How is your tour going? It’s going great, I just got back from China and South Korea. Before then we were [travelling] all along the East Coast of America and the South. We were in the US for about three months; we played all our own shows and then we did some stuff with Alabama Shakes. Before that we were in the UK doing Lionel Ritchie’s support tour which was really good fun. We’ve just been going since March/April, right the way through to now and we are about to start our UK tour.
Wow you’ve really been travelling non-stop for nearly a year! Yeah we’ve been around the world twice: once in one direction and once in the other direction.
What are you looking forward to most? The south west is quite different from the region you’re from in Leeds… I guess I am looking forward to being back and seeing people. I haven’t been back in the UK for a really long time. You know it’s really nice to reconnect with people; I always do a meet and greet after the show, I really like saying hi to people, signing people’s copy of the record and talking to them. One of the things I like the most is hearing other people’s stories and getting to know them, so I guess that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to. I love just being in different cities in the UK and getting to know the cultures, and just how diverse the different cultures are.
It sounds like you really enjoy being on the road and everything that comes with it then. Is that one of your favourite parts of your job? I mean I didn’t really travel that much as a kid or when I was a student so my first experience of travelling was travelling with my record. It was the first time I had been to France or Italy or Spain or Germany or any of these places. Getting to go to lots of different American cities and then being in Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina, South-Africa… it’s just a real pleasure. This was the first time I had ever been to China and being in Shanghai I weirdly felt at home, it’s such an interesting, international city and I loved it. Which city are you in right now as you’re writing?
I’m calling you from Exeter where I’m at university at the moment! Not far from your upcoming gig in Bristol, actually Oh cool, wow congratulations!
Thank you. If you could change one thing about the experience of travelling around all the time what would it be? Oh, I think it would be not having jet-lag. I would even say that teleportation would be pretty good, it would be amazing if you could just blink and be in China instead of having to be on a plane for 14 hours. Although, I do enjoy a long plane journey because it’s the one time where I don’t really have to work and I can just lie down and watch a lot of films. I watched loads of old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous on the way to China which I haven’t seen since 1993 or whenever it came out and they’re still really good! You get to do all your guilty pleasures and not work, but jet-lag is a crazy thing, you know getting to a place and being exhausted at seven in the evening and waking up starving at three in the morning, so that’s a downer.
Are you experiencing any jet-lag right now from your recent trip? Since I’ve got back from [South] Korea I’ve been waking up at like 5am, but it’s quite fun to be an early riser in Autumn though, once you get past that!
How did you go about creating The Heart Speaks In Whispers? Was it a sudden strike of inspiration or are you constantly coming up with new songs? It was a long and slow process. When I finished touring for The Sea, I wanted to have my own studio, I wanted to have a place where I could make and experiment and play around and not feel any pressure. So I’ve built a studio in Leeds which has been so rewarding for me to have my own space and not feel like I’m being watched by anyone or controlled and be able to learn how to be a producer.
How did having your own studio inform your creative process? It must have been nice to have a space to call your own and gather your thoughts in. A lot of the songs came from a sort-of subconscious place, it might have been while I was travelling and looking out of the window or when I was sitting still. Often it would just be a phrase or line or a piece of music. You know I’d be playing guitar or the piano and something would just pop into my head and then it would be a job of chasing it down and seeing where it went and seeing what could happen with this music, what the song was meant to be about.
So was this the first album where you were completely involved in the production process? I mean I was involved with the production on The Sea and my first album a little bit. I really just like to work like that and I think on my first record I was looking over Steve Chrisanthou’s - our producer - shoulder and saying “I don’t like this”, “change this” [or] “let’s get this person”. The Sea was much more from scratch [with] deciding on the editions and where we would work. We started off in this residential studio in Scarborough and this bar in the winter where it was freezing cold which kinda had a forlorn feeling to it. With this record I gave the mood of each song much more thought.
I found that the whole album has a multitude of different moods to it. I love the warm calm of Night and also the upbeat Skies Will Break. Do you have a favourite track that you loved creating or just prefer above the others?
I really like how cinematic Night is, but I also love Do You Ever Think Of Me, Skies and Stop Where You Are, I guess they’re all really important in different ways. I was just writing and writing and it seemed like these songs all clumped together in the sense that they all have thematic similarity: they’re all about listening to an inner voice, nature, the body, and what we can learn from paying attention to our dreams, and how important that intuition is - those things kept coming up in the songs.
I can really relate to the song Stop Where You Are. For me it’s about living in the moment and appreciating what life is giving you right now. Absolutely. That’s increasingly important as so much of our world and the way we can interact with it can happen in screens and virtually, That’s a lot about recapping the very recent past and also sort of thinking and planning about the future, it’s so easy to be pulled out of now or to avoid boredom by kind of dipping [into] a different reality and missing the beauty of the slowness of now. That song became really important to me and I love to play it.
As someone who hails from quite a large city, Leeds, I was wondering how you find solace. What do you like doing in your spare time? Just being in nature is really important to me. I love Leeds because of its green spaces and proximity to wider Yorkshire. If I drive half an hour from my house I can be in a country pub where they don’t take cards and it’s really hard to get phone reception and people are just walking up hills, you know the Dales are here and the moors. There are lots of little villages that you can drive to and just end up leaving your car at the bottom of a hill and just walking up the hill. I like the wildness of it, you know this is where the Bronte sisters wrote and where Sylvia Plath is buried. It’s a romantic place to be, sort of a wild place.
It seems like you find a lot of your inspiration from nature then? Yeah I like being around things that are older and bigger than me, that will outlive me. In the sense of being pushed around by something that’s bigger than yourself, to me it’s very reassuring somehow. I really like to be in nature and to get lost and to feel part of the oneness; that’s an important feeling I think for me. I get that through music too. I get that when I’m on stage or when I’m at a really good gig or whatever, that feeling of being lost, like you are yourself but at the same time you are outside of time and you’re sort of interconnected with everything.
Is timelessness something you strive to do through your music? Do you feel like you try to emulate artists who have already achieved that? It’s funny, I feel like I haven’t really got an opinion of how I want my music to be if I wasn’t alive anymore. I’m not thinking that far forward. Yeah, I wonder if I’ll be able to make something bigger than myself but I think I’m just really happy to express myself in this moment. It’s amazing to be able to go to different cities in the world and feel like the music sort-of got there ahead of you.
Would you say that you have any great musical inspirations, either that you’ve looked up to forever, or simply artists or bands that have recently caught your attention? Well I got into singing through Billy Holiday and also through Kurt Cobain. Hearing two really unusual voices with lots of texture definitely made me feel more confident in my own voice which was a bit unusual and had a lot of texture. Also, I think Patti Smith is a really important voice for me, I love her writing and her poetry and her wildness; Nina Simone is another strong and uncompromising voice and I love her delicate nature and her subtlety and I also love her power and what she does with classical music and all folk music and her contribution to jazz and her politics. In terms of contemporary artists, I loved that Kendrick Lamar record. I thought that was really powerful - what he had to say and the way that it’s got spoken word, poetry and hip-hop and all that together, soul music… That’s a really great record. .
With all these fusion genres emerging how would you say the music industry has changed since you released your first record, nearly 10 years ago now? I think it’s really different mainly because of the technologies that are constantly changing in terms of how people hear music, like the difference between buying CDs and streaming music is just massive. For example when my first record came out it was all about buying CDs. When the second record came out it was all about going on iTunes and downloading tracks or like people illegally downloading, and now obviously streaming is massive.
Streaming services dominate how my friends and I listen to music, but I know a few people who have gone in the other direction and developed an obsession with old records. Steaming is an interesting way to listen to music and it makes it different for artists because you’re less likely to go on Spotify and say, “I wanna hear just this album from just this person”, it might be more like, “I like this song” and then you find a playlist with other songs around it. Then there is that thing where sometimes you go into a shop and they’re listening to Spotify and you say, “Oh what’s this song I love it!” and they don’t know because it’s just an algorithm. So I think sometimes it can be hard for us to make a noise but at the same time it’s actually easier than ever to create music because of technology, and because you’re able to sample stuff and make your recordings so cheaply and easily - I think that levels the playing field for so many musicians. Then there’s stuff you can hear on Soundcloud that people just made in their bedrooms or whatever and it’s really great music.
Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music are the largest streaming platforms at the moment, and there seems to be a sense of loyalty developing between platforms and artists. For example, after Taylor Swift’s dispute with Spotify she moved to Apple Music and her fans seem to have followed her to that platform. Do you think that streaming services will slowly replace record labels? Absolutely, and I think even more so than that I think the labels don’t even know that [this shift] is happening. So Spotify or a streaming service will pay a label a chunk of money to stream all their stuff, then the artists will get a very small amount of money. So the labels are happy, the streaming service is happy, but I think what labels don’t realise is that there’s going to be a point where the streaming services make so much money that they can afford to sign artists and they can afford to be a label themselves. So probably in the future you would sign directly to Apple Music, Spotify, or Tidal and then you wouldn’t need a label at all.
Exactly, who knows how we will be accessing your next record. Through microchip maybe? Yeah, it is interesting because my records are all quite spaced apart and I might take ages to complete the next one and there might be something completely different then!