It’s been 2 years since your first album, Ground. What have you been up to?
We started recording the follow up to Ground, “Lie” in May 2015 but we had a lot of distractions. We put a lot of time into rehearsing our live show, made three music videos and also recorded two non-album tracks for different projects.
Two of the music videos were for tracks from Ground. For ‘The Engagement’ we recut footage from an old ‘swords-and-sandals’ gladiator movie now in the public domain which was a lot of fun. For ‘Sea Stories’ we were more ambitious and filmed original footage – in typically freezing and wet English weather – which was less fun. But we’re very proud of the outcome. It’s also the first video to feature the band. We filmed it in some woods on the outskirts of London and around the Kent coast.
We were invited to play at a small arts festival in Kent too, hosted in a medieval church, so we took the opportunity to record a live performance of the track ‘Drawing’ with that stunning backdrop. ‘Drawing’ is a song based on a poem by the late South African writer Ingrid Jonker who committed suicide in the mid 60s. We were invited to submit a track based on her work along with 30 or so other artists for an album called Die Kind Is Nog Jonger (“The Child Is Even Younger”). We couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so took some time out to write and record this song, which we love.
What was the response to that?
The compilation album was very warmly received and featured many artists we were very proud to be played alongside. We were thrilled when the music critic for a major Cape Town daily newspaper, Die Burger, named ‘Drawing’ as a “standout track”.
And the other non-album track?
We recorded a song ‘After Charlie’ as a response to the attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket, which targeted Jewish people. We donated the proceeds to a UK charity which fights anti-semitism.
How did the live shows go?
We don’t play live as much as we’d like to. It’s a combination of the shrinking live music scene and the fact that we focus more on recording. But as a band you have to put yourself out there, so we’ve played a few special shows. Just after Ground came out we were involved in a show to raise money for Medicins Sans Frontiers. Brett and David were in the house band dubbed “The Half Decents” and Chris was doing the sound engineering, so it made sense to twist Dean’s arm into coming along to play the first set as The Sighs of Monsters. It was a great show with The Half Decents and raised several thousand Pounds for MSF.
It’s the sort of show we like doing too, so we pitched in to play two shows for Oxjam, which raises money for Oxfam’s relief programme.
We also did a live on-air acoustic set for Croydon Radio which was a lot of fun. Dean and Brett played acoustic guitars, Chris brought his congas and tambourine and David swapped his keyboards for an accordion and concertina. The result was very ‘different’ versions of some album tracks. I think we put it up on our Facebook page.
Another highlight for us was supporting a very eccentric German folk/roots artist who calls himself the “Dad Horse Experience” at The Bird’s nest in Deptford. We’re now fans of DHE. Check out his mad music on Soundcloud!
How did you approach making Lie?
Well, we decided to take our time about it. We approached it with the same structural ethos we used with Ground, that is that it would be a ‘classic’ album format – around 45 minutes long, and split into two (virtual) halves, and that it would have, not so much a theme, but an emotional arc. We recorded more songs than we needed but then agonised over which ones fitted together to form a satisfying listening experience. The selection changed at least once, and we tweaked the running order several times.
During the recording process, we scrapped a few versions of songs and started again. Most songs start with a rough demo by the writer, but they don’t become TSOM songs until we’ve put our collective heads together. Dean is meticulous about vocals and will never let anything slide. We’ll do take after take until he’s happy, and on occasion we’ll go back to it months later because he’s lived with it and feels he can do better or that he’d like to try a different approach.
Is there such a thing as “over-production”?
Of course there is, but we’re very careful. Our mission is not to get everything ‘perfect’, but to make everything ‘deliberate’. We don’t let mistakes through if we can help it, but we do let accidents happen. If an accident happens and an unplanned part or mistake sounds great or adds to the artistic effect we want, we leave it. In fact, we may even deliberately repeat it when we arrange the song for playing live. A good part of the recording process is having the creative space to be fearless.
What do you mean by that?
Well, we’re all introverts and I guess because of that we have no real egos or desire for competition. Artistically this is a real advantage, because we don’t mind trying things without fear of failure. In recording we don’t have the same assigned roles we have when we perform, for example, and this can sometimes have unpredictable results, some of which are magical. On ‘Superman In The Silence’, for instance, we wanted to create a feeling in the vocals of a drunk holding forth about his sorrows to a barman. Dean decided the best way to achieve this was to sing it drunk, so the normally very sober Mr Sobers had a few shots of neat scotch and sang his heart out. A heroic sacrifice of sobriety for art, but the result was both subtle and astounding.
The same applies to our lyrics. Many of our songs are deeply personal and deal with some raw issues quite honestly, but we feel safe enough with each other to really give everything to bringing these songs to life. With TSOM, it’s the real deal or nothing. No compromises.
So what’s next?
We’re now doing our best to promote the album. Obviously times have changed and where you once might have been putting out flyers and posters, you’re now organising digital distribution and working social media. It’s harder than you think, so give us a hand and share our posts and tell your friends about the album.
We also are about to start rehearsals to work out live arrangements of these songs. When we’re in the studio, we’re very focused on making the best record possible, but that often leaves us with several challenges when creating a version we can play in front of an audience. We are very much looking forward to playing these songs for people.