London’s Flyte shift the perception of what it is to be a modern band; their music remains timeless through a love for the sounds of yesteryear and a pureness of natural dynamics. Since launching a collection of homemade videos filmed in a London flat, the four-piece have continued to retain the subtle charm of their humble beginnings in everything they do. Currently in the middle of a short run of live dates across the UK, the group are re-inducting themselves back into the touring circuit with startling vivacity and a cluster of new material to showcase; it’s a win/win for all who attend.
During the band’s stop in Manchester, we spoke in depth about the forthcoming debut album, and how this vital piece of work has influenced other developments to emerge.
I wanted to start by welcoming you back to Manchester, how are you all today?
Sam Berridge: Very good, thank you.
Nick Hill: Very hot and sweaty.
Will Taylor: I don’t know when the people reading this, will be reading this but this was one of those hot and sweaty days. We had a drive through the Peak District which was beautiful and moving because of obviously what’s just happened. Just kinda going to Manchester through the scenic route, feeling very stirred up, and angry and moved, and ready for tonight, to have a very good time.
A lot has transpired since Flyte were last in Manchester; namely being that you’ve signed a record deal and have since completed work on your debut album. Have these developments affected how you approach the live shows in any way?
WT: They’ve affected them greatly because first of all, when recording the album we did try to avoid anything we couldn’t play ourselves live, we don’t really like watching bands when they’ve got loads of backing track and I think it’s more and more a really common thing but it’s still one of those things that disengages you.
NH: We’ve been making it very hard for ourselves by making it all live, so it’s a mission to play, but…after a few nervous breakdowns, it’s more rewarding, way more stressful. I like the stress.
WT: So I think when people are watching the live show they are very much hearing the record, and it can sometimes be a bit ropey and it can sometimes be absolutely amazing but at least you get those extremes, rather than something safe in the middle.
Burke Reid features as producer on the album; he has a great record of bringing out the best in the performers he works with. A lot of his experience lies within the indie rock and alternative genres, so where did the relationship start? How did you make his acquaintance or vice versa?
WT: He mixed ‘Please Eloise’- because we were working on it, producing that track ourselves, and struggling a bit with the mix, and then I remember a friend of mine played me Courtney Barnett, and then we all listened to Courtney Barnett the next day in the studio and thought ‘Ah fuck, this is exactly how we’re trying to make this sound but failing to’, we just went ‘Fuck it, who mixed this?’, and we found out it was a bearded, sort of crazy man who lives in the middle of nowhere in Australia.
NH: A Canadian hermit.
WT: Yeah, he doesn’t have a manager, he doesn’t have any sense of the music industry or anything like that, which is one of his best qualities and he mixed the hell out of ‘Please Eloise’, it sounds fantastic. So when it came to making the album, especially because in the mix he had been so creative…A lot of the time a mixing engineer will clean something up, or make it bigger, or they won’t make many creative moves with the mix itself but he obviously didn’t care about what we had done, he was just chucking stuff around and that’s what you need from a producer sometimes. When you know the song so well, you need them to throw spanners at you [unanimous laughs erupt as if to say Taylor is speaking from experience] but out in Australia with him, it was very fluid and very inspiring. I think he likes that we’re quite malleable, we can play, we can go down lots of different routes, so he likes to say how about trying it like this? Or like that? We can go there quite quickly and just get it out of the way and move onto something else.
How long was the album process – from inception to completion?
WT: A thousand years. [laughs]
Charlotte Holroyd: I guess it’s a silly way of phrasing a question considering it’s a debut album…
SB: It depends when you count the beginning of conception.
NH: I’d say it’s more an amalgamation of like three years of work. Very intensely put down…
WT: The actual recording was probably about six weeks, and then mixing probably another few weeks on top of that. Ultimately not very long, but you know it’s all the build up that it takes to get to the conception.
NH: And the insane tweaks in between which can take a long time. We really put him through the mill, Burke.
What song kicked off the album process?
WT: I’d say ‘Faithless’ really clicked and we were away because it was all about getting that song right. When we first got together that was the first song that we really pushed and that was what got us attention initially, and I think it’s kinda what got us signed, just a stupid iPhone version. Getting that one right was pivotal. In the minute that took place, it was like ‘Okay we’ve got the album’ because everything else was waiting in the wings for that one. Although I wouldn’t say that one was necessarily standout, I think they all hold their weight because when we play it to our friends, they always have a different favourite which is a good sign you know, because there’s not one stealing the limelight. The challenge was keeping the variety, which is often something we worry about because you don’t want to feel like you don’t have your sound, but I think we realised the sound was in our voices, and then in our decisions, and in also working in the same studio with the same producer, and so in the end, yeah it did end up feeling sonically concise. But there’s plenty of variety on it as well at the same time so that was the big fist in the air.
The first two singles have been released; both expose a different flavour from what we’ve heard previously from Flyte, whilst still retaining a familiarity of your organic songcraft. What was the attitude towards song arrangements and instrumentation?
WT: If ever there was a feeling like ‘Oh there could be this big string line or let’s put a horn section on this or let’s do this big synth thing’, more often than not we’d say let’s do it with the voices.
Jon Supran: Between the four instruments as well, and not bring in anything new to our debut album so it’s very concise and you can hear the four individuals as well.
NH: But I don’t think there’s ever been a sort of ‘process’. Every single song has been a completely different process, of like the actual arrangement being finished. Sometimes they’re finished on the day and it’s like ‘Oh wow the whole songs finished’ and then sometimes it can take a year.
WT: Often it’s a bit of a full circle thing; you go back to the first ideas. The funny thing is how a song can be written completely finished: great melody, great chords, great lyrics, you’ve got a great song but it’s just not a fucking track, it’s just not ready for the album. And that’s what we learned really since we’ve been signed and since we’ve been preparing for the album, like no, the song is great, we can’t take that for granted. It’s about the arrangement, it’s about the way we capture it. So that’s maybe what took us the longest but the big breakthrough was yeah, the vocals. You know what’s really nice in the end is when you hear everything that isn’t the lead vocal. It’s all done with the three of them around one mic and there’s no multi-tracking. I think we sometimes layer a voice or two but it’s pretty minimal, it’s all just about where you stand in front of the mic and we could spend a whole afternoon [getting that just right].
CH: They talk loads about how Frank Sinatra was really a master of that.
WT: Yeah absolutely he was. And I think Crosby, Stills and Nash, they would do it around one mic too…
CH: The Beach Boys…
WT: The Beach Boys, absolutely. Obviously at the time it would’ve been a lot down to the restriction of the tape machine and obviously we do have the option to multi-track, and believe me, we would do that because it is easier but it just never sounds the same, it’s so bizarre. What you need is the sound of the voices to mix in the air, and then just get captured in one go, by one mic.
NH: I think this is the first time we’ve actually done justice to the BVs because that’s always been our thing, ever since we started out and we were singing on the street and stuff, it’s always been our thing, and we’ve never quite recorded them right. We’ve done it painstakingly but this is the first time where it’s actually how we want our voices to sound.
SB: Your paying attention to them as you would to any other instrument.
WT: It’s about shifting the priorities around a little bit.
Which was the easiest or hardest track to write and record?
WT: ‘Orphans of the Storm’.
NH: ‘Orphans of the Storm’ was the hardest because again it was one of those impossible vocal things, and also it’s such an unbelievably tender song and sentiment, that it was sort of like we didn’t want to tread on it at all. [We wanted to get] the right taste and flavour in there. I think the easiest one was ‘Victoria Falls’ by a long way. That was a write in a day kind of thing and then record, release it. [laughs]
WT: It was very off-the-cuff that track. It was a bit of a jam, one of the only songs for me when writing where I just chucked some lyrics on top of chord progression charts and had more of a jam. That one was very quick and easy which I appreciate. ‘Orphans of the Storm’ was a big, chunky acoustic number, and those are the ones that are difficult to do well…
NH: It’s one of the leanest arrangements as well.
WT: Exactly you want to do as little as possible without it feeling underdeveloped; it was like riding that little tightrope.
Do you ever set parameters when working on a new track? Like as a way to help shift focus…
JS: Well it helps when you know you’ve only got a certain few instruments you can use as well, so if something isn’t working you just move it to a different instrument.
NH: Yeah I think [we] definitely splat paint on the wall to begin and then rein it in. But yeah you’re right we do set ourselves limitations with just having us four and our four voices, like already that’s a pretty concise thing.
WT: I think often it’s just about physicalizing the process, if you’ve got a piece of art that’s looking a bit clean maybe, or a bit photoshopped or such, maybe a good thing to do is print it a few times and scan it back in or something like that. With sounds that’s often the best way, that’s what we found was the best way anyway.
What is a good song, in your opinion? I know it’s a loaded question, I’m thinking about the qualities that influence your work or the elements that draw you in when hearing another artist’s song…
WT: That’s a very difficult question to answer because it’s very subjective even within these four people. I think that we obviously put a lot of weight behind the song itself, the songwriting, and I do think sometimes new music coming out now doesn’t quite, just for my tastes or all our tastes, I can speak for all of us, do enough work in that area. And often you can hear it being someone in their bedroom studio that’s got really great production, and that can be such an amazing thing, just to listen to someone make something sound phenomenal but it’s so rare that you get both. I think Tame Impala’s done incredibly well for that reason, he’s done both, he’s written excellent songs and he’s also made incredible sonic albums. Mac DeMarco’s obviously doing that, he’s found his sound in the studio, it’s a really cool vibe but then he’s also getting some songwriting in there. I think this is also why these artists do so well … because you’re doing both, yeah.
And I think more people just put the hours in because I don’t think it’s something that you’re either good or bad at, I think it’s like anything else, you know, if you practise the guitar enough, you become a really good guitarist. Like if you swim every day, you end up becoming a really good swimmer. Songwriting is no different and often I think people maybe bypass that process a tiny bit.
Your series of acoustic and a cappella video recordings caught on like a viral whirlwind across the web, considering these intimate performances were more of an in-the-moment thought than a pre-planned exercise in marketing, the reaction has been remarkable. Out of all the videos you’ve made, which one has been the most meaningful to you?
SB: Probably ‘Archie, Marry Me’ because, well it’s actually going to be on our album. It means that much to us.
WT: We did want to do justice to that side of us on one track on the album, and that one had felt like the perfect mixture of taking someone else’s song and then making it really feel like something different. And as a newer song, it’s not like us trying to do a Beatles cover, we wanted to avoid the classic…and it’s a really good song, good lyrics, just a simple good song. And Sam had done this lovely choral arrangement for it, and you know, it felt like a little secret track at the end of an album or something, and so we did it in the outback in Australia, just the four voices, and it just felt like the right thing to do.
After completing the studio sessions for the album, do you feel like the band is now in a new stage of functioning – has the album process changed you individually in any way or how you operate as a unit?
NH: Yeah just to have it done has changed me individually because now I’m fairly content, well not content, but certainly closer to being content than I was before.
WT: It can go on too long, you know. [To the] point where you think we’ll never make an album.
NH: It’s the mindset of having a complete body of work that you can finally show people; that is a first for us, and I think it’s been very good, well it’s been very good for my general outlook on the universe.
JS: It’s another stage as well in learning the process of arranging, and writing, and making a whole album. It’s the first time we’ve done it and working with Burke as well, we’ve picked up on so many things that in the second half of recording the album we reference some of the production tips that he’d given us in the first half. Yeah I think we’re ready to make the second now.
WT: Yeah that’s the thing; it feels like bring on the second one. You know to a lot of people this is all very premature us having this conversation but we’ve been one of those bands that has taken a while to do their first album, I don’t want to be one of those bands that takes a while to do their second. I want to get straight on the second.
Finally before I let you go, can you walk us through what the rest of the year looks like for Flyte?
WT: Well it’s an exciting year obviously because now the album is actually done, and we’ve got an amazing label like Island to release it, it’s just going to be about being creative with how we put it out there. Everything from the music videos and the touring, and how we’ll do our stripped down show and how we do our proper show, you know all the little creative ideas in between that help sell an album, that’s where we’ve got our work cut out for us now. We need to roll our sleeves up and start selling this thing, so to speak.
So touring, lots and lots of touring, and Europe for the first time for us and maybe a brief jaunt over to America, obviously the festival season is about to start but you know, funnily enough a lot of it is us making it up as we along. You know I think a lot of artists, at least, give off the perception of having planned it all out two years in advance but you know it’s so much about the winds of change, and how you’re seeing people react to stuff, and you’ve kind of always got to be ready to quickly take a left turn.
The current tour heads to Birmingham on Wednesday 31st May before wrapping in Liverpool on 2nd June. Flyte will also return to London to play Scala on 19th September 2017, tickets are on sale now.