(Photo Credit: Andy Martin)
“…We’re trying to get as far South as we can…”
It’s early afternoon midweek and whilst I cling onto a radiator for warmth at home, Sarah Hayes – member of indie-folk outfit Admiral Fallow and now one half of You Tell Me – calls from the comfort of a tour van, one she’ll soon become accustomed to over the coming fortnight. As part of You Tell Me, a collaborative project with Field Music’s Peter Brewis, the coming week will find them in record stores up and down the country to promote their debut album, hitting thirteen stores across nine days. First stop: The delectable sounding Pie & Vinyl in Southsea.
The pair first met in Aberdeen back in 2016 as part of the Emma Pollock curated ‘Running Up That Hill: A Celebration of Kate Bush’. Hayes played keys as part of the house band, picking up solo vocal duties on ‘This Woman’s Work’. Brewis, one of the guest singers along for the evening, was said to have been blown away by her rendition.
“That’s what he said.” She says with a laugh. Whilst the pair had not met previously, both were familiar with the other’s work. Following their introduction, the pair conversed regularly, the idea being that Brewis may produce the songs Hayes had been working on. As it turns out, these initial rumblings would soon lead to the formation of the band.
“I had just started writing some songs, but I didn’t really know what home could be found for them.” Says Hayes. “I hadn’t really done it that much before as well, so I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. I grew up in Northumberland and my Mum and Dad still live in the area, so I’m down quite a bit for various reasons anyway, so I was down in the North East and I just dropped by the old Field Music Studio.”
Their forthcoming debut record would end up being the last recorded at ‘Field Music Recording HQ’, the studio that Sarah tells me might not yet have been reduced to rubble but soon will soon be, the Brewis brothers having moved to a new location and the building scheduled for demolition. Quite the swan song for the studio.
“I dropped by there and we just kind of got chatting after that.” Continues Sarah. “But the Kate Bush gig for sure was the first time we met and it was the first time it kind of sparked off chatting and the idea of a collaboration.”
The brilliance of their introduction and soon to blossom collaboration via meeting at a celebration of the work of Kate Bush can be heard in their output. A starting point for You Tell Me, heart-stopping debut single ‘Clarion Call’ or recent single ‘Foreign Parts’ bring to mind ‘Never For Ever’ era Kate Bush and one can side with Brewis on being blown away by the vocal of Hayes.
“Quite early on, we sent a few emails backwards and forward and talked a bit about different possible musical reference points and jumping off points.” Says Sarah. “Kate Bush seemed like a good place to start, mainly ‘cus of the gig but also because we were both interested in the different things that she does. It was definitely mentioned as a touch stone, but it wasn’t really conscious…”
“There were were a few others as well.” She continues. “The Blue Nile was another one, early Rufus Wainwright, Randy Newman, stuff like that. That was just to get us going really, to start us off. Then we had a handful of songs – from myself and Peter wrote some as well after that – and we just sent them backwards and forwards.”
In terms of themes, its communication that runs throughout the record – talking, listening, wanting to be able to say something but being unable to or even coming up with a retort long after the fact (album track ‘Jouska’ is named after the hypothetical, imaginary conversations people play out in their head). The subject matter only became apparent to Brewis and Hayes when lyrics were being compiled and the duo were deciding on a name for the project.
“…I suddenly thought – a lot of these are about conversations or thinking of the dialogue you have in your head and communicating things.” Says Sarah. “It just appeared really, but It’s something that I think about quite a bit… The idea of social anxiety definitely has a part to play, there’s a couple of songs that deal with that in different ways. ‘Invisible Ink’ is one of them. ‘Invisible Ink’ deals with anxiety and it’s a bit more full on, then the ‘Foreign Parts’ version of it is trying not to kind of take it too seriously, almost see the humour in it as well. That idea of social interaction and that being difficult sometimes, that’s one of the strands to the whole communication thing.”
Communication extends too to the musical conversations made between Peter and Sarah as part of the collaboration, with You Tell Me being her first foray into this type of project.
“That’s quite new for me.” She says. “I think it can be hard to establish a way of communicating musically sometimes… I’d never really done any collaboration like this before so that was one of the new things about it, but it worked pretty easily really and quite early on, so that was good.”
We joke that this ease may be down to Field Music Recording HQ, her journey into this collaboration softened somewhat on Brewis territory (“I think so…” She laughs. ”They’ve got some quite special curtains that are in the studio. Really lends a special atmosphere...”) One thing that does come up however is the idea of escaping your comfort zone through doing new things. Having previously only written instrumental music and arrangements, interpreting the lyrics of others or working with traditional songs, the process of writing lyrics was another first for Hayes.
“There was a lot of different reasons why it was out of the comfort zone.” She says. “The idea of writing words, for me, was new. Working with somebody new and getting that communication going and for things to work, having a proper equal collaboration – which can be quite hard to establish – that was new.”
“The other thing was in the actual recording process.” She continues. “We wanted to try and capture more performance… It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but honest performances, not be too worried about perceived flaws that you could easily beat yourself up about and make loads of edits… We tried to just capture longer takes and that was sort of new for me. That was definitely something to get over and get out of the comfort zone. Now that it’s all done and we’re about to put it out there, I’m really glad we’ve done that – we’ve really pushed ourselves with it.”
“The album recording itself, timewise we sort of took our time – it took about a year overall, but when we were together we had to be quite efficient, because we usually just had a few days. We tried to be organised and get as much done as we could in the studio, but also allow ourselves the freedom to experiment a bit, try different sounds. It wasn’t a case of everything was written and then you go in and record it, we were sending ideas backwards and forwards and then experimenting a bit in the studio as well.”
Both have gone on record to say that their self-titled debut was produced during a difficult period of time, the studio offering a chance to divert attention (“It felt like I was going to focus on something else for a bit.”) Having a string of firsts as part of You Tell Me, it’s obviously been of some benefit to break away from her comfort zone and as such, the pair are already looking forward and towards further collaboration.
“The whole comfort zone thing, it’s like – it can be a bit hellish at the time, a bit torturous…” She says. “But then you can look back and you do feel a sense of achievement with it and it keeps you feeling challenged. There’s other things we’ve been talking about, ways we might use our voices and all sorts of different things we can do in the future. We’re just kind of putting it together at the moment.”
“That’s something we’ve been talking about.” She says, adding with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of van journeys over the next week anyway.”
For a full list of live dates and to grab a copy of the record, click here!
(Photo Credit: Beth Chalmers)
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