Dreams More Vivid Than Memories: The Silver Field Interviewed

Coral Rose, aka The Silver Field premieres her sublime new album 'Sing High! Sing Low!' exclusively with tQ, and tells Patrick Clarke about the beauty in being uncertain

Coral Rose has spent lockdown sifting through the 30 to 40 hours’ worth of recordings she’s amassed over the last few years. “I’ve been editing a lot more but writing a lot less,” she says on the phone from her shared home in North London when we speak in April. They mostly comprise field recordings, improvisations with a number of different collaborators and in various different locations. “It feels almost like mining, or foraging, like walking through an environment then you come across something that has some sort of nourishment in it, or some potential,” she says. “Like finding a seed and thinking ‘this is a seed that can grow’. I mean some of it is crap,” she laughs, “but I think in terms of stuff I think I’ll keep and work into the future, there’s maybe ten hours.”

Some of the improvisational recordings might be released under a different name, but for her work as The Silver Field, things usually start as a tape loop. “I’ll have a few days where I just sit down and make loops with a reel to reel, almost playing blind into it with field recordings or stuff on my phone. I guess the nature of it is you don’t know what it’s going to sound like until you stop recording.” Then, those loops will lay dormant on the hard drive until they’re stumbled upon again – sometimes not for years – where something in their rhythm sticks out. “I’ll hear something I want to accentuate or subvert, and then I work into that with various instruments,” Rose explains. “Bass and cello come early on, but then by the end there’s often cello stuff I’ve written that’s barely there in the final mix because it’s a way of working through ideas around it. Vocals usually come last, I build up a little world of sounds with it and then often I’m left finding the words for it afterwards.”

Her second album, the sublime Sing High! Sing Low! is released this Friday and streaming exclusively with tQ below. On it you can actually hear that slow and organic growth, its layers that reveal themselves all at once, creating a psychedelic drift through time and space. It’s a record of juxtapositions, between sung and spoken vocals, acoustic and electric instrumentation. Its images and environments feel evocative and real, but also imbued with a universal sense of essence. It flitters between sounding dreamlike and sounding like the first hazy moments of waking. “The beginning of me writing songs I felt I cared about and had something in them was when I started writing down my dreams,” Rose says. “They became the songs that I actually cared about for the first time.” The first track on The Silver Field’s first album Rooms, the off-kilter and skittish ‘Afire’, and Sing High! Sing Low!’s smokey and beautiful closer ‘The Fire Dream’ are both based on the same dream. “I have this vivid memory of being stuck in a burning A-frame wooden house, and this vivid memory of tins of paint getting hot and hissing with the steam inside them. And then crawling through the earth to get outside, just watching it burn down. In a way it’s more vivid than a memory.”

The two records are linked by more than just that thread. When speaking about Rooms when it was released, Rose described it as a “leaving home” record, heavily influenced by a year spent living in the house of her late grandfather in Anglesey, and she says Sing High! Sing Low! takes the next steps on the same journey, rather than starting another. “It’s a ‘being out in the world and encountering things’ album, a moving and voyaging and walking album,” she says. “Rooms was very much in my head, there was a very specific emotional landscape and a structural idea of the house and leaving that behind. This one doesn’t have that for me, it’s about exploring the landscape and seeing what you can find in the world. I feel like the first one is more hermetic and, I don’t want to say impenetrable because I don’t think it is, but there’s something that’s not inviting about it. On the vocals I’m kind of hiding a lot, and I think on this new one I’m not doing that, I’m more open and I’m wanting to engage with people.” Sing High! Sing Low! shifts focus from the past to the present and finds Rose enjoying a newfound breadth of vision, but there’s a tentativeness to it too. This is not a criticism, that sense of careful and hesitant exploration is crucial to the subtlety of Rose’s world-building; it gives her the room to enact that slow, organic build. “You can go places you couldn’t go with certainty,” she says.

The best example of the way The Silver Field’s music succeeds through its uncertainty is on ‘Hearth Bite’. Over a mesmeric, dusky loop, Rose’s voice alternates between speaking and singing. The former establishes a fantastical, dreamlike landscape that feels hazy around the edges, moving in an almost supernatural way. ‘Pull the mountains closer, but my heart stays in the same place / Racing in the sluggish dusk / Long fingered pine boughs / Face of rivers mirrors the sky’, Rose says. Then, with that loop still ebbing and flowing behind her, she starts singing as a relentless conveyor belt of questions rises up from the drift. ‘How do I push all of this out of me? How do I pull it back in?’ Those questions – “I think they’re asked to myself,” Rose says – never get an answer, but in a way that’s the point to Sing High! Sing Low!; it’s a record that celebrates the act of probing and questioning itself. “A lot of the time where I’m writing, the lyrics come out as if they’re speaking to someone, and I don’t often think of that as a person. I think people see so much in other people that they’re actually just seeing in themselves.” The track also makes a good study of Rose’s brilliance for operating in liminal spaces, begging questions with its gentle contrast of voices. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to see them as two separate characters, but it does feel as if one is an awake voice and one is a dreaming voice…”

While Rooms was rooted in Anglesey, the majority of The Silver Field’s new album was written and recorded in the small Derbyshire town of Wirksworth where Rose grew up, not far from the Peak District. Her teenage years there weren’t smooth sailing. “I just smoked a lot of weed and got out of there as soon as I could,” she says, although it “doesn’t feel too much of a difficult place to be a weirdo compared to how some other small towns would. It’s got a bit of a scene of weirdos. The last three tours that we’ve done we’ve played a gig in Wirksworth, and the last time there was loads of people there but nobody that I actually knew!” To record Sing High! Sing Low! she rented a studio in an old mill, taking advantage of cheap rural prices. “The thought of having a studio like that in London, or any other city, would be completely unattainable. And being able to go there every day and to walk through the fields and up the hill to my mum and dad’s house, it felt like quite a special thing to go back and do there. It felt like something I won’t experience in the same way again.

“It is weird that the first album was about leaving home, then I went home to write this album about exploring the world,” she continues. “I feel like I’m working ten years behind, somehow. But I think coming home is different to being there in the first place. There’s an emotional freedom in coming home and dealing with your feelings about the place you came from, and your feelings about growing up and actually putting that in the past. I feel like you have to go home to do that and I feel like in some ways I had to actually revisit home to write this album about being free to be yourself in the world.”

The gradual, flowering growth that defines Sing High! Sing Low! has happened in Rose herself. The musician attributes much of the record’s newfound explorative instict to her own progress through therapy. “Dealing with my shit and allowing myself to be myself, that’s a long process,” she says. “Some of the stuff on this album I was writing back at the time I was doing the last one, but it ended up coming out in a very different way because of how I have changed.” The album’s title might at first seem exultant, but there’s more to it than that. “It’s joyful in its expression of good and bad, happiness and sadness, joy and fear; it’s jubilant in its expression of a wide scale of emotions, I guess, which is something I didn’t really know how to do before. Now I’ve got the zeal of a new convert, like ‘Yay! I can have all sorts of emotions!’ Maybe that’s not news to some people, but it was news to me, so I’m shouting about it!”

The Silver Field’s new album Sing High! Sing Low! is released via Crossness Records on June 12. You can pre-order it digitally and on vinyl here.

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