Interview: Stornoway

Stornoway are a nu-folk band from Oxford who have just released their latest mini-album “You Don’t Know Anything” and are planning a third album. 

1. Hi guys, what is it like touring again?
Today we are setting up for a technical rehearsal in a larger space in Oxford, so we are limbering up, stretching, perfecting our choreography and cartwheels ‘and such’. It’s naturally a buzz to be playing live again as it feels like it’s been a while after a sizeable chunk of time writing and arranging.

2. You’ve recently released a mini album “You Don’t Know Anything”, can you tell us something about that?
It’s a collection of tracks which didn’t seem to quite fit the mould on the album we released earlier this year (Tales from Terra Firma), but we always wanted to put out in some form. Maybe on the whole they’re a tiny bit more ‘day-glo’ or intrepid production-wise and style-wise.

3. You’ve also been discussing a 3rd studio album?
It’s early days: we’ve just started writing and arranging some bits and pieces. So far it’s sounding a bit more jagged and a bit saltier. The sonic equivalent of a friendly smack in the chops.

4. When you are writing, who are your influences?
I suppose I shouldn’t really speak for Brian (who writes the majority of the songs), but from my perspective when I hear his demos I generally don’t tend to hear transparent influences. That tends to come later in the arranging process, where we actively plunder from other songs and try it out on Stornoway songs. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t! We’ve just released an EP where I suppose you can hear a bit more overt stylistic playfulness … One of the tracks, ‘Clockwatching’, for example, sounds to me a bit B-52s-ish and Tom Waits-ish on the surface, while another ‘The Sixth Wave’, has a pinch of Damon Albarn here and a dash of Bellowhead brass there.

5. If you had to share a stage with any band dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My answer to this would change on any given day, but currently it would be great to have John Cale play some electric viola on a few songs. Aside from being a real pioneer, he’d lend things a slightly darker tone!

6. You’ve toured the UK and Europe pretty extensively over the years, where is your favourite place to play your music and why
That’s a very difficult question to answer. So far probably playing acoustic at the Crow’s Nest at Glastonbury. It’s up on a hill near the Park Stage, so maybe the atmosphere is how it is because the people that came really wanted to be there!

7. Your music taste usually stems through what your parents listened to, did they influence your taste growing up or did you find another source?
Well my dad likes Meat Loaf and Gilbert & Sullivan and I’ve managed to resist liking them so far. But then again, he is also slightly fixated on the sound of the saxophone, which I used to find pretty rebarbative (mainly thanks to 80s things like ‘Careless Whisper’ and Kenny G) but I have come round to liking. My mum reads the NME and knows more about new bands than I do. Should I be worried?

8. I first discovered you when one of your songs was iTunes’ single of the week, how important do you think the internet and social media is for promoting bands? Would you say it’s easier because you can reach listeners more, or harder because there also hundreds of other bands doing the same?
Well I’m glad you came across us (thanks to iTunes). If you’re a new band, social media is clearly such a vital and everyday means of talking with your fans and on the surface there’s now a more natural interaction between fan and musician, without so much interference by third parties, especially when a band is unsigned. But I suppose it’s now a bit harder to get heard in some ways as there’s so much more ‘chatter’ going on. It’s probably no longer enough to be just a half-decent band: you have to be doing something extra special and imaginative to get anyone’s attention, both in terms of your music and the manner in which you promote yourself. We’re lucky in that we have an existing audience who like coming to shows, so I suppose reaching listeners on social media sites has the potential to be more straightforward…but still, social media are fires that have to be ‘stoked’ everyday (mostly by good old Oli). I should put a disclaimer in here in that I’m not really a social media person (I don’t actually use twitter or bookface), so I’m probably the worst person to ask!

9. You’re name after the Scottish island because it was far away and you had never been, it’s been 7 years since you started the band, have you been to Stornoway yet?
Yes we have – a couple of times in fact. Aside from the music, we visited the famous Standing Stones of Callanish and went for a heart-stoppingly cold swim in the sea!

10.Vinyl sales this year have hit a peak for the past decade, do you feel like the physical aspect of listening to music is returning?
Have they? That’s really interesting in terms of what it says about us as music buyers. I wonder who is doing all the buying though? I imagine physical music will remain a pretty niche area, unless people start making memory drives that are somehow rendered beautiful, and worth having in their own right!

11.In 2009 you became the first ever unsigned band to appear on Jools Holland, how did that feel?
I’ve watched it since I was 13 or something, so what an unbelievable honour it was to be asked! It was the first bits of TV that we ever did. Because it’s all done in a circle, there’s a leveling aspect to it, and it goes without saying music’s not some kind of competition. Still, we were surrounded by all these musical behemoths like Jay-Z, Dave Grohl and Sting, so to say we were a little over-awed would be an understatement. In the days leading up to it, we had a laugh about it, but I think you can see the terror in our eyes! The first song was not particularly fluid, but I think we found our swing by the second…

12.Where would you like to see Stornoway in 5 years?
Hopefully I will have got that Noah song out of my head by then. With any luck, we will have a troupe of lithe acrobats who will tour with us and perform while we tour South Africa, Russia and Japan. They’ll be a little distracting, but our audiences will feel they’ve got their money’s worth. Rob will be quite busy then with his art by then, so will occasionally appear via hologram (technology will improve quite quickly over the next five years). Hopefully I will be allowed to perform in a bag, as per Yoko Ono c.1969. Oli will be throwing himself into ever more implausible crowd surfing situations, and Brian will get to don his nuthatch costume every night.

Got any good jokes?
Brian’s joke of the day is: “What do you call a man with no arms or no legs who swims the channel..... A clever dick.”

What is your favourite colour and why?
Deep tuscan red. Because it sounds slightly pompous.

If you had to be an animal, which one would you be and why?
A porcupine. Because Rob just showed me a really silly video of one noisily eating a pumpkin and it had strange orange front teeth.

Interview by Will Whitby