Twins Andy and Jez Williams braved the unforgiving Welsh winter to bring us the sound of their eponymous debut, their first release since their other band Doves took an indefinite hiatus. On Black Rivers the English two-piece fully indulge in their electronic tendencies, which were peppered throughout Doves' output creating an at once melancholic and immersive sound. Here, drummer and co-singer Andy tells SPB's Dublin-based writer about his Irish heritage, returning to the live circuit after 4 years away and how he really feels about being asked about Doves.
Scene Point Blank: When I first started listening to Black Rivers I wasn't sure if I should've expected something along the lines of Doves' "M62 Song" or not. Did you and Jez consciously avoid writing guitar-based songs for the majority of the album, or was that just how the album's sound unfolded?
Andy Williams: When you start writing I think sometimes it's good not to put restrictions, you can feel a bit constrained, I think, if you put lots of rules in. So we just wrote loads, and certainly at the beginning we never said, "Oh, that's maybe too close to our previous work." We just wrote and wrote. We've always found it interesting--electronic music--so really we both wrote a lot of songs that didn't make it. What we did was just write loads of material and then, towards the end, start picking and seeing the map and thinking, "Well those songs fit together." Then the songs start to choose themselves, really. So when we were in the process we might have gone, "Well, we've got a theme here, we've got a feel here." The last song of the album, "Deep Rivers Run Quiet" was written back in mine to finish the record off.
Scene Point Blank: How irritating is to be constantly asked about Doves, or do you mind being asked about it?
Andy: No, we're very proud of a lot of work we've done. We're not daft, we knew from the beginning that's what people would ask us about. So no, I don't mind really. It's just a part of my history and I'm proud of that music and it's to be expected, so that's fine.
Scene Point Blank: Black Rivers was written and recorded in a cottage on Anglesey. What impact did getting out of Cheshire to record and write have on the album?
Andy: Funnily enough it was in Cheshire and Salford where we wrote quite a bit of the record, because Jez had a studio.
Scene Point Blank: It's a home studio, isn't it?
Andy: I've got a little one in my house, we were in it a bit, but Jez had a studio outside his house in an arts complex. But yeah, that was a really important part of it because we just went to escape domestic life because that can get in the way of writing music. So we'd just go and concentrate, and do two-week blocks where we'd just eat, breathe, and sleep music. We'd just work round the clock.
Scene Point Blank: Was it being on Anglesey that largely influenced a lot of the lyrics, as they're to do with weather and it really sets an atmosphere. Was that derived from being there?
Andy: Definitely, definitely. All the times we went it seemed to be winter and it was really blustery. It definitely informed the record, and the feel of the record. I think if we'd gone in summer it might have been a bit of a different vibe. Every time we went from the cottage we could see the sea and it was always really choppy. It definitely had an effect on the music.
Scene Point Blank: Is there a particular song on Black Rivers that strongly resonates with you?
Andy: I'd say for me personally, lyric-wise, maybe "Deep Rivers Run Quiet" and "The Forest." I was really pleased when I finished the lyrics for "Deep Rivers..." because it felt like fresh ground for me. It's a statement on technology, how it starts running your life. I know, at times, it runs my life. I think it's a theme a lot of people can relate to where you spend more time on your phone, texting or whatever, than talking to people. And how we're all observed now. That felt to me like new ground. I suppose "The Forest" I liked because I just really wanted to try to paint a picture and wanted to try to have something with a real English theme. I don't think we've ever done that, an English psychedelic theme.
Scene Point Blank: There's something inherently Northern about Doves, about Elbow, about Black Rivers. There's something that's captured there that really lends itself to sounding distinctly Mancunian. I know you're from Cheshire, but I assume I can make it interchangeable with Manchester?
Andy: We grew up in Manchester. We were born in Cheshire, but really Manchester informed us growing up, with the clubs and gigs and stuff.
But the Irish thing, you know there's a massive Irish community in Manchester and Cheshire. There's a lot of musicians from Irish backgrounds. Countless, countless people.
Scene Point Blank: And I think yourself and Jez have roots in Westport [in Co. Mayo, Ireland]?
Andy: Yeah, Westport. My mum's family was from Westport. We've got a lot of family [in Ireland], some of them moved to Belfast. We've still got a lot of family in Belfast. We love coming back.
It's weird, we're really chuffed that [Black Rivers] seem to have really resonated in Ireland. We've done quite a lot of press for stuff in Ireland and we're really chuffed about that.
Scene Point Blank: It's a weird thing about, not necessarily somber, but contemplative music, say the likes of David Gray, he really resonates over here. He's said before that, similarly, for some reason Irish people get really, really into his music more so than maybe English people. It's a strange thing, I can't explain it.
Andy: It's sometimes good that you can't explain stuff like that. If it just resonates with people that's a great thing.
Scene Point Blank: You've been touring lately, how has the audience response been?
Andy: Great! It's been great to get out and gig again, because we've not really gigged for 4 years. We gigged non-stop for like 20 years and then nothing for 4 years, so I did really miss it.
Scene Point Blank: That's got to be a crazy adjustment.
Andy: Yeah, totally. But brilliant because it's just so much more instant playing live. In the studio you can get very in your own bubble and in your own, you know, I don't want to say "disappear up your backside," but you know what I mean. Live, it's good, you interact with people and you play and you just get a direct response. It's been really good, and I'm really chuffed with how people have reacted to the new songs. Because we feel proud [of our work with Doves], we do a couple of Doves songs, and the Black Rivers songs go down as well as the Doves songs.
Scene Point Blank: How difficult is it to transfer the electronic sound of Black Rivers into a live show?
Andy: It's a bit of a challenge, but we've always used technology live. I think we've got it sussed now, I hope. It quite took a lot of rehearsals because you're dealing with machines which do go down sometimes. But we've sussed it, I think.
Scene Point Blank: You're supporting Noel Gallagher on his upcoming arena tour. Obviously you played arenas before as part of Doves, but do you ever get nervous playing shows that big or are you used to it now?
Andy: I've not played big shows like that for a while. I'm sure there'll be a mixture of excitement and nerves, really. Once you get into it you're alright, it's just the first couple are always a bit wahey. But I can't wait to get out on tour. It's a great opportunity for us to play for big crowds, which we wouldn't be able to do on our own. I'm looking forward to it.
Scene Point Blank: I read in a press release that Jez said that you're both the lucky ones because you've been able to make a living out of making music. I was wondering if you think that new bands starting out now are at a disadvantage versus, say, new bands in the early '90s around the time that you started releasing music as part of Sub Sub?
Andy: I think so. Definitely, I think it's really tough for young bands and I really feel for them, because when we started people sold records and you were able to make a decent living to kick things off. But it's very tough now, records aren't selling. It's really tough for young bands. You've got to really want to do it. For a lot of musicians it's the only thing they want to do, so they will make it work. But it is definitely tougher than when we first started, without a doubt.
Scene Point Blank: It seems there was a lot more respect for the actual product of music back then. People were willing to pay for music.
Andy: True, very true. The course has changed, massively.
Scene Point Blank: I know that now a band's main revenue is through live music, through gigging.
Andy: Yeah, but even that's tough for young bands because it's like a catch-22. You have to get quite established if you want to be able to command [an audience].
Scene Point Blank: I was just curious to hear your thoughts on this, because obviously you would've come up with say Sub Sub, and then Doves and where you are now. I think that covers everything. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it!
Andy: No worries, it was nice to talk to you.
Scene Point Blank: It was really nice to talk to you too! And good luck with the tours, I'm really excited to see where Black Rivers will go from here.
Andy: Thanks a lot!