The 405 meets Smoke Fairies
Ruth Barnes presents The Other Woman on Amazing Radio every Sunday evening 7-9pm - a new music playlist made up entirely of female artists and female fronted bands. Here's what happened when she met recent guests blues-rock duo Smoke Fairies at a venue in West London to talk about their 'new direction' on latest album Blood Speaks.
"Someone compared us to (LA heavy metal art rockers) Tool the other day and I looked them up and thought, 'Ah yes, that could be the next step'"
On a sticky day in west London, Jess Davies, one half of blues-inspired rockers Smoke Fairies muses over the direction their new album Blood Speaks has taken. We're backstage at The Tabernacle before Jess and musical partner in crime Katherine Blamire take to the stage. Having battled to the venue on public transport from Peckham, laughing about some prams- versus-guitar cases argy bargy on the bus, they admit that yes, maybe the time has come for them to start taking mini cabs. This intimate venue is the perfect setting for them to play the new songs live for first time.
In short, Blood Speaks rocks out. It's the sound of Smoke Fairies shedding their 'ethereal, folk duo' label and finding confidence in their instruments and a bolder sound. The album cover, bleak, stark, mature is a direct contrast to the youthfulness and natural softness of 2010's debut Through Low Light and Trees.
JD: We just wanted to go with something a bit bolder. The last one was quite poetic, we felt like a change.
KB: This album has a harder edge to it in places. We recorded it in the city, it has a more urban feel, as it's based in a city environment - the title fitted it.
Smoke Fairies have been playing and travelling together for years, over a decade in fact. Honing their sound in New Orleans, Canada and er, their hometown of Chichester. It's the recent bout of touring since 2010 though, which seems to have inspired this new found confidence:
JD: We've been on quite a few tours, got quite a few pedals we've been messing around with.
KB: You feel quite confident as you grow, as a musician. You become more confident about where you push yourself to and hopefully that will increase as we keep going.
However, geographical influences aside, it's London that's really bled into this record:
JD: We've been living in London for quite a few years now and it seeps into what you're thinking and you're attitude to things - your temper with other people!
KB: When I first got here I felt like the biggest country bumpkin, bouncing off people in the street, bumbling along. There's been an element of change. I do find myself barging a few Grannies out of the way now, not worrying about squashing a few children with my guitar, I've got the london attitude!
Always strong contenders lyrically, heartbreak and retaining emotional control weaves its way through the album. For example ‘Something dies when you fall in love, something lives when you've had enough' from Take Me Down When You Go. Jess explains:
JD: If you fall in love things do die, you have less time. Friendships die, freedom goes, it's just what happens.
KB: I personally always find things very complicated when perhaps they should be quite simple. I don't think it's negative, a lot of the time something has to be destroyed for something else to take its place.
Smoke Fairies accosted Jack White at a Rough Trade instore many moons ago, impressing him with their tenacity and the record he eventually listened too, White signed them up to release a single on his label Third Man Records. Since, they've kept in touch and supported him on a recent UK tour. The thrash-thrash sound of the drum check in the venue prompts Jess to joke: "Maybe it's Jack White telling us to stop telling that story!"
Although support from the likes of Richard Hawley and Jack White can't be undervalued, there must come a time when you'd want rid of that connection having earnt your own dedicated audience - with or without their stamp of approval:
KB: I wouldn't want to be ungrateful! Just being around people like that gives you a lot of inspiration, but of course you want to stand on your own two feet. Hopefully we're getting more to that point where people see us and it's just us, I don't want to be disrespectful in any way... I'm worried I'll blurt something out... I'm being very controlled!
In an era where mainstream music press loves to bang it's there-are-loads-of-women-in- pop-Adele-Flo-Adele-Flo-Adele drum, do Smoke Fairies fear being pigeonholed? There's a frustration when it comes to being boxed in with other women musicians purely based on physical attributes, and also a pressure to be ‘songbirds':
KB: We were compared to The Pierces! A great band, but they're just two girls playing guitar with blonde hair and brown hair, that's the only connection!
JD: I've noticed there is this pressure to make your voice sound really nice. People like Neil Young can sing out of tune when they want, I'm thinking on the next album I'm just going to sing really weird notes... Maybe it's a today thing, to be really precise.
Smoke Fairies are ridiculously good to their fans. Limited edition singles and handmade covers mean their records have become modern record collectors' collectibles. Catching them live at London's Scala last year was one of the politest gigs I've ever seen. A room full of people quietly sipping ale and nodding their heads:
JD: It can be very intense, sometimes you're like: ‘Someone say something!' I think it's like a mirror isn't it, you put something intense out into the world you get something intense back.
KB: You can't complain, we've paid our dues. We‘ve played a lot of gigs where no one's been listening!
This interview was broadcast on The Other Woman on Amazing Radio - hear it here. Blood Speaks is out now on V2. A September UK tour is preceded by festival dates kicking off at Latitude on July 14th.