Stealing Sheep - Interview
We speak to Becky Hawley as she and her band members; Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer, take a break from rehearsals for what is billed as an ‘intimate preview’ of their as yet unnamed new album. The special gig takes place at Buyers Club in Liverpool tomorrow night (Thursday 17 August).
The trio plan to enter the studio in September to make the record, meaning the Buyers Club show ‘...is super ahead of schedule…we’ve done all the writing and we decided this time to learn it all live then take it to the studio and see how it transcends doing it that way round.’
Have you chosen which songs are going to be on the record? I ask.
‘That’s still in the air. We’ve got a rough idea. We’ve written a lot of material so there’s a lot to choose from. Quite a lot are of a jam – jammy! - standard but we’ve got a wealth of songs. Part of the purpose of playing them out to a crowd is to get a bit of feedback to see how people respond to them, to see which ones are working live. That always helps the process of selecting them.’
You’re recording in Margate, that’s a pretty hip location at the moment. Over the past couple of years it’s transformed from a decaying seaside town to a place welcoming creatives. Musicians are spending a lot of time there, new festivals taking place, and so on.
‘Yes! You heard that too? It’s trying to get back its glory promenade days I think, and it’s pulling in a lot of arty people from London. Our management have opened recording studios and rehearsal rooms there, so they’re inviting lots of different bands to come and write and record. Some of All We Are are there now writing and they wrote most of their (Sunny Hills) album there, the one that just came out. It’s an exciting place to be at the moment, lots of new things are popping up, lots of independent cafes and it’s got energy.’
Tomorrow night will be the first time Liverpool gets to hear much of the band’s fresher material, and we will hear the Stealing Sheep album proper ‘on the other side of Christmas’, early in 2018. Becky is vague about the finer details – I wouldn’t tell me either, this far in advance - but one thing is for sure, the women’s trademark visuals and celebration of colour will continue.
‘We’re all from art backgrounds more than music backgrounds in some respects, conceptual arts. We think about the music and what we’re trying to say in the message. That’s all tying in. The music and the visual art are both tools for the message,’ she says.
‘With our photographs and stuff, quite a lot of it is considered and some of it is “... let’s just try things” and I think the outside world sees a lot of that thought process as well because we’re quite on the surface with it. I guess we like the fun of it. Quite a lot of our imagery is about contradiction so we’ll go somewhere like a barren wasteland and throw loads of colour in it by wearing ridiculous or sparkly outfits. Bringing life to a lifeless space immediately brings quite a lot of excitement and I guess it’s that surrealist thing as well that we like to explore.’
It’s been two years since the second long player Not Real was released, but over the past months alongside writing new songs, they’ve kept themselves quietly busy. Becky, Emily and Lucy took part in The F Word, a gig in Cornwall. ‘It’s a progressive alliance,’ Becky says of the event organised, managed, engineered and performed by women. ‘It was fantastic to be invited to be part of that and empower that scene.’
The trio also played shows with Whyte Horses in Manchester then at the Barbican in London, a few weeks ago. It’s not the first time they’ve collaborated with other artists, is this something we’ll see even more of in the future?
‘We’re always up for collaborating, it puts a whole new angle on what we’re doing, it keeps everything fresh.‘
Does she have a wish list of people she’d love to work with?
‘So many people.’
‘It’s interesting because obviously there’s loads that we idolize in the music industry but more recently I’ve noticed that you can overlook the people that are around you, and the progress they are making as artists. I’d quite like to work with Alex Germains. He’s a local electronic music artist who’s just started doing a few shows. He likes to turn everything on its head which appeals to us,’ she laughs. ‘There’s a guy called Ulysses Alverez (from the band Barberos) as well, he’s a brilliant producer and songwriter.’
Stealing Sheep held a two week long residency at Islington Mill in Salford, culminating in the Luma Disco, a multimedia show at Manchester International Festival, experimenting with pop-art lighting techniques, sound responsive light structures, LED sculpturing, and Busby Berkley dance formations.
‘We got given two weeks and we were like, we’re writing this album so let’s tie it in with that. Our residency fell at the same time (as the festival) so it came together that we could produce something with dancers and costumes and interesting lights and all of our new material while we were in the space and showcase it at MIF at the end of the two weeks. Which is exactly what we did. It was extremely interesting and enriching and brilliant to work with different people on it.’
Is the concept something you’ll be carrying forward when you do shows to promote the new record?
‘We’re hoping with the larger scale shows to take them (the dancers) on full time, rather than just a normal gig thing. To create a show out of what we’re trying to do. There’s a kind of slightly conceptual edge to the music as well, it’s not all straight up songy-songs. There’s quite a lot of instrumental elements we are interested in pursuing.’
As for plans for the last quarter of 2017 and next year, ‘usually after an album we start releasing some singles and making music videos. We haven’t given that side much thought yet but that’s a really exciting part of it, finding directors to work with. We’re interested in working more with choreographers to do some more dance based performance videos. But it’s a mystery to me at the moment!’
Stealing Sheep play Buyers Club, Hardman Street, Liverpool on Thursday 17 August .