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Live Review: A Silent Film with Anchor & Braille at Rams Head Tavern, Annapolis, MD – 23rd July 2012

By on Friday, 3rd August 2012 at 2:00 pm

Mark my words, A Silent Film is going to hit it big in no time at all. For whatever reason, this Oxford band has gotten some serious traction in the United States that, as of yet, eludes them in the majority of the UK. I saw them play last week at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD. It’s a bit of an odd venue choice for a band such as this, because it’s all seated. At tables. Serving dinner. In my opinion, it’s a rare gig that is suited to the dinner theatre style, but it’s the right size for many an up and coming band. Sadly, this night, I was forced to suffice with some very serious chair dancing, as I have been told by management to *sit down* here before.

Starting the night off was the side project of Anberlin lead singer Stephen Christian. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, Anchor & Braille regaled us with songs much different from the fare offered up by Anberlin. More toned down and acoustic, Anchor & Braille allowed for the quiet passion that infuses the music. Christian moved from acoustic guitar to keys and back, but I thought the stronger songs had him sitting at the keyboard. Likewise, the music grew in strength as the set progressed with ‘In With the New’ and ‘Goes Without Saying’, both songs from their newest album being the strongest of all the songs. For only being the third gig they’ve played with this line-up, Anchor & Braille played a tight set and delighted the crowd with a sound that built to a satisfying close. The new album ‘A Quiet Life’ is out now on Tooth and Nail Records.

A Silent Film are currently touring America to support their new album ‘Sand & Snow’, which was released in June. However, this album won’t be released in the UK until next year. My interview with them from earlier this week here explains why. Several of these new songs, however, will be familiar to fans since they were in rotation at their gigs a year and a half ago, such as ‘Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat’ and ‘Reaching the Potential’.

The band have become incredibly accomplished with their performance style and stage presence. Lead singer Robert Stevenson, pleads and reaches and succeeds in making you a part of the story he tells with his words. Drawing you in, Stevenson implores, “Do you remember what you wanted to be? Do you remember how you used to feel?” And you know instantly what it was you wanted back then. Moving effortlessly from keys to guitar to mic-in-hand frontman, Stevenson easily fills the space at the front of the stage specifically left clear for him to maneuver. And strut he does, every outstretched hand, every piercing gaze into the audience connects you all the more.

‘Story songs’, as Stevenson calls them, are a favorite with the band. This is most clearly illustrated by the album’s lead single ‘Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well’. Recently voted as the mtvU’s Freshman Video of the Week, this sweeping Grand Canyon-focused video is currently in rotation on MTV. Still focused on the center of the stage, drummer Spencer Walker is both the backbone of the band and a seriously fun drummer to watch. Playing one of his favorite live tracks, ‘Firefly at My Window’, he had the entire audience nearly bouncing out of their seats with that infectious beat. Animated as he is talented, Walker makes every attempt at stealing the show from Stevenson. But in reality, they are simply a well-oiled machine playing off each other to the delight of front row punters familiar with their repartee.

Flanking the showmen at the center of the stage are Ali Hussein (bass) and Karl Bareham (guitar) providing balance and weight. Being sat on the left, I got to experience some of the strongest bass lines I’ve heard. Songs like ‘This Stage is Your Life’ and ‘Queen of a Sad Land’ really highlight Hussein‘s skill and brilliance. Boring bass lines can make you forget a bassist is there, but not Hussein. He may have a low key presence on stage, but his influence is well evident. Karl Bareham, just as sedate in his playing style, makes the music soar. Equally happy to leave the spot light to the frontman, Bareham attacks his guitar with talented intensity. His strong presence in ‘Sleeping Pills’ remind you this is not a piano rock band, guitar is of utmost importance.

For the encore, they thrilled us with the highly-sought after b-side ‘Snowbirds’. “How pretentious are we that we only have it on vinyl?” quipped Stevenson. After another few songs, they wrapped up their set and left nearly everyone breathless for more. Luckily I get to see them play one more time before they disappear back across the Atlantic. So my advice to all of you when they do get back home, make the effort to catch one of their shows. You won’t regret it!

After the cut: A Silent Film’s set list.

Continue reading Live Review: A Silent Film with Anchor & Braille at Rams Head Tavern, Annapolis, MD – 23rd July 2012


Interview: Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker of A Silent Film (Part 2)

By on Wednesday, 1st August 2012 at 11:00 am

We pick up Cheryl’s in-person interview with Robert and Spencer of A Silent Film in Annapolis, Maryland, while they are in a discussion of the band’s video to appear on, oh, the most famous music television station in America…

Part 1 of the interview is here.

Did winning mtvU’s ‘The Freshman’ video of the week contest (for ‘Danny Dakota & the Wishing Well’) surprise you? Or did you have faith in your fans?
Spencer: I just have complete faith in the fans, especially when it comes to stuff like that. Everyone was so on it. The first day we were like ‘I wonder if we are going to have to sit and help this out’. And then by day two it was like ‘I think they’ve probably got this under control’. I think we sent out one message to everyone and suddenly we had 70% of the votes.
Robert: We are so grateful. We’re very lucky with our fans.
Spencer: And we had a lot of fun making that video, so it’s fun that it’s going to get played.

So I want to know, was the wishing well always the Grand Canyon or was that the director’s vision?
Spencer: We were really keen to do a video that reflected that area where we spent so much time making the album. So we wanted to do an Arizona video. The director was really enamoured with the shots of the Grand Canyon that he got and he said, “I’m using these, I don’t care what you say, whatever happens, I’m putting in the Grand Canyon shots”.


So what’s with the ampersand thing, do you have a frustrated graphic designer in your midst? There’s an ampersand in the title of your album and your first single.
Robert: Oh really? Good point, I hadn’t really noticed.
Spencer: I guess it makes it harder to write, I hadn’t thought about that.
It makes it hard to put into your computer because it’s a character. [I concur, it does terrible things to to the backend of WordPress. – Ed.]
Robert: Well I don’t know about you, but I ampersand all day long. But really, that hadn’t even crossed my mind. I don’t worry about these things, it just looks pretty! Where does it come from, is it in every language, or is it specific to English? Now I’m going to have to research that.

Living in Arizona, lots of creepy crawlies there. Did you name your house scorpions, did you stomp on them or shoo them out the door?

Spencer: You can’t stomp on them because it’ll go through your shoe. So you basically have to capture them. We had a system of glasses, and sliding a thing under. And then they sit somewhere for a few days until they die.
Robert: But they don’t really sit, they bang against the glass, and they’ll sneak you, they move so fast and they scuttle.
Spencer: We had one that played dead for 24 hours and we almost took the glass off and it started attacking.
Robert: We had Bark Scorpions and they are the only ones that can climb.
Spencer: And use the internet to find out our weaknesses. They kept deleting stuff we’d recorded, you’d wake up and there’s be a scorpion on the laptop and then it’d scuttle away off the keyboard. So yeah, we had scorps, we had rattlesnakes, we had everything. We saw a javelina, we chased a javelina. They’re little angry pigs with big teeth. The only thing they do is knock over garbage cans.
Robert: But the locals are terrified of them, and we made fun of that. They hunt in packs, and apparently very territorial, but I still can’t see how even a pack of small pigs is frightening.
Spencer: The adults are this big (indicates about two feet) and have some serious teeth. But the babies look like micropigs.
Robert: But, apparently, this is what the locals tell us, they are part of the rodent family. So, as giant rats…….
Spencer: No, no, no. I had such as issue with that, it’s just a lie. I took some locals on because I researched it and they have hooves. And actually, the closest thing to them is the hippo family. So all the locals think it’s a rodent, but it’s not rodents have claws and they have hooves. So they are a pig/hippo crossover, but way smaller and ugly!

I hadn’t ever heard of a javelina, it sounds like it could have been a lovely instrument.
Spencer: The javelin? Yes, I’m a very accomplished javelina player, just touring the world, me and my javelina.

I see I am very lucky in that I get to see you play again next week with Civil Twilight – which was the line-up when I saw you for the very first time. How did that come about?
Spencer: We’ve been trying to get that together for about….well, pretty much since we finished that tour. We just had a lot of fun on that tour, it worked really well. It’s just a complete love in, we love each other very much. We also have the same agent, so it’s not the hardest thing to put it together, but the dates have been wrong, wrong, wrong. And then finally two days happened, and yup, we took them.

I am going to end our interview with some ‘tattletale’ questions….

Who’s the hardest to get out of bed in the morning?
Both: Ali
Who buys silly tchotchkes on the road?
Robert: What are tchotchkes?
Silly knickknacks at gift shops.
Spencer: I have an obsession with fridge magnets, so that would be me.
Who always has the camera out?
Spencer: Him! He’s Mr. Instagram.
Robert: Yes, at the moment I am really loving Instagram.
Who snores?
Both: Ali! Even he’d say so.
Who wilts the fastest in our summer heat?
Spencer: Well definitely not you, you wear a leather jacket in Palm Springs when it’s 115 degrees. Uhm……..Ali.
So now we just default to Ali? OK, who always drinks the last beer?
Robert: Ali.
Who’s the best cook?
Spencer: I would say me and Ali would say himself.
What’s your dish?
Spencer: I’ve got a number of things you’d probably be quite interested in. My most recent one was a really nice spring, very light, vegetarian lasagna with asparagus.
Who was most freaked out by the rattlesnakes and scorpions?
Both: Ali! Hands down, absolutely terrified.

So despite abusing their bass player Ali Hussein during the last part of the interview, Spencer and Robert were simply lovely and I can’t wait to talk to them again some time. A review of the gig they played that night will follow shortly. They promised to return to the UK to play a proper tour in early 2013 when their sophomore disc ‘Sand & Snow’ is released, so keep your eyes peeled for dates.

Many thanks to Joel for sorting this interview for us, and of course Robert and Spencer who sat down with Cheryl for this 2-part piece. Best wishes, fellas!


Interview: Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker of A Silent Film (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 31st July 2012 at 11:00 am

Before their show at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker from Oxford band A Silent Film sat down with Cheryl to talk about success in America, getting back to England to play and scary wild pigs.

You have made a big splash over here, but that’s not the usual MO for a British band. Usually you make it big at home and then you come and try to ‘crack America’, why do you think it happened the other way here?

Spencer: I think there’s no template for how these things work and I think it wasn’t part of the grand master plan, it was something that happened, kind of one thing lead to another. I think that’s the way a lot of this stuff works.
Robert: You should SEE our grand master plan, though!
Spencer: We’ve got an AMAZING grand master plan!
Robert: If we pull that off….
Spencer: I don’t think the world is ready for our grand master plan! But yes, one thing led to another and we found ourselves here and ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ did enough on the radio to allow us to come out here. And then we made the decision to do as much as we could while it was fun over here and see where it led. We didn’t set out to ‘crack America’. I don’t know if that worked in our favor, because we didn’t have that pressure coming on us from a label. We expected nothing, so the fact that things were happening, it built and built quite naturally, organically. I think that going between England and America, it goes both ways. We are fans of a lot of American bands who really hit it big time in England before – the Killers, White Stripes, the Strokes, Kings of Leon. It was all around the same time, they blew up in England and then went back to America. And now they’re all massive global bands. But I feel like they needed England maybe as much as we need America.

The other thing you are doing that’s bucking the trend is summer means festival season and you’re not doing festival season over there, you are here. So, do you like being here, or do you miss the mud?
Robert: (laughter) I don’t miss the mud!
Spencer: We played some festivals over here and the load-ins are so amazing. They’re like car parks and there’s tarmac and it’s hot.
Robert: And you can park the van somewhere in the vicinity of the stage to put the equipment on the stage. Yeah, we played Glastonbury once and it was…..
Spencer: …muddy. I’ve seen pictures of festivals this year where it’s just……like Isle of Wight, just horrid.

Oxford’s got this amazing vibrant music community. Stornoway, Richard Walters, who I was hoping would come and support you here like he did in London at the Barfly gig…
Robert: Oh, we talked about this. He’s coming across to do a bunch of shows in October, we are hoping that we’ll be near him as well so we can grab him for a few shows.

The spectre of Oxford music, did that influence you at all, Radiohead, Supergrass?
Spencer: Oh yeah.
Robert: Just growing up in that town, there’s a road called Cowley Road, where it’s just the hub of Oxford music. Straight out of school we were on that road just living and breathing it and all the bands come from there and come back to there. It’s a really, really good space to come from. It’s very creative.

Did you have any family influences to go into music, do you come from musical families?
Robert: There was a lot of Meatloaf played in the car. And Bonnie Tyler. So there’s a general sort of what to avoid. Sorry Mum, sorry Dad….. No, they played me Beatles and the Beach Boys, I’m just being silly.
Spencer: My uncle had a studio in his house, not in any way a famous musician, just a guy who played everything and turned the basement of his house into a studio. So that was definitely a big influence on me and my brother when we were growing up. It’s nice to be introduced to a Hammond organ when you are young, or a double bass when you are 5. It was my dad’s brother and he is actually going to come see us play for the first time when we play Toronto in a month. Because I’m half Canadian, my dad’s family is from there. So I love playing in Toronto and it’s going to be the first show he’s been able to make. I’m actually really excited about it.

‘City That Sleeps’ came out eons ago. (All three of us say “eons” in unison.)
Robert: I knew you were going to say eons!
2008, because obviously I am talking about the UK release and ‘Sand & Snow’ doesn’t come out until next year. That’s over 4 years. Why?
Spencer: This goes back to the same thing about no grand master plan. The album came out, it did what it did, we worked it, we released it in Portugal and did a load of work there, we were starting writing for the next album and then got picked up over here. It just kept getting put back and put back. Because obviously when we decided to come and play here, it was a big commitment.

But why such a gap between the US and UK release of the album?

Spencer: And again that comes down to the simple fact if you are going to do America, as you are aware, it’s a huge country, and we didn’t want to just come over and spend a month playing America and hoping to crack it. We are way more invested over here.
Robert: We’ve already got our teeth into it, everything’s just building really naturally here. We equally didn’t want to just release the album in England and not be seen over there. And honestly we’re not on a big label, there’s nobody bankrolling it to release the album all over the world. We’re very happy doing things at our own pace and sorry people who have to wait. But we are going to come and spend a lot of time in England.

So how did the gig at the Barfly go?
Spencer: Great. It was amazing. The idea is really that you want to do justice to each place. This is our America year. But it was amazing, we hadn’t played there in so long. Early next year is when we spend time in England and Europe.

The second half of this interview, which includes a part where Cheryl asks Robert and Spencer to be ‘tattletales’ on each other, will post on TGTF tomorrow.


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