LEEDS-BASED WELSHMAN SAM AIREY IS ABOUT TO RELEASE STATION APPROACH, THE FIRST SINGLE TO BE TAKEN FROM SESSIONS FOR HIS FORTHCOMING DEBUT ALBUM.
Raised in rural North Wales on folk and country, Airey filters the influences of his past into the cracks between Iron & Wine, Bon Iver and Bright Eyes.
His 2011 single THE BLACKOUT was named BBC Radio Wales Song of the Year, and beat the likes of Manic Street Preachers and Los Campesinos! to the title. Airey has shared UK stages with Midlake, Villagers, Frank Turner, Anais Mitchell, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Willy Mason and Lucy Rose, and appeared at festivals such as Latitude, SWN and Live at Leeds. In the past couple of years he’s recorded a BBC Maida Vale session for Huw Stephens and Radio 1, appeared on Steve Lamacq’s Radio 2 show, and received airplay from 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne. Airey is currently working on his debut album, but took some time out to speak to The Mouth Magazine…
IT’S BEEN FOUR YEARS SINCE DEBUT EP SEASON’S CHANGE, IN 2010… THERE WAS A SINGLE IN 2011, THE EP A MARKER AND A MAP IN 2012… AND THE NEW SINGLE, STATION APPROACH, IN 2014… WHY NOTHING IN 2013?
I’d love for there to be a musical reason behind the lack of releases in 2013, but I think the truth is that life happened, I guess. It’s a delicate balance, really, and it’s not always easy to address – trying to maintain all that momentum when you’re relying on yourself to be the main driving force. I guess musically though, I spent a lot of 2013 honing our full band sound and writing. It’s an experimental process and I hope we’re there or thereabouts now.
GETTING FROM SEASON’S CHANGE TO STATION APPROACH – HAS IT BEEN A CLEAR TRAJECTORY FOR YOU? OR HAVE THERE BEEN BATTLES ALONG THE WAY?
I don’t think the trajectory has been totally clear, no. There’s been something very organic about the way the sound has evolved and it’s all one big learning curve, really. I’ve learnt so much in the past couple of years, and I’ll continue to do so, I hope.
YOU’RE ORIGINALLY FROM WALES, BUT MOVED TO LEEDS A FEW YEARS BACK… WAS THAT TO STUDY?
Yes. I came to Leeds to study for a music degree, actually – I took quite an academic route, though, so I could keep my own writing and performing separate.
HOW DOES LEEDS STACK UP AGAINST WHERE YOU’RE FROM?
As a city, Leeds has always been a really exciting place to be, both in a musical and personal sense. I know that to some people it may not be a huge sprawling metropolis, but I’m from quite a rural area so it was always big enough for me without being as daunting as somewhere like London. I do miss Wales a lot, and miss living by by the coast – but there was never really a big music scene where I’m from.
HOW’S THE MUSIC SCENE IN LEEDS?
The scene is as strong as always without ever being genre-bound, which is great. You get people from different bands and various walks of life, all hanging out in great venues. What’s not to like?
REGARDING YOUR OWN MUSIC… PRESUMABLY YOU WERE IN BANDS BEFORE ‘GOING SOLO’..?
I was always in bands during my teenage years, but nothing we ever took particularly seriously I guess. I’ve always written since then, and when I moved to Leeds I didn’t really know too many musicians who were into the same things… I don’t think there was ever a conscious decision to ‘go solo’ as it were, it just seemed to happen.
HOW WERE YOUR EARLY EXPERIENCES OF PLAYING SOLO?
My earliest solo gigs were terrifying, I seem to remember! But I don’t think I could be where I am now without those first steps.
IS THE GUITAR JUST A MEANS TO AN END, AS A WRITER?
Guitar has always been my main thing, but I try to dabble elsewhere. I tend to write most things on it, but I’ve written songs on piano and I’ve been messing around with synths and effects recently. So, really, anything can end up being a vessel for songwriting, if it’s something that inspires me at that moment in time.
IT FEELS LIKE THERE’S SOMETHING ‘DEEP’ IN YOUR MUSIC – SO IN TERMS OF MUSIC THAT MEANS SOMETHING, WHAT’S IN THE SONGS THAT HAVE REACHED YOU?
Growing up, I’d always been obsessed with songwriters who were great storytellers. Musical ability and vocal technique have never really been things I’ve been particularly bothered about, to be honest. Even if they don’t have what is ordinarily considered a “good voice”, I’d rather listen to an artist who can say something worthwhile with three chords than someone bland but technically gifted. Nowadays I don’t always look for the same sense of narrative within songs – I can be drawn in by other things, whether musically or lyrically.
ARE THERE THINGS YOU LISTEN TO WHICH ARE FAR REMOVED FROM YOUR OWN SOUND?
I’ll listen to anything really – I’m drawn to a strong melody and the beautiful, but also the destructive. A great song can be both of those things too, I guess – I’ve been listening to a lot of shoegaze-type stuff for the past few months which is, I guess, just one example of that. Right at this exact time, I’m really into new records by The War On Drugs, Angel Olsen, Cloud Nothings, Wye Oak, Beck… I could go on. There are loads of amazing records out at the moment.
STATION APPROACH IS A BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF ‘HAUNTING MODERN FOLK MELANCHOLIA’ (WHICH WILL BE NO SURPRISE TO THOSE WHO’VE HEARD YOUR STUFF BEFORE)…
I think, going back to your first question regarding trajectory and development, I’ve always tried to write songs that I hoped could stand up on their own without hiding behind vast instrumentation or production – obviously because a lot of the time I’ve had to perform them alone with a guitar. I think nothing has changed in that respect, but with the new material (STATION APPROACH being an example) I’ve been writing for the band with a specific expansive / atmospheric sound in mind. Anyone who has seen me play live with the band in the past year will probably be aware of this, but with STATION APPROACH we also wanted to capture that on record, which I hope we’ve managed to do. But I still write by the same philosophy, as I’ve said, and the song is intended to be able to stand on its own merits too if ever I play solo and have to strip it back.
WHAT SPECIFIC THINGS WERE YOU WRITING ABOUT?
Lyrically, there’s not a consistent narrative there as such – it plays around with themes of nostalgia, memories and youth, and holding on to those things. I think if anything, I just wanted to capture a certain mood or feeling with the song, both lyrically and musically – dynamics are a big thing for myself and the band, and I think it’s important to maintain those pin-drop quiet moments along with making lots of noise – I suppose that always helps to reflect the mood I’m trying to recall or create… if that makes any sense?
NICE TO HEAR THE OLD TRACK STARS IN A NEW VERSION…
The B-side is a new electric version of STARS, from the first EP; I kept it simple by playing live in the studio in one take, and then adding a few backing vocals. It’s nice to occasionally delve into the past, and I think quite a few listeners came onboard after a while after that EP was released, so they might not know the song. It felt right to breathe a bit of new life into it.
WHAT’S NEXT? IS THERE AN ALBUM IN THE WORKS?
There’s an album on the way, for sure! I’ve been in the studio a lot recently and it’s pretty much there. I’m happy with the songs and I hope they’re well received – I feel like hopefully there’s a good balance and that they reflect both what I’ve done so far and what I’m yet to do. We’ll keep you posted…
IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE?
I’m definitely flirting with cliché here. But: do what you love. Live fast, but preferably die old and comfortable without too many regrets. Or something. Oh God… I’d make a terrible motivational speaker.
Sam Airey’s STATION APPROACH is released digitally on 9th June and as a limited edition 7″ vinyl single on 20th June. Pre-order from the Sam Airey Bancamp page here.
FRI 20 JUNE LEEDS Brudenell Social Club BUY
MON 23 JUNE LONDON The Old Blue Last FREE ENTRY