Interview: Stornoway

After a hectic year of touring, Stornoway returned to the capital for one late night before they head over stateside.  Under City Lights caught up with them for a chat before their gig at Shepherds Bush Empire.

You guys have been touring for a while now, how do you prepare for live shows?

Oli: We like to play hacky sack before a show, and lots of stretching as well.

Rob: We started our own yoga class, and it actually felt really really good, better than if we hadn’t.

Do you have any memorable gigs from the tour?

Rob: Birmingham was very memorable for me. My best friend was at that gig, and well I was going to go to Birmingham Uni but I’m not anymore. It was the first gig of the tour so it was a bit of a scary one but the audience were really nice, singing along to lots of the songs. It was a very good atmosphere.

You’re off to America soon. Have you been touring there before?

Oli: We went to New York in July, which was really fun. And surprisingly there were loads of people there who knew all the words to our songs, and some had travelled a long way to see us. Hopefully this time we will have an even more established audience there.

You did the festival circuit this summer playing the big ones like Glastonbury, and the smaller ones like Summer Sundae. Do you prefer the larger festivals or the more intimate environment of small ones?

Rob: Well we really like a sort of intimate atmosphere, small crowds and small gigs. But definitely playing at the big ones like Glastonbury, the second year we went, was amazing because that was the biggest crowd we’ve played so far at the Park Stage. Yeah, both of them have really good atmospheres.

Oli: The thing that illustrated, for me, the difference really well was at Glastonbury we played the park Stage at about 5 in the afternoon to about 8000 people, which was really fun and exhilarating but also nerve wracking and we had some technical issues. Later on, about an hour later, we played up the hill in an unplugged tent to about 60 people and that was what I preferred, the smaller venue. There’s a more individual importance.

Your album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, focuses on nature and the outdoors. Is this a theme you think you’ll stick with?

Rob: Well that theme mostly comes from [lead singer] Brian. During his childhood he spent a lot of time in Ireland with his family by the beach, and he just loves the outdoors. He studied Zoology and Ornithology at university, so a lot of it comes from him. We’ve been described as nature kids before, which is quite a weird title but whether that carries on or not I don’t know. For future albums or EPs we definitely want to try some new stuff.

Is there a new album in the works?

Rob: Ideas, but nothing more. I suppose we’re still wanting more and more people to hear this first one, even though that had been in the works for 10 years before we released it. We’re playing one new track tonight, lots of ideas.

Do you like experimenting with your shows?

Rob: Yeah definitely, offering some new stuff. We’ve always been into that idea.

The band is named after a small Scottish town, and you played there this year. How did the crowd react, and was there pressure to do the name proud?

Oli: They were surprisingly friendly. I think part of it was just the fact that we were named after their town. I like to think that if we’d just turned up playing, I don’t know, quite generic indie rock and called ourselves Stornoway they wouldn’t have liked that. Instead they heard our music, which I think suits the landscape really well, and the kind of desolation of the island. The music is open to interpretation, so we didn’t steal their name and try to apply meaning to it. We just kind of used it almost like a faceless way to describe the music, but not imposing a meaning on it. I think they appreciated the openness of the ideas.

Rob: We also supplied them with a lot of whiskey.

Do you think you’ll be back?

Rob: Definitely, really love it. It’s a beautiful place. They don’t have any bigger venues but I’d really like to play the same venue again, the Woodland Centre. It had glass from floor to ceiling, and wood panelling, and really nice acoustics. Yeah, we’d definitely like to go there again.

The band started when you were all still at uni. Do you have any advice for bands at UCL about juggling work and their music?

Oli: Well, for me personally, I think the more time you can spend practising an instrument the better, so the time I spent at university was time away from my instrument and I feel like unfortunately it was time that didn’t contribute much to my music. I now think that most of my time could have been better spent. Although I got a degree out of it you have to weigh up the importance of the degree and the music. My advice would be to try to make as much time as possible, and be efficient, and get at least an hour’s practise or writing or just think about music everyday, so you don’t lost touch with the whole idea.

Rob: And listen to more and more different types of music. It happens to me a few times when I’m listening to a completely new band that someone’s recommended and I hear an instrument that I never thought of playing, that kind of thing where it inspires you to pick it up and learn it.

Oli: I think there’s a lot of dead time at university, where I occasionally would just sleep when I shouldn’t have slept, or go to the library and not actually do anything, or sit on a bus for ages just chatting to my friends. And those times are the times, with technology today, where you can pull out a laptop with some program and then just do a remix, or make an instrument or investigate some kind of idea, just using the dead hour in between study.

You mentioned picking up new instruments. Do you have a particular instrument that’s your favourite that you play?

Oli: I’m trying to improve on the double bass as much as possible. On this tour the double bass split open and we had to get it fixed. I basically had to put it down after a song and it was tangled around in a wire, fell off the stage and into the crowd. Luckily someone passed it back but it was in two pieces.

Rob: I’ve been learning to play the saw on this tour to play on one of the tracks because of the lack of a Theremin but it’s becoming one of my favourite instruments to play. You get lots of varied sounds.

Well thank you very much for chatting to me, and good luck with the saw and the rest of the show tonight!

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Live Review: Willard Grant Conspiracy at The Luminaire, November 23rd 2010

Benjamin Thomas is one of those people who, despite their perfect grasp of the English language, retain that pleasant characteristic twang of their home accent. In his case, Swedish. Making the trek from Crystal Palace, he delivered meat-and-potatoes blues to an attentive, if sparse, crowd. Excellent melodic guitar props up a raspy, at times powerful, voice. Bantering and explaining, gaily and honestly, between numbers, he was a perfect ice-breaker for the evening.

Willard Grant Conspiracy is an ever morphing collective based around Robert Fischer, the only permanent member. Fischer’s voice and stunning ability to deliver so accurately his intended nuances with such focus make Willard Grant Conspiracy the band they are. This was to be the penultimate date on their European tour, and the third of which I attended—this very fact says something. The tour brought Fischer and his long time collaborator David Curry around Europe.

The two seem to complement each other in an incredibly synergistic manner; a duo amounting to so much more than the sum of their parts. Fischer’s rock steady voice and strikingly natural playing provides such a solid skeleton on which Curry can place clothes (analogy thanks to their song ‘Clothes on the Skeleton’) of immense viola sounds, constantly varying and accommodating the band’s vocals, never overpowering, but always colouring in.

Fischer is a wonderfully human showman, narrating between certain songs as necessary with humour, whilst maintaining his air of intrigue. He is able to produce both gutsy power and intimate tone, with everything in between, in both his singing and his strumming. He is also very approachable, and was happy to have a chat before the show, when he is to be found somewhere or other, selling records.

The final song, marred only by a broken string (sorted heroically by Benjamin Thomas with the loan of his guitar) and tireless cretinism by a member of the audience, ‘The Ghost of the Girl in the Well’, was stunning. An already atmospheric song made spine shivering by Curry’s saw—have you ever heard a saw being played, or had any instrument send shivers down your spine with its haunting beauty? It’s incredible, and so are Willard Grant Conspiracy.

Owen Rickards