Mellowed-out songwriting and textured sophistication leads to a bright, complex listen complete with far-out breakdowns and psychedelic colour. It is the work of Canterbury band Syd Arthur. The four-piece having just released their most assured record to-date, in third long-player ‘Apricity’, take their musical prowess to a whole new state of sonic perfection.
We caught up with bassist Joel Magill to chat further about the new record, the importance of the independent record shop and Syd Arthur’s upcoming hometown shindig.
Your new record ‘Apricity’ saw release last Friday, alongside the album launch you’ve been celebrating by playing some special shows in record shops around the country. What’s been the general reaction to the new material from the fans?
“Yeah it’s been great. Really good, really refreshing. For us, it’s just been lovely to get it out and be playing it to everyone; having written it and made the album, which as you know can take some time. It‘s been great to get it out there.”
What was your mind-set going into the third record?
“Well we’d been through a bit of a journey coming out of the tail-end of our second album (‘Sound Mirror’) where out drummer who’d been with us since the beginning, unfortunately had to stop playing the drums because he’d damaged his ears severely.
So our brother (Josh Magill), mine and Liam’s brother, came in on the drums so it was a transitional period for us as we went back into the studio to write this music and we kinda took that as a…I don’t know, we just kinda let it be fresh. Ditched any things we had before and came in fresh, started writing differently, bringing different ideas in and Josh was bringing ideas in. We just opened it back up and went back to the roots really. Obviously you always want to make the best record possible [and] we felt like we were in a position to do that, having done all this touring as well. We had quite a cool idea of what we wanted to achieve, and that perhaps we were doing before wasn’t as concise or coherent as it could’ve been.”
‘Apricity’ was recorded in Los Angeles but written back home in England, to me that strikes quite a duality. Did you find that after the initial writing phase, the recording process took the songs to a different place than you had originally envisioned?
“Yeah it was an interesting way of doing it, an interesting process for sure. Yeah I think kinda they did. When we were writing it, we were looping things and maybe not playing them live. Then when we went out to make the record we were almost learning this stuff we had written, learning how to play it and jam it. So the whole record…the basic things were all played live so that informed it quite a lot. That’s what we always have done, we just went about it in a slightly roundabout way.”
Do you believe that there is an intrinsic link between the place an artist bases him/herself and the art that they create?
“Yeah it’s not the be all and end all but it’s definitely going to influence what you do, and what we do. You can’t help when you’re in that mindset, and you’re being as creative as possible, you can’t really help but be feeding off everything that is going on around you – your location and everything. Writing the record in Canterbury slash Kent, hidden away in our little sort of hole there, and then taking it to LA was a really cool thing to do actually. Really enjoyed it.”
How will you approach the set-listing for the live shows, now that you have so much material at your fingertips to choose between?
“It’s been really fun actually. We’ve been really enjoying playing the new material live, so we’ve been basing the set’s majority around that. There’s been four or five key songs we have been playing every time and then we just cherry pick, which is great. It keeps it fresh for us and it means it’s exciting as well.”
Is ‘Chariots’ still in the set?
“Yeah it has been. It’s one of the tunes that comes in and out.”
Do you ever write when you’re on the road?
“Yeah, well we’re always individually writing bits and bobs ourselves, just on the laptops when we’re travelling, or in the van and things like that. But yeah there’s usually a process when we actually begin forming those into songs or pieces, where we just get all of those ideas and play them to each other. So in terms of writing together and creating what we do as a band, that doesn’t actually happen on the road really. For us, it’s just little ideas and moments, and whatever. Liam will be writing some lyrics and things like that, and then we’ll set away some time to cut them together.”
So it’s like the pieces becoming the whole. The final song.
“Yeah exactly. Exactly.”
You’ve experienced so much, as a group, touring around the world. What have been the standouts – the places that you’ve travelled to and maybe were overwhelmed by, the one’s that made you stop for a minute to take it all in?
“Well it’s funny because you get to travel around loads, and quite often you’re in and out [laughs] of a place very quickly. Sometimes you don’t even see anything but the venue and the dressing room, and a horrible shitty alley out the back. So the places that standout? Sometimes a place just definitely stands out. I remember the first time we went to Portland in the US. Portland, Oregon. That stood out because it just had this vibe and the venue we were playing at just happened to be on a really cool street with everything from a micro brewery to some restaurants, a really cool vintage synth shop. So that stood out even though we were literally in and out [of the city] and then generally it seems to be [the] places where we have some days off [during the tour], so you can actually get a feel for it.
When we were just in the States [recently on tour with Jake Bugg] Detroit really stood out to us. We had a whole day off in Detroit and it was just wicked. It seems like it’s this interesting, artistic, cultural hub but it seems to be like pre-gentrification or something. It’s still a bit gritty and warehouse-y, and it’s not too clean-cut so that felt quite exciting because we were checking out some wicked art galleries, all sorts of stuff basically. So that stood out. I mean, there are quite a few places [laughs] to be honest.”
Talking about touring and important places, you recently announced a rare hometown show in Canterbury to celebrate the album release. Can you tell us more about that? It sounds like it will be the event of the year…
“Yeah it should be cool. There has been a lack of anywhere for us to play in Canterbury for some time, which has been frustrating. The new facility at the University [of Kent] opened last year, we were just talking to them and the idea came [about] to do something in there and try it. So it’s going to be the first time that they’ve let a “rock night or a band evening” go into this new purpose built facility. So yeah we’re quite excited about it really, we’re keeping it fairly local, to be honest, with all our favourite bands from around [the local area]. There’s going to be two stages and some DJ’s, we’re putting effort into the way the whole venue looks and dressing it up. So yeah it’s just going to be a cool evening and it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while.
You know there hasn’t been too many big events like that since Lounge on the Farm festival finished in Canterbury, so hopefully we’re gonna get some of the old heads out and obviously our friends and crew as well.”
There’s been a few big shows in Canterbury of late with Broken Hands and Indoor Pets playing headline shows…
“Yes, yes, it’s been great. Exciting to see. There should be, by right, more going on [in Canterbury] it’s about trying to engage with the University, as there’s so many students there. You know the population doubles with the students, but the University has a little bit of a mindset of keeping things on campus, and it doesn’t look out to the wider community of arts and music. We’ve wanted to do stuff with them many a time and it’s always been like ‘you can do a gig here but we’ll only let students in’ [laughs] or vice versa. So it’s good to see this event [that] we’re doing is happening there, and Broken Hands’ show at the Arts College, which they’ve recently refurbed as well. It’s good to see… well it looks like they’re getting a bit more open about collaborating and doing things basically.”
For the fans that purchased the new record from independent record stores, they also received a limited edition 7″ with an exclusive track on there, giving them an extra incentive to buy the physical release. Are you all advocates of bonus content and vinyl-only rarities?
“Yeah, to be honest, that’s been one of my favourite things about releasing the record being able to give people this free 7. You know I’m always pre-ordering stuff which I get a poster with or a sticker or a bonus 7” or whatever. It’s not the only reason why I order from independent shops, I just do that because I support them anyway. I value them massively.
I think there’s an incentive to get other people who aren’t in a band or understand the situation so much, [to give] them any kind of extra incentive to buy the vinyl or cd from an independent shop, as opposed to a HMV or getting it online through Amazon or something, I think it’s invaluable. I know some people have been going to shops to get our record over the last weekend we’ve been doing these in-stores, just chatting to some of them and they were like ‘yeah wicked, I don’t know why but I haven’t been going to record shops recently and this reminded me that I need to come back more often’ and things like that, so it’s cool.”
Since the last record, the band has had a small reshuffle with Josh Magill joining on drums. Has the addition of another brother in the band shifted the internal dynamics within Syd Arthur in any way?
“[Laughs] Good question. Uhh, I don’t know if it’s shifted it. There’s now three brothers on the road, we’re fairly tight, we get along, we know how to push each other’s buttons if we’re not getting along. Josh is a very different character, very personable, a bit louder, boisterous kinda guy so if anything it’s just maybe made everything a bit more like that really. It’s a little louder, a little bit more excitable in the tour van, let’s put it that way. [Laughs] But it’s a bit different as well in that Josh has a good ability to become good friends with everyone that we meet in fairly short period of time as well, which is always cool, in terms of just meeting crew or whatever at venues and things like that. So that’s exciting. Maybe you should follow up with an email question to Raven about what it’s really like with three brothers in a band. [Laughs]”
This year has seen you supporting the likes of White Denim and Jake Bugg, with a promising future ahead for you after releasing your superb new album. What are the plans going into 2017?
“We were just chatting about that in the van actually on our way to London today. Obviously the album has only just come out so we’re just doing a small tour starting now. We’re not playing in bigger cities because we’ve just played them with White Denim, well we are going to some big cities but we’re also going to some slightly more regional places, so that’s going to be cool. And then obviously, yeah the big Canterbury gig, that might be our last gig of the year I’d imagine. We want to do some recording and writing over Christmas and then be ready to hit it at the top of the new year. There’s loads of things potentially in the pipeline, we’re trying to find the best time to do a bigger, more extensive UK headline tour of our own and of course we’ve got to get back to the States. So that’s what we’re figuring out at the minute, when’s the best time for both of those things to happen and hopefully we can piece the rest of the plan around it. Slightly vague I’m afraid, but all will be revealed soon…”
Syd Arthur’s third full-length album ‘Apricity’ is out now on Harvest Records and Communion.