions of it where we just thought “No this doesn’t work” and in the end we went back to the original version that we were trying to do after spending ages doing a new version and thought “Oh no actually, the first one was better” adds Harriet. Sometimes the original form of a song is it’s purest.
Opening the EP is “Feed Be Fed”, a groove driven and subtly alluring track that focuses on the side effects that being on the pill can have on someones mental health. “When I felt ready to talk about the topic it came out of me really quickly after having the initial chorus line. Within an afternoon I was able to get everything off my chest” explains Harriet when asked wether talking about such a personal topic was challenging or relieving. “It’s also important to talk about things like this, as much as it’s important for me to have said it myself, I would hope that people listen to it and find comfort within it. Because as soon as you release a song it’s instantly for other people. So I think that’s quite an exciting thing, on a subject that isn’t really spoken about at all, but it affects so many women. I felt empowered to release it and be able to talk about it”.
Their music isn’t always designed to inspire however, but often used as an outlet to express themselves the way they know best, “Selfishly I write for myself and we do it as a unit when we’re in here, so the songs are ours for quite a long time until they go out. So it’s not something that crosses my mind about comforting somebody else, but when they come out all these people are listening to what you want to talk about and how you felt so naturally as soon as it’s out you’re gifting these people what you want to talk about” says Harriet. “I feel the same but I also do have in the back of my head that eventually i’m going to be sharing this” explains Michael. “For me it’s always been what is the point in doing it if you can’t share it with anyone. It would be a nice hobby but I wanna feel something with it with people”.
The best outlet of sharing their music with people is of course the live show, a platform that has only recently become a part of the bands life again. Playing festival slots over the summer and a headline tour coming in December, the band are slowly finding their way back to normality from having to solely pander to a digital audience. “It’s great to actually see people again. We’ve been to a couple of gigs over the last couple of weeks and even that is really exciting, just to see people enjoying music” says Harriet. The thought of getting back on stage doesn’t phase Michael however, taking it as it comes, “Weirdly enough I don’t even think about it. When you’re on stage you just go into that ether of not thinking about anything, and that’s the feeling I like to get, to just be able to feel the energy coming off people. It’s why we do it”.
Finally we ask the band to reflect on the music industry as a whole, asking if there’s anything they’d like to change about it. “I think basically pay more streams” simply puts Perry. “People should support music more, if you really like an artist to support them by getting merch or going to a show instead of just listening to them on Spotify” says Harriet. “To be fair if streams paid more they wouldn’t have to. It’s just a byproduct of how people consume music these days” says Rory. “I think it’s very different depending on where you go. Birmingham is a lot different to London and I feel like they all have different ways of consuming music and audiences are different within each” continues Harriet. “It’s also quite hard in the fact that everything’s so online now, even with how we are as a band. You fully have to sell yourself online and it’s such a different ways of consuming music now compared to when we were kids. It shifts all the time with what people want and what you should be doing as a band, but it’s just something that you have to get on with and move with. There’ll be constant things that people want to change about the industry. For us right now though it’s not too bad”.
Ruby Fields has certainly been doing it for a while. Her first taste of viral fame came in 2018 after the release of her debut EP Your Dad’s Opinion for Dinner. Gaining attention from Australian Indie radio heavyweights Triple J, Fields then found acclaim amongst the ever expansive Australian independent scene which landed her support tours with the likes of Ball Park Music and San Cisco. And then in late 2018 she released “Dinosaurs”, the lead single from her second EP Permanent Hermit. The single reached #9 on the Triple J hottest 100 for that year and became ARIA Platinum certified. Everything seemed to be falling into place for Fields, landing slots at Laneway Festival and Splendour In The Grass in 2019, and 2020 was set to be more of the same.
Recording for her debut album as well as touring was brought to a halt at the start of 2020 for obvious reasons and Fields went on a forced hiatus. She then spent the time alone fleshing out the ideas she already had and found a new self confidence to create an album that focuses on toxicity in relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, and battles with mental health. The result is Been Doin’ It For A Bit, an album that takes Fields songwriting notoriety to the next level, being heartbreaking and heartwarming in the same moment. She still has a knack for bangers, through the likes of “Song About A Boy”, but there’s a level of maturity on this album that has been found through time. “If the reaper comes to claim me and all I’ve gone and done / Is write some shitty music and take some shitty drugs” she sings on “Clothes Line”, revelling in her success and wondering what it’s all for. But reversing that she’s now found reverence in the simplicities of life. “I woke up and you were in the kitchen / Talking with my mum and she was bitching / You couldn’t care less, you sat there unblinking / Those orange curtains sure bring out the blush in your cheeks” she recalls on “Kitchen”, revelling in the beauty of everyday situations.
Been Doin’ It For A Bit feels like a collection of diary entries from Fields, both the highs and lows of everyday life and under the spotlight, soundtracked by grungy guitars and melancholic moods. To find out more we asked Ruby a few question about the new album and her journey up to this point.
How long have you been doin’ it for?
If this was a reference to the album title, love it. In reality.. not too long. I’m 23 now.. I started busking when I was 13, playing in pubs since 14, and wrote the songs in our discography from when I was 16. So depends on where you think it counts, but officially I’ve been playing those songs as Ruby Fields in the band since I was 18. I’m not good at maths.
Over what time was this album written and recorded?
The album was written over about 2 years and recorded a year and a half ago at the beginning of COVID in New Zealand and finished in Byron.
What is the main theme you’re exploring on the album?
I think the theme to the songs is always whatever I’m going through at the time, I’ve always liked to imagine you could hear a bit of a journey of me growing up through the zones around Cronulla (where I was born) to moving out of home and entering my twenties. Maybe nostalgia?
Did the last year change the album at all? And do you feel you’ve changed over the last year as a person?
I reckon any musician changes from the conception of a song or album to the release.. I will say it feels like not much has changed during COVID but a year ago I was living south of Sydney in a big share house with my bandmates and now I live on a farm in the Northern Rivers where I’m building a little home studio.. so maybe my commitment has amped up a bit. The album itself hasn’t changed too much though I don’t reckon, it’s kind of given me the time to appreciate all the songs.
What allowed you to overcome your initial hesitancy on releasing “Song About A Boy”?
I wrote Song About A Boy when I was 20 and I probably just feel so far removed from the idea of the song by now that it didn’t bother me anymore, and I let myself feel really proud of the lyrics and the song that the boys and I created.
Who are some of the biggest influences your sound?
My earlier stuff was definitely influenced by Violent Soho and Goons of Doom, both of whom I adore, but more recently I’d say Phoebe Bridgers and Tegan & Sara.. I love their lyrics and the ways they build up their songs.
And what influences your songwriting? Is it diaristic or therapeutic?
I’d say it’s both. I was talking to a mate about this the other night but I’d say a good percentage of music is written in times of sadness or distress, mine is anyway haha. I’ve definitely written when I’m feeling super happy or inspired too though. Most of it is directly about my experiences, I have a real hard time trying to tell a story.
On “Clothes Line” you ponder what you’d say to the grim reaper when he comes, is this something you think about a lot?
I actually found the first lyric of the chorus in “Clothes Line” in an old English book from school and structured the song around it when I was about 21. I must have been playing heaps of Sims at the time.
Have you been able to play any shows this year? If so how have you found getting back on stage?
We were pretty fortunate to play a fair few shows during COVID, with restrictions of course, which was odd. Our shows have always been a bit loose and without the option to have a dance floor or mosh I think it pushed me over time to try and create a better atmosphere and pick up my weight as a performer.
Your band seems very tight in terms of sound and as people, where did you all meet and what do they bring to your music?
They’re my favourite people in the world. I met Pat (drummer) in high school, he was band captain and a really good skater I remember, and when I saw him years later at my work at a bar I asked if he’d be keen to demo some drums and then just straight up asked if he wanted to join the band. I met Adam (guitarist) when I was about 15, he was in another band in the Shire that I loved and we had some coffees and did some demos and eventually started working, writing and living together. Tas (bassist), I met last when I was about 16 through a mate at a party and we instantly got along and lived together a while later and when he said he was keen to quit his job I asked if he’d join as well. I really believe we were always meant to be in a band together and I’ve never found a bunch of more forward thinking, kind, hilarious and creative people. They saved my life and bring so much to the music, from recordings to performances to deep chats about life to laughing into early hours of the morning.
What has been the biggest achievement of your career so far? And what is something you hope to achieve?
I think I should say our Splendour in the Grass performance in 2019. It was our biggest crowd to date and full of friends and we were all on cloud nine. Really though, it might sound clacky but I think my biggest achievement is having a group of people around me where we all believe in each other and love working together. The boys and I obviously, but also every other person that contributes. That’s the whole point, to me.
If anything, what would you change about the music industry?
There’s levels of competitiveness in every industry but I think in music we’ve all been pretty fuckin’ good at banding together as a community especially lately in terms of the Me Too movement, through climate disasters, COVID etc. We’ll always need more representation for female-identifying and indigenous artists, which is a slow progress but something that’s shifted positively in the last few years.. which shouldn’t lead to complacency but more inspired change.
Swim School are one of those bands you wish you knew about sooner, but as soon as you hear them you’re hooked. Consisting of Alice Johnson on vocals and guitar, Billy McMahon on drums, Lewis Bunting on guitar and Matt Mitchell on bass, the band are as fresh in formation as they are to listen to with McMahon only joining this year.
Through all the comparisons to the biggest names in indie, there’s still a certain vibrancy that separates the Edinburgh-based 4 piece from their peers. Their songs not only encapsulate the spirit of the indie anthem in every aspect but burst with enough raw emotion that you feel like crying and dancing at the same time. Speaking on topics of mental wellbeing and heartbreak, Swim School look to excite with their festival worthy grooves and choruses whilst continuing the conversation on self preservation. We asked the bands a few questions to get to know the people behind the music.
Where did the band form / where did you all meet?
Myself (Lewis) and Matt went to high school together, Matt being a year older than me. We met through our hometown music project, we were both in rival bands at this point. Years later we found ourselves working together in a hospitality job where we both realised we both had very similar music tastes so we started our first band together which ended a year or so afterwards.
Myself and Alice were both in the same college class, we both started talking about bands we liked and got on really well, so we agreed to start a band together with Matt. The three of us always loved going to gigs, whether we were watching a local band or a big one it didn’t matter and it was going to gigs that we met Billy through his previous band. We needed a drummer around July last year and Billy was the first person we asked on ‘session’ terms but we always knew he was going to be our full time drummer.
How long have each of you been playing music?
We’ve all been playing music from a super young age! We were all lucky to have found the passion for our instruments from our young teens and have been playing ever since.
Is there a story behind the name ‘Swim School’?
There is honestly no real story behind the name swim school, we just liked the sound of it.
Who are the biggest influences for your sound?
We love bands that are constantly trying to evolve their sound and try new things. Anyone who has read interviews with us before will know that we are huge fans of bands like Foals, Wolf Alice & The 1975. We feel these bands are great examples of acts who never want to write the same song – that’s something we really aspire to!
Where do you draw influence from for your lyrics? Are they diaristic or therapeutic in any way?
Everyday situations and experiences are what influences my lyrics. I find it easier and more real when I’m writing or singing about something that has actually happened. Expressing how you feel through music is extremely therapeutic, and when you see that other people are connecting to the lyrics you wrote, it’s such an amazing feeling. All of the tracks on the E.P. are based on mental health and the struggles. The reason for that is because it was a tough year mentally for everyone but also the subject surrounding mental health was talked about more than ever.
What’s the main theme / story you were trying to explore / tell on the upcoming EP?
Our debut EP ‘making sense of it all’ lyrically, really focuses in on mental health. It covers everything from opening up to people, helping people suffering from mental health to removing toxic people – it’s all in there!
What is the importance of talking about mental health within your songs? We just hope it helps someone in any way shape or form.
What’s it like to get back onto these stages again and play for an audience?
It’s honestly the most incredible feeling, we just played Latitude Festival a few weeks back and we were totally blown away with the response the crowd gave us, we just can’t wait to get back out there and play again!
What’s the biggest thing you’ve missed about gigs?
We’ve obviously missed playing to an audience, I’m sure every band will say that but I think for us we’ve just missed hanging out with other bands and chatting music with them, Latitude was amazing for meeting other bands so we’re looking forward to meeting new people. It’s honestly been so amazing watching other bands play live again too, it’s all very exciting!
What’s the best gig you’ve played so far?
So far we’ve only played one show which was Latitude, we actually played two sets that weekend, one on Friday and one on Saturday – I don’t want to pick which one was the best because they were all absolutely incredible.
If you could change anything about the music industry what would it be and why?
I’m sure like many other artists we’d love to see more females on festival lineups, before lockdown it was made very clear that people weren’t happy with the lack of female acts on certain festival lineups – I’m sure we’ve all seen the edits with all the names taken off the lineup apart from female acts and it was actually really disturbing. I’d like to think that with a year of no festivals and gigs it’s made promoters think about who they’re booking and that they should be seeking a good gender balance because there is a LOT of amazing talent out there and we all need to be given a chance to play a festival regardless of gender or slots.
The London via Fleet hypnagogic three piece sit down with us to talk about where they came from, their debut album The World Within Our Bedrooms and their love of Beach House.
Apologies if you’ve been asked this question over and over again but given that I’m also from a small town in the middle of nowhere, tell me about your experiences growing up in that environment?
It was an isolating place. Before I met Johnny and Charlie, I didn’t really know many people in my town at all. So I was spending a lot of time in my bedroom, making a more vivid and exciting world and more life that felt more like I fit within my own company. Meeting these guys as well, we found out we lived like 5-10 minutes away from each other. So it kind of became this triangular life of like, I’m here, Jonny’s there, Charlie’s there, just kind of going like this back and forth. We all just felt like we didn’t belong in Fleet at all, using music as an escapism and trying to make a world where we all felt comfortable. It just wasn’t too much of an inspiring place to grow up in and kind of having to find that motivation within ourselves I guess.
What sort of reactions did you get from audiences when you initially played on mixed bills across London?
We’ve had quite a variety of different responses over the years. You can get variation from that from a singular crowd specifically to see us as well. People have been honest and said it’s not for them but others who’ve been surprised and gotten into what we do which comes with the nature of being on a mixed bill. We’ve also had people give us feedback, shouting stuff like “MORE CHORUS” at Charlie. We get a lot of comparisons to acts like The Cranberries and specifically the Twin Peaks TV show soundtrack. We don’t get that as much anymore as I feel like we’ve evolved the sound. But we’ve rarely ever played with many bands that we share super common interests with. We did however play with a band called The Goon Sax where more things alined together. The funny thing is, we kept in contact with them and they’re now moving to London, we even ended up releasing our albums on the same day!
I think even though we ended up playing with more punk bands and aggressive shit there’s a crossover in interest when it comes to post-punk and slowcore where we fitted in more easily. A lot of people that were going to see the heavier bands definitely were already accustomed.
The track that stuck out for me the most was “Walking Talking Marathon”, where did the inspiration for that song come from?
That song was written over lockdown in about four minutes, it was all improvised. I had been watching this mockcumentary by a man called Peter Greenway called The Falls where he goes through a list of all these peoples names, the last which begins with F A L L, they’ve all been a victim of this thing called the VUE, which has made them have all these strange tendencies. They become obsessed with birds, have an extra sense of smell and start talking in weird colloquial languages. So I was watching that and all these words started popping out to me. I like to try and reduce as much friction between me and the melody and the song as I can. And if I have these words in front of me, my mind tends to pick them up and buttons of association and there’s associations in my head normally come from things that have been going on in my life and are a way of expressing yourself in a very abstract way. I had my Korg machine going and essentially not much of it changed apart from in post production where a few harmonies were added in later. I altered like one or two words but that’s about it. I was listening to a lot of Algebra Suicide at the time and wanted something more playful on the album really.
So would you say that the lyrics are mostly autobiographical? Or do they sort of exist in their own medium.
There are moments in there which are definitely about me. Maybe the bit about the clouds and losing contact with the party friends. And then you have, like a bit about falling in love and, and you know, “Let’s be a collective now”. And then going on to walking and talking marathon, which is kind of, to me, it’s kind of like having someone falling in love, having that beautiful back and forth. Because the sound kind of goes back and forth a little bit, and kind of meanders around those words.
There’s a few songs that incorporate stop-start elements in the structure, what was the thought process behind including those?
It’s interesting that seems to be something that some people pick up on, because I don’t think we ever really thought about that at all. It’s just like, you know, when you write a different song, I guess the process of songwriting, you write sort of sections of songs, and then you end up just combining different sections. It’s not just because we think, oh, we might combine this section, this section and there be different tempos and then, yeah, that’s quite boring. It’s true. It’s an honest answer. Like, when we were recording I didn’t even notice it that much really.
It’s one of the more interesting ways to write dream pop for sure, it reminded me a lot of Black Country, New Road minus the sheer abrasiveness and confusion.
I just saw it being mentioned in reviews quite a lot and, like “Secret Plan”, I guess. We thought a lot about the flow. So trying to view songs in a rhythmic dance the way I suppose. If you’re dancing through a song, it’s nice for the tempo to increase a bit and stuff and go around. Like in “What’s on your Mind?”, the end part where it does speed up a lot, we didn’t have that part until we got to the studio, we had everything else. And then it was the second song we were recording.
Do you take advantage of that in live scenarios?
I think we want to experiment a bit more with that, actually, we want to, I guess we’ve been thinking about it for a while of having our songs flowing more into each other live. It’s like turning the lights on sonically. The Orielles are a great example of a band who do that well, we’re always thinking of ways to present our recorded music differently live to bring about unique experiences.
How did you all get introduced to the genre of dream pop? These days it’s a lot more understood in the mainstream but 10 years ago I feel like Beach House were still fairly niche.
I felt totally in love with this girl when I was 15. And we would talk quite a lot, she recommend this album called Depression Cherry by Beach House. And then a week later, I was going to Brighton with my parents and we went to a record store and I saw it there. And I was like, “Oh, maybe if I listen to her, she’ll fall in love with me as well”. I listened to it. I really loved it. She didn’t fall in love with me. And then we stop seeing each other. That’s the story really!
Yeah I think people need to get over this worry of not seeming cool for getting into a genre through a big artist.
It’s a shame when people do that, they just want to be like “Ooh I listen to music that no one else knows about” and when they suddenly get big they deny ever liking them in the first place.
Pre COVID, what was the biggest show that you played?
We supported The Orielles at Manchester O2 Ritz in February 2020. That feels like a complete lifetime ago now!
Were the socially distanced shows weird for you?
Yes, I think we were all terrified. The whole time I was like “If I leave the venue now is it all over”? This was the first time we’d also played for over an hour, normally it’s like 35 minutes or whatever but yeah I was scared the whole time and never really had a chance to calm down. But I know it will get easier over time and to be honest I feel like when people watch us they don’t really know what to do with themselves standing, so a seated audience actually worked a lot better in our favour. At the same time though you can’t really feel the energy of the audience in the same way, it’s a lot more dispersed so I think we ended up feeling a lot more lonely on stage if that makes sense?
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I think just more gigging and recording really, there’s plenty of people that we want to see and it’s nice to have a human interaction in regards to people enjoying what we’ve made! Every time we rehearse we always stop what we’re doing to make sure someone at least has a phone recording for next time.
Death Goals are a two-piece band that can never keep still. Taking influence from the likes of The Chariot, Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge, The Hertfordshire math-core two piece made up of guitarist Harry Bailey and drummer George Milner were set for greatness last year. For obvious reasons this hasn’t happened (yet) but their debut The Horrible And The Miserable gives us plenty of time to practice coming out of mosh retirement for when the time is ready. We sat down and dove deeper into what Death Goals are all about.
How did you guys start?
H: Oh, god, so I (Harry) started Death Goals when I was at university. My old math rock band was dying. I was bored of not playing shows so I decided that I’m going to form a two piece. Because then there’s only one person I have to argue with to do shows, and that’s easier. So I spoke to the other drummer in my course, who I knew was into, Deafheaven and Converge. So we wrote a load of songs for the show. It’s been bullshit since day one. I used to be really spontaneous seeing, like oh ‘The Black Heart’ needs a support act two hours before the show.
So I’d message our old drummer like; “Will, we’re playing this show”. Then he’d go, “What do you mean, we’re playing?” So it got quite frustrating. I don’t do that anymore. Because I can’t. That was the joy of being in London, I could literally be like, “I’ve got all my gear here. I’ll see you outside of New Cross in an hour”. Then we did our little split with Pupil Slicer, and that was sick, then we did an EP. We kept going through different drummers, George at that point was sort of a quasi manager. He sort of expressed to me “I want to work with Death Goals but I don’t want to be in Death Goals”. And then as his old band Pet Lib was kind of on its last legs he said “I’d quite like to be in Death Goals please”. So we wrote an album and now we’re stuck together!
What influences did you grow up with and how did it influence what you write now?
H: I would see George at math rock shows like TTNG, but the first time it really clicked for both of us was realising that we loved Every Time I Die. There’s loads of things that we have in common but its also varied, I don’t fuck with black metal at all for example!
G: I love black metal so much
H: You like the post rock stuff more than I do but I really like the weird experimental hip hop sound and hyper-pop.
G: If you listen to this album and think it sounds similar to a band, chances are we’ve gotten drunk together and been like “Oh my god isn’t this the best band of all time?”. I think we’ve been like that with every single one of our influences. What we like to do is show each other music as much as possible even if we know that we might not like it. I’ll always be sending Harry slam or deathcore, you know, the greebiest shit possible and he’ll fucking hate it.
H: You made me a playlist of exclusively Myspace bands from the 00’s era and there’s some cool shit on there even if its not something I’d usually go out of my way to listen to. My partner recently got me into Phoebe Bridgers and it’s like “Why have I not been listening to this before?”.
How did you decide which songs would make it onto The Horrible and The Miserable?
H: Call it what it is, I was an absolute diva about it!
G: So because we worked on the record predominantly through lockdown, even when I wasn’t officially in the band Harry would always send me stuff and I’d make sure to give feedback. It paid off because it felt like there weren’t any disagreements or arguments, if something didn’t work we very quickly moved on. However when it came to actually deciding what songs we would take into the studio, yes Harry was a complete diva about it!
H: Okay but, was I wrong?
H: For the most part the basics of the songs had been written in my room, George added bits in but I’d done everything to start it going. In the end it felt like having to decide which kids were going to Uni and which ones weren’t, with Uni being the album. I think there was one song we had a disagreement with.
G: I’m stubborn, I didn’t want to admit that you were right…
H: No and that’s a good thing that we can be democratic about these discussions without it being an argument. You used to send me paragraphs, almost books worth of lyrics and I’d have to cut it down into eight lines because come on…
G: I just love me some words, love me a big old Thesaurus hahaha. I sit there with like 14 tabs open on my computer and thinking “What words will I be using today”?
H: It’s why we don’t play scrabble anymore. But yeah it’s all about refining it into something easier to digest.
Are you saying that you intentionally cut lines down so they can fit as four words onto your merch?
H: Yes, absolutely, I am always thinking about that NEXT 👏 MERCH 👏 PIECE 👏
What’s the story behind the track “Gender Traitor”?
H: Basically I was walking home from work one day and the idea of the line “I’ve been swapping saliva with gender traitors all my life” popped into my head. And then when lockdown happened you saw the rise of some horrific anti-LGBTQ stuff. That was the moment where I felt like I needed to speak out against this more. This is a time where I’m obviously quite annoyed that people want people like us dead. So I just wrote a song saying they can fuck off ennit.
Going back to influences, what would you say is your favourite breakdown?
H: I’m gonna say all of “Orchestra Of Wolves” by Gallows, the entire thing is hard.
G: That final breakdown in “I Used To Hate Cell Phones but Now I Hate Car Accidents” by Norma Jean.
Before the world ended, what was your favourite show?
G: I wasn’t even in the band at this point but there was a show in Hitchin where everything got moved down the road due to noise complaints. Your Death Goals set at the time brought me out of mosh retirement kicking and screaming. I was already super stressed with trying to make this show work and thought “You know what, I need to kick someone in the head”. I’m excited to play a Death Goals show because I’ll still do the exact same thing from the drum kit.
H: Our mate Rob from Chinned was putting on these shows at DSI Studios in London which was basically a practice space. Basically a sweaty box of greebs fighting each other. At the first one I split my guitar head and decapitated my tuning pedal by just yeeting it into my pedal board.
Where do you see yourselves in the future?
H: You know what, I went through so many drummers it felt like no one gave a shit and when lockdown happened I was tempted to just start some one person metal project from my bedroom, but luckily our friend Joe Booley (BSR Records) took interest and we got things moving again. But yeah I don’t know, playing something like Arctangent or Reading & Leeds would be really cool.
G: In 10 years time we will headline Reading, we will have sold out and released a hyper-pop album, then go on tour with 100 Gecs and become super rich and famous. Okay but for real, there’s obviously bucket stuff list we fantasise about but I think last year taught us to take everything out one step at a time, because then when it actually does come around to us doing these bigger things, like I think we will appreciate it a lot more. That being said, Oh my god, it took us five years to get here.
H: It’s patience, patience is a virtue. I really do appreciate sitting on stuff, like making sure that the songs that you’re actually good, and like, the videos are good and like having these plans like being able to have a team, that was really nice. Its exhausting doing all of that shit yourself.
What changes would you like to see in the music industry moving forward?
G: Everybody gay now please. We gay. Every discord chat gay.
H: I’d like to see more queer and fem representation on lineups. But like, actual representation, not just “Oh look we’ve put three queer bands on there”. It’s like, no, there are so many incredible queer artists that can and should be put on lineups. And it’s just like, “Oh, well, okay. Well, one member of this band who have like eight members who are all, you know, cis men, one of them is queer. So we’re inclusive”.
G: Yeah like, no, you’re not. I think as well in the background of the industry, it’s an uncomfortable thing. You go to have a meeting with someone who as soon as you start talking about the fact that you’re a queer hardcore band, they have that look in their eyes. It’s like, “That’s not very marketable at all, is it?”.
Which songs on The Horrible and The Miserable mean the most to you?
H: For me “Shrike’ is a big one”. I’ve had that lyric “Goddamn my insecurities they always get the best of me”, for a very long time, almost four years now I think. So purely just seeing how people really enjoy that. So like, the song in itself isn’t very deep. It’s just a complete rant about being just mad, anxious and paranoid. “Hellen Keller Is Teaching Me How To Talk To Boys” was the first time me and George really collaborated with one another, and I was like “Oh hell yeah”. When you came up with that bridge part I was completely blown away.
G: “Hellen Keller” was also a big one for me because it was the sort of music that I had wanted to play in my head for years but could never find the right people to do it with. That song encapsulates the fast-nest of what I wanted to play with the fucking heavy discordant breakdowns. And then when I wrote the “This is an anthem” line I remember being so gassed on it and was like “Harry fucking listen to this right now!”. When we were trying to assign who would scream which lines on which track I was just like “I have to do it”. I’ve not been outwardly queer for a while but I always felt sheltered by it because it was a weird conversation to have with people that I grew up with. I didn’t really meet a lot of other queer people until I started to get a lot older. And so I didn’t have it in my head that talking about it was like a normal thing to do. So for me, this album has been very much like, I’m showing my face. Every time I listen to it there’s a real passion inside myself telling anyone who said I wasn’t queer enough to fuck off really. My favourite track overall is “Exit Wounds”. It’s about the time I spent in rehab and periods of drug abuse which I’ve spoken about to friends but not outwardly. It’s a conversation I always hated having, like if someone offered me anything at parties and I would have to turn them down saying “I’m actually in recovery thank you”. It was always really uncomfortable even if I was doing it for the right reasons. And when Harry sent me the demo for it, I’d like i’d sat on this, like really heavily metaphorical lyrics that I’d written about, and I had never used these. And it just worked so perfectly.
H: I had no idea the song was even about that until we started recording.
G: It’s nice to have that. I’ve always been blunt about these topics in the past, I’ve always been very, like, “This is my mental health”. This is this, that and the other. And I think now with this album with how open, Harry and I have both been open about things of mental health and things with queerness. When I listen to “Exit Wounds”, it feels like a big step towards something within myself, but also just knowing that as we continue on as a band, where it’s going to be more, I guess, therapeutic to actually talk about things that we’ve we’ve both held back on for so long. It’s honesty.
H: It’s quite honest, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to keep going. This album is the first step in being able to be more open about all those sorts of things. Hopefully, we can just keep building on that.
Always You is the musical project of brothers Anton and Christoph Hochheim. Both brothers’ musical credentials stretch far and wide within the independent scene with both being previous members of New York synth-pop group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Anton also playing drums for lo-fi dream-pop outfit Beach Fossils and Christoph having played guitar with Jerry Paper for the last few years. So it’s safe to say that when joined together, the result is as captivating as their resumé’s.
They released debut album Adult Contemporaries back in 2016 under the moniker Ablebody and have now returned with their sophomore album Bloom Off The Rose, a captivating synth-pop and soft-rock journey through heartbreak and longing. We asked the brothers a few questions to get a little more insight into the people behind the music.
What does the title Bloom Off The Rose mean or represent to you?
I wasn’t sure that there was any unifying theme to these songs until long after their completion. Only in retrospect do I recognise it’s a breakup album of sorts, despite being fully blind to that while creating it. Sometimes the songs know it’s over before you do, which can be an unsettling discovery.
We titled the album Bloom Off The Rose for that reason. It’s an idiom that refers to something that’s lost its lustre, which felt like an apt symbol of the slow wane of love. That might give the impression that this album is heavy and morose, but I find it to be grateful and generous, often thankful and wistful in a romantic sense where love remains intact, despite the love no longer serving us. It’s not a typical “love is hard” message, I suppose, hopefully something a little more nuanced.
Is there a story behind your change of name from Ablebody to Always You?
I think that name just ran it’s course for us. It felt like a positive personal mantra initially as I was breaking away from the comforts of a band and pursuing something solo, celebrating my limitations and embracing the flaws that came from doing everything myself. Eventually my brother started helping out, and politically that word started to mean something we couldn’t stand behind. This album represents a new phase musically and otherwise for us, so it only felt right for the name to follow suit.
How much does synth-pop and glam-pop influence your sound?
Synth pop tremendously, glam not as much. We cut our teeth early on with lots of Japanese synth pop (Yukihiro Takahashi, Miharu Koshi, Taeko Ohnuki, etc) and UK groups (China Crisis, The Associates, Prefab Sprout).
I think glam rock and rock in general is an attitude we’ve never jived with, although Sparks were and still are massively inspiring to us. I really admire duos, especially ones with familial ties that can survive through the decades. Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon from China Crisis are also shining examples of how to age in this industry with grace and humility while never compromising your craft.
I’m not sure how apparent it might be, but musically on this record we pulled more from ‘standards’ and masters of songcraft like Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Oscar Hammerstein II, Anthony Newley, Stephen Sondheim, etc. Those songs transcend style and showcase a timelessness of songwriting we could only hope to approach.
What else influences your sound?
Life, loss, relationships…that’s pretty much it ha. I’ve come to terms with the fact that writing music for me is the continual quest for the perfect pop song…and every good pop song is a love song.
Did either of both your other projects with Beach Fossils and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have any influence on the sound of this album?
I think every project we’ve played in and recorded with has influenced us in some fashion, if not sonically then interpersonally which is equally invaluable.
What did Lucas Nathan (Jerry Paper) bring to production duties?
This record would truly not exist if it weren’t for Lucas and their contributions. It’s definitely our most collaborative album to date which was a challenge for me as I tend to guard our songs pretty closely from outside influence.
Lucas is one of my dearest friends which made me a little nervous as collaboration could be challenging but it was shockingly fun and effortless. We have a lot of aesthetic ground in common but the exciting moments were when they’d suggest something that made me uncomfortable. I softened my grip and chose to blindly trust in their vision, even when I had difficulty seeing it myself. In every instance it was the right choice.
What is the biggest influence of your songwriting? Is it diaristic or therapeutic?
I’m not sure that writing is therapeutic for me, think it’s more like wistful wallowing ha? As I grow older I’m constantly making an effort to draw from emotions that are lighter but the difficult ones seem to come much more naturally to me. Oftentimes I won’t think they’re diaristic as I rarely write from my own perspective, sometimes bouncing between two or more characters in a single song. With this album it wasn’t until all songs were finished and assembled that I realised almost every line has some parallel to my life, even the ones where I intentionally tried to write less situationally and more visually.
Do the stories of the relationship you came out of on this album feel nostalgic?
Sure I think it’s only human to feel nostalgic for situations both good and bad. We’re cursed as a species with the ability to look back. Maybe there’s a sense of comfort in it as the future is often too overwhelming or hazy to project. Even when things are good I’m nostalgic for the intensity of life that difficult situations can bring ha. I could only imagine others feel the same?
And do the imagined futures have a sense of future nostalgia?
Of course, I think nostalgia is just a sense of yearning for some imagined sense of perfection, be it past or future. Difficult times have a sense of perfection to them too when I look back at them, a certain romantic magnificence that in reality is probably much messier.
Is nostalgia something you feel a lot? Both in this album and in life generally?
Unfortunately yes ha.
How long have you played music together as brothers?
We’ve played music together since we were in elementary school. We used to perform trumpet duets of our favourite TV show themes and Christmas songs for school assemblies and things. It wasn’t until junior high when I picked up guitar and Anton started playing the drums that we started messing around with our own songs. Back then it was more improvisatory, lots of pedals and looping with no real agenda or aspirations to perform live.
What’s the dynamic of the band? And what does the live set up look like/ hope to look like?
We’ve recently expanded our lineup to a 5 piece which is very exciting. Our longtime friend and guitarist Daniel Rosenbaum is still playing in the current iteration of the band. Our friend Jordan Sabolick who played bass on the record moved to Seattle during the pandemic, so we’ve enlisted Erica Shafer who’s a super talented multi-instrumentalist. Lincoln Mendell is playing keys with us too, so we’re ditching the backing tracks for the first time which has been so liberating. He’s a synth wiz and was able to learn all the details on the record by ear and dial in the sounds perfectly. Really looking forward to bringing this album to life on stage sometime soon.
The music videos feature eccentric characters and people, are they extensions of yourself? Or do they represent something else?
To me the characters in the videos are abstract representations of subjects and themes that appear throughout the album. A song like “Black City Nights” depicts some pretty vivid scenarios, so instead of being too literal we opted for two defeated figures chasing ghosts of their pasts, who despite their struggles maintain a blind sense of optimism that things will get better if they just keep pushing. The diva and sad clown/mime characters seemed to capture that essence, with the missed connection narrative used to portray a sense of loneliness and the lengths people will go to escape it.
Bloom Off The Rose is out now via Shelflife Records/Discos de Kirlian. Purchase here.
Victoria Cheong aka New Chance is the latest signing to We Are Time records, a label that seems intent on releasing only the most captivating independent music. Emerging out of the Toronto DIY scene, Cheong has spent the last decade or so creating a name for herself, thanks to her enigmatic live performances that both seek to challenge and encapsulate the audience. Outside of New Chance Cheong provides backing vocals for folk artist Jennifer Castle and New York post-punk outfit Chandra.
Cheong’s debut album Real Time is an exploration of just that, the flows and ebbs of the one thing we all wish we had more of. Soundtracked by a collection of songs that both exist in their own worlds whilst drawing aspects of the real world in to amalgamate into something that at its core will leave you entranced. Through elements of retro-rave beats, ambient synths and club-worthy samples Cheong has created an album that is ultimately fascinating, you never know which turn it will take next. We caught up with Victoria to learn all about its creation and her time as an artist up to this point.
Over what time and whereabouts was the album written and recorded?
About half of it was written before the pandemic and partly when I was performing and about half of it was written during the pandemic. I did all of the recording on my own at home during lockdown. So over a period of 9 months in 2020.
Did the lockdown give you a chance to work on ideas that you wouldn’t of had time to do otherwise?
I would have been on tour with other projects for most of 2020, but then obviously they all got cancelled and there was nothing left to do but to work on my own stuff. Which turned out to be a blessing in the sense that I’d been struggling to find the time for a number of years.
When writing songs you like to play them live to adapt them and change them based on that moment, did the last year without shows change the way you wrote the songs for the album?
Yeah totally, I ended up writing in the studio and I haven’t yet even figured out how to play those songs live. I also added so many vocal layers that I need to now figure out how to bring them into a live environment because it’s always just been me solo before. So it was a bit different and I learned a lot about recording because I’ve been a bit more of a performing artist than a recording artist in the past.
What was the biggest thing you learnt?
I think you can get away with a lot in a performance setting. In a way you just have to be very present which is its own thing and being with an audience which is its own challenge. On recordings songs are so different because you’re trying to achieve this idealised version of the song that represents it forever more. I just learned to get into all the details and to really flesh out parts and be a bit more dynamic with the instrumentation.
Do you think once you get back to a live setting they’ll evolve further than what they are at the moment?
I haven’t really imagined that but probably! They’ll have to be adapted and I would like to perform with singers so I would be open to changing arrangements and things like that to keep it interesting. I’m always open to re-interpreting the songs.
What do you think it is about that live space that allows that different kind of creativity to flow?
It’s the presence. You’re forced to present with whatever’s happening and when it’s over it’s over and never to be seen again. You’re just working with the energy of the moment and not trying to archive something.
You’re feeding off everything that’s going on.
It’s interesting too, having been not in those settings. Most of us haven’t been in those settings of being in a space with other people with loud music. Even just those simple elements are actually so complex. It’ll be interesting to try and step back into that, there’ll probably be a renewed sense of what all those elements contribute to. Especially after being on zoom or online and having that stand in for these real world experiences with audiences.
Are you excited or nervous to get back playing?
I think nervous because it’s been a long time actually. The last show I played was in December of 2019, so it’s been kind of a long time. I’ll have to rehearse and figure it out! Ultimately i’m excited and i’m sure it will give me something.
What was the main theme that you were trying to explore on the album?
The over-arching theme of the album is the title (Real Time) and as well as the artwork lends itself to this exploration of time. The cycles of time and our different kinds of relationships to it. It’s a pretty broad idea but I think it’s something that’s come up a lot, especially during the pandemic where our perception of time has changed. And that has something to do with our daily activities, it’s slowing down in some ways but then you go “Wow it’s been over a year since I played a show!” that doesn’t feel real. It’s this idea of “Real Time” and it’s not like I have the answer, it’s just a questioning around it.
The cover photo was a photo taken by your grandfather, does your family influence your art in any other ways?
It’s not typical for me to use my family in my artwork but it ended up being influential in this project. I had these bonsai scrapbooks of my grandfathers where he kept photos his plants and cutouts of magazines. I was fascinated by and felt connected to these scrapbooks because it’s such an interesting way to see through someone else eyes in a way. The photos that are on the cover are this night-blooming cactus that only blooms one night a year, so my grandfather would stay up to photograph it. I ended up reinterpreting these photos by turning them into cyanotype blueprints and using for the cover that show the bloom and the aftermath of the bloom, which is the wilting.
Is it the change within such a short time that captured what you wanted the album to represent?
On the whole it just represents a cycle. It’s just a very clean metaphor for the cycles of life and death. But its also something that’s relatable as a performer, the amount of energy that goes into a show that’s unseen not that glorified. The show, the big event, the production and then there’s the aftermath of that and to me all the parts of that cycle are interesting. And I think on the record the sound world is really just reflective of my personality, it’s very interested in a lot different kinds of moods and textures. Not just the kind of exclusive good looking ones.
How would you describe your sound? It incorporates elements of electronic music and ambient sounds but what do you look for when creating these songs?
That’s tough to say in a way. But any given song to me is its own world and I’m feeling my way through how to best represent that world in the greatest amount of transportive detail. So I do tend towards a lot of atmosphere and texture. I also just listen to a lot of different kinds of music and am interested in all kinds of different music, so I think as a listener of course I pick up influences from all kinds of different places. Which end up unintentionally being referenced in my music.
It’s a melting pot of influences for you.
I think so yeah. For example there’s a track where the beat is almost footwork inspired but then there’s another song that’s all vocals Bobby McFerrin style. Totally different but still a part of the magical world that I’m creating.
Is getting lost in those worlds something you try to achieve with each song?
I don’t think I try to achieve that but I’ve had people respond that way and say that it’s almost a world that you can step into and be in. And I like the idea that people are able to have that experience, that if you choose to get into it there’s a lot to discover. It’s almost like a multi-dimensional world. I really appreciate that but I’ve never thought about it consciously.
It’s more finding interesting sounds for you?
Yeah definitely and saying that “this is the feeling” so how can I flesh that out and what different sounds are going to help bring that to life.
For me personally the album has quite a meditative quality to it. Is that something you considered when writing it?
Loop based music lends itself to creating a hypnotic or meditative feeling. I’m sure that’s an influence in a way in terms of composition. But I’ve never set out to make something that’s specifically meditative. I don’t have much experience with meditation but I am drawn to the aesthetic of it and the idea of surrendering a certain part of the mind and allowing yourself to journey. I get the sense that meditation offers that but I don’t really practice! I would like to and I think it’s really called for in these intense times. To be able to use whatever tools are available to us in order to heal or find an inner strength, to cultivate a resilience both mentally and emotionally.
“Fallen” song has a lot of bird sounds and natural sounds playing throughout. How much does the natural world inspire your music?
The natural world in that sense is everything. I have such reverence for it, anything you need to know about music you can find in nature. Anything that you want to be interested in, wether it’s the voice and singing or just different rhythms. Just the sonic scape of the outside world is endlessly interesting, it’s more just a question of what your attention is on and what you’re listening to and if you’re listening. Which i’m not always but it does give me a lot when I put my attention to it. It’s so available to us but we tune it out a lot. “Fallen” has a field recording from Tobago first thing in the morning and it’s so rich with life and there’s so much happening that it’s such a busy living world even though it’s just a small island. It’s almost a representation of vitality and the interconnectedness of living things.
Did you go out and look for those field recordings or did you just hear it?
I wasn’t looking for it but I had my little zoom recorder with me on my one vacation of life haha! It’s just something you notice when you’re travelling, your senses are more heightened anyway and you notice all the differences that you would take for granted in your normal day. In Tobago in the morning which is the crack of dawn everything starts making noise and it’s echoing over the water, you can’t not notice it.
That was a world that you didn’t have to create, it was already there.
Yeah that was a world that I just put my voice in and I wanted it to feel like I was there.
Do you think over the last year everyone’s had time to reconnect with the natural world?
In Toronto now the hot ticket on a Friday night is now going to the hill and watching the sunset which I’m not sure as many people were doing before when there were more options and that’s a really beautiful thing to see. It definitely feels like a positive change in the sense that people are appreciating the world that we live in. It’s very grounding and we’ve needed to feel okay because the future feels so uncertain.
Does your work with other projects as part of the Toronto DIY scene influence your sound at all?
Yeah usually in other bands i’m a backup singer so writing different vocal parts, and all that stuff was very influential to the vocals on this record. Just learning how to put backing vocals into songs and also wanting that vibe, wanting the voice to be very present and take up space and have personality. Definitely from back up singing i’ve realised that audience really respond so immediately to singing and the voice. Backup singers are usually considered the least important members of the band in a way but I know from my experience at least that audiences really connect with harmonies, singing and just the voice in general.
What do you think it is about the human voice that’s so captivating?
It’s such a fundamental way of connecting with people. I tend to think of it as heart centered communication, it’s emotional. You can communicate so much through the instrument of the voice and it’s immediately received and understood as a human emotional experience.
It’s also a lot more adaptable than say a guitar.
There’s so much you can do to the voice in the studio now, just editing and treating it with autotune and that kind of thing. I’ve heard people that can just sing like that or imitate it, the human voice can just imitate anything. It’s just interesting how the voice can adapt and evolve to whatever the influential sounds may be that people hear. Like not knowing that it wasn’t autotune or some kind of effect but it was their voice working really hard to produce some kind of effect.
How long have you been a part of the DIY scene in Toronto and what is it about those communities that’s so important?
I’ve been a part of them for around 15-20 years and they’re so important as they’re place for nurturing and a place to grow. There’s also a lot of cross pollination and inter-connected collaboration available. I think it fosters community which is important otherwise you’re just like I was this past year, alone at home producing. I think the main thing is fostering artistic growth and experimentation in ways that can be surprising when you’re in it. It’s like a garden where different things are in bloom at different times and things pop up that you weren’t expecting and things influence each other. It’s alive like an eco-system.
There’s a lot of aspects of the music industry that aren’t like that all where it’s very compartmentalised and transactional and that’s just not a good feeling to be working in. The creative process is a whole other thing that requires certain conditions that the DIY scene provides. There are other entities that are just about making money off of artists that don’t know anything about that, or care! They don’t care how things become amazing or how someone writes a hit song. There’s some magic that you need to tend to and respect that takes more time than the system at large.
How much did they evolve you as an artist?
They definitely provided me with the space to try a lot of new things and experiment. I’ve been encouraged locally and that’s how I am where I am.
Do you think people have come to appreciate the spaces and communities more seeing as they’ve had to stop for that last year?
I’m not sure. In Toronto and a lot of major cities we’re under a lot of pressure to just make money and be able to survive so I’m not sure what people have been up to necessarily and I think people are making a lot of big changes in their lives. It still remains to be seen how everything will pan out so to speak. I don’t really know. I think people have fantasised about going to a club or be on a dance-floor and felt that loss. But you can’t even let yourself go their mentally at the moment because it’s so painful to think of just how much we’ve lost. As a performing artist where that’s my job I haven’t been able to do anything apart from small things online.
I can imagine small shows happening from now but it’s very hard to imagine these big shows happening but there’s so much beyond our control.
If anything what would be something you’d change about the music industry?
If it could be concrete and straight away then it would be how artists are compensated for streaming. It’s basically stealing. I don’t know the ins and outs of how to change that, it’s obviously legislation is the only way that companies are going to pay out more. The streaming situation for artists is just unsustainable for lots of artists, even ones who have lots of fans and streams. So that would be a clear thing I would change.
Anna Leone creates the type of music that immediately spellbinds you with its incredible natural aura and ability to encapsulate you through every subtle movement. Growing the youngest of five sisters in Stockholm, Anna sought comfort not always in people but the stories that are told through video games and comic books. The ever expanding stories of the Marvel & DC comics soon became a home away from the real world for Anna, becoming absorbed and surrounded by the deep and rich storytelling.
She first emerged back in 2018 with her dazzling debut EP Wandering Away, a collection of heartfelt and earnestly bright songs that showcased her tender vocal trance and carefully constructed sounds. She has since gone on to win at the 2020 Music Moves Talent Awards and yesterday announced her long awaited debut album I’ve Felt All These Things, set to be released on September 10th via AllPoints/ Half Awake. We spoke to Anna over a very temperamental phone connection to learn all about her journey as an artist and what the album means to her.
Over what sort of time and whereabouts was the album recorded?
I recorded it two years ago now, between 2018 and 2019, I feel like I’ve lost track of time recently. I recorded it in LA with Paul Butler as a producer and we went in in instalments since I’m from Sweden. I don’t have a visa or anything so I went there twice for the album and then we went back again. It was very much a back and forth situation from LA to Stockholm.
Has sitting on the album for so long made you want to go back and change anything at all?
I haven’t dared to listen to it again! I want to be able to disconnect from it a little bit. Mainly because during the album process I was so wrapped up in it. And I think it’s still quite painful in a way for me to listen back to it, so I want to distance myself as much as possible so that I’m not a wreck when I sing the songs live or talk about them. And everything that has to do with marketing the project, I want to feel a little bit more disconnected than I’m able to be.
Is that due to themes of the album and what you were writing about around that time?
I love the album and I’m really proud of what Paul an I did together and everyone else involved within the album process. I’m really proud of the album and of the songs. But I’m so emotionally attached to the songs as they’re a mix of reminding me things that I felt at the time. I was going through depression when I wrote it and I’m still kind of in that space right now so just reliving those songs feels kind of tough. But also I think the music is really healing for me and painful at the same time so it’s a double edged sword.
Did writing these songs help you overcome what you were feeling at the time?
Yes, they didn’t solve anything at all but I think they were comforting at the time. It’s also cathartic sorting through your emotions as well. Being able to put it on the page helps you to analyse and see the situation clearer. And discovering what you’re feeling as well.
In the video for “Still I Wait” you’re all in this refurbished hospital showing people separated, was that inspired by last year or was that planned before?
The idea from it came from Savannah Setten, the director. It was after COVID hit but before the isolation aspect of it started. But the song in itself has also always represented that feeling so it felt natural to show it in the visual way that we did. But it also coincided with the pandemic so it was a real coincidence.
Do you think that now the last year has happened, there’s been a new meaning been placed on the song?
Yeah I think maybe more the video and the song together. I think when I looked back at it I thought “Oh this is actually sensitive of what’s going on”. Everyone is talking more about connection nowadays and how people find connection and who we become without it. So I think that’s an interesting perspective that we have now that we might have not had before.
Did you find yourself finding a connection with yourself on the album as well as other people?
Yeah the album is definitely very centered around myself but also loneliness and how that can manifest itself. And how you can try to reach out to other people and love them other people but also making sure you can love yourself.
You’ve said before you’re a fan of the DC and Marvel comics, what drew you to them originally? And how long have you been reading those?
It started when I used to watch them on Sunday morning cartoons. The old Justice League and X-Men shows. I grew up with that so I’ve always been a fan of those universes. I think comics-wise it started with Batman by Frank Miller so it was the really dark stories. That’s what drew me to them, the realism, the gritty, the really deep questions of “Why are they vigilantes?”. Then with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I’ve been really into that.
Does the storytelling from the darker side of the comics influenced the stories you tell within your songs?
It’s what I find interesting about it. The stories are about superheroes but it’s also about the person behind them and what a human does in extreme situations and the extreme emotions they face and the weight of responsibility. I think the emotional turmoil behind that life is really interesting. So I guess that’s what inspires me in that way. It’s also something I find really exciting, but I don’t think it’s the exciting side that translates more to my music, more the psychological aspect.
Who would you say would be some of your other biggest influences for your sound?
Bob Dylan and Laura Marling I think about a lot. I’m really drawn to these singer-songwriters who really explore different sounds with the guitar and that can be really sparse and have a raw feeling with their songs. They don’t have to rely on production, it’s just a beautiful song within itself. I’ve always loved the strings that Lana Del Rey uses, how she creates this cinematic universe with her sound. It feels like you’re stepping into her world.
Is creating a world within your songs something you try to achieve?
Yeah definitely. I think that’s a great goal of mine, to be able to lose yourself within the songs. You can almost drift off in a way. A lot of people have told me that they fall asleep to my songs! Which is fun haha. They’ve said it’s because I have a soothing voice and I like that idea that you’re entranced in a way. It’s not something that you put on in the background, you’re present in the music.
It’s almost entering a meditative state where the music is relaxing you.
Yeah I think that it’s a cool thing to represent.
Originally you never intended to release your own music, rather just playing it for yourself. What brought you to the point of deciding to release your own music?
I never thought that I would become an artist because despite listening to folk singers like Simon & Garfunkel or other people I looked up to, I saw the word “artist” as something that I wasn’t and something that I couldn’t be. Mainly because I felt very introverted and I thought that to be a singer and to release music you have to be a certain kind of extroverted person. So that’s why I didn’t picture myself in that industry. I don’t know exactly what changed but I guess it was me creating my own music and feeling that “well maybe I should give this a go”. After that both my sisters connected me in different directions. And then I started working with Mica Elig, my partner in crime right now and who has been for a few years. He’s really supportive and very ambitious and he’s driving me to get out of my comfort zone in a good way.
Is coming out of your comfort zone something you try to do often when writing songs?
I think my main thing is that I shouldn’t hold back when I’m writing. I shouldn’t think too much about how the song will be received or thinking “I can’t write this because it’s too honest”. I feel as if I should just write for myself, as if it was never going to be released. And then I just release it! Otherwise it would just feel like I’m holding myself back in that sense.
What’s it been like releasing this music at the moment without having any shows to support it?
It’s weird because you kind of need that exposure that you get from live shows. So from a business perspective it’s much harder to get the songs out there. But I’m really afraid of the stage and I have stage fright, so for me it’s been kind of nice in a way to release music and be able to have that be the main way that people consume the songs. That’s my main way of delivering emotions. I was looking forward to touring and meeting people and performing the songs live because that’s a whole different world for me.
You get that connection from people. But at the same time people appreciate the album as what it is as that’s all they can have.
It’s nice that people can dive into it that way.
I’ve Felt All These Things is out September 10th via AllPoints/ Half Awake, pre-order here.