Friday, 18 June 2010

An Interview with Dead Cities

Continuing the string of interviews I've posted with local musicians and bands about how they go about writing their songs I recently got the chance to interview Ryan Wyatt, bass player with the multi instrumentalist Liverpool Folk-Rock band Dead Cities.

So in the beginning, what made you want to write songs?

Nothing really, Martin had a few tunes and hadn’t played for a while so me and Oli started playing on top of them and they sounded pretty good so we carried on for 3 months or thereabouts before we realised we were a band.

Who influenced you as you began writing?

Probably Martin without sounding cheesy, just because he had these songs lying about and me and Oli just threw anything over them we thought we could add.  After a while when we started doing songs from scratch with each other, I think it was obvious that people like Neil Young has an influence on us as a band and Led Zeppelin for me are always going to influence ideas I come up with.  The Beatles too and anything more contemporary we listen to as a whole together – Wild Beasts, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes – there’s a lot of stuff in there.

So how did you all come together as a band?

I already knew both Oli and Martin, and they had played together in The Alterkicks. I had been playing in a few different bands around the same time, as well as my flat being in the same building as Oli’s, so it just kind of happened by accident really. Me and Oli had played in a few bands together already before Dead Cities, and as we lived in the same building as each other, and with Oli’s bedroom becoming a kind of local rehearsal room for bands we played in it, seemed the obvious choice for Martin to use me and Oli as the rhythm section.

Where did the name “Dead Cities” come from?

Martin had come up with a joke name which we would refer to ourselves as but when we realised we were turning into a band we just chose the name “Dead Cities” from a song title we had.  We managed to cut out all of the stresses involved in naming a band which is usually the biggest pain in the arse when starting a new project.

What would you say inspires you when you all write?

Wouldn’t be able to say to be honest as it can come from a film, book, concert you have been to, a noise you hear. For me I don’t really write as much as I usually help arrange or come up with melodies on top of existing chord structures so it is usually just something you think will add to a song for me.

You all play various instruments (live) but what’s you’re individual instrument of choice?

It would definitely be the bass as that is what I have played for 10 years in different bands and when people ask me to play with them it is usually to play bass. It’s the one instrument I feel completely comfortable on and never feel out of my depth on it. Since staring Dead Cities I have taken a real shine to the ukulele and find myself playing it everyday

Old Man (Live)

When you come to write a song do you find you always approach it in a similar way? Or do you have a formula as a band? (Do you write the songs as a band or do you write the lyrics and then approach the music as a band?)

It can work in different ways really.  Most of the time Martin will come in with a chord sequence and a melody and me and Oli will add what we think suits the song. It can result in me changing around different instruments to see what fits and Oli doing the same, then if we feel a song needs a change in direction or needs added sections one of us will usually come up with the idea of where to take it and it usually works without anyone thinking differently.  Sometimes we will literarily just write a song on the spot or in the studio and just take it there and then.

You grew from an acoustic band but have been branching out introducing other instruments, where do you see your musical direction going next?

Don’t have a clue and I would think that none of us do. We work on songs together and if they sound right they are in and if they don’t they will be put aside and we will work on something different. We might have 3 that we are working on all with different instrumentation that will sound like us but don’t sound alike so I think the sound always changes but can so easily come back to what it was we were doing at the start.  It’s all about how the song we are working on at the time feels. If it needs to be big it will end up big but if it needs to be soft it will be soft so I don’t think we ever have an idea of what the next track we work on will sound like.

What music are you all into at the moment?

I am into blues and have been for years and that is mostly what I listen to but I find I end up listening to a lot of music I hear friends playing or even listening to friends’ bands that I really look up to. At this very moment though it is The Movie Soundtrack to The Last Waltz by The Band which I just managed to get hold of at a record fair so that will probably be on my record player for the next month.

How would you describe your music, genre wise?

I wouldn’t know how to describe it really. If you say Folk people will expect Folk if you say Indie people will expect Indie and if you say Pop people will expect Pop I just say it’s a bunch of songs where we pass instruments about and try and create different sounding songs with just the three of us.

What's coming up in the summer? Recording?  Gigs?

I would imagine we will be going out and gigging over the summer as well as writing and looking at getting together more recordings for an album we hope to release this year. Unfortunately with being unsigned and some members working jobs and some unemployed the summer isn’t much different then other times of the year so you find you still push on and work as hard as any other time of the year. We have gigs starting to come in with Liverpool Sound City and one or two festivals so we will see what comes in and where they take us but in the mean time I suppose we will still just be writing, recording and drinking all of Oli’s tea and eating all of his digestive’s he tries to hide from us.


You can find out more about Dead Cities and check out some of their music at:

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Stornoway, A Band On The Run - From Genre

Fuel Up (on Later With Jools Holland)

Stornoway are a band running from genre.  Genre has it's gifts and it's hindrances.  It can help people understand your music, it can help people who like similar bands discover you, it can help critics classify you. OK well that last one may not be a plus side but lets face it people like to classify stuff.  Be it types of South American tree, umbrella or in our case new bands. 

Stornoway have recently thoroughly disowned the folk labels that were thrust upon them from everyone from the BBC to the NME.  But why have they been pigeon holed into the wave of new folk artists?  Well because their debut album Beachcomber's Windowsill is undeniably folky, that's why.  I mean come on even the album name is folk to the hilt!  The production on the album is reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes and the parallels between contemporaries like Noah & The Whale, Sons of Noel and Adrian and Mumford & Son are their in the instrumentation; featuring songs with banjo riffs a-plenty in We Are The Battery Human,  fiddles in The Coldharbour Road and delicate acoustic guitars in The End of the Movie.  Stylistically they range between folk and the more raucous tracks like Watching Birds

I Saw You Blink (Official Video)

So this begs the question, what is folk music?  Well what does it bring to mind for you? For some when they hear the word folk they think traditional English folk music (which personally leads me to think of Morris Dancers and Maypoles), others think 60s folk revival.  Well the dictionary definition is as follows:


plural noun 1 (also folks) informal people in general. 2 (one’s folks) one’s family, especially one’s parents. 3 (also folk music) traditional music of unknown authorship, transmitted orally. 4 before another noun originating from the beliefs, culture, and customs of ordinary people: folk wisdom.
  — ORIGIN Old English.

So then does modern folk music fit this definition?  Can we call Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons etc Folk?  Well no because we know who wrote their songs, they did.  Is their music traditional?  Well what's traditional? (Lets not go there right now we have enough on our hands with 'Folk'!)  Are they transmitted orally?  No.  We listen to their records.  So is anyone folk?  Arguably not by definition, no.

Zorbing (on Later With Jools Holland)

But who cares?  Stornoway like Marling and the Mumfords are all influenced by folk music, among many other genres.  So we should let Stornoway off with not wanting to be stereotyped as one of these new folk bands.  And their record has something none of the other bands have on theirs.  A Kazoo (on Watching Birds).


Go listen to the album The Beachcomber's Windowsill now, available on spotify here.  They're also part of my nu-folk spotify playlist, along with a load of other great bands, which can be found here.