FIVE FAVOURITES: Charlotte Spiral

Informed by personal loss, the need for escapism and intense self-refection, London-based dark-pop duo Charlotte Spiral are preparing to release their upcoming EP, New Light, on 9th April. Co-produced by Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey (Kae Tempest, Bat For Lashes, Sia) the band’s latest offering was recorded both remotely and in-person over the last year in and out of lockdown, an experience which heightened the EP’s themes of connection and isolation.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a band is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Charlotte Spiral’s Amy Spencer to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five songs that have inspired the band’s song-writing techniques. Check out her choices below and scroll down to listen to a live rendition of Charlotte Spiral’s latest single ‘New Light’ at the end of this post.

1. Laura Marling – ‘Fortune’
I’ve been listening to Laura Marling since I was in high school. I used to play guitar and sing and I was very inspired by her, especially as she was so young and already releasing records. I hadn’t heard of many singer-songwriters who were that young, and who also felt like they were doing something true to themselves.

Until her latest album Song For Our Daughter came out at the start of the first lockdown, I hadn’t listened to her for quite a while, but it became my lockdown soundtrack and continues to be on repeat. This song is one of the highlights from the record – it’s so elegant and it reminds me of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles. I love the lyrics, in particular, the line “better off measured in coffee and wine” and the subtle arrangement of Laura’s vocal, guitar and strings. I also love that the record is written to a fictional daughter, it’s very poetic, and I’m always drawn to records that have an underlying theme throughout.

2. Rufus Wainwright – ‘Memphis Skyline’
Avi Barath (the other half of Charlotte Spiral) introduced me to Rufus Wainwright when we were at Goldsmiths University. I’d always known of his music, but I’d never properly listened to his records. When Avi and I went to Tel Aviv a few years ago, we had this song on repeat driving around in the boiling weather.

It’s a gorgeous song, the arrangement is unbelievably beautiful and it gradually builds to an epic ending. It was written about Jeff Buckley after he died. Rufus’ music is a mix of ballads, musical theatre and classical, which I think we have tried to capture within our music. The way the piano and vocal parts work together in this track in particular is an inspiration for us, and we have some new music coming out later this year, which I think feels especially influenced by Rufus’ sound. He’s a true hero of mine and one of our main references for the project. I think both of his albums, Want One and Want Two are beautiful, but this song is pretty much perfection!

3. This Mortal Coil – ‘Song To The Siren’
This track is a cover, originally by Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley’s dad. I was recommended to listen to this song by my singing teacher when I was at Goldsmiths, she wanted me to try and embody some of Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal tone. I’ve always tried to sing this song the way she does and apply it to my sound, but it’s almost impossible because her voice is so unusual and unique. The way she sings here is with so much vibrato! It’s such a sad song, but she completely makes it her own. I think everything Elizabeth Fraser does is wonderful and I’ve always been inspired by her music, from the Cocteau Twins to her work with Yann Tiersen and Massive Attack. She has such an ethereal voice and her song-writing is one of a kind. A huge inspiration for me.

4. Moses Sumney – ‘Don’t Bother Calling’
I discovered Moses Sumney when he released his first record Aromantisism in 2017. I’d have it on repeat whilst I was working. Throughout the album, the focus is on his vocals, whether it’s his lead vocal or layers of harmonies and that’s something I’ve always loved to do throughout my music. I remember when we went to record our track ‘Wide Eyed’ from our first EP Ideal Life with Dan Carey, and he suggested Moses Sumney as a reference. This made me even more excited about working with Dan! ‘Don’t Bother Calling’ feels like a bittersweet kind of song, so dreamy and melancholy, but at the same time catchy – the perfect mix! And Moses’ falsetto is just incredible and his music is otherworldly. The lyric “the world is a wonderland scene” is beautiful.

5. Audrey Hepburn – ‘Moon River’
‘Moon River’ has got to be one of my favourite songs of all time. I love the film and book Breakfast At Tiffany’s, but it’s the song that I truly love. If anyone asks me to sing something, I’ll sing this! Just after I graduated I was a nanny and I’d sing it to the baby I looked after every day. She started singing it too at some point! It’s so graceful and understated.

I love the strings at the end of the track and the line “my huckleberry friend / moon river and me,” always gets me. I’m definitely a pretty cynical person, but I’ve got some romance in me too, and this song is that bit of romance in me. I think you can hear this romantic, rose-tinted vision touching some of our music. ‘Moon River’ is a timeless song, and that’s something we try to capture throughout our Charlotte Spiral releases. I’ll try and sneak this into one of our shows one day, whether Avi likes it or not!

Thanks to Amy for sharing her favourites with us.
Watch the video for Charlotte Spiral’s single ‘New Light’ below.

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Photo Credit: Barbora Mrazkova

FIVE FAVOURITES: Phé

Inspired by the unpredictability of modern life and the captivating electronic sounds of La Roux and New Order, Yorkshire-born, South London-based songwriter & producer Phé has recently shared her new EP, Moodboard. Blending her lush vocals with catchy beats, she’s created a collection of alt-pop soundscapes that meander through themes of self-acceptance and personal growth.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Phé to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five songs that have inspired the music on her new EP. Check out her choices below and scroll down to listen to her Moodboard at the end of this post.

1. The Strokes – ‘Soma’
It was difficult to pick a favourite Strokes song, most of their lyrics resonate with me, but this one stands out at the moment because I can’t seem to stop playing it. I appreciate songwriters who are aware that they are flawed, especially those who don’t sugar-coat it in their lyrics. Whether they aim to resolve their flaws or not isn’t necessarily what’s important, but it’s their desire to creatively articulate what their weaknesses are in a way that people can relate to that I find inspiring. There’s so much passion and anger in Julian Casablancas’ voice and for some reason whenever I hear it I feel so overwhelmed that I well up, no matter how many times I listen to it. It could be something to do with nostalgia because they narrated most of my childhood, or maybe it’s the fact you can tell there’s so much pain behind it, but the way Casablancas sings just feels incredibly authentic.

2. The Cure – ‘Just Like Heaven’
Love songs are wonderful things and I find it so interesting how timeless they can become through people’s personal experiences of them. This is one of my favourites of all time and I always tend to re-visit it when I’m busy romanticizing my own life in short bursts. Writing songs is such a personal experience, and it’s difficult to not recoil in despair when you listen back to what you’ve made sometimes, usually because you know you’re listening to how you actually feel rather than distracting yourself at all costs. ‘Just Like Heaven’ reminds me that it’s nothing to be ashamed of to express how you feel in your lyrics. It’s easy to get in your own head when you’re working on a project and I often forget that when someone listens to my music they’ll be having their own completely unique emotional response and I find that pretty comforting.

3. La Roux – ‘Let Me Down Gently’
It would have felt like one big whopping lie if I didn’t add La Roux as one of the main influences for this EP. Her approach to song-writing has been a real inspiration since I stopped writing songs with a guitar and moved towards a more electronic sound. I found it quite difficult to establish the kind of music I wanted to create at first and always felt like I was restricting myself, and the fact I wasn’t great at guitar probably didn’t help. Once I started using synths and making beats it pushed me in the direction that I’d been trying to go in, and it finally started to sound like my lyrics were matching the instrumentation. I find her style effortless with how she manages to be completely raw and direct in her lyrics, at times verging on cynical, alongside these really catchy synth melodies that are so simple but so effective. She manages to paint a world that is colourfully futuristic whilst staying honest with herself and the people around her, and that’s is the kind of world I want to live in.

4. Orange Juice – ‘Rip It Up’
I think anyone who makes music finds it incredibly frustrating sometimes because it’s a challenge to articulate yourself when there’s so many different ways you could do it. I didn’t really have much of an idea where I was going to go stylistically with this EP at first, but I was listening to a lot of folk and 80’s music at the time I was writing it and I guess that guided me through. As frustrating as it is, I also love the trial and error process of song-writing, and I took on the whole ripping-it-up-and-starting-again concept quite seriously because that’s what I did half-way through, and I’m glad I did because once I started re-writing it that’s when my thoughts started to come together and I had more of an idea of what I needed to say and how I wanted to say it.

5. Sudan Archives – ‘Come Meh Way’
Sometime last year I was listening to Sudan Archives on a walk round the moors in Yorkshire and I thought “God, I would kill to be able to play like that.” I ran home and dusted off my Mum’s old violin that was hibernating in the attic and started to teach myself. I’ve never heard anyone play the violin like Brittney Denise Parks, something about it is so haunting and atmospheric and adds a dimension to her songs that makes them so unique, and every time I listen to her I feel so moved. I love how her lyrics and violin seem to speak to each-other, and in this track her lyrics are rounded and gentle compared to this piercing violin arrangement – together it just produces such a mesmerizing sound and it definitely influenced elements of Moodboard.

Thanks to Phé for sharing her favourites with us!
Listen to Phé’s Moodboard EP below.

Photo Credit: Anna Rakhvalova

FIVE FAVOURITES: Bleach Lab

Working through unexpected grief majorly informed the songs on South London-based Bleach Lab’s upcoming EP, A Calm Sense of Surrounding. The death of bassist Josh Longman’s father and the breakdown of vocalist Jenna Kyle’s long-term relationship seeped into the band’s song-writing, as they began to musically explore the five stages of grief – anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Through Kyle’s emotive vocals and earnest lyrics and guitarist Frank Wates’ fluid, atmospheric riffs, the band soften the sharpness of their collective pain.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a band is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Bleach Lab to ask them about their “Five Favourites” – five songs that have inspired their song-writing techniques. Check out their choices below and scroll down to listen to Bleach Lab’s latest single ‘Flood’ at the end of this post.

1. Mazzy Star – ‘Halah’
Jenna Kyle (vocalist): My closest friend introduced me to Mazzy Star when I first moved to Brighton a while ago. She thought it would be right up my street, she knows me well. It’s hard to pick a favourite Mazzy song, but after a lot of rumination I concluded a while ago that ‘Halah’ takes the top spot. It quickly became a break up song of sorts for me and accompanied me on many wine filled nights. Hope’s dreamy, effortless voice floats above the guitar so flawlessly. The story that I take from the lyrics is not too dissimilar from the themes that I tend to find myself pulled into writing. The reflection and process of a break up that you can’t quite manage to move forward from. “Before I close the door, I need to hear you say goodbye, baby won’t you change your mind?” The story is a relatable one, it’s immersive and something that a lot of listeners can place themselves in. Something that I try to achieve with the way that I write my lyrics.

2. Radiohead – ‘Pyramid Song’
Frank Wates (guitarist): I remember first hearing this song on the TV soon after Amnesiac was released. It was the music video, the beautifully animated one where the diver jumps into the water and explores the submerged city. At the time I was probably around 10. I remember it really hit me emotionally, but I also remember being so confused about its rhythm and meter, which I later learned to be swung 4/4. I was tapping my foot along and totally failing to follow the beat and it really frustrated me. Granted I was only 10, but I think it really imprinted on me and it ended up being an important moment in my developing interest in rhythm. Rhythm is now the main thing I think about when writing my guitar parts and imagining how our songs will sound when fully formed. Melody and everything else come second.

3. Daughter – ‘Youth’
Jenna: ‘Youth’ was one of the first songs I fell in love with when I began the journey of figuring out my own style, back when I was around 16 and had previously only been singing over karaoke videos of Les Mis and Cats (the musical) soundtracks, whenever my parents left the house. I hadn’t really listened to any artists that ignited such a strong emotional response for me. I’m pretty sure it was a “this is it” moment when I heard it, and I couldn’t wait to learn the iconic guitar riff so I could play it myself. Elena Tonra’s lyrical style has always been a huge inspiration for the way that I have adapted my own writing. She writes visual stories with her words and her use of metaphors is effortlessly captivating. I would love to be able to quiz her on her approach and method to writing.

4. Interpol – ‘Rest My Chemistry’
Josh Longman (bassist): I have always been a big fan of Interpol growing up and have always been a massive fan of the simple guitar leads that just carry the song along from start to finish. I have always known of them, but only during my college days did a few of my friends entice me to dig deeper down the Interpol rabbit hole. The guitar tones and dynamic range throughout are spot on and the driving bass in many of their songs have influenced a few tracks for me as a bass player. When the bass isn’t driving, its simplicity really gives the guitars and vocals space to explore amazing melodies. Underrated band in my opinion, and I was happy to see them at All Points East when The Strokes were headlining, although for me I saw the festival as a good value of money as it seemed like there were 2 headliners that day.

5. Helena Deland – ‘Smoking At The Gas Station’
Frank: This is a really recent release, but I already know it will be one of my favourite records for a long time to come. I first heard it when I was listening through Helena Deland’s debut album Someone New for the first time soon after it came out. I was so excited for the album’s release as the singles were so gorgeously produced. Since sitting in on mixing sessions with the producer/mixer/engineer for our debut EP (shout out to Max), I’ve really started to pay attention to finer details around the mixing and production of any song I listen to. The song itself already features an incredible vocal performance, but I was absolutely blown away by its mixing and production. It has a really unsettling beauty to it to start but the song develops and finishes with one of the most beautiful and subtle outros I’ve heard. I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to writing powerful outros because of it.

Thanks to Bleach Lab for sharing their favourites with us!
Listen to ‘Flood’ below.

 

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Photo Credit: Isy Townsend

Five Favourites: MarthaGunn

Having released their debut EP Caught Up And Confused last year, Brighton’s MarthaGunn have received acclaim from the likes of The Independent and Radio X’s John Kennedy. Following recent single ‘Nowhere To Run’, they have now shared their latest offering ‘Honest‘. Confronting themes of fear and trauma, it oozes a soaring soulful splendour and celestial emotion-strewn power, showcasing MarthaGunn as definite ones to watch.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with front woman Abi to ask about her “Five Favourites” – five albums or songs that have shaped her as a musician, and in turn influenced MarthaGunn as a band. Check out her choices below and scroll down to watch the homemade lyric video for ‘Honest’ at the end of this feature. 

Mystery Jets – Serotonin
I was about 16 or 17 when this came out. Mystery Jets were the first band I truly understood. It was a real coming of age album for me, and I think whatever album you listen to around those years of your life tends to stick with you forever. It’s not necessarily something that would hit me in the same way now if hearing for the first time, but at that age it just captured so much of what I was feeling and it had just the right amount of angst. For me, this was the album that made me want to start a band. I loved the idea of singing and writing songs with mates and being in a gang together. It was also the reason why I used to make Max sing everything in harmony with me, as Blaine and Will used to sing a lot together.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
In our first year as a band, we were playing in a pub and I remember this guy coming up to me afterwards and saying we reminded him of Fleetwood Mac. At the time I had no idea who they were. I asked Max and he was like “you know who they are, you know – ‘Dreams’, ‘Go Your Own Way’?”, but I genuinely had no idea. I went home and looked them up and from that day I had them on repeat for about two years solid. I didn’t listen to anything else and I watched every documentary under the sun. I love the fact this album has the song writing perspective of three people, there’s a lot to work with there. It was the main inspiration behind our song ‘Heaven’. Funnily enough, the song that inspired ‘Heaven’ was ‘Oh Daddy’. When I first wrote ‘Heaven’, it was at the speed of ‘Oh Daddy’, which if you know that song, is much slower than now.

Haim – Days Are Gone / Something To Tell You
I was going through a bit of a rough patch in my song writing, not knowing what the hell I was trying to make. Someone showed me a video of Haim ‘Night So Long at the Greek’, and I just thought it was amazing. From there I dived into every song and documentary I could. There’s a pattern here isn’t there? If I love something I become quite obsessive and I want to squeeze it dry of every drop of inspiration. These two albums for me made me realise I had been over complicating song writing and actually it was meant to be a fun process. Haim’s lyrics are simple and to the point (which is actually the hardest, most skilled thing to do). I really focussed on rhythms in drums and vocals after this and trying to make both as hooky as possible. I owe them a huge thank you for helping me to fall back in love with song writing.

Prince – ‘I Would Die For You’
This was one of those songs that I listened to on repeat for a whole year. Even now it still makes me feel the same. I think music is able to help us feel emotions we aren’t able to express. This song kills me every time I listen to it. To all those I’ve loved who have no idea, or don’t want to know, I guess this song is my way of communicating it without actually having to. The combination of the two Haim records and this song really lead me to experimenting more with rhythms in drums and vocals. This helped me find my voice for writing drum parts. You don’t need to play an instrument to write for the instrument. Haim and Prince also made me become obsessed with the Linn Drum, but I am yet to own one. It’s on the wish list.

Daft Punk – ‘One More Time’ / ‘RAM’
This isn’t so much of a direct influence but we are all obsessed with Daft Punk. Humph and Frank are probably the biggest fans in the band. Frank is always the DJ in our van on tour so they come everywhere with us. When I think of our band it is soundtracked by Daft Punk, up and down the autobahn. ‘One More Time’ as a song does something to me (and I’m sure many others), it instantly puts me in a good mood and gets me ready for a show. I’m slightly obsessed with a new bit of info I just discovered on this song about how it was sampled. I won’t bore you here but if interested, google it. I guess there is a dance element that us three in particular are interested in exploring and I’m sure at some point in the future there will be a dance track from us subconsciously influenced by the hours and years listening to Daft Punk.

Massive thanks to Abi for sharing her Five Favourites with us! Watch the poignant homemade lyric video for MarthaGunn’s new single ‘Honest’ below: