Sound of the Sirens interview 20/08/15

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Interview TitleWell it’s taken us a while to get this one together after I was left speechless (I know, that’s difficult to believe) as I watched Sound of the Sirens’ unique set of twentieth century acoustic anthems in support of Mad Dog Mcrea earlier this year. When I heard they were coming to London to appear live on the open mic session on Chris Evans’ show on Radio 2, it was an opportunity that was too good to miss. Here’s what happened when they turned up south of the river, buzzing with adrenaline and caffeine and ready to tell the world about it:

Allan – Well, it’s been five months since I saw you at The Half Moon in Putney. Quite a lot has happened since then, so tell me what’s been going on?

Abbe – Doing the mini tours with Mad Dog completely exhausted us, left us on-our-knees-tired, but always worth it because they’re lovely. Then we applied to Glastonbury and Mike Mathieson of Mad Dog, who knows everyone, who knows everyone, who knows everyone, said try these people so we tried other avenues, followed the routes he gave us and one of them paid off. They must be inundated with people applying, so even to get a ‘Oh hello girls, yes, brilliant, we’ll have a look at what you do’, we were excited, and then getting that email to say we’d got in to Glastonbury was just brilliant.

Hannah – We screamed and jumped on couches.

Abbe – I couldn’t see because I smiled so much my eyes closed.

Allan – That started off with one gig, didn’t it? How many did you end up with at Glastonbury?

Hannah – Four in the end, because each stage only has a certain amount of tickets to give out, so once you’re in there, they want acts.

Abbe – So we just ran around begging people to play…

Hannah – And they had us.

Abbe – And it was quite funny because one of the best gigs we did there was the backstage hospitality and catering for all the staff, who were just hilarious and they were so up for a party because they’d been working all day and everybody was in such good spirits. To do the sort of mini-gig in their world within Glastonbury was really fun and then we realised that was the way forward, so we started approaching all the backstage bars like the Circus Tent. Who knows, if we get back next year it would be nice to go and play some more of those.

Allan – Was it at Glastonbury that Chris Evans saw you, initially?

Abbe – I think a few people have put that on Facebook, haven’t they, and people just assume that, but we got in to Carfest (North) through a lovely girl called Chloe who put us on to the Wigwam Stage and when we were there she said ‘I’ve also managed to put you forward for the friends and family glamping area…’

Hannah – I’ve still got my band on for good luck…

Abbe – And we said ‘Oh brilliant, that’s great’ and she said ‘I don’t think you realise what a deal this is; this is an access all areas pass, even I can’t get in to these areas’. So me and Hannah put on these bands and waltzed around Carfest flashing our bands here, there and everywhere and it was just brilliant. So we went to set up and we had to do the sound as well, so we were having this big faff and panic when Bob Geldof walked in. It was just berserk and then we set up and it was a lovely tent; everyone was outside around the fire enjoying themselves, so we just settled in to the fact that ‘It’s cool that we’re here but no-one’s really going to watch and we might meet Chris Evans if he comes by but we’re just the background and that’s that.’ Then in walked Chris Evans and sat about two metres in front of us tapping the table and with his feet tapping. If someone had filmed us, the reactions on our faces would have been so funny but then he stayed for the entire set. Brilliant.

Hannah – Me and Abbe couldn’t look at each other.

Abbe – We’ve developed this thing over the last few weeks where we have to avoid eye contact with each other.

Allan – So that was what led to this morning.

Hannah – Yeah. We played at Carfest, then we got a text message from Chris the next day, back at the van…

Abbe – We gave him our CDs the night before…

Hannah – And we spoke to him and he said ‘What can I do for you girls, I listened to your CD this morning.’

Abbe – To which we coolly said ‘OK’. (Laughter all round). It was really funny because we went back to the tent to get breakfast and he came in and said ‘Hello again, I’ve got your music playing in my car and I’ll take your details and get in contact and we’ll sort this out.’ So we were just trying to be really cool and collected. He’s so friendly, he’s so down to earth; he’s lovely. And he left and the chef who was making everybody breakfast just came over and leaned on the table and went ‘Look at you trying to keep it together’

Then we got a text saying ‘Let’s sort this out’ and we thought ‘Shall we just give him a ring? Who dares wins…’

Hannah – Then we got invited to The Mulberry Inn, his pub, to play and open mic night last Friday which was amazing and we ended up playing our whole set at the end of the night.

Abbe – It was two songs, then it was four. Then ‘No, don’t stop, we’ll tell you when to stop. Right, close the doors, keep playing”. It was brilliant.

Hannah – Then he saw the state of us in the morning the next day…

Abbe – And he still liked us.

Allan – And presumably that’s what led to where you’ve been this morning; at Radio 2.

Abbe(More laughter) That was the long answer.

Hannah – It was the teapot that did it; the teapot in the van, our RAC van. (Probably too complicated to explain here, but it’s a good excuse to point you in the direction of the show on iPlayer at 1:42:20 and 02:25:55).

Allan – And how it did it go at Radio 2?

Abbe – Amazing! It’s so funny; we were obviously nervous, but I don’t think I‘ve thought about it enough this week because it’s been a case of ‘Right this is happening, get that planned get this organised, do that…” that you don’t actually think about what you’re planning towards until suddenly the day was here and my stomach was just turning in circles. Then we got there and it was fine, don’t even think about it, don’t look at Facebook, don’t look at your phone, don’t look at messages, don’t think about everyone we know sitting around the radio like the 1940s or something listening to us.

And then I went off to the toilet and you see faces that you know so I just did this casual nod like ‘Oh there’s my friend, oh hello, oh wait, no, that’s Moira Stuart…aaargh!’

Allan – I listened to it and I was listening out for any signs of nerves; I couldn’t hear any at all.

Hannah – That’s brilliant. We haven’t heard it back yet so we don’t know how it sounded.

Abbe – There was a point where I felt a bit bleaty; there was a lot of nervous vibrato…

Allan – Was it the intention for you to do two songs right from the start?

Hannah – He had asked us to do one and then the producer said that he wanted us to do two…

Abbe – But then the way it was all structured today with us playing and then Jonas and Jane and Mancie Baker we were just waiting to see what happened because obviously they’ve got their playlist and you can see it all on the computers everywhere and people are running in handing him text messages and notices and I thought there was a good intention but it might not happen because they’re on such a schedule and then suddenly… He doesn’t give you much notice for things does he? Everything’s so casual, like Chris knows what’s going on, but no-one else does.

Allan – Do you know if they filmed any of it?

Abbe – I don’t know. I think there were notices around saying if the red light’s on, there’s a webcam being broadcast, and on the red button (interactive) you can see the DJs, so there may well be something.

Allan – So, to go back a bit, How did Sound of the Sirens start?

Hannah – Many moons ago. We met each other about ten years ago when we worked in a nightclub together and clicked and got on really well. Then we started singing together, probably about three years later?

Abbe – Probably about that. I remember being sitting in your Mum and Dad’s house singing and your Mum going ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and then when you moved house we used to sit there doing harmonies on “Chasing Cars”.

Hannah – We started a band called Route Two, but we soon realised that was a bit of an error.

Abbe – We had two gigs supporting the Fab Beatles in Devon.

Hannah – And the amazing Kev Day (of the Fab Beatles), was really supportive and encouraged us.

Abbe – Then we left that and joined a functions band with Lisa, so there were three of us and then we became Sound of the Sirens when we got bored of singing covers and thought let’s write our own music.

Hannah – And learn to play guitar.

Abbe – Then Lisa fell in love and moved to London and there was good intention there for us to stay together but it just didn’t happen. We got lovely messages from Lisa this morning. She’s been so supportive throughout; we still see her all the time. I think people always want some scandal, you know, what happened to the third one?

Allan – It must be difficult keeping a band together in those circumstances, it’s like trying to keep a relationship together at long distance.

Abbe – Especially when it’s essentially a hobby, when you’re working full-time and then every weekend you’re committing to a band and trying to keep a relationship going and you live in a different city, it’s just never going to happen, but we’re all still really good friends.

So, Sound of the Sirens has been going six years, nearly seven and it’s been me and Hannah for the last three. When Lisa was with us, we just had a very simple stomp box in the middle which Johnny (band chauffeur, organiser, minder and all-round good bloke) fashioned out of MDF with a mic in a box; job done. Then Lisa left and to fill that gap we added in the floor tom and the tambourine.

Allan – Well that’s my next question ruined then. I was about to ask if the percussion had been there right from the start because that’s quite a big element of what you do, isn’t it?

Abbe – I think it is now, more than it was originally.

Hannah – It was difficult trying to choose songs today for Radio 2 without the percussion; it was quite tough because a lot of our songs are driven by the rhythm.

Abbe – (To Hannah) Did you notice this morning that when they said ‘We’ve got the mics set up, girls, can you try and stand still?’. We’re used to floor tom and tambourine to bashing our feet around on everything and it’s really difficult to stand still; we were air drumming.

Hannah – So it did take a while in the beginning; we were often at random beats, flying everywhere.

Allan – So my really big question now is how do you decide who gets to play the floor tom, because you don’t always have the same configuration?

Abbe – I think naturally… I can’t even remember how we did that in the beginning; I think I must have just done the drum on one song and stayed on it, because I drum a lot and play tambourine a lot and I think we just got used to doing the on beat or the off beat, so it’s difficult when you try and change it. There are songs that we swap…

Hannah – Because of the rhythms we’re playing on the guitar, and sometimes trying to do the opposite on the drum felt, at the time, a bit impossible because we were new to it so we just did whatever worked more naturally.

Abbe – I think we probably could do it now but it’s quite nice to swap and do something different. We wouldn’t get that lumpy thing when you’re drumming and you lose it and go all ‘lost it: lumpy leg’.

Allan – When you first started writing your own material, who were you influenced by?

Hannah – I think you’ve got influences wedged in your brain anyway from when you were growing up; from when you were little and teenage years; we used to listen to very different types of music.

Abbe – What was the music in your household, growing up?

Hannah – The music was Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, a bit of Alice Cooper; my Mum only had one CD really and that was Alex Parks (More laughter). Love you Alex Parks, but… And as a teenager, I tried to be cool; I listened to a bit of happy hardcore, but I think that was on purpose, just trying to be cool and I don’t do that anymore. And Hanson, Gloria Estefan as an eleven-year-old (Hannah, not Gloria).

We had our own influences but together, the bands that we loved when we started playing, were Mumford and Sons, Damien Rice…

Abbe – We were saying that this morning weren’t we? I grew up with country; my dad’s really into country music, we’re talking Foster and Allen.

Allan – Not outlaw country then…

Abbe – No; on Sunday mornings I can remember me and my brother, our bedrooms were next to each other, and we were ‘He’s doing it again!’ and shouting at Dad who was downstairs singing. My Mum was really into The Kinks and The Carpenters and me and my sister used to record ourselves singing Carpenters songs because we loved Karen Carpenter so much and those were our growing up songs.

Freddie, my older brother, was really into Nirvana so I tried to get into that, just because you have to follow what your older brother does. I think it’s a mix of everything but definitely there’s a few bands in your lifetime that really stand out and Mumford and Sons came to Exeter and they played at the Exeter Cavern supporting Johnny Flynn and I went along with my boyfriend Woody to watch Johnny Flynn. When the support act came on, we were both blown away so we were looking for them online and there was nothing for ages and the next thing you they’ve got an album launch at Thekla in Bristol. Then we went to watch then on New year’s Eve in London and we saw them right from their roots and watched how they exploded and I just think at the time they burst on to the scene they were so original and I’m so inspired them, we both are.

Hannah – Yeah. And female singers as well; Alanis Morissette…

Abbe – Oh yeah, and Natalie Imbruglia who coincidentally is there (Radio 2) tomorrow. So exciting; we could say we were her support act, maybe?

Allan – I always like to ask songwriters about this; when you write now, how does that process work? How do you create songs; do you have a fixed way of working?

Abbe – Different ways; I like taking things from books, certain words. Part of my degree was textual practices in finding ways to make songs and poetry and taking certain things and linking them together. I’ve got this American verse book that we would take some stuff from. Also, just walking along, if an idea comes into your head, just finding a quiet place to sing it into your phone and record it, so we’ve got little snippets of half-made ideas.

Hannah – Some of them are experiences that we had, conversations written down, so each song is born in a different way. There’s a different story behind each one, we haven’t really got a formula.

Allan – With your songs, I think I said something like this in a review, it’s not just the words or the rhythms, it’s the way they work together. I find that interesting and it feels like a lot of effort must go into that, or does it just come naturally?

Hannah – I think because we teach and we’re constantly playing pop songs, I think we do get used to songs sounding quite samey so I think we work against that and make sure that the melodies aren’t just going with the chords and it’s not just an obvious structure. I think that’s why we don’t come out with a song every day, because we want to make sure that they are different and stand out.

Abbe – I think, as well, not being too precious with what you create because sometimes you come up with a song quite quickly and you sit there going ‘Yeah brilliant, job done. Let’s go and have some food. We’re sorted’. Then you come back to the song in a week and go ‘I don’t like it it’s really happy, it’s really cheesy; let’s make everything minor notes and change it and just play around with it until it works…

Hannah – Until we’re both happy with it.

Allan – And lyrically, some of it’s quite dark and Gothic as well, isn’t it?

Hannah – We’re massive angsty teenagers inside.

Abbe – We played at a wedding a few weeks ago and we always make a point of saying (it’s only friends and things who would ask us to play, and we’re really flattered) that we’re not wedding material; people wants songs they know and people want to dance. So we sat down to write a setlist and we’re saying ‘Oh, no, not that one that’s really dark, and not that one, that’s about a breakup, and that one’s about a horrible person and that one’s really negative’. All of our songs are big and quite punchy but they are quite dark.

Hannah – Positively sad songs.

Abbe – Shiny darkness.

Allan – Ok, and just to finish up on, what’s going to happen in the future. Where do we go from here?

Hannah – We’ll get a call later today with a record deal offer.

Abbe – The head of Virgin’s just tweeted or sent you an email, so we’ll probably deal with Richard Branson later.

Hannah – And Chris Evans is going to manage us personally as well.

Abbe – Yeah, he’s going to open a new label. We’re playing at Looe Festival. We’re playing at Carfest (South) next week…

Hannah – We didn’t mean all that, by the way, that was only joking…

Abbe – But we’re playing at Carfest next week and we’re opening the Main Stage with a few songs, which is brilliant. Jools Holland’s going to be playing there, so obviously we’re going to make that contact as well, so we’ll be on “Later…”, then “TFI Friday” and then we’re set. That’s it, so it’s as simple as that.

Allan – Well that sounds good to me…