London-based Rumours is an electronic soul-pop trio made up of Mark Borgazzi, Federico Bigonzetti and Marion Solheim.
Mark and Fede come from Italy and have been making music together since childhood until they moved to London at the age of 18. There they met Norwegian student Marion and they joined forces in 2014. The band is a cosmopolitan mix of Italy, Norway and London, which somehow seems to enrich their diverse and hard-to-categorise musical style.
Blending electronic production with emotive songwriting, a key ingredient of Rumours’ sound is Mark and Marion’s intertwining male/female vocal dynamic. Their voices strike a unique balance that just works beautifully, and adds a hugely captivating edge to their music.
As we look ahead to their headline London show on 12 May, we caught up with Mark to find out more about the Rumours sound…
SYNC: Please tell us a bit about the band’s background.
MARK: Rumours came to life about two years ago. There are three of us in the band; Federico, Mark and Marion. Fede and I go way back, we grew up together in Italy, and then moved to London as soon as we turned 18. Here we met Marion, who had also moved to London from Norway and was studying at the same music school as us. We met in 2015, had an instant connection and started working together shortly after.
SYNC: How do you feel that your different nationalities/backgrounds influence your musical leanings?
MARK: We all have quite different musical backgrounds which all have a pretty strong influence on Rumours’ music. Fede, who is a producer and drummer, has always been very interested in electronic music. He follows and discovers new music from all kinds of genres and he strongly features this variety of influences in the production of our songs.
Marion’s taste and musical background is also very varied. She is currently into Neo Classical and experimental ambient music, but has a background in singing folk and soul. I think that what she brings to the table, is a more edgy and unexpected twist, especially when it comes to melodies and harmonies. My influences have been songwriters in general, but the NeoSoul and R&B artists I grew up listening to have probably shaped me more than others.
Rumours – I Do It All
SYNC: How does the band’s songwriting process work? Does one of you typically take the lead or is it a more collaborative process?
MARK: So far we have developed a process where I will find an idea and shape it into a simple arrangement before I pass it on to Fede who will then develop and work on the production of the music. Marion writes with me at different stages of the process. Sometimes I just have a hook that I really like and we develop a song around it together, sometimes I get inspiration for a more complete song all at once and we then work on the details and make changes together. As I said before, I have always admired a well-written song. I see songwriting as a craft that you need to develop and evolve constantly. To write something simple and easy to listen to, but with a relatable meaning and expression, is not such an easy thing.
SYNC: New single Invitations has a particularly smooth and emotive vibe. What’s the story behind this track?
MARK: We hadn’t released anything for quite a long time after our debut EP Shapes last year, so we were eager to share and release something new, that would reflect our development and growth. Invitations is a very rhythmic song, where the harmonies and melodies play on the contrasting range of our voices. The song is about being inspired and we want to allow that to mean different things to different people. This track is not as easy listening, or as immediately catching as some of our other songs, but is definitely an indication of what’s to come.
Rumours – Invitations
SYNC: What can fans expect from your live shows, and what are the challenges in bringing certain elements of your studio sound to the live performance?
MARK: Our live show is probably what has developed the most since we started. The show is quite loyal to our recordings but the songs gain more energy and dynamics when performed live. We’ve got a little team of good friends that add a different dimension to our live music sets. We always work with the same sound engineer, Phil. He knows our music very well and has been such a big part of achieving the right sound when we play live. Recreating our sound live can be a challenge due to the high production level of our music. This is why we have recently added a fourth musician, our talented friend Jason. He brings a whole new dimension to our live performances allowing us to better capture our studio sound. We have also recently collaborated with Claudio, a great filmmaker, for creating some visuals for our show. We received some great feedback for this at Archspace where we played our last London gig with Soundcrash.
Rumours – So Bad (Live for Sofar Sounds)
SYNC: So what are the plans beyond your upcoming live shows? Is there an album in the pipeline, and further live dates or festival appearances?
MARK: On 12 May, we will be performing at Birthdays in Dalston, London, then the following day we will be playing The Funk & Soul Weekender Festival in Camber Sands. Also later this summer we’re heading to Croatia to play Dimension Festival. We haven’t got an album on the way just yet, but we will definitely be releasing more music before the summer so please stay tuned!
Tickets for Rumours’ London show on 12 May are available here.
These are exciting times for Icelandic band Vök. Not only will they figure prominently on the upcoming 10th edition of our Sync List (an honour that, let’s face it, any band would be excited about!), but they are also about to release their new album Figure on 28 April which, if there’s any justice in the world, will see them come to far greater prominence.
Since forming in 2013, their indie-electronica style has drawn comparisons with a whole host of luminaries such as The xx and Portishead, and the sound is broadly mellow, reflective, but above all, totally atmospheric. For full effect, they need to be seen and heard live – and the UK dates on their extensive month-long European tour include stop-offs in London (17 May), Salford (18) and Bristol (19) – buy tickets here.
Given how their music has been captivating us over the past few months, we were keen to catch up with saxophonist Andri Már ahead of their tour, and find out more about the band, its inspirations, and the forthcoming live dates…
SYNC: So please tell us a bit of the background to Vök, how you guys got together etc, and who’s who in the band.
ANDRI: The beginning for us was a fluke! We started the band to try out playing live and we got hooked! Me and Margrét have been friends for the last 10 years and her and Óli grew up together. We got to know Einar about the same time we started the band but it took a couple years for us to start working together! Margrét and I write most of the music and Einar being a sound tech polishes with us and then Óli is the social media expert! We are all very different individuals but we find that it works to our advantage.
Vök – Show Me
SYNC: Although of course there have been a couple of EPs, you must be very excited about the imminent album release! How long has Figure been in the planning/making?
ANDRI: Oh yes! We are ecstatic! Figure has been in the making basically since we first started playing music. We had a very steep learning curve and had to experiment with a lot of things before we felt we were able to make this album the way we wanted to make it. But I feel it has worked in our favour, as we’ve been able to lay a good foundation for this release.
SYNC: Although there are a few obvious comparisons with the likes of The xx, the album is a way more complex package than any such simple generalisation suggests.
ANDRI: Thank you! It is always fun to hear the comparisons but you are right, I don’t think that generalisation really works anymore. Our influences range from The xx and Portishead to the Arctic Monkeys and all the way back to Frank Sinatra! So it’s a very wide range of influences. There are for instance some books that have had an influence on our lyric writing, i.e. the Discworld series and Grass for His Pillow to name some.
Vök – Waiting
SYNC: You’re about to hit the road for an extensive European tour. What can fans expect from your live shows, and what are the challenges in bringing certain elements of your studio sound to the live performance?
ANDRI: We want to bring out our and your emotions and try and take you on a journey through the concert. There are very powerful chapters and there are some downlow as well so there is hopefully something for everyone.
We have always been a band that is more about the live performing than the studio and so far we have translated the live element more into the studio than vice versa. There are definitely challenges to overcome but I personally like it when musicians have the courage to deviate from the album and make some sort of unique atmosphere for those that have gone along to the shows.
Vök – Breaking Bones
Although relatively little known in the UK, Australian DJ and producer Ok Sure has been making waves throughout Australasia recently. A creator of sublime downtempo electronica masterpieces, Ok Sure – a moniker that is derived from her real name Akaysha – has been honing her considerable skills for years.
A winner of multiple DJ competitions in her homeland, she is in big demand for remixes, whilst her own original material also gets plenty of airplay on many of the major Aussie radio stations.
Ok Sure also delivers big live performances consisting of downtempo, industrial, dark melodic electronica and DJ sets pulsing with techno, deep house, electronica and whatever else takes the mood. As she launches new EP Anamnesis, we caught up with her to find out more about what makes this Melbourne livewire talent tick…
SYNC: Please tell us a bit of the background, how you first started out as a DJ?
Ok Sure: I actually developed an interest in music production before i started DJ’ing. DJ’ing was a natural progression for the sound I was taking an interest in at that time. I think I was about 14 or 15 years old and I was really getting into Wet Musik, which was a Melbourne techno collective putting on parties and releasing music. One of the guys from it – Will E Tell – was running DJ’ing lessons and I signed up for a four-week course, started buying vinyl, eventually got my own decks and the rest is history!
SYNC: DJ competitions were a big part of your early development – how did those experiences shape your work now and what opportunities did they present?
Ok Sure: I was about 20 years old when I won the Pioneer Pro DJ Search. That feels like such a long time ago! It was a nice confirmation at that age, to feel like I was on the right track. I was probably a bit lost at that stage wondering what to do with my life; Should I study more? Should I travel? Should I focus on music? I ended up doing all three.
SYNC: Who and what have influenced or shaped your sound up to now?
Ok Sure: Unrequited love, relationships, boredom, friends, other artist, procrastination (when I’m meant to be doing other things is always the best time to make music), frustration, life…
SYNC: Tell us a little about the new EP Anamnesis – how have these tracks developed and how long has the EP been in the making?
Ok Sure: I have been making music for a long time under the alias ‘Ok Sure’ with no real direction as to what I was going to do with it or how I was going to release it. It really started as a side project. I was always holding off on doing official releases as I felt I made a lot of mistakes releasing stuff in the past that I ended up hating. I wanted to sit on tracks for a really long time and if I still liked them in 2-3 years then I assumed I might like them in 10…I hoped. I was approached by a label (Upside Music) who where interested in working on a release and I thought it was time I put something out. So, I had A LOT of music sitting there and basically we just went through it all and picked out what we thought was most appropriate for the first EP. I then spent ages polishing off those tracks and trying to get them to all sound coherent – I did all the mixing and mastering on the EP – as some were from four years ago and some were from last year. Obviously my production skills have gotten better so I just had to re-work a few and get them up to scratch.
SYNC: The technical construction of a track like Xylo seems really complex and yet at the same time, it has a simple atmospheric quality. What’s the typical starting point of your production process and how does the sound evolve?
Ok Sure: Oh man, Xylo is probably about three years old, I can’t even remember how that track started. I’m literally working on like ten things at a time, bag most of the ideas then start another ten. Some tracks stick and I end up going back to continue working on them. Xylo was one of those. Honestly I don’t even know how my tracks happen, it’s hours and hours of being on auto pilot at my computer, tweaking this, going through synth sounds, samples, messing around on my keyboard until something just clicks and I roll with it. Sometimes I even listen back to my stuff and I think, how did that happen?!
SYNC: Where does your creative heart lie – creating your own originals or remixing?
Ok Sure: Remixing is fun but I would say originals I’m more passionate about. I think I was doing so many remixes to get stuff out in the world while I was trying to figure out what to do with all my original material. It was a way to release something and get your name out there without having the stress of releasing your own tracks.
SYNC: Which artists have you most enjoyed working with on remixes – and is there anyone who you would particularly like to collaborate with in the future?
Ok Sure: I think my favourite remix I’ve done is the Habits one (Gerger). I was a bit nervous with that one as I’m such a fan of their music and I thought, can I do it justice? But it came out really well and they were happy with it so that was great. Right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Arca – imagine collaborating with him… a girl can dream.
SYNC: What’s in the pipeline for the rest of 2017? Are there live shows in the diary – or any plans for UK/Europe?
Ok Sure: I have a few live shows this month in Melbourne, working on the next EP which will be a bit different to Anamnesis as I’m collaborating with other vocalists. Unfortunately, there are no plans just yet for UK or Europe but I would love to organise something!
Ok Sure / oksurewhatever.com
Hailing from Newton Abbot, Devon, Alice Jemima has been developing her songwriting and musical style over a number of years now. Her self-titled debut album was released at the start of this month and has been enthusiastically greeted, not least since she has created something of a unique sound, combining impossibly soft, smooth and delicate vocals with creative pared-back beats and hook-filled tunes. The heart of the album’s appeal though is ultimately really simple – great songwriting.
As always, we were keen to see how the live performance compared to the slick recordings so headed along to catch her London headline show at The Lexington earlier this month. Her shy, super-modest between-song demeanour belies her impressive ability to deliver the songs with a beguiling, mesmerising sense of something special.
Jemima seemed genuinely thrilled to have virtually filled the venue’s sizable if intimate-feeling space. It was a Monday night too which somehow always seems to make an impressive turnout even more satisfying for an artist. We caught up with her after the show to find out a bit more about an artist whose star is very much on the rise…
SYNC: So tell us a bit of the background to the Alice Jemima story and how your musical passion first developed?
ALICE JEMIMA: When I was younger my mum played violin in a tango band, so from a very young age I went to a lot of festivals and gigs with her.
I’d tried playing a few instruments myself before picking up the guitar when I was 8. Nothing else had really taken my interest, but as soon as I learnt the guitar, that was it – I haven’t really stopped playing since! Then a few years later I started writing and singing.
SYNC: Having discovered your musical path at a young age, how has your musical style – and own music tastes – evolved? Which other artists have played a part in that?
AJ: When I started songwriting I was listening to a lot of singer songwriters like KT Tunstall, Jack Johnson, Nerina Pallot, Corinne Bailey Rae. Then as I got older I started listening to a lot more electronic/indie-pop music like The XX, Flume, Lana Del Rey. Maybe it hasn’t changed all that much, possibly more the production side has.
Alice Jemima – Electric
SYNC: How did the cover of No Diggity come about? It seems such an unlikely-yet-inspired song to do in that style.
AJ: It was after hearing Chet Faker’s stripped-back version of it, which I instantly loved. Although I hadn’t planned to record a cover of it, I was just playing around with some chords and beats on Logic and then started singing No Diggity over the top of it. It wasn’t supposed to be that, but it worked, and now it’s officially out in the world!
Alice Jemima – No Diggity
SYNC: How would you describe your own songwriting process? What are the elements that enable your songs to convey such emotion and feeling?
AJ: It depends really, sometimes I’ll just pick up an acoustic guitar and write something straight away, and other times it’s a slightly slower process where I’ll produce a more beat-driven track and write over the top. I suppose the more ’emotional’ songs I tend to write on the guitar, possibly because I’m singing whatever’s on my mind or what I’m feeling, right there and then.
Alice Jemima – Liquorice (live)
SYNC: How long has the album been in development – and how does it feel for you now that it’s out there for the world to hear?
AJ: I guess you could say this first album has been in development since the day I started writing! Some of the tracks on this album are ones I wrote when I was a bit younger. I spent a few years trying to find the sound I wanted, so the ones I wrote when I was younger have definitely come on a bit of a journey – and evolved.
It almost feels like a weight has lifted now it’s out there! That may be a funny thing to say, but some of these songs I’ve wanted to put out into the world since the day I wrote them, so it’s a great feeling now they’re all there for people to hear. And now I can start writing another!
SYNC: What are the plans for the rest of 2017 – are there more live dates and perhaps festivals in the diary?
AJ: I’ve just been out to the US to play SXSW, which was so exciting, and I played three shows out there. On 5 April I’ll be playing a headline show in Paris at Pop-Up du Label. I have more festivals and shows coming up – but they’ve yet to be announced. So, more news soon!
DRGM are a trio from East London who create a unique blend of commercial beats and electronica that puts them in and amongst categorisation with the likes of Rufus, The XX and Disclosure. Out on Thursday (16/3) EP Etc somehow manages to be powerful, energetic and morose all at the same time.
The band will be putting on a handful of dates this month to support the release of the EP. You can catch their launch parties in London (16 March), Portsmouth (24) and Brighton (31). But before they hit the road for those, we caught up with the band to find out a bit more about their intriguing sound…
SYNC: Please tell us a bit of the background to DRGM, including how you guys got together… and the attributes that each of you brings to the group!
GREG: Goosey and I met touring as session players and started producing a few tracks together, just for fun. A sort of side project. He knew Ellen from the scene and we thought her voice might sound good on one of our mixes. It did! We put out a little mixtape, just over a year ago, to see what the reaction was. We managed to get quite a lot of airtime from that record and from there we decided to knuckle down and get a solid EP recorded. We produce all of our own media: mixes, masters, photos, graphics, music videos, live sessions etc. so it’s a lot of work to get from an idea to a fully fledged launch, but we hope it’s been worth it.
SYNC: Websites like ours love to categorise bands but it’s pretty hard to ‘allocate’ your sound to a narrow genre. How would you like to be described, and who/what has influenced you to develop to where you are now?
GOOSE: It’s hard to really pin down who our main influences have been. Everything from electronic sounding bands like Rufus to jazzers like Miles Davis. Our sound is pretty layered and we’ve tried to make each part as unique as possible. I write beats which can be quite linear and angular, which tend to complement the guitar sound Greg’s coming out with. Ellen’s got a real jazz voice, so we try to bring that out in the chords. There’s definitely an emphasis on modern electronic sounds, like Disclosure or, to an extent, The XX, but we hope we’ve managed to make something new with this record.
SYNC: How has the EP come together? Has it been a long time in the making?
ELLEN: We’ve probably been working on the project for around nine months. We work differently from other bands in that none of the writing is really done together. Greg writes the music and then he and Goose tweak the project before adding drums. They then send me over demos and then the tracks sit with me for a while whilst I write the lyrics. EP Etc is four tracks, but we must have written at least twelve over the summer – some which worked, some which didn’t. We ended up choosing four tracks which we really felt complemented one another. We wanted the EP to feel like one piece with direction, as opposed to four seperate tracks, and we’re really pleased with the outcome.
SYNC: What are the plans for live dates, and what can people expect when they come to see you?
ELLEN: We’re hosting a series of launch parties, the first being in a Dalston basement on the day of the EP release – 16th March. We’re following up the launch with parties in Portsmouth and Brighton. We wanted the launch parties to have a relaxed feel, and this is how Greg has designed the set. It’s meant to be a fluid 40 minutes of entertainment where we take you through our EP, some other original tracks and some covers of artists who we admire, in our own style of course! We have a couple of other surprises to share at the parties, but the main emphasis is on having as much fun as possible.
DRGM – Felt
Currently coming towards the tail-end of a support slot on tour with Amber Run, Bristol duo Meadowlark have been busily raising their profile and picking up plenty of new fans with their finely-crafted pop melodies and emotive production.
Made up of Kate McGill and Dan Broadley, the band have recently released their Nocturnes EP of stripped back songs, ahead of the emergence of their debut album later this year. We caught up with Dan to find out a bit more about their story so far and what the year ahead has in store for them…
SYNC: So where did it all begin?
Dan Broadley: Kate and myself both met years before Meadowlark started. I was directing music videos and playing in rock bands and she was pursuing a career as a solo artist. The first time we met was on a video shoot, I was directing the promo for one of her singles. It was amazing how much we had in common and when the time came for us both to pursue something else musically it seemed natural to start a project together and from that Meadowlark was born. We have never looked back since. It’s such an adaptive project, we can experiment with so many different genres and musical ideas with this band.
SYNC: What’s the songwriting process like for the band?
Broadley: We never give ourselves any constraints and have written songs in all manner of ways. The songs we are most proud of are the songs that we write together from scratch. As well as sonic poems that contain experiences from both Kate and myself’s lives, our songs are also postcards for us, each one carries a specific memory of how we felt and how we were at the time of writing it.
When writing our first record we wanted to find a space be able to lock ourselves away in and focus on nothing but music itself. We found a holiday cottage on the internet that offered a grand piano and we booked in multiple week-long stays. It was an amazing time, the space felt magical, every time we went we would write about five songs which meant it didn’t take long at all to have an albums worth of material that we were really proud of.
SYNC: Nocturnes has been stirring up lots of interest. What was the thinking behind this EP – and in particular the idea of giving the song About You Now such a beautiful new slant?
Broadley: When Kate and myself write music we go in at a very raw level, just acoustic instruments usually, penning the song in a simple way, I think it’s really important that a song works in that way – it can be so easy to hide a bad song behind good production. Once we’ve written a song we then play around with its sonic boundaries, adding synthetic elements to create our desired mood and energy. Nocturnes was a wonderful opportunity to take the songs back to a more raw and intimate state, showing them in a more honest light. About You Now seemed like a very random choice to most people but it’s everything we love about songwriting. The original Sugababes version was a pop smash but buried underneath the production was a much darker song and without changing any of the chords or melodies and simply playing it differently we were able to bring that to light.
Meadowlark – About You Now
SYNC: Last year was a busy year for festivals for you both – is 2017 shaping up to be the same?
Broadley: Just looking at the calendar now and it’s certainly filing up. Festival season is always a lot of fun, you never really know who you are going to play in front of which adds to the excitement.
SYNC: Finally, how has work on the album been progressing?
Broadley: We actually finished the record a little while back, it was an amazing feeling to finish it and have a full body of work of songs that we are so proud of. We are hoping for it to be out before the end of this year!
Meadowlark – Headlights
Uplifting and polished, our ears pricked up when we first heard the new single by Liverpool-based indie-pop/rock outfit Idle Frets. Out last month, Glow has the accomplished sound of a group that has been doing its stuff for a few years now and is maturing its sound nicely.
We caught up with the band to find out a little more about them and the evolution of their sound…
SYNC: First of all, can we have a quick introduction – who’s who in the band?
Dave Hennessy: There’s Ben Davies (lead vocals / guitar), me [David Hennessy] (guitar), Luke Lewis (bass in ya face!), Erin Gibson (drums), and Michael Jackson’s spirit (Ben’s dance moves).
SYNC: So what are your musical backgrounds and how did things get started for you as a band?
Hennessy: Despite coming from a very musical family, I loved music but was never actually interested in playing it when I was younger. One of my uncles lent me the first Arctic Monkeys record when I was 15/16 and I absolutely buzzed off it. Then it clicked and I thought, yep that’s what i want to do. From that point I was addicted to the guitar and the rest is history. Idle Frets have existed for ages with a different lineup. I’d been in a few bands when I was younger but around a year ago, Ferg (former bassist) left the band. Luke decided to play the bass and asked me to come play some guitar. I went down to a practice and loved the tunes. I think literally two months later we had written three new songs and had them recorded at Liverpool’s Parr Street studios.
SYNC: What influences and musical tastes have fed into the Idle Frets sound?
Luke Lewis: We’re all into various bands/artists and this changes all the time so it’s difficult to point a finger at anyone in particular but the ideology is that we make music we enjoy both listening to and playing live.
SYNC: What’s the Liverpool/North West music scene like right now? Are there other bands on the circuit that you think more people should know about?
Lewis: It’s incredible! There’s always something going on somewhere, it’s brilliant to be surrounded by so many talented people. My recent favourites to come out of Liverpool and the North West recently will have to be Clean Cut Kid and Bill Ryder-Jones but as for the circuits, there’s a band called Fake Street who I listened to the other day, they’re pretty damn decent.
SYNC: What’s in store for 2017? Are there live dates to come – and an album in the pipeline?
Lewis: There are plenty of shows to be announced and we’ve got more tunes up our sleeves too. Maybe even a few festivals, too! All shall be revealed in good time.
Manchester-based three-piece FAITALA released their debut EP Departures this week and lead track Forty-One is already a favourite on our playlists.
Formed in 2013, the FAITALA line up of David Faitala (guitar / vocals), Emma Houlton (synth), and Oli Hughes (drums) were invited to play a live session on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 show after he saw the band play locally at one of their early live shows. The infectious pop of the soon to be released Plush from that three song session was subsequently picked up and played extensively by fellow DJs Tom Robinson on his Music Introducing Mixtape, Gideon Coe, and XFM’s John Kennedy.
Forty-One is also on our latest Sync List so check it out along with a whole heap of other music you may not have heard before for a highly entertaining hour or so of your life! In the meantime though, we caught up with David to get the low-down on the band…
SYNC: So what’s the background to the band? Where are you from and how did things all get started?
David Faitala: It began in Manchester, Emma responded to an online ad with a clip of our track Plush in the title, while Oli and I met performing on the same line-up at a venue in Salford.
SYNC: Tell us about the new EP Departures – has it felt like a long time in the making?
Faitala: The Departures EP is part newer material and part material we have been performing for a while. It has taken a long time to refine our material to end up with the songs on the EP. Over time, certain songs have been left out of our live set and this has shaped this release.
SYNC: What artists, sounds and other influenced have had a bearing on the music FAITALA is making today?
Faitala: At numerous gigs people have said we reminded them of certain bands and the names Metronomy and Blur have been mentioned by far the most frequently. That’s lucky for us because we love those bands. Think retro video gamer with Baroque influences.
SYNC: Last year’s Dutch Uncles mix of Beasts took the song in a whole new direction – how did that mix come about and what is it like to hear your song presented in an entirely different way?
Faitala: Dutch Uncles are a fellow Manchester band whom we really admire for their well defined writing style and production skills. We had a friend in common and asked to see if they’d be interested in a remix. We knew they would produce something special that would take Beasts in a different direction because their writing style is so different to our own. We were really pleased with it – there aren’t many bands who would’ve been able to do what they managed to achieve with it.
SYNC: What does 2017 have in store for FAITALA? Can we expect a few live shows?
Faitala: For 2017, we have some shows in the pipeline and are working on the follow-up EP. We’ve applied to loads of festivals so we’re expecting it to be a step up in intensity from 2016.
FAITALA – Forty-One
Mark Elliott is quickly becoming a master of charming, effortless electro-pop. Since bursting onto the scene in April with his debut single Dead End Love Affair, the UK singer-songwriter has been picking up some well-deserved attention with his minimalist take on nu-soul. Having recently unveiled his latest offering, China Doll, we caught up with Elliott to find out more…
SYNC: So what’s your background Mark? Where is home, and how long have you been writing, performing and recording?
Mark Elliott: Home for me is up in Leicester although more accurately I spend most of my time on the M1 between there and London! I’ve been performing ever since I started playing guitar when I was about 15 although most of my early performances ended halfway through the song with a “I can’t remember how the next bit goes”. I guess writing came a bit later on and – embarrassingly – my early recordings were usually done for girls I wanted to go out with.
SYNC: Your sound is a real blend of genres – what particular influences have shaped that?
Elliott: I still don’t think I’ve found a sound I’m fully happy with which is why I guess it still feels quite experimental. The first album I ever bought was Justin Timberlake’s Justified and that still comes across. Me and Dave (Tidmarsh – producer) were listening to bands like Oh Wonder and Honne during the recording process and I definitely think that helped shaped the sound. Dave has a mega eclectic taste in music so that keeps it interesting – I never know if he’s gonna show me a Mars Volta track or the new Arianna Grande single. I think a lot of mainstream pop has a subtlety in the production that’s often over looked so that definitely an influence. I also frikking love Barry White.
SYNC: How does the creative process work for you? Is songwriting a mainly solitary or collaborative one?
Elliott: I guess it’s a mixture. Recently I’ve been involved in co-writing for other people a lot more and enjoy it equally. Although I think for my solo stuff I’m definitely a control freak when it comes to lyrics. I’ll usually write lyrics by myself sat in a coffee shop with a book and come up with the basic idea on keys later. Then it’s a case of taking it into the studio to finish the song and start the production and arrangement.
SYNC: The first we heard from you was the track ‘Drink to Thunk’, but the other two tracks on the China Doll EP have quite a different feel. What’s the story of the three and how they came to be?
Elliott: I guess the idea with the EP was just to take myself out of my comfort zone and mess about a bit. It was fun but frustrating at times to get sounding like we wanted it to – China Doll in particular was a pain in the arse to get right but hopefully it came across well in the end! I think like anything artistic you tend to finish it and try not to listen to it to much. It’s a case of ‘on to the next one’!
SYNC: Can you tell us a bit about the beautiful and very distinctive artwork for the tracks too?
Elliott: The artwork was a collaboration with an artist called Eugenia Loli who makes these incredible collages filled with incongruity, nonsense, depth, and meaning all at the same time. What I love most is the combination of modern technique and vintage artwork which I feel fits the texture of the music industry perfectly.
SYNC: What have been your most memorable live shows so far, and are there any plans in place for more chances for people to catch you live soon?
Elliott: The most memorable shows to date have been Sofar Sounds gigs which, if you have never seen, are basically a gig in someone’s flat/other unusual space where no one is allowed to talk, the acts are totally unplugged and everyone has a beautiful shared musical experience. [See Mark’s Sofar Sounds rendition of China Doll]
I’ve played live loads this year and every single one has been memorable in its own way. I’ve got a Christmas show booked in Leicester on 15 December which is just me on a grand piano which I’m really looking forward to, but other than that I’d say keeping an eye on my socials for gig announcements! We’re currently planning for some European dates in the near future and there’ll be countless London dates coming up.
Mark Elliott – China Doll
Mark Elliott – Drink To Thunk
It’s been a couple of years since Alpines – Surrey/South London duo Bob Matthews and Catherine Pockson – released their debut album Oasis. The follow-up to that first LP was launched last week and it marks a real high point for sophisticated electronic pop.
In places brooding, sometimes reflective, but above all uplifting, Another River was eagerly anticipated following two stonking lead singles in the form of Completely and Heaven, both works of beauty that combined Matthews’ slick and often understated track composition with the mesmerising, ethereal vocals of Pockson.
The combination is one that we’ve been obsessing over for a little while now, so we caught up with Bob and Catherine to find out a little more about the album’s creation…
Bob: The first songs for this record began to be written as soon as we had finished touring our first album, so that’s back in Summer 2014. We spent the whole of 2015 dedicated to writing and recording – we think we wrote in the region of 80-100 songs. That’s always been the way we’ve worked, write a lot of songs and it’s more likely that you will have an album worth of ones you really like! Although with this record, it wasn’t just about picking the ten best songs, we wanted the album to have a definite ‘feel’, and sound coherent. I think there are some great tracks that didn’t make the album too.
SYNC: The music has an ‘experimental’ feel and yet is not in any way inaccessible. Was there an underlying objective for the material on the new album or was it simply a case of trying out different ideas?
Bob: We had a strong idea at the start of the recording process, which was mainly based around the imagery. Catherine put together a mood board of her vision for the album, which really helps me with where to go with the sound. As the cliche goes, a picture paints a thousand words. It was about keeping things honest, minimal, yet striking. We always want our music to be accessible, but I am happy you have picked up an experimental feel, because I am always trying to do new things with the way I present Catherine’s songs. I think this record sounds different from our first, and the EPs that preceded it; I hope we will always keep moving forward.
Catherine: Yes hopefully we will be playing lots of festivals throughout the summer. We have also started writing the next album so maybe we will put some time aside to start thinking about that as well!
Alpines will be touring the UK in February 2017 with shows in Birmingham (14), Leeds (15), Glasgow (16), Manchester (17), Bristol (20), Oxford (21) and Brighton (22). Venues and tickets here.
Alpines – Heaven
Alpines – Completely
Australian singer-songwriter, Matt Gresham, makes his UK debut this summer with the release of new single Small Voices, out now on his own label, Trigger Records.
Gresham’s first break came on Australia’s X Factor, when in 2013 he quit the show citing the talent show’s artistic restrictions. Since striking out to pursue a more independent route, he has built himself a loyal following, winning over fans and critics alike in becoming one of the country’s hottest emerging talents. His song Whiskey, released in 2014, won Western Australian Music Awards ‘Song of the Year’. In May he played a string of showcases at SXSW and he is just coming to the end of a sell-out Australian tour.
Sync caught up with him as he embarks on the next chapter – relocating to Berlin after signing a deal with Warner Germany and looking to make a big impression in the UK and Europe.
SYNC: So what’s the background? How did your musical career get underway and how have things panned out so far?
MATT GRESHAM: I was brought up listening to brilliant story telling that always had acoustic guitar at the core. Cat Stevens to Ben Harper were some of the artists always playing in my childhood home. Some of my strongest memories are of listening to my mum’s poetry with my brother and sister. Most nights it was the way she would calm us for the evening. Naturally, both my brother and I picked up guitars and start experimenting with music at an early age. I really looked up to my brother, so anything he was able to do on the guitar I wanted to learn!
I feel very fortunate that I get to spend every day doing what I love and I truly could not see my life any other way. I’ve been able to travel the world making music and meet some of the most amazing people and appreciating some of the most beautiful cultures. Life has been good to me and I feel blessed. Thank you!
SYNC: We’ve been covering quite a few Australian artists lately. What’s your take on the music scene in the country right now?
GRESHAM: There’s a lot of amazing singer songwriters getting global recognition from Australia and it just makes me extremely proud. Music is such a large part of our culture and if you look at the history of Australian music, there are some incredible bands that have paved the way for the rest of us. With music being more accessible than ever, I am certain there will be more Australian artists the rest of the world will discover.
SYNC: What brings you to Europe?
GRESHAM: For many years I have had a love for Germany. During my schooling, I did an exchange and lived there for a year. Ever since, I have been trying to find a way to get back and it is pretty amazing that it was Warner Germany that I signed with post-SXSW. Something things are meant to be and I can’t wait to speak German again and reconnect when I move there this month.
SYNC: How does your songwriting process work – is it generally a solitary or collaborative process?
GRESHAM: I’ve grown up writing 100% by myself but there was a rare occurrence one night where I met Jaymes Young and we decided to write together. Small Voices came from that session and several other songs that will make the record. I found it an amazing experience writing with someone else as it was incredible sharing with someone such hectic subjects.
SYNC: What current artists are you most interested in/inspired by? Who would you most like to work with in the future?
GRESHAM: I’m in love with Gregory Alan Isacov as a storyteller – he’s the greatest at the moment in my eyes. I had the chance to work with Talib Kweli this year that was a huge dream of mine. I would say the ultimate collaboration would be with Ben Harper.
SYNC: Finally, what are the plans for future releases and/or touring?
GRESHAM: I’m half way through my Australian tour at the moment and will be touring Germany with an amazing band Jupiter Jones. More music to come!
Matt Gresham – Small Voices
There has been a handful of artists that we’ve followed since the very beginning of Sync and which have simply not put a foot wrong. Gloucestershire duo Ardyn are a particular favourite of ours, having created some beautifully rich sounds with real depth and atmosphere.
Brother and sister Rob and Katy Pearson have been developing their enthralling folk-infused material over the last couple of years, releasing EP The Universe last year and most recently fine tuning their live act with an expanded line-up for a string of performances across the UK at festivals of all shapes and sizes.
New song The Valley (featured below along with previous single Over the River which we’ve been listening to pretty much non-stop for a couple of months now!) shows further progress and is sure to help to expand their rapidly growing fan base.
Sync caught up with Ardyn ahead of their show at Farmfest in Somerset this weekend…
SYNC: So what’s the background? When did you start making music and how has it developed over the years?
Katy: We started writing music from an early age. It started off pretty stripped-back, but in the last two years we brought a band in so we could expand our sound.
SYNC: Your music has an ethereal sound that is reminiscent of other artists and yet at the same time sounds totally original. Who are your musical inspirations and influences both past and present?
Rob: Kate Bush has been a massive inspiration to Katy and the Beatles Revolver album to us both. We are a big fan of The Maccabees and The National. We have both been listening to a lot of Father John Misty at the moment – we caught his set at Latitude last weekend, which was great.
SYNC: How does your songwriting process work? Is it purely collaborative between you both or does one take the lead in some respects?
Katy: Our songwriting process is so varied. Sometimes it’s a balanced input from both of us, and other times one of us will come to the other with an almost finished song and just add some last little bits to it. Or Rob will have a riff and come to me to add a melody.
SYNC: Live performances vs studio work: which do you prefer and how have both been going for you recently?
Katy: I love both aspects, but recently I have really been enjoying playing live. We have got to a good place with our set and everyone’s feeling much more confident with the songs.
Rob: I love both, but there’s a great feeling that I get from playing live that I haven’t had in the studio yet.
SYNC: We gather you were in the States recently. Was this an escape for working on new material?
Katy: Yes, we went out there to do some writing and just get out of our comfort zone. It was an amazing experience such a different vibe out there.
SYNC: Closer to home, what is your local music scene like? Has it been an important testing ground for you?
Rob: Our local scene has been really supportive to us over the years, there are a few pubs where we sometimes play low-key gigs to test new songs out.
SYNC: What are the next steps for Ardyn? Are there any live shows are in the pipeline – and can we expect an album anytime soon?
Katy: We have 4-5 more festivals this summer including Green Man and Farmfest and yes, definitely an album in the near future!
Ardyn – The Valley
Ardyn – Over The River
With an ambitious ‘#OneSongaWeek’ project in which he wrote, recorded and released a song a week for an entire year, and an EP recorded on the London Eye with a string quartet in the time it takes to go round once (28 minutes), Frank Hamilton is not one for doing things the easy way.
Ahead of the launch of his new album later this year (Songs to Make Life Slightly Less Awkward, out September – see website for more details), Sync caught up with Frank to find out more about his inventive – and very personal – brand of creativity…
SYNC: For those who are not aware, what was the background to #OneSongaWeek – and what made you want to tackle such a tough creative challenge?
FRANK HAMILTON: Truthfully, there wasn’t much forethought at all, which was probably for the best or I might have talked myself out of it! I had the idea on January 2nd and released the first song on January 6th. Everything happened so quickly and most people were sceptical about it, which only made me more determined.
As for the why, I suppose it was a mixture of ambition and desperation. I’d tried and failed to land a ‘proper record deal’ (whatever that is) and I didn’t want to be another one of the thousands of artists who just plods along releasing EP after EP.
I always had faith in myself and the way I write songs but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an element of doubt and worry surrounding the project. It wasn’t until week 30 or so that I realised it was actually a good idea!
SYNC: Your material comes across as ‘soul-bearing’. Is that how it feels for you, and how crucial is that aspect in making your songs work as well as they do?
FH: I was asked to describe my music in three words once and all I could think of was ‘far too honest’, which I guess could be construed as ‘soul-bearing’? I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by the hyperbole that goes along with that because I feel like being honest should be a given for artists, but you only have to take a quick look/listen to radio and the charts to know that it isn’t. At the end of the day, I’m just a bloke who feels things and writes about them… and maybe I take that to the extreme sometimes but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
SYNC: Your career to date could be described as somewhat ‘unconventional’ (whatever ‘conventional’ is supposed to be!). It sounds like the new album still follows the DIY style but have you changed your approach to the process both in terms of ideas for songs and the actual recording aspect?
FH: In terms of ideas for the songs, not much has changed. I’m still the same person (sometimes confident, sometimes insecure, always over-thinking) and the approach is no different – I just write about whatever things happen to be floating around my noggin. Circumstances change though, and the last few years have seen me grow up a bit and look beyond trying to find a pretty girl to hang out with. Don’t get me wrong there are still love songs on the new record, but it also tackles themes like depression, addiction and existentialism which are things I never really thought about back in the day.
In terms of the sonics and recording, I didn’t set out with a plan but the songs I was writing seemed to lend themselves to a different, more upbeat style of production. Also prior to #OneSongaWeek I’d never produced anything and naturally I’ve learnt a lot since then. If I’d tried making a record with drum machines and lo-fi electric guitars four years ago I wouldn’t have known where to start but this time I was more confident in being able to capture the noises in my head on record.
Also I’ve always wanted to be in a pop-punk / indie band, so once I started going down that route I didn’t need much encouragement to carry on. It feels a bit like the record I’ve always wanted to make, if that makes sense.
SYNC: What other artists out there are you currently enjoying at the moment?
FH: I’m a big fan of Vant, although I’ve only heard a few songs. I don’t know how they write but I’d be surprised if they weren’t mostly down to the singer. The lyrics and concepts stand head and shoulders above similar sounding indie bands, which makes me think he stays up until 4am overthinking things in the same way I do.
SYNC: Are you a festival kind of person or do you prefer your own shows? What have been your live show career highlights so far?
FH: Festivals are great but unless you’re Ed Sheeran or Coldplay (by that I mean everyone’s heard of you and knows your songs) they can also be hit and miss. The banter’s great, it’s a nice day out and I enjoy the challenge of winning over a bunch of people who had no idea I existed until 10 minutes ago, but if I had to choose I’d always pick headline shows.
The fact that people spend money and leave their houses to come and see little old me play some songs I wrote in my bedroom still blows my mind. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than on a stage in front of those people, seeing the joy in their eyes and hearing them sing along to every word as they smile and hug the person next to them. I know every artist says it but I really do feel like I have the best fans in the world… and I also feel really lucky to have sold enough records to be able to experience that properly – most artists don’t ever get to.
SYNC: What plans do you have to get on the road and tour the new album? And – early days yet we know! – are there any plans you can reveal yet for this year’s Christmas show?
FH: I can actually answer both these questions in one! This December will be the first time ‘Crikey, It’s Christmas’ (my annual Christmas show) goes on the road – London, Manchester and Bristol.
As for the album, who knows! I’ll do something but it might not be a conventional tour so to speak. As always I’ve got some ideas. We’ll see what happens!
Alt-pop duo New Portals have been busy crafting some pretty catchy tracks of late. The project is still in its relatively early stages, but the Northern-Irish husband and wife team of Mike and Ruth Aicken are certainly no strangers to songwriting, having been making music of an altogether different genre for a while now.
Their previous material – as The Jepettos – had more of a folk leaning but the New Portals incarnation is based around a more uptempo, often brooding electronic sound, coated with Ruth Aicken’s sublime sugary sweet vocal tones.
We fell in love with their track Stay Here Tonight a little while back so, ahead of a couple of live dates in Belfast and London later this month, we caught up with Mike for a bit of background on the band, and an update on their progress so far…
SYNC: How has New Portals come about, and what inspired the project to develop from what you were already doing as The Jepettos?
MIKE AICKEN: We were enjoying writing and performing folk-pop and seeing some degree of success but we just started to feel like we wanted a change.
SYNC: How does the creative/songwriting process work between the two of you?
MA: All of our songs are written 50/50 although we still do argue over who wrote what! We both record ideas on our iPhones then get together and try to listen through them, scrapping the rubbish and seeing if we can develop the rest. We also set ourselves little one minute challenges where we’ll play a piano chord sequence and we have one minute to come up with a hook or a lyric. We’ll run through 5-10 of those at the start of a writing session. Sometimes one will stick and will be obvious to both of us that it’s worth pursuing further.
SYNC: You’ve been generating plenty of interest on radio and in the press. What has been the reaction you’ve been getting to new songs over the past few months?
MA: We’ve been very happy to see some key opinion leaders and taste-makers pick up on the songs and give some great reviews. We’ve also signed quite a few synch deals which is great – we’re keen to keep up the momentum and move forward now with our live shows for the rest of 2016.
SYNC: The NI music scene has never been short on music talent – which other bands are you currently enjoying or feeling inspired by, both at home and further afield?
MA: When we first got into writing indie-pop, we were really inspired by Sylvan Esso, Broods and Oh Wonder and were always discovering more – mostly through listening to Spotify playlists that we get placed on. A local act that we’re enjoying are Tuskany.
SYNC: What are the short/medium term plans for the band? Is there an album or tour in the pipeline?
MA: We have a show in Belfast on 11 June at The MAC then we’re supporting Youth Club at Cargo, Shoreditch on 22 June. After that, we’ll be looking out for a nice support slot to go on tour- that’s the dream anyway!
New Portals – Groove Boy
New Portals – Skyline (Live)
There’s not much that Edinburgh-born electro-clash expert Elle Exxe [woah, that’s well and truly set off the alliteration alarm!] does by half. Her music is certainly in-your-face, with new song Lately melding together several musical genres behind a vocal that is at times sultry and at other times wild, but always enthralling.
Elle Exxe – or ‘LX’ if you were wondering how to pronounce her name correctly – has been getting rave reviews from the likes of BBC Introducing and Kiss FM as well as notching up plenty of airplay across the pond on over 100 radio stations in North America.
She’s just back from a jaunt to Canada and we took the chance to catch up with her just ahead of a clutch of UK dates over the coming weeks…
SYNC: Where did this journey begin for you? How long have you been writing songs and performing?
Elle Exxe: I’ve been writing since I was little, my first public performance was when I was 6 or 7. So you could say this has been a lifelong journey, but this particular incarnation started in L.A. in 2014. I flew there with Clare, one of my best girl friends. That was the trip where I learned not to give a shit – I broke into record labels, gatecrashed parties, wrote loads of new songs, made BFFs and shifted my mindset to be more positive, open and free. I gained the confidence to be me and then the confidence to share that with the world through my new sounds.
SYNC: It seems like things have been going particularly well for you outside the UK – how have the international adventures been so far?
EE: They’ve been amazing. Nothing beats meeting new friends in new countries. It blows my mind to find that I have fans in all different corners of the globe. I just took my band out to Canada for four shows; it was a proper whirlwind adventure. We played every night to new audiences and tested all the Canadian brews on offer – #LivingTheDream!
SYNC: Everyone’s fired up by other artists – who have been the ones to have fuelled your musical passions up to now, and which emerging artists are you particularly into?
EE: Beyonce has got me all fired up at the moment – she’s a genius; I’d probably go as far to saying she’s the best pop artist on the planet right now. I love that she did a track with Jack White – he’s a definite idol of mine. Also Kendrick Lamar. Emerging music is mostly what I listen to – I’m obsessed with NAO, Shakka, Raye, CL and Tove Styrke right now.
SYNC: Which have been your most enjoyable live shows to date? What future ‘fixtures’ are in the diary and which are you especially looking forward to?
EE: I did an anniversary show earlier this year at 229 in London – I played my first show there a year ago so it was an amazing moment to take stock of everything my band/team and I had achieved. Last year there were maybe 50 people there…this year it was absolutely rammed and people were singing the songs. The audience made me feel like a bonafide pop star that night, I was on cloud nine for days.
I have loads of great shows lined up – Concorde 2 in Brighton tonight at the Great Escape festival, 29th May at Liverpool Sound City, 8th/9th June at Xpo North (Inverness). The show I’m most excited for is my first official Elle Exxe Exxtravaganzza on 6th July at The Old Queens Head in London – this is going to be a night of experiences not to be missed. Come along, entry is free!
SYNC: Finally, tell us a little bit about what can we expect from the album later this year?
EE: It’s titled Love Fuelled Hate. My concept was to tell the tale of a love that turns to hate. It takes you from love drunk and lustful through twisted adulterous heartbreak to psychotic revenge [Sync: We’ve all been there!] … I don’t want to spoil it by telling you the ending. The music is as emotionally spun out and dynamic as the story – there’s an acappella piece in there, some pop stompers and some screeching guitar solos.
Love Fuelled Hate is released on 9 September 2016.
Elle Exxe – Lately