Even if you have not heard of Eliza and the Bear, you are likely to have listened to them due to the fact that their song ‘Friends’ has been gracing the Bulmers advert across commercial television over the past month or so. Their feel-good pop music vibe has been gathering them fans at a rapid pace, and the five boys look like they could be capturing a much bigger audience soon. (more…)
Woman’s Hour pick up attention without always trying to thanks to their band name. The relieving thing about this is that they deserve that attention. Their brand of smooth indie washes over the listener, using unobtrusive synths and occasional brass, to create a blend of some of the best elements of indie music.
They’ve been garnering support for a while now, having first released singles in 2011 before taking a break to record an album at their own pace. Fiona Burgess, the band’s lead singer, said that initially, everything happened very quickly for the band.
“When we first started the band, we were completely naïve and non-professional. It was a case of playing in our bedrooms. We didn’t really expect to ever release anything.”
“When we were first approached by someone to release a single we were kind of flattered. I think that the fact that we were so flattered kind of worked against us because we weren’t prepared.”
“We didn’t like the feeling of not being involved in something which was representing us and our music.”
“It was after that moment that we all decided to commit to the band in a more professional way.”
It became a very holistic approach that the band took, making sure that they were in control with all of the visual elements of their performances, art work and videos. At Village Underground in London, where they kick off the tour which also recently took them to Cellar in Oxford, the stage is dominated by the same pyramids which make up the front cover of their debut album.
“We got quite excited about the idea of thinking about what kind of style we wanted our output to be and what we wanted it to reflect and what we wanted to communicate.”
“We also met the artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg. They’re photographers but they’re really kind of fine artists. They showed an interest in our curiosity about art work.”
This new friendship sparked a collaboration based around the use of pedagogic manuals which contained the equivalent of the internet age’s stock photos.
“We looked at these images and thought, “Well, what happens when you take them out of that context, how do you read them?””
“When they’re used as artwork, they’re completely recontextualised, they take on a different meaning. And also they kind of maintain this ambiguity.”
“There’s some beauty in ambiguity…There’s something to be said about allowing the viewer or the listener not to be told”
Ambiguity is a core part of Woman’s Hour’s creative ideals. Taking complete control of the visual aspects of their output was particularly an effort to not have a message dictated over it. When Fiona talks about the band’s latest single, ‘In Stillness We Remain’, she seems cagey about it.
“For me I guess it was a kind of reflection on a time of uncertainty and that’s actually what the whole song is about. It’s about kind of being in limbo.”
It’s only later in the interview she admits that Woman’s Hour try to shy away from an over analysis of their songs.
“I struggle to articulate songs’ meanings because I feel as though there’s some beauty in ambiguity and there’s beauty in the eye of the beholder.”
“I remember being a kid and my mum taking me into an art gallery. She refused to read any of the literature about what she was about to see before she went into the space, because she just wanted to experience the artwork. She didn’t want to be told how she should read it or what it was she was seeing.”
“I think that experience really affected me as a kid and I became really fascinated with the idea of not knowing that much about what I was looking at.”
“If you’re curious enough you can always find out afterwards but there’s something to be said about allowing the viewer or the listener to not be told.”
It’s a refreshing manifesto to hear when bands are often hounded to impart what all their creativity is based upon. Artists like Taylor Swift get to see the double edged sword of this element of music journalism, as she is criticised for making her songs references too explicit.
With a band name like Woman’s Hour, you would expect the band to have some strongly held opinions, but you would be wrong to read the band name as a statement. It was actually a result of the band naming their original song writing efforts after Radio 4 shows. Woman’s Hour was the one that stuck.
The portrayal of women in music is still something that concerns and perplexes Fiona Burgess.
“There’s this obsession with the central female character, rather than looking at all the different women in the music industry”
“The way we view women [in music] is like they are the lead singers. Rarely are guitarists or drummers or bassists, who happen to be women in a band, on the front cover of magazines. It’s always this kind of individual iconic female popstar.”
“I think that’s something that worries me. There’s this obsession with the central female character, rather than looking at all the different women in the music industry who are behind the scenes, or at least not in the lead role.”
This attitude pertains in particular to Woman’s Hour who despite being female-fronted, are very much a four person band.
“Josh (Hunnisett, keyboards) was saying that when you see four guys you think of them as a band but when people see one female singer and three guys, they might just think that [the men] are the backing band.”
“It’s so interesting how gender is so important in terms of how people read artists and how people read the roles that people play.”
“There’s this kind of social code that plays into everything.”
Six-piece American group Phox returned to the UK in August, following the release of their self-titled debut album at the start of this month. The charming record has gained the sextet coverage from a whole host of publications, including the New York Times, as their coverage and fan-base starts to grow. We had a chat with Matt Holmen, who, along with Monica Martin, Jason Krunnfusz, Zach Johnston, Matteo Roberts and Davey Roberts, makes up one sixth of Phox, for a chat about the new album, his musical journey and being a small-town band.
Although mention of Phox may return a few blank stares, the band have found themselves growing in popularity in the UK. They’re touring here later in the year, but stopped by in a whisk of European festival dates to play a couple of venues. Their gig at St Pancras Old Church, in London, sold out completely and iTunes recently chose ‘Kingfisher’, a soulful folk song from the album, as a free-single of the week.
Due to their downrightly unique sound, it can be somewhat difficult to translate the music into words. The instruments themselves are bright and light, with Monica Martin’s lead vocals melodically tying the instruments together with ease. With such a gifted singer and individual musicians, its no wonder that Phox are gaining success without mainstream music. “We’re a melody first band.” Matt said, pausing a little when asked how to pin Phox down. “We use a lot of different musical idioms but I think at the root of it it’s folk music. I know that’s hard to define these days. People sometimes say we’re techno or chamber folk too.”
Despite creating this wonderful blend of folk, the band members themselves are not so heavily involved with the genre. “Everyone [in the band] has very different tastes – from rap to choral music to soul to indie-rock and some hardcore even. There’s a whole variety.” This versatility has allowed Phox to play festivals and gigs alongside a wide spectrum of artists. Most notably, the group supported Laura Mvula when she popped to the States, as well as The Lumineers last year. “It was Laura’s first time in the US – I think she was coming for Coachella – but we caught her on the East Coast.” explained Matt, “We played in some really nice, attentive rooms. People were definitely there to listen which was so nice! Over here, we got the iTunes Festival slot with The Lumineers last fall. I think that was the biggest show we’ve ever played. It was at a really amazing venue too, the Roundhouse in London!”
Playing to crowds across the pond was never on the Wisconsin band’s radar. High school friends who went their separate ways following graduation, they all found themselves return to their town of Barbaroo, where Phox was born. “We’re all from the same small town,” Matt put it simply, “so it’s really challenging to not make music. We all played in different groups for a while, but really we all just ended up in the same place at the same time. Music was a thing we could do together, as it was for the majority of our friend group, so it was just a way to hang out. Then we had other friends in Madison [Wisconsin, where Phox settled] who encouraged us to play more shows and get out and do more.” The band actually got a house together too, as they were starting to pick up the pace with their music. But, how does living in such close proximity affect the group? “It just connects everything else, I guess.” mused Matt, “We had an idea of how to work together in other ways. There’s a shorthand when communicating about music because there’s a lot of crossover in how we communicate with each other about personal things, like doing the dishes.”
Be that as it may, Phox found themselves emerging onto an already competitive music scene as artists from music hotspots – Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New York – were regularly catapulted to the tops of their fields. Barbaroo and Madison are not quite known for the same amount of music artists, but Matt feels their origins only worked to their advantage. “I think it’s easier. We’re more directly in touch with the fanbase, being from a smaller town means you have a quicker route to understanding your demographic and being able to feel something for it. It’s actually so much less competition – there were just a couple of our friends’ bands in the same genre as us. I mean, in Madison we have the whole reggae and punk scene which we’re not really a part of…at all a part of. Being from a small town was a benefit for us. It allowed us to grow quickly and develop our music ourselves.”
For Matt, Wisconsin always held the possibility of musical stardom. “The first time I conceptualised being in a band was with Zach when I was ten. I think we sang into a shampoo bottle…wait, no. That’s too stereotypical. It must have been a ball-point pen,” he corrected, “and we were singing into a mirror to Reel Big Fish, Zach was playing guitar and I was singing into the mirror. He was like ‘Hey Matt, the crowd’s over here.’ So I turned around and faced the other direction”.
Although the musical dream began a good time before, the members of Phox have found that in the two and a half years since the band’s formation the group has changed musically. “We’ve taken away some of the excess elements. We, for a long time, improvised a lot and played over each other to see which ideas were sticking. We’ve learned how to collaborate without just shouting over each other. The music and the genre and the instrumentation is primarily just the same but the way we’re playing it is different.”
Phox’s debut hit British shops at the very start of September. “These are all the best songs we’ve written as a band. Some of them are two years old, some are only a few months old. We’ve been adjusting them and playing them in different settings – some of the songs have been played in coffee shops in Madison, as well as at iTunes Festival in London – and through the playing of those songs we’ve found arrangements of them that we felt was appropriate. It took a while to get through all the ideas, so after pulling all that stuff we wanted to put out a group of songs which we thought were our strongest over the last couple of years.” The fact that almost every song, including Matt’s personal favourite 1936, was recorded in a day or two pays tribute to the band’s professionalism. The album was released in the USA earlier this summer, to some great reviews. “The reception has been incredible,” Matt gushed, “We toured the US for about two months and it was really surprising in places that we’d never been to before, where people knew the songs.”
The next few months are certainly busy for Phox. With a US tour followed almost immediately by European tour dates, including some in the UK, and then more festival slots, the group will surely take a well-deserved holiday rest.
Phox’s self-titled debut was released by Partisan Records on September 1st.
I stand at the top of The Royal Mile and look out across the mass of faces pushing through the throb of people. As flyers glide about of their own accord, seemingly bereft of owners, more paper is pushed into my reluctant hands. I filter in between shoulders, searching for a familiar face. My luggage is pulled tight against my back as I tackle the swathe head-on. Acting troupes strike poses; the roller-skating dancers spin mid-split; a girl sings next to a boy with a slide guitar. Street artist after street artist, performer upon performer, the next Big Thing follows me wherever I go. “See The Rebirth of Renaissance theatre: 50 Shades The Musical!” Over there is a topless man in a kilt juggling knives whilst balancing on an upright ladder. “Come get your tickets for The Best Worst Show at The Fringe!” The topless man taunts his audience and takes off his kilt. “Do you like words? This play has words.” Earlier, someone had offered to read my mind in exchange for their flyer – I think I prefer the bizarre sells. “What do we want? Hearing aids. When do we want them? Hearing Aids.” It’s all rather disorientating.
No sooner had I escaped the immediate craze of the throng did I come across a melee of a cappella groups, housed by temporary stages. Each choir bands together on their platforms, moving with the arrangements, singing-out to an instrument-less beat. I’m looking for one a cappella group in particular, The Oxford Gargoyles. If you’ve been to The Fringe anytime these past nine years, or live locally in Oxford, you might have heard of them. They sing jazz a cappella and they’re always dressed to impress. Whatever time the show, it’s evening wear without fail.
I spot current Gargoyle Elsa Field and walk over to make myself known. She guides me to C Venue on Chambers Street for this afternoon’s performance. I expect a bowtie song and dance, with singers doubling as instruments, whooping like trumpets and twanging like guitars. Call me a sceptic of the a cappella tradition, but I’m not much a fan of anything remotely similar to the American television smash hit Glee. It seems fair to say that that particular wave has peaked and subsided, fascination and all. Whilst many groups still ghost this tradition, conversing more or less exclusively in Top 40 remixes, The Gargoyles hit up a refreshing concoction of swing, funk, and jazz. Dosing dulcet licks and soothing energy, this bunch of singers are your remedy to the Old Hat Copycats of a cappella.
Having seen them scat previously in and around Oxford, I prepare myself for the usual recital and recline. I didn’t prepare myself for lightshow theatre, or choreography that winks and ribs you into smiling, or the occasional brandish and swish of a prop. I have a good time. And it isn’t too musical hall either. The production sounds like a soft big band who play easy on the ears, but who aren’t afraid to fool around with up-beat tracks or wail high notes like they really meant it. The Gargoyles open with In the Mood and rub you just so. Next they Pass Me the Jazz, followed by a slick rendition of blues classic Fever. A take on Tower of Power’s Diggin’ On James Brown is certainly a highlight; gilded with scat and full of strut, the tongue’s placed firmly in cheek with this one. A few songs later, three couples in the rows ahead cradle one another during the closing moments of Unforgettable. It is an unusually bare and vulnerable arrangement of a song popularised by sweeping strings and Nat King Cole; a version that may prove to be marmite for many. Wonderfully choreographed, Disney’s Friend Like Me is a crowd pleasing encore as well as a fitting finale. From Glenn Miller to Top Cat, there’s something in the set for both the jazz veteran and virgin.
I managed to catch up with three of the Gargoyles later that week. Elsa Field, Sam Galler and current musical director Caroline Hall answered a few of my questions about their Edinburgh Fringe run, the Gargs’ future, and the possibility of a music video.
Check out the interview below.
Laura Welsh is definitely one to watch. Following her successful stint on Gorgon City’s summer dance track, ‘Here for You’ and putting the finishing touches to her debut album, Laura’s certainly on the path to success. In light of the release of her latest single, ‘Break the Fall’, we caught up with the songstress to talk song writing and collaborations.
Although only releasing a couple of tracks as singles, Laura is certainly no stranger to putting her own music out there. “It’s been good to put music online and get things out organically. I’ve been putting music online for the last year, so I just wanna keep putting music out there.” The use of popular music sharing site SoundCloud to release her own songs has certainly been successful – Laura’s profile now boasts an impressive 11,000 followers with some of her most popular tracks gaining well over 100,000 plays. “I’m really happy with the response,” Laura admitted to me, “Some people on online blogs and stuff have been amazing to me. I think it’s really good when you get that response. I just wanted to let the music go out and speak for itself, so having a good reaction to it has been amazing.” Tumblr also helped Laura spread her musical wings and upped her popularity, so much so that she already has a dedicated fan base, something she’s not quite used to yet. “When you play a gig and you see people singing back your lyrics to you it’s really strange, but also very cool!” she laughed.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey to musical success for Laura. “I’ve always loved to sing, I loved music from an early age,” a factor that determined the course of her education. “I studied music in Birmingham for a couple of years, then moved to London for my final year.” It was this transition that allowed Laura to find her footing in the music scene. “That’s when I started meeting musicians. I was in a band for a period of time. We did a lot of gigs and it gave me that experience to start really writing songs but, to be honest, that all fell apart. We all went our separate ways and I was at a cross-roads thinking about where I was going to go next. I took a year back and steped away from everything and in that time I started writing. I found a couple of people to work with and I started doing demos with them.” The unfortunate dissolution of this band turned out to be a lucky break for Laura. “I wrote a couple of key songs for the album then. I didn’t have any expectations for it really, and that freedom that arises when things fall apart, it had to happen for me to have the time to write those songs. ‘Ghosts’ went online and the response was amazing, then I was signed and started making the album. I had a real sense of what I wanted to do musically at that point.”
Laura already has a top ten hit under her belt. Her collaboration with Gorgon City on ‘Here For You’ quickly became one of the songs for the summer, and nabbed Laura performances at Glastonbury, Ibiza Rocks and Reading/Leeds festivals. Laura’s certainly aware of how fortunate she was to get on board with the team. “I went into the studio in December, and it was to write. I’d listened to a couple of things the guys had done, so it was just a case of going in, meeting them and hanging out. When we got in the studio we clicked really well and we wrote and laid that one song down in one day. I left the studio and didn’t think anything else of it, until a few months later when they said it’d be their next single. Musically, it’s a different world for me to step into.” Having had such success experimenting with genre, it’s no wonder that stripped-down and raw Laura would be up for that again. “For me, it’s whether I like what someone does. I’m always up for collab, getting in a studio and seeing if you click, but I think its important to do what you love. If it was a song where I fell in love, regardless of genre, and I clicked while writing, then I’d do it.”
During the process of writing and recording her album, Laura’s had the chance to work with some big names in the music industry. “I’ve co-written a lot on the album,” she confessed, “It’s been an amazing experience working with people I love anyway.” Robin Hannibal, Dev Hynes and Jonathan Lipsey are all credited on the album. “They’re all people I massively respect, so to just go into a studio with them and get into the production side of the record has been great for me,” Laura gushed, “With Robin I went over to LA and hung out. You become friends, so it feels natural to sit down and start making music together.” Even when writing with someone else, Laura’s songwriting maintains its highly personal and honest appeal. “It comes from personal experiences,” she explained, “I can only write about what I’m going through. I’ve always been a certain way and it’s in my nature to find it easier to write about how I’m truly feeling as opposed to having conversations about it. When I’m writing it just comes out and there’s no filter there for all those built-up emotions.”
Fans need to get excited – the album is finished, and Laura hopes it’ll be out early next year. In the meantime, another single looks to be on the cards. “I’m starting to get ideas for the next single, so I’m hoping to release another track later this year.”