- Tue, 2010-05-18 16:27
Currently touring the US supporting Laura Marling, I Like Music caught up with duo Smoke Fairies days before their plane left the UK. Sat in a pub in Camden, we chatted about their process of creating beautiful music, which focuses on two guitars and two voices.
Having recently expanded their live show to include a full band, we found out their plans for the future, what it was like working with Jack White and Richard Hawley, the music they've been listening to recently and their plans for that evening; their Camden Crawl gig.
"I Like Music because… it’s always a constant in life. You can always come back to this one album and it won’t have changed.” Jessica, Smoke Fairies
"I Like Music because… it’s like a home.” Katherine, Smoke Fairies
ILM: You’ve recently added a band to your live set up, what impact has that had?
Katherine: It’s way more fun playing with a band! We feel more comfortable on stage now, just having a fuller sound. It gives us the ability to be more dynamic. We’re a duo at our core, but now we’re able to bring things down and make it more intimate with just the two of us, or expand into a dramatic sound. It’s an amazing freedom we didn’t have before.
ILM: What can we expect from your Camden Crawl set?
Jessica: We get about forty minutes or so. We'll do some quiet ones, but mainly the full band ones.
Katherine: You have to look at the venue, the audience too. Tonight will be a more band-y sound, we're going on just before Teenage Fanclub, so it’ll be nice to play something a bit louder!
ILM: There’s a big difference between festival sets and your own show, how do you approach that?
Jessica: Our own gigs are very controlled. We can control the whole atmosphere from the moment people walk in. Which is really exciting. With festivals you don’t get to control anything.
Katherine: The experience can spin off into a completely different direction, there’s no control, that’s a bit scary!
Jessica: But people at festivals seem to enjoy whatever. There's so much choice, plus they’re there because they want to be there, it’s what they want to see at that moment.
Katherine: One reason people go to festivals is for that unique experience, for something a little more haphazard!
ILM: Which have been some of your favourite festival sets?
Jessica: We played Lattitude last year, in the cinema tent. It was just the perfect thing. There was something really magical about it. The rain was pouring down, everyone was crammed in, there were little candles at the front, the audience were attentive and there was this film playing behind us. Sometimes you just feel really relaxed and realise it’s a special experience.
ILM: You’re obviously very practiced at playing with each other. How would you describe the dynamic between you?
Jessica: Hopefully we know what the song needs from us and we can hold back. We can complement each other. I think we’ve got to the stage where that comes quite naturally.
Katherine: Being part of a duo where it works, where you’re like a jigsaw puzzle, involves an amount of selflessness at times. Like Jessica says, it's about what the song needs.What can I bring to what Jessica has already done to make something different? You have to kind of fit into the grooves that are available, so that it slots together.
ILM: Do you write while you travel? Is it saved for certain moments?
Katherine: You go through phases of building things up in your head and letting them stew a bit. When you have the right time, the right moment and it’s quiet, you can sit and work. Or sometimes you’ve got an idea in your head but it’s not quite finished. I think it’s fine to go through stages where you’re not actually writing songs because you’re just absorbing.
ILM: Do you write together?
Katherine: Sometimes separate, but increasingly we’re writing stuff with a view to writing a song in the moment. Trying not to analyse too much when we do stuff together.
ILM: Is that at home? Do you live together?
Katherine: Yeah. And yeah, at home or in the studio. The way it comes about seems to change. There’s a seed of an idea that comes from somebody, slowly it evolves over time until you have all the pieces. Some songs are really instantaneous, some songs take a really long time. You just have to let them be, you have to leave them if they’re not ready to be completed. Sometimes I write something and I just know I need Jessica to come in with an idea, she’ll say ‘why don’t you do that’ and I’ll be like ‘of course!’
ILM: Where are you at the moment? Sounds inspirations?
Jessica: I think we want to make sure we’re leaving ourselves open to go in whatever direction we’d like to. We don’t want to get too pigeon holed into a folk vein or whavetever else people are thinking we are. It’s interesting to listen to other songs and try out different melodies. I think people get stuck in a rut of writing the same kind of melodies over and over again.
Katherine: Especially with folk and blues. Folk and blues have very specific sounds and there are certain chords...
Jessica: And rhythms..
Katherine: and sometimes it all merges into one.
Jessica: Sometimes it’s good to think I’m going to try and make this a pop song, then through doing that, it won’t sound anything like a pop song, but you’ve ended up with a strange tune. I like doing that.
ILM: Do you experiment a lot with other genres?
Jessica: I think you can take influences from anything and find a way of turning them into your own. Sometimes if you’re not sure how to finish a song, going to the least obvious place to get an idea is fun and also a good way to work.
Katherine: The melodies I like the most are the ones that twist off into another direction. You know when you listen to a song and you know it’s going to do something, then it does? It’s sort of disappointing. It’s exciting when there is a tune that you expect to go a certain way, or for a word to rhyme with another word, then it doesn’t.
ILM: You recently worked with Jack White. What was that experience like?
Katherine: When you’re collaborating with someone who has such a distinctive sound, you have to go with it. You have to think ‘this is a merger of two.’ He was producing and playing, it was a merge of styles and you can’t be too precious about that. I hope, and I think, we achieved from that recording a combination of our own sound but with his inflections, which made it interesting. I really like the way it turned out, I think we stayed true to ourselves but...
Jessica: ...let him in enough as well. It was only a single, so we thought we’re not going to get to work with him everyday! Let’s just see what he brings in.
Katherine: He did take it pretty far. At the end of River Song there is this amazing, out there solo, which is just something we wouldn’t have done. He kind of was like ‘what do you think?’ and we were like ‘Yes!’
ILM: Do you have any other collaborations lined up?
Katherine: We did some sea shanties with Richard Hawley. That’s coming out soon. We’re singing backing voicals. That was quite intense! One of the songs was just him. He was like ‘Alright girls! Sing along!’ It was just him in a room with us standing round him, and the two other guys from his band. I just think he has an amazing voice, it was a pleasure to sing with him. But also intense because there were no instruments. It was a real test of our skills!
ILM: But it went well?
Jessica: Yeah! Well, we think so!
ILM: Aside from collaborations, can you recommend any bands, music?
Jessica: At SXSW we saw School of Seven Bells. They were amazing! We’d like to see them again. It was a real experience! They were using some strange effects, really atmospheric. I’d recommend them!
Katherine: I found them quite inspiring. Those sort of bands give you ideas of ways you could expand.
ILM: Have you considered expanding? More vocalists maybe?
Katherine: It would be nice. But when we record, we do like to layer our voices. There’s something quite intense about the sound of just the two of us. I think it’s good to be open to the idea though.
Jessica: Backing vocalists maybe, that would be good.
Katherine: It would have to be done carefully.
Jessica: I’d like to experiment with more of an electronic sound, like School of Seven Bells. We haven’t explored that yet.
Katherine: School of Seven Bells are just two vocalists basically. They just use their voices with effects, it leads to an amazing outcome. It got us thinking. There is something really beautiful about what they do, but kind of rock as well.
ILM: What do you listen to in your spare time?
Katherine: This morning I was listening to the new Dead Weather single. I was half listening to it last night, but I was falling in and out of sleep. I kept coming back into consciousness like ‘what is this?’ It was quite creepy, but in a good way! I'm at risk of sounding like I’m plugging something to do with us, but it is really good!
Jessica: I’ve been listening to PJ Harvey a lot. Broken Bells. I just got some Patti Smith stuff which I’m going to listen to on tour. Duke Garwood. He’s just had a new album out which I think is really good.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Katherine: We’re just packing our suitcases at the moment. We’re off on tour with Laura Marling! We’ll do that, then festivals, then by the middle of the year hopefully release something.
Jessica: We have a lot of tracks that we’ve recorded. We just want to get them out there, but obviously you have to wait for the right opportunity. Let things run their course. We’re excited about that, but patient too. The album will come out, but we can’t tell you a specific timeline.
ILM: And the bigger picture, years to come? Do you consider that?
Jessica: I guess we have a vision. I guess we’d like to start to get more well known in the US and Europe. So that we can release stuff there as well. Maybe go to Japan too. I think it’s just to do with travelling and going on tour too.
ILM: You like touring?
Jessica: Well, yeah! It’s pretty good. There’s something about touring, you kind of go into this world, this bubble, where you’re playing music so much and seeing so many landscapes go past. It’s a strange experience that isn’t very normal.
ILM: Like miniscule tourism?
Jessica: Yeah! I just think we’re going to have to see things from the bus on the road. We won’t be able to see cities much. You can always get a feel for them, it’s more about the experience than being a tourist.
ILM: And meeting lots of people?
Jessica: Well, we’re going to set up a merch stand at each gig. I’m sure we’ll meet lots of people!
Katherine: Yeah, we get lots of people coming up to us at the end. They all have their own opinion! People don’t like to hold back. Sometimes it can be a bit intense.
ILM: Really? Negative?
Jessica: Yeah! That happens at almost every gig. “You should really think about doing....” I don’t know.
Katherine: A lady came up to me and told me I was wearing the wrong coloured tights once. And I was dressed up as an elf! So.....really, if she was going to complain about anything, it probably should have been the fact I had an elf costume on!