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Smoke Fairies Discuss New LP
John Freeman , May 15th, 2012 09:51

Traveller’s Tales: Smoke Fairies talk to John Freeman about their new album, Blood Speaks

This is a first. I’ve never conducted an interview before in a Thai restaurant on a Sunday afternoon is an upmarket Cheshire village. Knutsford is the sort of place that can boast a McLaren sports car garage and new-build houses shaped like quasi-castles - “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

But inverted snobbery aside, Knutsford is a handy stop-off, as folk duo Smoke Fairies take a break from a marathon drive from Scotland back to their home in London.

Having recently supported Jack White on his solo shows (Smoke Fairies were the first UK act to release a single on White’s Third Man label), a meeting with Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire mid-journey is apt. Their second album, Blood Speaks, takes a degree of inspiration from the concept of travel as the pair fuse the epic emptiness of tour miles to a harder, grittier soundscape compared to their 2010 alt.folk debut, Through Low Light And Trees.

The new album sounds ‘bigger’ than your debut. Was this always part of your vision for Blood Speaks?

Jessica Davies: I think we spent a lot of time thinking about this album and we utilised what we had learnt from our first record for this one. We knew what our live band was capable of doing, so we tried to use them as best as possible. Also, we’ve been touring since the last album came out, using our amps and pedals and slowly working out what they can do. It just seemed right to make it a little heavier. The album is bolder and a bit more ‘in your face’.

Have your influences changed?

Katherine Blamire: Before we would listen to a lot of roots-based acoustic music and folk and blues. Now, I guess we are living in our own time a bit more and opened our ears to everything.

JD: It’s also how you listen to things. Before, I would perhaps listen to the lyrics and now I’m listening to songs with interesting drum beats or basslines and you then think about how you could use them.

I believe a number of songs on the album are inspired by the concept of travel. Can you elaborate?

JD: When you are a touring band there is a different feel to travelling – it has such a purpose but, in other ways, it has no purpose. Sometimes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and you don’t know where you are going or who is going to be there. When we did a lot of touring in America last year, there was that feeling of being lost in a vast amount of space. I suppose the challenge of trying to be successful in that space is quite a strange feeling. You can feel quite isolated, yet we have a very strong bond between us which allows to keep going through any adversity. That kind of feeling provokes a lot of songs. But, not all the songs on the album are about travel. A lot of them feel quite sedentary as well!

Blood Speaks was recorded in London. Were you not tempted to make the record somewhere more exotic?

JD: We thought about other options, but in the end we thought it would be easier to record somewhere that was near a supermarket, so we can pop out and get Pot Noodles or whatever.

KB: However, it was very relaxed and a lovely place to work. We also had less restrictions on time compared to the last album. We didn’t have a label when we recorded our debut; we put our own money into it. There was pressure in the sense of whether it was going to become anything. Now we have the confidence that people want to hear us. As a performer and a writer, that gives you the confidence to push because you know there is an audience there.

But does knowing that there is an audience waiting to hear you new songs create pressure?

JD: We do feel that pressure, but it made us up our game, because having toured with the last album, you realise that the songs are going to be sung for the next two years and so we were more conscious about what would be fun to sing to an audience, but be emotionally stirring in a live setting. It is really thrilling that we have a met a lot of fans this year, and you realise they have bought the album and it is part of their lives to whatever they’ve been doing. People have told us that they were going through a divorce or something and our album really helped them. So – blimey - I really hope we can live up to their expectations.

Is Blood Speaks more indicative of how you imagined Smoke Fairies might sound?

JD: Not as such - it is about evolution. It was really important to put something out that charts a progression or people start pigeon-holing you. The artists that we admire are people who have a longevity and you only get that through evolving. PJ Harvey is a great example of that. All her albums seem to be slightly different and she starts each album with a different idea.

So, what are your plans for the rest of 2012?

JD: We have a tour in May, and we will go out on a bigger scale in the autumn once we know how the album is doing. We don’t want to assume.

Are you good tourers? Do months of gigs fill you with glee?

KB: We love it. It is so frustrating sitting at home waiting to find out when the tour is going to be. Getting out on the road is our favourite thing.

JD: The songs are so exciting to us. We have played the same songs for ages and we cannot wait to break out the new ones.

Blood Speaks is out on 21st May via V2.

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