As they prepare to release new album Blood Speaks next month, FFS spoke to Smoke Fairies Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies about the new album and the role of tea in the songwriting process.
FFS: The new record sounds punchier, more direct than your last. What kind of mood did you want to create?
Jessica: We set out to make a record that was more joyful this time around. The whole recording process was very fulfilling and enjoyable so I hope that is reflected on the mood of the album.
FFS: I always imagined Through Low Light And Trees to be like taking a walk through the woods at night. Lyrically, and perhaps musically too in its more direct feel, this is a more ‘urban’ album. Have you stopped trying to escape the city you once sang was crushing you?
Katherine: Perhaps we’re more at home in the city now, when we wrote Through Low Light and Trees we were living in a cold, drafty house and things were more chaotic. We needed to get away from the city to record Through Low Light and Trees, but for Blood Speaks recording in London seemed right.
FFS: You have a much broader range of musical themes and styles on this record, a more confident sound. Do you feel like you’re really beginning to spread your wings?
Katherine: From the outset of writing Blood Speaks we knew there was an audience wanting to hear it, so that gives you some assurance and confidence. It was important to us to make it feel like a step forwards, a change or development.
Jessica: What we didn’t want to do was record another Through Low Light and Trees sounding album. If anything was sounding too safe we would rewrite or rearrange it.
FFS: It’s been 18 months since the previous album came out. What have you been up to in that time, and how has that affected the themes on the new record?
Katherine: My memories of that time are mostly of touring and writing and thinking about the next record. We had some great experiences playing in the UK and I think for the first time we really felt a connection with our audience. Touring in the US involved a lot of driving and things like getting pulled over by the police in Nebraska, getting stuck in a storm and seeing the curtains flying out the window in the middle of the night, getting stuck in the middle of a biker rally in Sturges, staying in a house full of dogs in Wisconsin, trying a buffalo burger, meeting someone at a show who brought a pet wolf along, crashing into the car in front trying to drive to New York, driving through a flooded town, not knowing what time, date or state we were in. It’s the strange things that stick in my mind the most… Then there was also time spent at home planning how the new songs were going to sound. We always thought, “How can we change this to make it more interesting?”. We met a lot of interesting people during that time and experienced a lot of places, but London always draws us back like a magnet and I think both the transient experiences and the time spent at home have influenced this record in different ways.
Jessica: We have been feeling a lot of gratitude for the opportunities we have had to tour, travel and meet so many great people. There is a line in ‘The Three of Us’ – ‘I know that I have shared something rare’ which is in some ways an acknowledgment of this.
FFS: We’re wondering if we should count this as your second, third, or fourth album. Through Low Light is often referred to as your debut, as Strange Are Things has all but disappeared, while Ghosts – which is superb if we may say so – is called a compilation even though none of those songs appeared on either album. How do you look at it?
Jessica: I see it as our second album.
FFS: What is the songwriting process between the two of you?
Jessica: Pick up the guitars, have a chat, make some tea, argue over what each other is playing, make more tea, record a demo, scrap the demo and have another tea. That’s the general process but it differs from song to song. Sometimes one of us will write a song that is fully finished; some songs are like puzzles that we have to keep working on.
Katherine: The writing process for Blood Speaks was quite exciting because we allowed ourselves to experiment and make mistakes and start again and try to make the songs more dramatic or less predictable. Some only really came together completely in the studio. Choruses were scrapped and changed and instrumental parts were added spontaneously. It felt pretty free and creative and we tried not to restrict ourselves or get stuck in familiar patterns. Some of the songs, like the album title track, ‘Blood Speaks’, involved explorations in how far we could push our harmonies and that particular song develops into a mantra that I think sounds quite liberating and uplifting. It was Christmas so if anything got too intense we could just go to the shop and get more mince pies and Baileys. I think that’s where most of the budget went.
FFS: Can you take us back in time a little as we’re wondering where you got your name.
Katherine: We came up with the name when we were teenagers driving around misty roads in Sussex. It was much better than the other names we came up with that had some reference to aliens, pies, the moon, or elves, so it stuck.
FFS: You met in school but then went on to live together in New Orleans and Vancouver. What took you on that road together?
Katherine: I don’t think anyone would have expected us to follow the same path for so long. It just happened. Sticking with Jessica, playing music and travelling around always just seemed like the most interesting option. I think we both have a fear of getting stuck in some sort of boring normalcy and that keeps you hungry for finding ways of escaping it.
FFS: Even though the new album is very different in tone to Through Low Light, it still has that very distinct style of yours, which seems to be at once English and American in accent. How was that sound shaped during your travels?
Jessica: It’s hard to say because I feel our influences are always changing. People like to ask about the effect living New Orleans has had on our sound for example, but we lived there 10 years ago so that experience has had little impact on Blood Speaks. I would say the act of touring and constantly being on the move has brought about a few songs on the new album.
Katherine: Sometimes I look back on those times when we lived away from home and feel a real sense of melancholy because those experiences feel quite distant now.
FFS: You have a strong fanbase in North America – do you still feel a connection out there?
Jessica: We are big fans of the pancake breakfast so we use any excuse to get over to the US. The landscapes are pretty cool too.
Katherine: We’re definitely hoping to get out there and tour with Blood Speaks. I like the weirdness of driving around in all that space going from show to show. I’m always surprised when there are people there. It feels very epic and satisfying.
FFS: You’ve talked before about admiring artists who have maintained an air of mystery about them even as they become successful. Who did you have in mind, and how has that idea influenced the way you handle your own image?
Jessica: Back when there was no internet, it was almost impossible to find out any details about musicians especially as a kid listening to old records. It allowed the listener to invent stories behind the songs and attach their own meanings to it. For that reason we don’t reveal too much about what a song is about we would prefer it to hold different meanings for different people.
FFS: Given all the moving you’ve done in the past, do you feel settled now or should we expect to hear you’ve moving to Australia or somewhere similar soon?
Jessica: I’ve grown to appreciate the UK and at the moment touring seems to fulfil our nomadic tendencies. But who knows, we may opt for a change of scene at some stage. We’ve never been to Australia but I am a bit concerned about the number of venomous creatures they have there.
Blood Speaks is released on May 21.