Ally Shilson sits down with alt-pop band Flyte (Will, Sam, Jon and Nick) after their set in Glasgow to talk about their record 'The Loved Ones', the hellish fun of recording and cake effigies.
AS: So, how’s the tour going so far?
Flyte: (In a series of goofy voices that become gradually more Welsh) Very well!
AS: How long have you been touring for?
Will: Since the record came out in August. It’s been pretty much unbroken since then.
AS: You haven’t stopped at all?
Nick: Well, a few days here and there.
W: We started with the record shop gigs, ‘cause we wanted to make sure everyone knew that the physical was important to us, then we toured the UK as a headline and then we went round Europe - we’ve just got back - and now we’re doing this.
AS: Do you get bored of playing any of your songs?
Sam: (immediately) Yep. I’m already bored of playing all of them. I want some new ones in the set.
N: (with great incredulity) Do you actually get bored?
S: Sometimes, yeah.
N: But it’s so hectic, there’s so much to do!
Jon: There’s no time to get bored!
S: But you’re just on autopilot.
W: Sam’s on autopilot because he’s a slightly better musician than the rest of us.
AS to S: I saw Will handed his guitar over to you at the end of ‘Faithless’ to do that solo.
S: Now that I enjoy.
J: That’s his one bit of excitement.
W: Basically he wants to be on the guitar and not on the keyboard.
J: You know when you get those electric pianos and they have all the demos on them - that’s what Sam has on his keyboard so he doesn’t have to do anything.
N: You could replace Sam with a little girl and the whole show would sound the same.
S: A little girl, what are you trying to say?
W: Are you saying a little girl isn’t capable of fucking playing -
N: Okay, fine, a cake effigy (they all laugh, there is an inside joke here).
AS: [feeling left out] A cake effigy?
W: Yeah, we’ve been talking about getting ‘Cake Sam’ to stand there on stage exactly as he looks, just made of cake.
AS to S: How do you feel about that?
S: I’m well up for it (oh dear. Poor Sam. Let the boy play guitar).
AS: Okay, so Cake Sam, that’s what we can expect next from you guys.
W: Yes, Nick, Jon, Will and Cake Sam.
AS: [nervous that we might talk about Cake Sam for the next 15 minutes] I was on the phone to my mum earlier and told her I was doing this interview -
W: Is she a star baker?
AS: No but she did shame me for not having read Brideshead Revisited. (She tells me that S. Flyte is the name of a charming, outwardly carefree but seriously messed up posh boy and wants to know if this an influence for naming the band)
W: Good segway from Cake Sam into Brideshead.
AS: Thank you.
S: It’s quite a lot to read a whole novel for an interview with a band.
W: But you’re an English Lit student.
AS: Yes. How do you know that? (Ally remembers that she is wearing thick glasses and knitwear)
S: You mentioned you read English. We didn’t know it was literature.
W: Well I assumed. All of our fans are English Literature students.
AS: Are they? Because it’s lyrical?
W: I don’t know why but every single fucking one of them studies English Literature (he laughs). My parents are English teachers so maybe that’s something to do with it. But the demographic seems to be very consistently students and predominantly Literature students, which I like; it makes me feel good.
AS: Do you all write?
W: Yes, we all write everything equally. I write the words but other than that the music is spookily four ways.
AS: Do you have writing sessions? How do you do it?
W: We do. Never more than the four of us, I’d say. The four of us can work together in a musical capacity but I think if you want to work with words it can’t be more than groups of two.
AS: It’s harder to be vulnerable, maybe.
W: Maybe it is - I was about to say it’s too much committeeing of creative ideas but it’s probably a lot to do with that.
AS: So do the harmonies come early?
W: Not necessarily. We do like to build songs in that traditional way of having a song well written in its base form. Then whatever you do to the song is going to enhance it.
AS: Do you sing everything around one mic when you record it?
W: The three of them sing their stuff round one mic and I do the lead vocal on a separate one. The process is quite fun -
N: Fun is a strong word. (They all laugh. Has clearly at times been Not Fun.)
W: Fun for me, not for them. I get to sit between the two speakers and listen to the physical outcome of where they’re all stood. So if Nick’s stood too close or the vowel sound isn't quite right. There are tiny little nuances that make the vocal blend exactly right and it’s completely wrong until it’s right. So that’s really fun.
AS: Do you find that your songs transform a lot as you build on them?
W: Yeah, of course. The myth is that a song’s a song. A song can be good or bad depending on how the arrangement is executed. We’ve had a lot of songs that I think are great in their base form and we’ve pretty much slaughtered them by giving them the wrong arrangement, and it can be down to one tiny little thing. The minute you bring drums into it, for instance, that completely shapes and defines a song.
AS to J: Do you stick to the classic kit, or do you use all sorts of weird things when you’re recording?
J: I used a sponge at one point. I’ve used various different pieces of cleaning equipment to make sounds on my snare drum but I do stick to a normal kit.
WILL stands, whispers something, and leaves. “Did he say he’s going for a poo?”, “No, I think it was pop to the loo”. Shame. Would have been quite the exit.
Encouraged by 3/4 of the band I am to write: interview holds. WILL pops for a poo.
AS: Do you have a favourite song to perform?
S: I think ‘Cathy Come Home’, probably.
AS: Is that because it gets people going?
S: It’s a very dynamic arrangement, with lots of tempo changes and instrument changes so it’s good fun.
J: It’s a bit of a singalong.
N: I think unanimously it’s our favourite. It’s really easy to fuck it up, which makes it exciting each night.
AS: Do you find performing them that the songs end up changing shape - i.e. they’re not what they are in the studio?
S: No, because in the studio we play them more or less live, so they’re basically exactly like they are in recording.
W: What did you think of the set? You know the record.
AS: I loved it. It was like listening to the album. It sounded clean.
S: In a good way?
AS: In a good way. Nick Mulvey played Edinburgh last month and his audience had a similar stillness to yours tonight. Everyone was really drinking it in as you played.
W: I think it’s beginning to be a bit old fashioned, the idea that you have to be jumping around in an audience to show appreciation - or moving at all. Techno and EDM redefined it so that the audience was the performer and the music was there to serve the audience. But with this kind of music it’s not that at all really, is it, you’re there to watch people on stage doing all the work. It hasn't changed.
AS: Are you trying to nod back to the 60s and 70s?
S: Not intentionally, no. We just do because that’s the stuff we like.
N: We have a broad taste though.
W: We’re listening to a whole range of things. I wouldn’t want people to think we’re just sat there listening to the The Beatles all day long.
N: Or trying to emulate them in any way.
W: The thing about the Beatles is that as songwriters we started off listening to them.
AS: They could do melody.
W: Exactly and you can’t really escape that as an influence.
N: With the arrangements we’ve tried to be a little more original.
W: Or just timeless. Four voices round a mic isn’t old school and it’s not modern either. The hope is that it’s timeless.
AS: Were you in choirs?
J: Will and I were in a choir for a couple of years.
W: Nick and I first met when we were really young children doing a Gilbert and Sullivan community children’s musical thing.
AS: Rock ‘n’ roll. How young were you when you met?
N: I was about ten.
W: So I was about nine. Jon and I were also at school together.
AS: So when did you know there was going to be a band? Always?
W: When did we meet, seven? I’d say eight and a half: band. Even then I remember a band with a couple of mates and I was on clarinet. Jon was playing drums. And some guy was on the classical guitar like that kid in School of Rock. Sam joined us when we were quite far down the line of being in shit bands, trying things, throwing them in the bin.
J: Nick’s taken offence at that. He wants to say ‘speak for yourself’, don’t you Nick?
N: (laughs) I was in different bands until these guys; I knew them though, and so when they moved to London I joined the band - a couple of years ago - then we met Sam.
AS: So if you were in lots of ‘shit bands’ when did this band manage to -
W: To not be shit anymore? (laughs) It was kind of a constant, continuous build towards where we ended up. Jon and I were always in bands with members coming and going, building what we were and what we wanted. Writing the shit songs is it, I think. You have to write lots of bad songs to get them out the way until you get to the good ones.
AS: Where did you record this album?
W: In Australia, funnily enough.
AS: How did that happen?
W: (laughs) We were producing a track ourselves in London called Please Eloise and we weren’t really getting the mix right. It was all recorded but the end sound was wrong. We were fed up. Then we heard Courtney Barnett, she’s an Australian artist with a storytelling kind of vocal which is really good and a similar sound to what we were going for with PE. The record company tracked the producer down; he was an indie producer in the middle of nowhere in Australia and he did an amazing job. So when it came to making the album we went to work with him out there, because once you’ve got the flight over you may as well be there for six weeks!.
AS: When do you think you’ll do a second album?
S: Well we’re working on it now, so it’ll be out next year.
AS: Do you think it’ll have a different kind of sound?
W: We were having this discussion earlier actually. I think it wants to be an extension and evolution from what we’ve just done.
AS: Did you ever sit down and have a conversation about what you wanted the album to be?
S: Not really. There wasn’t a blueprint.
N: We’re quite prone to just going off in a million directions which is why it took so long to form an album. When we got into the studio it started taking shape slowly but then when it finally happened - it was actually after we’d started mixing it - it was like okay, this is the record. We understand it now. It was after that we understood it, not during the process.
W: It’s hell, basically, in the studio. It’s like dipping your head under water and going ‘I wonder when and how I’m going to get my head back out of this’. You’re completely bemused as to how it’s all going to end.
S: I quite enjoyed it, contrary to what he’s saying.
NICK walks to the fridge. JON, who has been very quiet until now, finds his voice: (stage whisper) Nick! Can I have a beer?
AS: It must be quite exhausting.
W: Yeah absolutely, it is a bit of a marathon making an album.
AS: How do you know when an album is done?
W: When someone says they aren't paying for it anymore.
N: (laughs) Yeah, then you’re done.
W: No, we knew when it was finished, we had the ten tracks.
S: We could have done more. We finished mixing at 4am and we had a flight in a few hours.
J: We finished as we were jumping in the car, handing over the USB stick. We knew we wanted it to be ten tracks, very OCD of us.
W: It’s never finished is it? Everyone has that when they’re making something, you always could be happier with it. But it’s that nice moment where a little bit of time passes and you haven’t heard it in a while and you hear it - I had that the other day. I listened to to it in the car from start to finish. It was like yeah, I’m really proud of this, but it was the first time in a long time I’d enjoyed it (laughs).
AS: On that note, leaving this conversation a little unfinished, I will let you be free. Thank you for your time!
Flyte’s debut album The Loved Ones is out now.