Interview: Smoke Fairies

Smoke FairiesSmoke Fairies are about to tour their newest album, the self-titled Smoke Fairies, due for release on Full Time Hobby on 14th April 2014. Both Katherine and Jessica feel it marks a departure from their recognised sound and they’re excited by the continued development of their artistic relationship.

In a revealing interview with DrunkenWerewolf's Andrew Wiles, the London based, Chichester bred duo discuss their relationship to music, their evolution and what excites them still.

For your new album you’ve said, “This album gave us the opportunity to actually be two voices, rather than two voices as one entity: two people talking to each other as distinct characters. They’re the messages that we send to each other.” Before, did you feel more inclined to “agree” with each other when writing? Would you say Smoke Fairies is more indicative of who you are as people? Is that exciting?

Jessica: It’s very exciting. This album is all about who we are as people and what it means to put everything into music. We definitely have always had the tendency to disagree with each other when we didn’t think something was right our could be improved but our whole attitude toward this album was different.  Maybe it was confidence we’ve gained from experience or the fact that this album was mostly inspired by almost giving up music, but we felt we lost our egos on this album. Whatever we did on the album was to make the song sounds its best because we viewed making the album as a huge blessing.

Katherine: Shutting ourselves away and making this record was wonderful. It was good to feel unbridled by any idea of what Smoke Fairies [are] ‘supposed’ to sound like. In a way we felt we could sound any way we wanted and we just gave the songs the character we felt they deserved.

Do you have to consciously excite yourself about the possibilities that a guitar, bass and drums offer of is it as easy as just looking at them?

Jessica: In this new album we tried different instruments. We experimented with way more piano than we have before and had fun playing around with synths.

Katherine: In our previous albums the instrumentation has seemed very obvious. Mostly you could imagine how the song should sound and we worked towards that vision. With this album we were much more conscious of making sure we didn’t smother the melodies with unnecessary instrumentation. We stripped them back to the core and only added things if we were convinced it served a point.

Themes such as each inescapable fate, self destruction, sacrifice, redemption and even light and dark repeatedly appear in your music. Where does the religious imagery in your songs come from? Are you religious?

Katherine: For me personally, my family are very religious and I guess subconsciously I’m influenced by that upbringing. But, to me the themes you’ve mentioned are just staples of the human condition. We are all struggling with the different sides of our personalities, light and dark, trying to relate to other people.

Are there topics to which you recognise yourselves returning again and again?

Jessica:  Everyone who makes art has comfort zones which they return to because it’s what they know what they are doing there and it’s easy. With this new album anything that we recognised as being one of those Smoke Fairies comfort zones, be it a chord progression or a theme, would be scrapped.  As a result I think this album is different. It is definitely the most introspective collection of songs we have done. Before, we relied on aspects of location, seasons and nature to express emotions.

Katherine: I think we felt quite free writing this record and explored some new subjects. There was a feeling of abandon, because we weren’t really writing for an audience, but looking inwards and trying to figure out where we were going in our lives. How music had dragged us in certain directions and whether that was something we wanted anymore. It was quite amazing to go from a feeling of desolation to one of intense creativity.

Do you feel there are subjects which are intrinsically more artistic than others?

Jessica:  you can make art out of anything it’s just some subjects are probably going to resonate with people more than others.

Katherine: If you look at the most popular songs, they are usually about very similar subjects, love, loss, desire. People seem to be interested in subjects that highlight feelings of isolation to alleviate that in themselves. I’m not sure that makes those subjects more artistic, it’s exciting when you associate with a song or lyric when it seems more unique.

How would you feel about yourselves being described as pagan mystics? Do you feel any identity with such a definition?  

Jessica: I did see a pagan on Country File who said that you have to ask a plant before you cut it. So I try and be more considerate to my plants now. That is the about the only thing I know about Pagans!

Katherine: I don’t think this album is very “mystical” With this record we were just trying to understand our lives, maybe if we were pagan mystics we would have everything figured out by now.

How did you end up going on tour with Bryan Ferry in 2007?

Jessica:  That seems so long ago now. Our friend Leo Abrahams was Bryan’s session guitarist back then and he passed him our demo.  It was our first taste of touring and we were completely spoiled, playing giant theaters, traveling in a massive tour bus with a catering department.

Do you read much poetry? If so who?

Katherine: I like to read poetry when I can’t sleep, it’s very relaxing. To me they are the literary equivalent of songs. My recent favourites have been anything by Sharon Olds.

Do you feel the album you are about to release has a connection with any landscape or since becoming travelers have you become far more diverse in your references?

Jessica:  Our earlier stuff always seemed to have undertones of the feeling you get on a late night drive. It’s a melancholy. These last few years we have been fairly stationary and have spent most of the time in London.  We are looking inward at ourselves on this album and not really at the world around us.

Katherine: We didn’t want to focus on imagery and metaphors so much. We just wanted to say what we meant as directly as possible.

What is the function that making music has for yourselves?

Jessica: This was something that we thought about a lot before making the album. Music was the only thing that had ever defined us. It is a foundation of our friendship and many other relationships we have, it is what drives us, funding it is the reason we go to work office jobs in the city every morning. When we decided to quit it, it was a rug swept from under our feet. Music helps people escape. It is like a drug and can effect and enhance your mood. That’s its function.

Katherine: I think everyone who puts out a record wants to believe that they are serving a function, that the songs are going to be important to people. I hope that we’ve made something beautiful that people will want to keep listening to.

Smoke Fairies will release their new album on 14th April 2014 through Full Time Hobby.

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