Ahead of Stornoway’s first visit to Kingston last Thursday at McClusky’s indie-night New Slang, drummer Rob Steadman, 22, chatted with Kingston Courier about their new album Tales from Terra Firma.
The Oxford band are playing at numerous venues throughout February and March, and their Kingston gig marked the end of the first half of their tour. McClusky’s nightclub offered a very different atmosphere from the venues they usually frequent, having played at impressive sites such as London’s Somerset House and Glastonbury Festival. However, this dramatic change did not seem to faze the band.
Rob, who, at the time, was preparing to perform at Oxford Town Hall, said: “We are always up for different types of venues and new things. We started out in pubs and clubs in Oxford, So it’ll feel like home.”
Supporting the band was soloist Laura J. Martin, who Rob described as “quite amazing”. He praised the Liverpudlian, who had to deal with a brief power cut during her New Slang set, saying, “She uses loads of loop pedals and plays the mandolin and flute. She has got an incredible voice and an amazing sound. It is great to be able to watch her every night.”
The band, conmprised of Rob, his older brother Oli on bass, lyricist and guitar player Bryan Briggs, and keyboard player Jon Ouin, have been dubbed the ‘British alternative indie folk band’ on numerous occasions. Rob told us that, although this was an apt depiction of their first album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, their new album may need a different description.
He said: “We feel that it is more soulful in the emotion and the atmosphere of it. It is uplifting and emotional, but certainly a departure from the very pop based, indie music of the first album. It has matured slightly.”
When considering if he still believes their genre to be ‘folk’, or if the move towards soul is more apparent, the drummer told us: “It is soulful, but obviously we are always going to have a folk element in there. Often a band is called ‘folk’ just because someone is using an acoustic guitar. But Brian uses an electric guitar on quite a few of the new songs, so it is a bit of a departure from it in that sense. But the songs are still telling stories and that is what folk music is all about.”
The band’s use of sound on the new album also differs significantly from the first, after the band explored new instruments and sounds. “The most striking difference to me is the instrumentation. We have used instruments like the kanoon and I play auto-harp. On one of the tracks we do a spoon solo. Oli spent a lot of time exploring electronic music and so he incorporates a lot of that into it. The end product has a much cleaner sound but we still recorded the entire album by ourselves in our garage, using basically the same microphones as we did for the first one.”
This eccentric mix of sound goes as far as including ‘crunching leaves’ in the song “Farewell Appalachia”. Rob explained: “It is reminiscent of a time when Brian went walking in the Appalachian trail. We used the sound of crunching leaves and of chopping wood to recreate that feeling of walking, very isolated, through the forest.”
Since Beachcomber’s Windowsill‘s release in 2010, the band have been very busy, both as a band and in their personal lives. After touring the UK, Australia, the United States and Europe, the band returned to Oxford to begin recording again. Rob said: “When the touring calmed down, we returned to recording, and we sort of went into hibernation. But while we were in Oxford, we all had big life changes: births, deaths, marriages and all kinds of things. So it has been a very developmental time for all of us.”
Although the big life changes that Rob spoke of can be seen in the lyrics of the new album, the musician said that he hopes people can still relate their own lives to the words and create their own meanings.
Stornoway were the first unsigned band to appear on Later Live… with Jools Holland, which the band consider to be a massive turning point in their career, allowing the band’s music to be heard by new audiences in the US and Europe, as well as the UK. Rob shared what it was like to meet music guru, Jools Holland. He said: “Jools is quite unassuming. He obviously plays up a lot to the TV, but he is very down-to-earth and straight-forward. He still has this real love of music. He was really welcoming and we had a great time with him. We were obviously very nervous but he, and the other people there, helped to calm our nerves, so that was a really great experience.”
Rob’s love of music dates back to his school days, when, at primary school in South Africa, he played his first gig in a school production of Grease. His favourite song on the album is “Hook, Line and Sinker”, which he described as an “incredibly fast and complex drum beat”, and a “real challenge to play”.
He said: “I’m a rock drummer. My teaching in drums was always based around rock drumming. It is great to be able to play the kind of drums that I am used to and deeply love with this band. I think that is a huge part of the sound; it is not just the far away quiet folky drums.”
Several tracks on the new album, and “We are the Battery Human“, from their first album, refer to an organic lifestyle, which Rob explained are a product of singer Brian Briggs’ education at Oxford. “The lyrics are written by Brian, who studied ornithology at Oxford and he has always had a real passion for environmentalism. But we all have that as well. It is hard not to when you live in Oxford. Everyone is very concerned about it and very conscious of their lifestyle. It definitely informs the music along the way.”
Tales from Terra Firma is an album of adventure, so we asked Rob what he considers to be the biggest adventure they have taken on. He said that, for the band, everything so far has been an adventure. In his personal life, though, he shared that his relationship is the biggest adventure he’s experienced. “Meeting someone who is from a completely different part of the world, who is introducing me to a lot of new things. She was actually the one who did the art work for the album. She has always been an artist and has introduced me to that side of creativity: the visual side of it as opposed to the audio side of it. So that has been a huge development for me, a huge adventure.”
The adventure is likely to continue. Asked what he is likely to be doing in five years time, Rob believes the band will still be making music, maybe on their third or fourth album. He said: “It all still feels very new, it kind of feels like we haven’t done enough.”
Stornoway’s album Tales fromTerra Firma will be released on March 11 2013.