For a band as musically understated as Night Flight, they’ve certainly had an action packed few months. Their most recent EP was well received, and their debut album is getting equally positive praise, and rightly so. A collection of their previous releases, seasoned with a few subtle extra cuts like ‘Medicine’ and ‘Forever And,’ it has a rich emotional weight in the same league as bands like Flyte, Elbow and The War On Drugs.
Hungry for more after listening to the album, we caught up with Samuel Holmes (Guitar/Lead Vocals), Harry Phillips (Guitar/Vocals), Dan Webb (Drums) and Ollie Halvorsen (Bass) in the hope of gleaning some more stories of theirs to carry us through the new year.
You’ve just put out your debut album, give us a quick rundown of why people should listen to it, and what does it develop or improve upon from your previous EPs?
Samuel Holmes – I guess the first record is kind of a culmination of the first two EPs we put out. They’ve progressed quite well in terms of the sound developing and the songwriting moving forward. It was kind of a solo project in its very basic essence, and then as it became a band the soundscapes got more progressive. I suppose that shows in the two EPs. The record is the perfect introduction, and shows off the songs in their best possible form with simple but really effective and beautiful production from James Mottershead. There’s two songs that weren’t on the EPs, and the whole idea was that we wanted to have a record out, then get on to the next one really.
Dan Webb – It felt like there was a lot flying around, a bunch of singles, EPs, videos. And it was all part and parcel of the same things, but I just liked the idea of having a single record you could put on and listen to the whole thing through.
Focussing more on the new tracks on the album, what do you think has most informed the writing of them, do you feel the mood of the album came about deliberately or as a natural progression from the writing of the EPs?
SH – I guess it naturally evolved? This is the first full record I’ve had out with all those songs that I’ve written… and what’s great about them is they have a uniform sound that we’ve created over time. We’re all massive fans of great albums as many music enthusiasts are, I think we wanted to make the step towards making great albums, and the first thing is having great songs. So I guess we’ve chiseled it down, we have a lot, and over that time we’re really happy with the collection of songs that we have. The new songs are from that same shortlist and we were able to play around with the production. We’re really happy with how ‘Forever And’ came out, which is one of the newer tracks. It let us bridge things between the classic production we had and more adventurous stuff with bigger soundscapes.
Harry Phillips – The producer [James Mottershead] we worked with helped hone the sound across the two EPs, and obviously writing the two new tracks helped to kind of meld those together as an entire album.
Were you recording in your native London or did you outsource?
SH – We recorded in two places really… well, actually three. The first EP was recorded at Urchin Studios which is owned by Matt Ingram, the drummer with Laura Marling. Then the second one was done at Assault & Battery, owned by…
HP – … Alan Moulder. In Willesden. A lot of ’90s stuff came out of there, and Britpop stuff.
SH – It was an amazing space to go in and record. Then we did a few pickups here and there at this place outside at my publisher’s house… ah I’m not allowed to mention it am I? [Laughs] It was an incredible shed setup with hundreds of guitars and amps.
DW – It’s basically hidden out in the country in Oxford with a bunch of cows right outside the door.
SH – He didn’t wanna mention it, cos he thought he’d have people knocking down his door wanting to use it… so we recorded there, and we went back and forth with James. [We did] a lot of the backing vocals [with James], which are becoming more and more prevalent for the band, it’s a sound we’re enjoying a lot.
There have been a few milestones for you all recently, including sharing a bill with Paul Simon and James Taylor, as well as a shoutout from Elton John on his Beats Radio show. How important to you is the approval of the old guard, given that you’re old souls in terms your songwriting style?
SH- Definitely, the songwriting and our tastes are very eclectic. We got to meet James Taylor as well, we were looking for Paul, but he came and went. It’s hugely influential really, it’s an honour to have your name mentioned by them or with them. We feel like we’re cutting our own path, but led by taking inspiration from the past, whilst still trying to be ourselves.
HP – I think it’s quite a surreal feeling, like when that Hyde Park gig came through. But in reality it doesn’t change much about the way we do things. It doesn’t change our lives, we’re still trying to make our own music.
SH – I guess it ups the ambition, when they’re that close, and you get that approval that only spurs you on more. I think me and Harry, when we came back from All Points East, we were behind The War On Drugs, and they kept getting called from the metal detector.
HP – We’ve referenced them so much in the last year, and been such big fans of those albums, that it’s almost the perfect thing to be behind them seeing them get a pat down…
What do you guys think is more important for music in general, to preserve old styles or develop those styles beyond their origins?
SH – That’s a hard one. My take on it is that great production never goes away. I suppose things can sound dated just because of the technology advancing… but you look at stuff like The Beach Boys; using innovative ways to record that we’re still searching for now, y’know? New and original ways to produce.
HP – I always think of music as an art form, it being art and creativity. And trying to look sideways at things, channelling these musicians as opposed to just copying. I’m not sure it’s a cognitive thing to progress the genre we’re in or break new ground, it’s just ‘how great can we make this?’
SH – I certainly find in terms of songwriting it’s try and be as original as you can be.
Ollie Halvorsen – I feel like production is where a lot of references are coming in to combine and make something new.
HP – You just try and write honest good songs, and then throw in all the ingredients in production. Pushing the boundaries but being influenced by the past.
SH – I remember Tom Waits talking about creativity, about driving down a highway late at night and having something come into his head and having to stop and write it down, does that happen to you guys?
DW – Yeah I do that on voice notes!
SH – Whilst driving?
DW – No… I stop and then I record. But that happens all the time!
SH – I do a lot of writing at 3am, maybe that’s a bad thing? I should try writing through the day!
OH – I wondered why it was getting worse!
NF – [Laughs]
In the past you’ve mentioned ‘greatness,’ and you’ve said ‘great records aren’t made as much anymore’. Do you really believe that? Isn’t that a little close-minded? What for you guys defines a great record?
SH – [Laughs] So that greatness comment keeps coming to bite me in the ass really. I remember just saying we wanna be a great band, not a great time to be misquoted! I listen to a lot of old classic albums, but there are some amazing records being made. The Michael Kiwanuka record I just f****** love, the new Bahamas record, that Andy Shauf record ‘The Party’. They’re incredible concepts and they’re amazing. What I was more trying to say is that there’s such a saturation of music I think it’s difficult for great albums to poke through. There’s loads of ‘em being made but whether people are listening to them is a different thing.
HP – The emphasis put on albums in general, with streaming and singles; it’s rare you find a full body of work that’s considered, that people are willing to sit down and listen to.
SH – The short attention span is a thing. There’s so much info with the internet now, you get less of an opportunity with punters to put out an album and have them sit down and listen to it. I guess that throws down the gauntlet for us…
Well that was my next question, do you think Night Flight’s album meets your own criteria?
SH – I mean, I do yeah. I think so.
OH – It’s nice hearing from fans saying they love the entire album.
SH – And you curate it so the tracks will keep people’s attention, you go into a rabbit hole with that sort of stuff to make sure it’s all connecting seamlessly.
HP – For us it’s not about resting on our laurels and patting ourselves on the back. It’s about moving onto the next thing. Do better next time, how do we progress?
So you guys thrive on the intimacy of your sound, do you ever feel frustrated or intimidated by passive audiences?
SH – I mean we curate the live sets to grab people’s attention, in the same way as we were talking about, low attention spans, it’s the same thing.
DW – [Laughs] We’re like Stewart Lee with our audience, just insult them! ‘F****** low attention spans!’.
HP – We hope our atmosphere has an intensity to it, which keeps people engaged.
SH – We feel like if we uphold our standards it will engage people and they’ll listen, and if we’re put in the right environments. I suppose if we were at Download Festival we’d struggle a bit…
Let’s talk about your visual stylings, because there’s some lovely graphic design in your artwork. What’s the link between your visual and musical process?
SH – Basically we put a lot of focus onto the artwork. I found this dude called Tezo Don Lee, brilliant South Korean guy living in Hackney. He did this video for a band called Blue House, and this video is incredible, it’s basically a rabbit on a train and its all painted and animated. It had about 700 views and I thought ‘this is criminal,’ nobody has seen this work! So I got our label to get in touch with him, two weeks later he said he was game. We kinda let him do his own thing. He’s just really creative, pretty monosyllabic; you’ll give him amendments and he’ll just be like, ‘yes-yeah-yeah-yeah’ and just do his own thing. Sometimes I think it fits too much, especially the album artwork.
DW – There’s a character and texture to the artwork, an analog feel to it without it being retro. It aligns with our music well. We’ve gone into the realm of doing photography and videography stuff, but it’s difficult to find people with the same sort of vibe and energy. I think illustration and animation is really working for us.
HP – The animated videos have influenced how we looked [at live action videos], I mean ‘Parade’ isn’t a million miles away landscape wise…
SH – But he [Tezo Don Lee] is brilliant, we were so lucky to find him. And we’ll wanna continue that look into LP 2.
Last question lads, so we’ve talked about artists you respect and so on…
SH – You’re gonna ask us who we hate now?
Well, to a certain extent! Who’s an artist you begrudgingly respect and what would be your first question to them?
OH – Mark E. Smith?
SH – We don’t talk about Mark E. Smith. [Laughs]
HP – One we do talk about a bit, and laugh at his expense is Paul McCartney. It’s really interesting seeing someone who’s music we’ve absolutely worshipped do the most cringeworthy things on Instagram. You know that talent and gift is still in there… I compartmentalize ’60s and ’70s McCartney and McCartney now…
We’re at the end of my questions! When’s the tour start, where are you heading first?
SH – We’re playing at the beginning of March, just a mini-tour before festival season. It’s just the South, we’ve had people up North ask us to come up.
HP – We’ve done a few dates up there. Hopefully there’ll be some dates up North soon, a part two!
Night Flight’s debut self-titled album is out now via CRC records, stream it here: https://nightflight.lnk.to/Album
Their mini-tour starts 3rd March at Crofters Rights, Bristol. They then hit Brighton, London, Southampton and Cardiff. For more information visit: http://nightflightofficial.com/
Photo Credit: Ross Gamble