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SMOKE FAIRIES

Smoke Fairies

Darkness Brings The Wonders Home

    In the making of their new album Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, Smoke Fairies drew inspiration from mysteries both real and imagined: sea monsters, flocks of crows taking flight in extravagant formation, strange creatures dwelling in the mud near their new South London abode. With their mesmeric vocal presence and starkly poetic lyrics, singer/multi-instrumentalists Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies embed all that odd magic into songs that speak to the realities of modern times—isolation, insomnia, an overall unease with the state of the world—and ultimately uncover an unlikely sense of hope.

    “Times of darkness are when people are often the most imaginative,” says Davies in reflecting on the album’s title. “It helps you to see all the wonders of the world you hadn’t noticed before—the things you’ve been blind to because you’ve been on autopilot for so long.”

    Produced by Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Black Angels, The Shins), Darkness Brings The Wonders Home merges Smoke Fairies’ musings and meditations with a decidedly guitar-driven sound, the duo’s unearthly harmonies endlessly floating atop lead-heavy riffs. Over the course of a rigorous month-long session in Seattle, Smoke Fairies adopted a purposely intimate approach to achieving that singular sonic tone.

    ‘We spent a long time trying to fathom the direction we wanted to take on this album. At times the options seemed overwhelming, but as new songs started to form we realized we needed to take them back to our core sound – our interplaying guitar parts’ says Davies. “So then we had to really step up and do it ourselves, without relying on a band to fill anything in, which was quite a challenge—physically, mentally, everything.”

    While Smoke Fairies initially intended to return to the earthy folk of early work like 2011’s Through Low Light and Trees, the duo soon found themselves assuming a new boldness in their guitar style and, in turn, pushing into much wilder terrain. In doing so, Blamire and Davies spent much of their time perusing the guitar shop near Ek’s chosen studio, experimenting with countless guitars and amps to augment the album’s sonic palette. “It was like being in a sweet shop, getting to try all these guitars we’d normally never be able to afford,” says Blamire. “We ended up making friends with guitars we never thought to use before, like this weird vintage Kay that sounded great but was so hard to play—to the point where there were days when our fingers were bleeding, or we had blisters in places you didn’t even know you could get them.”

    Opening with “On the Wing,” Darkness Brings The Wonders Home quickly proves the power of matching that pummeling guitar work with Smoke Fairies’ finespun songwriting. With its woozy intensity and spellbinding rhythms, the song also introduces one of the album’s most prominent themes: the often-futile attempts at true connection at a time when the most impetuous behavior tends to prevail. “When we were little my brother wrote a poem about waking up and finding he’d changed into a swan overnight, with feathers growing out of his arms,” says Blamire of the song’s inspiration. “To me that’s an interesting metaphor for how people can grow into becoming quite flighty, where they’re never really able to settle in one place or with one person.”

    An album deeply informed by aberrations of nature, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home delves into a different kind of fascination on “Out of the Woods”—a song sparked from Smoke Fairies’ study of the overgrown pond behind their house. “There’s something magical about all these weird things living out there in the mud,” says Blamire. “We started to project onto that, like the idea of something unexpected and good coming from the mud of your emotions.” Another song attuned to the fear of the unknown, the hypnotically ominous “Chew Your Bones” mines inspiration from the titular beast of Sarah Perry’s novel The Essex Serpent and from a local urban myth involving a character called The Croydon Cat Killer. “For years people thought someone was going around killing cats—they put a proper police force on it and everything, and then realized it’s just foxes,” Davies notes. “I’d also recently read an article about how some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of bringing kids into the world at the moment,” she adds, “We needed to write about the growing feeling that the world is on the verge of real change, there is the sense that there is this scary, unknown future lurking just beyond us ’.

    Despite its many wanderings into otherworldly territory, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home remains rooted in real-life anxieties, particularly on tracks like the fluttering and urgent “Don’t You Want to Spiral Out of Control.” “The modern way of interacting around love seems too empty to me—it feels like it makes us into much colder people than we ever were before,” says Blamire. “It’s like we’re missing that spontaneity, the ability to bind together over something more than an image on a screen. That song came from wanting to just shake people and go, ‘don’t you want to spiral out of control again? Don’t you want to just let loose?’”

    Throughout Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, Smoke Fairies adorn their observations with so many exquisite flourishes: the swinging melodies and elegant shredding of “Elevator,” the girl-group harmonies and spiky riffs of “Disconnect,” the delicate tension between taut guitar lines and swooning vocals on “Chocolate Rabbit.”

    For Smoke Fairies, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home signals a strengthening of the inextricable bond they’ve forged through the years. “So many of the songs are about these feelings of disconnection, but the irony is that Jessica and I have each other, and that means so much more than any of the other relationships that come and go,” says Blamire. And because of that connection, the two found the courage essential for bringing such an emotionally trying album to life. “I think what we’re attempting to show is that, in all this chaos that’s so tumultuous and overwhelming, there are always ways to change your perspective,” says Blamire. “Making this album, we conquered so many worries and doubts and felt so much stronger at the end—we went right into the darkness, and somehow brought something incredibly positive out of it.”


    FORMAT INFORMATION

    Dinked Edition LP Info: Exclusive Coloured vinyl – Gold & Black Splatter.
    Exclusive Sleeve.
    Signed & Numbered 12”x12” Print.
    Exclusive Lyric Book.
    Dinked sticker.

    Coloured LP Info: Gold coloured vinyl.

    Ten brand new seasonal tracks from Smoke Fairies. Smoke Fairies (Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies) had this to say about their album: "We have a love / hate relationship with winter and the Christmas holiday. When it was suggested Smoke Fairies make a Christmas album the last thing we wanted to do was make a classic, jolly, celebratory album that can only be played once a year. Sometimes winter provides us with a sense of togetherness and love and sometimes it leaves us feeling alienated, cold and playing a glockenspiel alone in a darkened room. It's part of the year that will always be bittersweet and wild. This was the inspiration behind the record. We got together with our band, played around with the songs a few times then headed off to the studio to record them all live. It's buzzy and raw and not one tinkling of sleigh bells can be heard."

    Smoke Fairies’ outstanding new album, the eponymously titled ‘Smoke Fairies’, shows the band in top form, combining their classic approach whilst exploring new forms of musical expression - but it is an album that they nearly didn’t make.

    In the six years since Smoke Fairies’ Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies first entered a recording studio they have made two critically acclaimed albums, supported on tours with Bryan Ferry, Richard Hawley and Laura Marling, and had a single released on Jack White’s Third Man Records, but for all the perceived glamour of a musical career, they were still sharing a house in Peckham and waiting for something to happen while they worked temp jobs around London.

    However, with the question now raised, Smoke Fairies were able to really take stock and reassess what the band truly meant to them. “We realised that this is our life,” says Davies. “And we just have to see it as this wonderful thing, every gig we get to play and every record we get to make - we’re just incredibly grateful for that.”

    Smoke Fairies yearned for movement and forward momentum. They wanted to make an album that wasn’t simply recorded live, but rather presented songs that were pored over, puzzled-out, polished and produced. “We wanted to feel that we had dissected everything back to its basic bones,” says Davies, “and then for every song to kind of shimmer.”

    The result is a remarkable set of songs, notable not only for their strength and robustness, but also a sense of experimentation. The sheer liberation Blamire and Davies felt at using synths for the first time is evident in tracks such as the irresistible ‘Your Own Silent Movie’ and the beautifully compelling ‘Drinks And Dancing’. Davies and Blamire’s sublime voices still stand to the fore, and tracks like ‘Want It Forever’ are lined with a deliciously bluesy skuzzyness. This may not be the sort of album you ever expected Smoke Fairies to make, but it is an extraordinary record - bracing, sensual and defiant - and one that promises an exciting musical future.

    Since their 2010 debut album – “Through Low Light And Trees” - Smoke Fairies’ Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire have been on an epic journey, both physically and spiritually. Touring Britain, Europe and America; in tour buses, ramshackle vans and even driving themselves 3000 miles across the US, drawing increasingly devoted audiences with their exquisitely original and mesmerising music.

    All these experiences bleed from every pore of their brilliant new album, “Blood Speaks”. From the heavyweight humidity of “The Three Of Us” and “Feel It Coming Near”, to the fragile haunts of “Daylight” and “Hideaway” and the sonic adventures of “Film Reel” and the title track, Blood Speaks is undeniable proof of a tougher and more fearless Smoke Fairies. “We’ve got more confident in what we’re doing, and so we’ve pushed things a bit more,” says Katherine. “We’ve gotten bolder with the dynamics, and our influences have broadened.”

    Suddenly that debut album feels somewhat shy and innocent by comparison, though at the time Through Low Light And Trees certainly cast a powerful shadow, with spectral melodies driven by an uncanny symmetry of sound that reflected the duo’s long friendship. Friends since school in Chichester, Sussex, bonding over their parents’ guitars and Jessica’s mum’s vinyl collection, the pair subsequently lived and worked in New Orleans and Vancouver, met and recorded with Jack White for his Third Man label in Nashville and recorded their debut in a remote Cornish studio - all of which added and embellished their haunting, deep-reaching musical impact.

    Head, the venerated producer, returns for Blood Speaks, and their live band was also drafted in, adding their intuitive version of the duo’s evolving sound. This time round, the album was produced in the urban surroundings of West London’s Ladbroke Grove. “Before,” Katherine recalls, “the city felt like a trap to us. Like on the first album, we wrote “Devil In My Mind”, about feeling crushed by London. But as the title track symbolises, we’ve made peace with the city. Maybe travelling gives you the space to counteract a city’s impression, but a lot of Blood Speaks is inspired by London and by travelling.”

    ‘Blood Speaks’ itself is also the album’s longest and most clear signpost of progress. “We tried to break out of the different forms which you can get restricted by in folk and blues,” says Katherine. “It was very liberating to do that, as well as a very uplifting, independent song for us.”

    Jessica: “It’s about the sense you get from stopping, thinking and just focusing on your surroundings. To listen to what your blood is telling you, to experience life and to celebrate the freedom of being able to move around.”

    The brooding “Version Of The Future” is one distinct ‘city’ song, while ‘Awake’ is haunted by the idea of millions, “thinking the same thoughts at night, troubled by the same routines, dreaming together, but alone,” says Katherine. “We got that feeling too when we drove across America, of being together, but feeling very alone. We did end up in some very strange places. Driving 200 miles to find a motel, bikers either side of our room, and suddenly realising we didn’t know where we were, and neither did anyone else!”

    After that cross-country tour and another to play shows with Blitzen Trapper and Dawes, numerous ‘travelling’ songs appeared. Such as “Take Me Down When You Go”, with its unforgettable images (“black ice on a freezing drive…wrote your name on the steamed-up glass / I feel dead like a winter grass”) and “Daylight (“at night, in the motel, I dream of the car crashing through the wild pastures”). The album’s lead single “The Three Of Us” (which spearheads an EP alongside “The Wireless”, “Radio Clicks On” and “The Bells”) was originally conceived a decade ago during a Greyhound bus trip across America the pair took with a friend, it was revisiting some of the obscure towns while driving between shows got Jessica thinking about, “life, friendship, where it ends and appreciating the journey as you go. Your life stretches out and you see so many different lives and places. What’s to stop you from getting out the bus or car and settling in, say, Montana?”

    But Smoke Fairies won’t be settling down yet. This epic journey still has a long way to run. As Katherine concludes, “something about what we’re doing drives you on. Something you can’t escape from. It’s part of our journey and we haven’t got where we’re going yet.”

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Philippa says: A name like Smoke Fairies suggests a will-o’-the-wisp fragility, and while Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s vintage floral frocks and laced up boots see them conform to certain expectations of folky femininity, names and looks can be deceiving. Much of the two years since the pair’s full length debut "Through Low Light And Trees" has been spent touring, criss-crossing 3000 miles of America as well as Europe and the UK. While many might be cowed by that expanse of the Midwest USA, with Smoke Fairies it seems to have given them a greater presence and a new found confidence, which in turn has transmitted itself to their music. It’s a subtle shift, and one that I only fully appreciated listening to "Through Low Light And Trees" and "Blood Speaks" back to back.

    As with its predecessor, "Blood Speaks" is steeped in the history of English folk, Americana and blues (the pair have previously decamped to New Orleans for a year’s study), but this new album has a certain additional muscularity to it, most notable on the opening blues slide guitar on "The Three Of Us", while title track "Blood Speaks" goes beyond the constraints of the folk / blues tradition altogether. Unchanging, however, is Smoke Fairies USP, the entwined, entrancing ethereal vocal harmonies of Blamire and Davies, which are still at the heart of every song, as are the tales of love and loss, continuing the thread of melancholia that runs through all their work. If, like me, you found "Through Low Light And Trees" totally enthralling, "Blood Speaks" will be sure to captivate you just as much.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    Ltd LP Info: The vinyl also includes a CD of the full album.

    Smoke Fairies' own fairytale continues to unfold. 2009 saw them tour with Richard Hawley across Britain and be produced by Jack White for a Third Man-released 7”, while this year they were heralded as one of the band’s to see at SXSW and supported Laura Marling in the US. Most recently Jessica and Katherine added angelic backing vocals to Richard Hawley’s current EP "False Lights From The Land". When the calibre of White and Hawley are entranced, you know this isn’t fairy-tale, but the absolute truth…

    Recorded at Sawmills studio in Cornwall with producer Head (best known for his work with PJ Harvey) at the controls, "Through Low Light And Trees" is an exquisitely shivery blend of alternative folk-rock and a more humid, bluesy brand of Americana, a sound both eerily ancient and thrillingly modern, with beautifully interlocking harmonies and guitar parts behind the spectral melodies…

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Darryl says: A stunning and enchanting collection from this folk duo. Ethereal and haunting this is on the dark side of traditional folk, think Sandy Denny or Vashti Bunyan but with a left-of-centre twist. Folk album of 2010!


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