The Rosie Taylor Project
interview with Jonny and Sophie
Twin Beds came out on Odd Box Records in February 2012 and features 12 songs (one a bonus hidden track) of gloriously literate and intimate indiepop. The scenarios are drawn more firmly now, the flourishes (chiming guitars and trumpet blasts) are bolder, and there’s a sure-footedness about the latest incarnation of the band. Cleanly produced by Richard Formby in Leeds and featuring a vocal cameo by Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts, Twin Beds is sophisticated and satisfying pop music.
The band formed in 2006 and it was the release of their excellent first record, This City Draws Maps, on Bad Sneakers Records in 2008, that drew them to our attention. The band comprises Jonny (vocals, acoustic guitar), Sophie (trumpet, vocals), Jon (lead guitar, vocals), Sam (keyboards), Nick (bass) and Shakey (drums). They play the Brixton Windmill on 4 July and at Indietracks in Derbyshire a couple of days later. This interview was conducted with Jonny and Sophie from the band at the Lexington in February 2012 (apologies for the delay in transcribing and publishing).
SXP: Many reviews of Twin Beds have described it as “melancholy”. Are you getting tired of that because there’s a lot in there that’s the opposite of melancholic?
Jonny: I think melancholy’s OK. Melancholy’s not one that gets me really because melancholy does have a bit of gravitas. The “twee” stuff is the annoying word but then anyone who’s labelled that would get annoyed. I don’t think there are any actual bands that consciously go out there to be twee acts. Melancholy is probably how a lot of people would describe me so I think it’s probably fair enough that the album describes it as well because it’s quite biographical I guess.
Sophie: The way I see our music is we try to be quite honest and deal with everyday matters, and that seems to be something else that reviewers all pick on. Sometimes things are a bit drab, sometimes things are a bit mundane, as well as being quite happy and joyful at other times.
SXP: And is your trumpet “doleful”?
Sophie: They said something like “desolate” as well! That’s a strong word. I don’t really go into it thinking: I’m going to write some really bleak depressing trumpet now. The trumpeting I like is the kind of stuff that Sam Cooke and Otis Redding would have used, which I think is quite soulful [and] also quite sad and poignant as well. I’ve always wanted to write trumpet parts that are quite mixed emotionally, rather than triumphant and fanfarish, which everyone seems to think trumpets are for.
Jonny: I actually thought that word was a very good description! *laughs* Sophie writes all the individual trumpet parts and I think it’s always quite sensitive to the music and to the mood of the song, and there are some desolate moments – I think it’s inevitable: a mixture of downbeat as well as something there to inspire hope. Certainly there’s not one without the other on the record.
SXP: As well as being described as twee, you’re sometimes called folk and you’re reviewed on the Americana pages too. What would you prefer to be known for?
Jonny: Folk only in the sense of storytelling. Americana is perhaps, in terms of what I listen to, the most flattering. Twee is intensely irritating. We don’t really set out to write in a particular style, it usually starts with an acoustic song and then everyone will contribute parts to it. It’s always just been about what will complement that particular song rather than how can we make this sound particularly indiepop or particularly Americana.
SXP: There are numerous cinematic and literary influences; do you reference William Faulkner in ‘Dear Whiskey’?
Jonny: Yes. William Faulkner wrote a book of poems to convince his first wife to marry him and I remember when I was trying to think of a wedding present for a friend of mine, that one seemed to come to mind. I just liked the sentiment. When you think [of] William Faulkner, even at that level poetry’s not just [a] career ambition, it’s still to win over the heart of someone. That’s referenced in ‘Dear Whiskey’.
SXP: Is the other material you write similarly influenced?
Jonny: When we wrote the album in 2008 and 2009, literature was the most important. ‘Lovers Or Something Like It’ was a direct reference to the Florian Zeller novel. I had read For Esme In Love And Squalor and only actually retrospectively thought: oh people will probably think ‘For Esme’ is an extension of that. And ‘The Last Happy Writer’ is a Roland Barthes essay. At the time that was certainly the heaviest influence but in the last three or four years it’s moved towards cinema. There’s always been this visual element, of trying to describe scenes in a way that if you were to look at a screenplay without having the actual images there, you’d try and describe as best you can what you hoped to see. That’s probably always been the approach, to try and detail it, and then hopefully the dialogue would be knockout! *laughs* ‘Lovers Or Something Like It’ is supposed to be the first scene, and the line “no defeat like a kiss from an ex-lover’s lips” will hopefully be the key dialogue which sets the tone of the whole song. ‘For Esme’ - I was trying to find a guy’s name that would work there and I found out that Esme was unisex, but I’ve never come across a male Esme. I thought it might confuse things but it worked nicely, and I just imagine this guy sat on the end of a pier, watching, praying, that these boats will come back and he’s there for about 12 months or something.
SXP: Your imagination always seems small scale and intimate, like a kitchen sink drama. Have you always written like that?
Jonny: I’m not really a fan of epic. In terms of films, [I like] the British New Wave. Tom Courtenay is one of my favourite actors, and a lot of the monologues, and the ideas in ‘Every Morning (And for the Rest of Our Lives)’, come from [him]. I’ve always loved Tom Courtenay’s accent; there’s an audiobook he does reading Philip Larkin and it’s just a perfect collaboration. New Wave films are sort of a statement but they’re just told in a very honest and sincere way; those smaller moments and those everyday moments. I would write it from a journal perspective; I don’t keep one but to put that into a song is the easiest way for me to do that, like a journal page turned into a song. It’s very self-indulgent!
SXP: Lyrics aren’t poetry but your lyrics are quite poetic. Are you a poet too?
Jonny: No. *snigger* Short-story writer. It’s my most natural way to write. I don’t think I’d have the patience to write a novel but a short story I find is a nice length for me…a song translates like that. I don’t think I could write couplet after couplet after couplet but to be able to set a scene and to throw something in that has a poetic side is probably the approach that I’ve seen myself do most often.
SXP: I’ve seen you play over a few years and you seem a more confident and expressive band now.
Sophie: I think we’re far more confident with being ourselves now. Before I think we were a bit tentative about actually being a band and being musicians. We weren’t sure what we wanted to portray with our music whereas now I think we have a much stronger sense of what we want to be as a unit and how we want to come across, and with that comes confidence on stage and confidence to experiment with different kinds of sounds. It’s really nice to have this record and just know on the whole it’s a very accurate record of who you are as a band.
SXP: Twin Beds – apart from the notion of separation, is there anything in the title? Are you talking about 2 people being apart?
Jonny: It’s more to do with the space between the twin beds really, like the area of tension that separates them. It’s to do with anticipation and waiting for situations to become properly worked out. So an accurate title might be: bit of space between the two beds!
SXP: Rather than being: verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ chorus, your songs smoulder and take their time to ignite, like ‘The Water’s Edge’ on the first album. Are you patient people?
Jonny: I guess so. ‘The Bluest Smile’ does that. ‘Last Happy Writer’ is an example of that. ‘A Walk By Moonlight’, I can see where we started small. There are no bombastic melodies and no licks, I guess. The guitar line in ‘The Bluest Smile’ is very understated but it really complements what’s going on in the rest of the song. It just winds and winds and winds and you start to really appreciate what goes on. Then there’s this sensational bit that Sophie’s written that draws it to a close. It’s a very personal song and quite a dangerous one to take to people that you wouldn’t trust to do something right to it. Rather than smashing an immediate but fleeting hook on it, I think it does need to be listened to a few times to really appreciate the little bits that have been thought about, like little scrapes of the guitar, little notes that are left in, and notes that are held but, if you don’t listen to it 4 or 5 times, you would miss. Hopefully you’ll find something in there that you don’t expect, or appreciate for the first time.
SXP: When you’re presenting songs to the rest of the band, do they always understand it? Have you ever had to say: don’t put a solo there or that trumpet is too jazzy?
Jonny: Always the jazzy one! It’s very rare. ‘The Last Happy Writer’, which is quite a downbeat song, at one point was going in a very happy upbeat [direction] but I had to redress it and bring it back down. ‘Lovers Or Something Like It’ perhaps took on the greatest transformation from a simple acoustic song to this almost ‘Under Pressure’-style riff. At that time, if [the guitarist] had said what he was going to do with that song I’d have said “no way” but he played it and it just seemed to add a nice little edge to it. No, I think it’s very rare; normally the song will either grow or be improved.
Sophie: I love the way that we all have an input. And it can be a bit daunting when Jonny comes to us with a really lovely, quiet acoustic-y song and I think: am I really going to blast trumpet over this now?! But, ultimately, we all have a shared agreement in terms of what we want something to sound like and we have similar tastes and we’re not going to be vulgarly throwing anything into it for the sake of saying: here I am, I’m playing an instrument! So it tends to work out quite well.
SXP: And you managed a cameo from a Wild Beast on the record. How did you manage that?
Jonny: The label we used to be with, Bad Sneakers Records, worked a lot with Richard Formby so a lot of the acts that released 7”s would be recorded by Richard and so we did the first album with him and [then] the second one. He’s an incredibly patient guy who will, if you make a suggestion that ultimately proves stupid, won’t make you feel foolish for it, but he’ll try everything. He’s very patient with someone like myself who requires a lot of nursing through takes. So he’ll always be a real gentleman to sit and work with. It was actually as we went into the studio, I think; Two Dancers had just come out, it was a sensational record and it was wonderfully produced. Hall Place [in Leeds] has a rehearsal studio downstairs and Wild Beasts were about to go on tour – I think they were checking that the light show was right. They came up to see Richard to say hello and we were quite bold and asked if Tom would do this one piece. Because of the New Wave influence, I had the Tom Courtenay thing in mind. I’m from Cardiff, the rest are from the West of England, and we didn’t have distinctive enough accents to pull it off. Although it’s the North, Tom is actually from Kendal but he proved to be a better masculine fit for it than me.
SXP: Thanks; what are you doing next?
Jonny: We’d really like to be playing a lot more. The new confidence that we have, we now play a show with genuine excitement, feeling like it’s going be a success. We feel we’re now at the stage where we can really show ourselves off to the best of our ability.