A a sunny afternoon we met up with Oxford indie folk pioneers Stornoway and over tea in the garden, talked about the Oxford music scene, their upcoming second album, and the Concert4Conservation they’re playing at The Regal this Saturday.
One Note Forever: So you guys have been festival-ing this summer?
Oli: We played somewhat fewer gigs than last year, ‘cause we’ve been focusing more on rehearsing some new songs, getting them ready, and we’ve had two or three big tours this year already, we’ve been to Australia and America for the second time, and Europe for the second time. But the festival slots we have played have been amazing, magical ones, we played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, and the main stage at Isle of Wight, so it’s been a pretty memorable summer.
OMB: Yeah, I saw your Pyramid Stage set; it was great! You played three sets at Glastonbury, is that right?
Oli: Yes, the two acoustic ones were, well, pretty cool as well.
OMB: You’re writing a new album at the moment, how’s that been going?
Brian: We’re enjoying it, it’s really nice to be doing new stuff, because we’ve been basically working on the first album for a very long time, and playing it everywhere and anywhere we can, and before it came out even, we were pretty much nonstop getting it ready and just gigging like mad, so this is, you know, the first time we’ve actually had a bit of space and time to work a lot on new things and it’s coming on really well. I think we’ve got pretty much, well, enough songs for the album and just working on the arrangement now, mainly in the garage right behind you.
OMB: How would you say the new album is different to the first one?
Brian: That’s difficult to say, I mean, we don’t know exactly what songs would end up on the album, but we’ve got a very diverse mix of styles and sounds, we kind of did for the first one as well, although we slightly refined it down in choosing what songs to put on, but, it’s a bit more lyrically…
Brian: Perverted! It’s lyrically, a bit more, I don’t know, I think it’s a bit more mature, vocally speaking
John: …that doesn’t sound very good, that equals boring!
Brian: Okay, more… intense, and, it’s quite positive, I think there’s more positivity on it, than the previous one.
Rob: I feel too in the midst of it to be able to have a clear view
Oli: …can’t think objectively right now
OMB: Is there anything that didn’t make the cut on the first album that’s come back in a different form for this one?
Brian: There is one, that is co-written with Oli, called ‘Waiting On The Clock’, which, hopefully if it turns out well when we record it, will go on the second album; it’s transformed from its original form. And there’s a song called ‘November Song’, which I played solo a few times before the last album came out, that one is a contender as well. But apart from that, they’re all new songs.
OMB: How does the song writing process work?
Rob: The first one it was mainly Brian… Brian and John, I was going to say it was all Brian, but that’s not true. But yeah on the second one, as Brian said, there’s one co-written with Oli, there’s one, we’ve just been rehearsing now that’s co-written with John. Yeah, I think we’re all agreed it’s much more collaborative this time round.
OMB: You guys obviously met in Oxford, how come you’ve never decided to move away, does it feel like home?
Rob: Well, I’ve just moved to London and Oli lives in London.
John: It’s a real drag, but we’re here anyway.
Brian: I never managed to escape, I went to university here, and just, built up a nice group of friends and haven’t really got round to leaving. I think it’s a great city, in terms of its size it’s very vibrant place, lots going on I think, and I personally am a bit scared of giant cities, I like to be able to bump into people.
OMB: How about the Oxford music scene?
John: It’s amazing, we feel really lucky in terms of music scene, ‘cause I think, probably, if we had all moved to London or something, I’m not sure things would have worked out the way they did. But there’s so many bands, it’s insane, obviously a lot of talent, I feel. It’s really nice to be able to just go to the local pub or whatever, to see the new burgeoning best band in Oxford.
Rob: We’re playing a gig at the Regal on Saturday, and the two support bands are local Oxford bands, The Epstein and Dreaming Spires, who we really like, and met a long time ago. The advantage of knowing and being within the Oxford scene is that when we do play here, and we have the luxury of choosing support bands, we get to choose really amazing ones, and I certainly find that the gigs in Oxford, when Oxford bands are playing, I actually watch them more so than in London, or overseas, and enjoy it a bit more.
Brian: It feels more, like the gigs feel more, I don’t know, they feel more like a night of music than just going to see a band, I mean when we were starting out playing in London, and I think even, you know, even at quite a high level in London, the bands don’t necessarily have a clue who they’re playing with, and the fans will often just pop in to see their friends band or whatever, or you know, the band they want to see, and then disappear again. You can headline a night, we occasionally headlined in London and played to virtually no one, even if the room had been full earlier on, it doesn’t really feel like there’s the same kind of atmosphere really. The nice thing about Oxford is that it’s still very diverse but it’s good quality stuff for the most part.
John: Good promoters, is the key.
OMB: Which Oxford bands do you guys listen to, do you have favourites?
Oli: How many are we allowed? My favourite at the moment is Spring Offensive, I’ve been listening to some of their new songs, which are really awesome, yeah, I think they’re a very promising band.
Brian: One band that I feel like deserves better than they’ve got so far is Family Machine, they’ve been around for a while, and they’re just really great musicians, and great songs.
John: I liked Message to Bears, but now they don’t exist anymore…
OMB: Did they split?
John: I think Jerome’s left for Bristol, but maybe they’ll resurface, like a phoenix, in another city, but it’s a shame that they don’t live in Oxford.
Brian: Keyboard Choir, lots of fun, and they’ve actually done a couple of remixes of our songs, which are very entertaining for us. What’s your favourite Rob?
Rob: I got really into Foals after Australia
Oli: …we got to meet Foals because we were the only other British band on this touring festival bill
John: …‘cause they’re really xenophobic
Oli: it was kind of strange that the only two English bands were both from within about half a mile of each other
Rob: but yeah, I’m a big fan.
OMB: You’ve played a lot in Oxford over the years; do you have a favourite Oxford venue?
Brian: Err, thing is they do see to change around a lot, and over the time that we’ve been here, they’ve changed in quality and atmosphere a bit.
John: Do you mean to play or to go to other stuff?
OMB: Hmm, both?
John: Ok, I really like going to the Holywell Rooms, but I don’t think we’ve – well it’s quite odd with drums in there – so I don’t think we’ve ever had the perfect gig ourselves, but I’ve often enjoyed going there to hear other people
Brian: Bullingdon Arms is a good one these days, it’s got a good sound system now, and it’s a good size and layout, I like going to gigs in there. The Cellar’s got a nice kind of, grimy, classic, sweaty gig feel, that suits some bands better than others, but it’s always good fun going to gigs in there.
Rob: We had our first ever gig in the Port Mahon I think.
Brian: Yeah, first proper full band exposed to the public gig.
John: I haven’t been there since it changed, apparently it was rebuilt or something.
Oli: I hear it’s really nice now
Rob: I’m always worried about falling through the trapdoor at the back of that room.
Brian: I’m quite excited about playing at The Regal; we’re playing there this weekend, and I’ve actually never played there, or seen a gig there, although I know these guys have, but it’s an amazing looking place, I went in there to check it out recently, and I think it’s going to be great.
OMB: How did you get involved in the conservation gig?
Brian: It’s a gig that we kind of organised ourselves really, with the help of some others. But it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and talked a little bit about to Robin at Truck, who’s helping organise it, and we, in the midst of all the craziness of last year putting out the album, and touring it, we got lots of emails from charities asking if we would do gigs for them, and we had to decline ‘cause we were so busy. One charity that got in touch though was the Sumatran Orangutan Society, who work out of The Old Music Hall on Cowley Road, and they do an incredible amount for their size, and I’d heard about them before, and so I kind of replied to that one saying possibly and hopefully, and then as time went on we managed to organise something with their help, but also benefitting a couple of other wildlife conservation charities, one called the RSPB, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, and The Earth Trust, which used to be The Northmoor Trust, that are based in Oxfordshire as well, in Little Wittenham, they’re all very effective organisations for different approaches to wildlife conservation, some locally, some nationally, and some internationally. So, yeah, we basically got some help from Robin, as I say, at Truck, and the rest of it we’ve kind of done ourselves really, in the same way as we’ve put on lots of gigs in the past, and it’s shaping up to be a good night I think, the sales seem to be going well. Every penny that we make is going to go to these charities.
OMB: And you’re auctioning off a signed guitar as well?
Oli: We’ve got that here, it’s a guitar I got a long time ago, and we’ve used it a few times, and we’re going to be playing it on the day as well, playing our own signatures.
Brian: That auction finishes on the fifth of September, just after the gig, and so we’ve obviously got the chance to promote it a bit more at the gig itself. But, yeah, it seems to have started off well, and the guitar is a fully functional Ephiphone, it’s a good one. So yeah, hopefully that’ll make a few extra bob for charity.
OMB: Did you pick the other two charities yourselves, had they contacted you?
Brian: Yeah we picked them ourselves, I’ve got a history in working in wildlife conservation, that’s kind of what I was doing before the band took off, so it’s something that’s kind of close to my heart, and something that I feel strongly about. But yeah, it always hard to choose charities in this sort of thing, ‘cause there’s so many out there, but these ones are charities that I’d had connections with, or you know, a good opinion of. Another one that narrowly missed the cut is the Buckinghamshire, Berkshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust, but we’re actually helping them out in a little side thing which is a song that we released via a company called Patagonia, and they’re selling this song and promoting it around the world, and the profits from that song are going to BBOWT. That’s on their website, and it’s called ‘You Don’t Know Anything’.
OMB: Cool, what else is in the future, after the album comes out?
Oli: Hopefully go touring as soon as possible again
Brian: that’s pretty much guaranteed really.
Oli: Rob and I are both South African, so we want to go South Africa at some point, but there’s not much of an established programme for European pop bands going out there, so we need to kind of blaze a trail, that would be a dream come true. Still got family out there, so we could probably stay with them on sofas. Yeah, then back to Australia would be another nice one.
Brian: It’s probably a little bit of a way off still because we’ve got the arranging, then the recording, and then all the edits, and bits and bobs that come, well, you know, it’s all fun but…
John: don’t get your hopes up!
Brian: yeah, er, artwork and mastering and producing and all that sort of stuff.
Rob: We’re working as fast as we can, but the last album took us about six years…
OMB: So when can we expect this one?
John: Thirty years?
Brian: No, It’s definitely going to be next year, and hopefully the first half, yeah, we’ll see.
Stornoway play Concert4Consevation this Saturday (3rd September) at the Regal, for which there are tickets available from Truck Store, online at seetickets, or on the door. You can also bid on their signed guitar here