Stornoway – Interview

Stornoway - Tales From Terra Firma

Fast auf den Tag genau ist es 2 Jahre her, dass Stornoway das letzte Mal in Deutschland unterwegs waren. Nach der Veröffentlichung ihres zweiten Longplayers „Tales From Terra Firma“ war es dann im April endlich wieder soweit und neben Frankfurt, Hamburg und Berlin stand auch Köln auf dem Tourplan für Deutschland. Dieses Mal beantwortete uns der Bassist Oli Steadman vor dem Konzert im Gebäude 9 ein paar Fragen, unter anderem wie die Chancen auf eine EP-Veröffentlichung stehen oder ob die Tatsache, dass er mit seinem Bruder Rob in Südafrika aufgewachsen ist, das Songwriting für die Band beeinflusst.

Nice to have you back in Cologne, do remember the last gig here in 2011?

Well we played here two years ago and in a different place in Cologne the September before that. It was slightly underground, it was really cool. We had Isbells supporting us, which was nice. Yeah, it’s really nice to be back.

You’re probably asked all the time if it was more difficult to make the 2nd album than the first, but what do you think, may the 3rd actually be more difficult?

For us, it’s just we’re very happy that we can continue making music and playing gigs. My favourite thing is just playing and touring, with crowds in the room. I’m not so much about the studio personally, but it’s really nice to be back on the road after a year and a half making that album. The one thing is that in order to make our second album we built a studio and it’s in my house so now I have a studio and can record my friends. I’m recording a couple artists in Oxford so I’m getting to know the studio better. I really love the touring and having our second album out means we get to tour, I’m happy.

When writing songs for the 2nd album did you have any intentions, like moving away from the folk movement or did you just concentrate on the songs themselves?

It’s kind of hard to ignore what everyone around you is saying, like getting labelled as folk and how other folk bands are doing and what the style is going to be on the next record. The most important thing is, we locked ourselves away in the studio, took a year and half and tried to come up with something that we were proud of. There’s no banjo on the second record, there’s a banjo in one song on the first record. But sometimes we get called a Banjo-Band, kind of folky band. I don’t really see where that comes from, but it’s nice to be associated with those artists like Fairport Convention, we’re all big fans of them and Vashti Bunyan, an English folk singer. We just tried to kind of make music that reflected the words really honestly and the emotions that we felt when we wrote it, so any instruments we picked or styles we came up with is just a product of the lyrics and if that happens to match other genres then that’s cool, but it’s not intentional.

There are 9 songs on the album, but you have so many more songs like The Sixth Wave which you also already performed live. Is it true that you are releasing an EP soon?

That may happen, maybe later this year. I listen to Spotify a lot and look through our playlist there and we have an album in 2010, 2011 there’s an EP and I think in 2012 we had a blank year so now we need to do an album in 2013 and an EP in 2014, then we can have a break after that. But there are lots of songs, lots of spare songs that people have heard in gigs, but haven’t made the album. There probably will be some kind of release for those. I have a lot of fun with the basslines, they are actually my favourite songs, The Sixth Wave and Waiting On The Clock. So I hope they get a list.

Stornoway live im Kölner Gebäude 9

On your album cover and the back of you LP there are comics, who had the idea of making those?

My brother the drummer laid down all his drum parts for the album and then he turned to his painting, he’s a painter, and he was coming up with ideas just kind of, I don’t know, I would call it jamming because that’s how I see music experimenting, but he was basically jamming the paints, throwing things down, seeing what ideas worked. We showed him which ones we liked, we all talked through this idea of a bed in the waves on the album cover and so he and an artist from Oxford called Kirini Kopcke , she’s actually half German, she’s from Wiesbaden, they sat down and made this idea happen. It took shape, that was the cover and we thought to go with the cover which is like a mini scene from Farewell Appalachia, it’s mentioned in the lyrics of the second verse. We wanted a similar scene from each of the songs. So we have the nine comics and each of them is represented by a line in the song, but as you said earlier it’s actually 16 or 17 songs that we recorded so we have 17 cartoons back at home ready to be released on this EP if it ever does happen. There are similar images in Tintin or Asterix, they have a kind of adventure comic feeling. It was pretty fun seeing it take shape.

A lot of the songs on the album weren’t so new to some fans because you played them live before like November song, is it more difficult to record a completely new song or songs you’re already more familiar with?

For something like Knock Me On The Head, we wanted to play that live as soon as we could, we sat around in the rehearsal studio and created each other’s parts and told each other what’s working and within a couple of days we had something that we could perform at gigs so we played that song a few times around the UK. Only after that, maybe six months after we had the live arrangement we came to recording the album and at that stage it’s very easy because we got in a room, played what you’ve been playing and then maybe add a couple of things on top. But for something like The Great Procrastinator, that was recorded before it was ever performed live, it was a real different approach. We sat around we got a couple of dogs at home and we sat with the dogs on the piano and just kind of took a day trying out all different styles but with no inttention to actually perform it live, that was all just for the record. So we went through the Americana fast banjo style and we tried like a Dixieland clarinet thing, some of that survived in the bridge of that song. It went through even a Balkan rhythm, ‘cause we’ve seen a couple of Balkan bands with DOUBLEbass and these crazy horn parts and stuff. Eventually we went back to the English folk root, we kind of pretended we were The Beatles, When I’m 64 is an inspiration on that song, the clarinet part and Jokerband kind of feel, very English pastoral feel. Only months later after we’d come up with all the ideas for the style we’d perform it. It’s just been a completely different process to Knock Me On The Head, it tends to be one of the slower songs, the less-exciting-live ones that we go through and approach and at least try a few different things. But it’s different for every song and it’s really interesting to be a part of them and the creation.

Do you have influences or inspirations?

Personally, I love African music ‘cause I’m South African and I spent the last year going back and discovering where I come from. I’ve been listening to Juluka quite a lot, and some guitarists like Mahlatini, he’s a guy who played a lot with Miriam Makeba. There’s kind of a resurgence in Zulu music at the moment with the guitar styles and people using different instruments now like harmonicas and melodicas, so I’m really interested in that quite local specific niche genre. I like experimenting with that and bringing that to my bass playing in Stornoway. But then I also listen to lots of American stuff like Of Montreal, probably my favourite band ever because they’re just pretty crazy, they got all different styles and try lots of different things. They’re more like a lyrical influence, so if I’m writing songs I always compare it to Of Montreal. But that’s just me and then the rest of the band, we’ve got such age differences and differences in where we all come from. No one else likes Of Montreal in the band, no one else has a big interest in Zulu music and I don’t share their interests in 50s Soul from America as strongly. So we each bring a different style and hopefully it comes up with this strange Stornoway mix that people seem to enjoy.

Can you imagine collaborations with any artists, like Spring Offensive maybe?

Spring Offensive are my favourite Oxford band, I’ve worked a bit with them personally and we had them support us at the Town Hall in Oxford, which was pretty cool. Oxford is the kind of town where all the bands hang out and play on each other’s records or remix each other’s tracks, so I can definitely see that kind of stuff happening. We have collaborated with some international artist where we sang a bit on a Bon Iver produced record which was Kathleen Edwards album, with one of the songs we did a kind of Zorbing harmony thing on there, which was fun. Also a guy called Anton Barbeau who’s supporting us in Berlin in a couple of days, we also had support from Otouto who are an Australian band, really cool. I really enjoy working with other people and getting their take on music and seeing how it affects the way I play it. I like the idea of it.

Stornoway live im Kölner Gebäude 9

What would you be doing now if you weren’t part of Stornoway?

I did a chemistry degree, a master’s degree and I know I would not be doing that because I really think it was not the right thing for me. I can see music is what I’m gonna stick with, but if I wasn’t performing with Stornoway I might not necessarily perform in a different identity, I might become a producer or something. I love collaborations as I said, helping other artists kind of find something in them, which is what I’ve learned from Stornoway, just experiment, see what happens. So I love to work with other people. I got my studio in Oxford now and I really do love Germany and I come here when we’re not touring, pretty much once a year, just visiting different places and I can really consider sometime spending a year in Berlin or something. If I could be producing records as my little project for a year in Berlin, that’d be really cool. But Cologne has the best music shops. It’s one of my favourite towns, Cologne. So I wouldn’t be able to choose very easily. I’m glad we’re here again so I can get to know the city a bit better.

On the topic of illegal downloads Liam Gallagher said that downloading is like tape-recording in the 90s and artists shouldn’t be complaining cause at least people are paying attention, what do you think of that?

I use Spotify all the time, everyday. That’s not illegal downloading but it’s a way of everyone winning, ‘cause the artists win and the fan gets cheap music, the artist gets exposure. So I think Spotify is like the ideal solution. On the one side of it you have record-buying which I personally often think is very expensive and not very sustainable so, I’m not really bothered if that’s in decline. I think it actually goes to supporting maybe the artists who are more manufactured and have a lot of support and maybe not as much interesting ideas to offer as other artists. On the other side you have artists who are unsigned and play their whole lives and might not ever get recognition but I think Spotify helps to bring that gap closer. Illegal downloads, I tend not to ever do that, unless someone like Michael Jackson who has made all his cash and nothing’s to be lost by having his music given away for free then I guess I can see the moral side, I would probably say it’s fine, but I still wouldn’t personally, I would find a tape somewhere and tape it because that’s more personal. That’s the thing, it’s like an emotional disconnection if you download it for free. It’s just data, coming in to your computer, there’s no physical interaction with the music and it just feels kind of cheap and trashy. In principal I don’t have a problem with illegal downloading. If someone downloaded our music on a torrent, I wouldn’t be so bothered because it gives us exposure, but personally, I wouldn’t really do it that much.

Do you have any listening tips for our readers?

I would go for my African influences, although it’s very niche and not everyone would identify with it and like it but maybe not as prolonged the way as I do. I kind of listen everyday and I can hear different layers in the music because I’m from there and I think that music is what I grew up with. So Mahlatini, Miriam Makeba and Juluka definitely. But closer to home I would say some Oxford bands like Spring Offensive and Salvation Bill, there’s a guy in Salvation Bill who has the most perfect voice. He’s been in so many different bands and they’ve all had this brilliant sound because of his voice, he’s called Ollie Thomas. I’d say Salvation Bill are on top of my recommendations for this year, as well as Wild Swim.

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