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Interview: Samuel Fry of Life in Film

 
By on Tuesday, 28th April 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Last week, London-based Life in Film had just started their support slot with the Wombats on their month-long tour of North America, beginning in Toronto on the 21st of April. After quite a long drive from the Great White North down to the City of Brotherly Love, I had an opportunity to chat on the phone with their frontman Samuel Fry (vocals and guitar) after they arrived ahead of a gig at Union Transfer and got a chance to do some “looking around Philadelphia, it’s really beautiful”.

It’s an exciting time for the band, as they’re gearing up to release their debut album ‘Here It Comes’ on both sides of the Atlantic in under 2 weeks at the time of this interview; Samuel describes the LP’s title as representing “a statement of it [all] coming to fruition”. I feel I also have caught Samuel at a good time, as at this point they’d only played one gig on this side of the pond at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace that he described as “an amazing show”, and everyone was in high spirits and full of energy. And also apparently full of the often maligned, indigenous to Pennsylvania meatloaf scrapple from a local diner where they’d stopped in that morning for breakfast. But rather than digress into a retelling of the band’s varied diet while out on the road here, I went straight into asking Samuel how the band got together.

“Me and the guitar player Ed [Edward Ibbotson], we went to school together. Then we both went to different universities. While at university, I met Dom [bassist Dominic Sennett] and Micky [drummer Osment] because they were at the music college I was at. We [Samuel and Edward] moved back to London after we finished, and Dom and Mick decided to move to London as well. We all got together and decided to play music together.

“But we were kind of just mucking about at first, you know? We all lived together, yeah, and we used to hang out and listen to a lot of music, really. Then we found a little practise room near where we lived, which was underneath a snooker hall. It was a dingy little dungeon, it was really nasty! But it was kind of cool because no-one else really practised there and so we could go whenever we wanted to use it , and we started to put a couple of songs together. Felt good about [them] and went from there, really.”

Samuel Fry of Life in Film, a still from Berlin Sessions, 2015
a still from Life in Film’s performance with Berlin Sessions earlier this year

I tell Samuel that from the longtime Life in Film fan’s perspective, it seems like the debut album has been a long time coming. He agrees. “Yeah, I suppose it does, it’s quite a long process. When you start off [songwriting by] doing just the odd song. You kind of record one song at a time so you can get a feel for it at first, you know? And you’re writing as you go, and you’ve just started out gigging and stuff, and that’s a bit of a process. And then you start working with different people like managers and labels, and all of those things take time. That’s the nature of a debut album, I suppose. The next album, we’d probably record it all as one…we wouldn’t go through so much demoing and kind of early development of our sound. We know where we’re at and what we want to do… So, yeah, it does feel like it’s taken time, but I’m not surprised, really.”

Famed producer Stephen Street was called into work on Life in Film’s ‘Here It Comes’, so I ask him if any or all of their band were fans of his work with the Smiths or Blur. “Very much so. We love the Smiths, and we love Blur. So when originally thought there was the possibility we might be working with him after we managed to get a demo under his nose and he listened to it, he offered to work with us on a couple of tracks, and we were really buzzing about it. It went really well and we got on with him really well, and we managed to get him to agree to do the whole album. So yeah, it was a really exciting experience, to learn from him, from a person with those kind of credentials.”

I asked further if knowing about Street’s storied work history made it harder to work with him in the studio. “I think it was a bit intimidating, initially”, Samuel admits, “because he’s worked with all these amazing musicians. But he’s used to working with so many talented people. But to be honest, as soon as you meet the guy and you chat to him, he immediately puts you at ease completely. He’s a really down to earth bloke. So very quickly, we felt very relaxed in his company, and it was a nice process to go through, basically.”

He then reveals to me he got a super special moment with a super special piece of equipment in Street’s studio: “I got to play Graham Coxon‘s guitar…well, Stephen lent to Graham Coxon [for] the first time he played the telly, a Telecaster apparently. And he let me borrow it for some of the songs. It has a really amazing sound, that Telecaster vintage sound, and I was playing Graham Coxon’s guitar…and I was really chuffed about that!”

I ask Samuel if he has a favourite song off the album. “I personally like ‘Anna’ [‘Anna Please Don’t Go’],a song Ed wrote. I think it’s got such a nice pop song kind of structure, but it’s got so much sentiment. It’s always been a favourite of mine, personally. I think as a band, we all like ‘Forest Fire’ quite a lot because for the recording process for that, we got a lot of different instruments and loaded them up, and it all fell together nicely. I think we achieved something quite atmospheric with that one.”

We touch back on the show in Toronto they played less than 48 hours previously and in a city some 750 kilometres behind them. “That first show in Toronto, the reception was brilliant”, muses Samuel. “We couldn’t have asked for more, really. Everyone’s been really friendly. So now it’s on for tonight in Philadelphia.” Many more shows and many more drives are up ahead for Life in Film during this lengthy stint supporting the Wombats around the continent, and I’m confident our audiences will take to their engaging songwriting.

Thanks very much to Samuel for chatting with me, and Anna and Jonny for helping sort out this interview.

 

Live Review: Little Comets at North Star Bar, Philadelphia – 8th June 2014

 
By on Wednesday, 11th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Little Comets embarked on a short tour of the Northeast United States last week, culminating in a final show at the North Star Bar, in the northern Fairmount neighbourhood of Philadelphia. Seeing them making a surprise appearance at an acoustic Sofar Sounds show that afternoon in the west side of town more than whet my appetite for their full show. (You can read that review here.) I was wowed by my first Little Comets show at the Hamilton in DC last summer; it ended up being my favourite show of 2013. How would this gig compare? And in another city?

Since their appearance in Washington last year, the lads have been keeping themselves busy, writing and recording new songs and even filming their own music videos too. They’ve come a long way since their debut, 2011’s ‘In Search of Elusive Little Comets’. Just this year, they’ve released the two EPs ‘The Gentle EP’ and ‘Salt’ on their own record label, humbly called The Smallest Label.

While lead singer and guitarist Rob Coles has said that the lyrics of their songs have changed, becoming more mature as he and his brother got married and became fathers, what hasn’t changed for this Northeast-bred band (both of the Coles brothers are now based in the Midlands with their families) is the sheer inventiveness of their sound, which comes across loud and clear in all their recordings and also winningly live. It’s also served up with a good dose of whimsy. At least on the songs that Rob doesn’t preface with something like “this is a sad song” when played live, that is.

In contrast to the well-mannered, well-behaved and generally seated, immobile listeners at the Sofar show earlier that day, the North Star Bar show seemed to be, as appropriately dictated by the immortal words in late set song ‘Dancing Song’, “this one’s for dancing!” While simply fun tunes like ‘One Night in October’ and ‘Joanna’ are from the earliest era of this band’s output, I think it’s very telling of their talent – and also to some extent, their humility – that when they perform live, they play a wonderful mix of new and old, serious and fanciful, emotional and footloose and fancy free. Nothing is off limits.

It was very appropriate for the band to include in their set ‘Bridge Burn’, which is for them one of the more simply arranged songs in their catalogue, but more importantly it was a song that they specially included on the American version of their second album ‘Life is Elsewhere’, which was released on Dualtone Records in August 2013.

But in terms of lyrical strength and power, look no further than one of their newest songs ‘The Blur, the Line and the Thickest of Onions’. One of the main reasons I started my other Web site Music in Notes was to bring attention to the wealth, beauty and strength of words in popular song. This Little Comets song challenges the status quo, the rest of the world that is sat idly by while terrible things (misogyny, violence) are happening that should be a call to action but no-one does anything. Another new song, ‘Coalition of One’, is the band’s take on a protest song, taking aim at those who seek to destroy the British welfare state. This is no lightweight pop band. These are guys who set out to write thought-provoking songs with interesting arrangements that won’t leave your head. And succeed.

Sonically, the hallmarks of a Little Comets show are Rob Coles’ sometimes tongue-tied, sometimes acrobatic vocal delivery; his younger brother Mickey’s frenetic guitar playing; bassist Matt Hall’s thumping lines; and their pal Greenie on drums joining in on the fun. On the catchier end of the spectrum are the three Ws – ‘Worry’, W-O-E’ and ‘The Western Boy’ – but then the band lets hit on your ears something borne out of love and you’re just left speechless, verklempt.

‘Waiting in the Shadows of the Dead of Night’ was written by Rob about the inevitability of death and how in every relationship, one will leave this plane before the other, who is then left alone. Everything about this song is memorable: the backing rhythm, the intricate guitar lines, the apparently cheerful melody. And those words: “So hold me and sway me?/ remember?me daily?/ for all that will?remain of us?is photographs?/ no metaphor for this?that I can understand…” Just thinking about the song and about the show Sunday night while I write this is making me cry: there are few bands / songwriters who can move me like this. They are the uncompromising, the brilliant, the genuine. All three words perfectly describe Little Comets.

After the cut: Little Comets’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Little Comets at North Star Bar, Philadelphia – 8th June 2014

 

Secret Sofar Sounds Philadelphia show – 8th June 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 10th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Third time’s a charm, eh? A June day anywhere in the mid-Atlantic of America is usually a hot one, and Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia was no exception. Cheryl and I traveled about 3 hours north from DC to catch last weekend’s Sofar Sounds installment there. As always, punters who had RSVPed had no idea who would be gracing the stage. Er, the front room of a West Philly row house owned by our kind hosts, Tom and Rob. Despite the slightly stifling conditions on a very sunny day in the City of Brotherly Love, all were in good spirits when it came time for the first act to take the stage.

Justin Pellechia is the frontman for local to Philly band Satellite Hearts. But for this show, all eyes were on him and his acoustic guitar, occasionally augmented by friends on electric guitar and bass. He will be releasing a new album in November, and we were treated to songs that will be appearing on that LP.

His songs have unusual song titles – see ‘Meet the Greens’ and ‘Juxtaposition’ – and equally unique lyrics of “candy apple light”, as found in track ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. I’ll admit that when he took to the floor Sunday afternoon, I kind of expected from his shaggy hair to be hearing a lite and acoustic version of the Beatles. But I think Pellechia managed to astonish everyone when he belted out notes in one song like no-one’s business.

From my research on the interwebs, the best I can tell is that The Gallerist is a Philadelphia-based trio led by Bostonian Mike Collins, who sings and plays guitar and banjo. But on Sunday, The Gallerist were just two: Collins and bassist Kai Carter. I suppose depending on your musical tastes, two beardy guys who are sat in front of you can either delight or frighten. Maybe it is different in the UK, where I’ve always felt folk has a better chance at mainstream than here in America, but generally when I’m at home, I equate beard with hipster. Thankfully, Collins and Carter’s well-written songs were anything but and their beautiful harmonies together made for a lovely and far too short acoustic set.

On songs such as ‘Helium’, Collins’ voice in particular has a distinctively wonderful timbre that made me wonder even with support from local radio station WXPN’s The Key, who described the band with the glowing words, “The Gallerist may just be one of the Philadelphia folk scene’s best kept secrets”, why they are still unsigned. Somehow, one imagines they’d be snapped up in a second by an indie like Bella Union if they were British.

The last act of the afternoon were Newcastle’s Little Comets, who were spending their second to last day before heading home to England here in Philadelphia. Despite being known as a plugged in indie rock / pop band, you could argue that the Geordies already had good practise under their belts for the Sofar Sounds setup. Less than 2 weeks prior, at a sold out Academy at home, they played an acoustic set that, judging from everyone I know who was there, was a show for the ages. I was intrigued how these songs I’d come to know and love over years of us supporting the band on TGTF and their many layers – broadcast outward by amplifiers, I might add – would work in the acoustic setting, and which songs from their two albums and multiple EPs they might give the acoustic treatment to.

I needn’t have worried. While the majority of the crowd appeared to be unfamiliar with the band, the music showed Little Comets’ talents well. Quite possibly if you’re listening on record and have the volume turned way up, you might miss out on some really important details about the group that become glaringly obvious when they’re playing acoustic. You really have not lived if you haven’t heard Rob Coles (lead vocals / guitar), his brother Mickey (guitar) and Matt Hall (bass) sing in perfect three-part harmony. For an idea of how this sounds, stream the acoustic version of ‘Salt’, one of their newest songs the band themselves have shared, below. God himself would cry. (The subject matter is pretty heavy and heart-wrenching too; you can read Rob’s words about the song and its sad inspiration on the band’s blog.)

The pièce de résistance, however, was this afternoon’s interpretation of ‘Little Italy’, which I previewed ahead of the release of ‘The Gentle EP’ in late February. There is so much going on in the EP version, surely it would be next impossible to keep the vibe of the original? All of us Little Comets fans have heard the recorded version. But upon listening to the acoustic version live, you realise you’re getting a special gift. It’s like really looking at something for the first time.

 

Live Gig Video: Cymbals Eat Guitars preview new song ‘Plainclothes’ in Philadelphia for Love Drunk Studio

 
By on Friday, 25th May 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

New York band Cymbals Eat Guitars took their sonicness to a studio in Philadelphia for Love Drunk Studio and this was the result: a great recording of new song ‘Plainclothes’. Enjoy it below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mpCwtyNN1Y[/youtube]

 

Live Review: The Temper Trap with Delphic and the Hundred in the Hands at the Trocadero, Philadelphia – 26th September 2010

 
By on Tuesday, 28th September 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

It is indeed something truly special when the stars align and allow the beleaguered blogger to see not just one band, not two, but three that she adores. I got that chance Sunday night at the Trocadero, a historic former burlesque theatre in Philadelphia, with The Temper Trap as the headliner and Delphic and The Hundred in the Hands providing support. Punters that had assembled for the long queue outside the venue before doors knew next to nothing about the opening bands and maybe knew the Temper Trap well or somewhat vaguely. Not a great start. But once inside, I managed a second row vista, perfect with the Trocadero’s far too high stage for such a smallish club. I met some very devoted Temper Trap fans who needed some background on the other two bands, which I was happy to provide.

Regular readers of TGTF already know I think the Hundred in the Hands’ debut album released last week is fantastic. Live, I was pleased with their performance and how they sounded. For most of their set, lead singer / synth player Eleanore Everdell sang into a pod-shaped microphone and was ‘buckled down’ to where her synth was. I reckon she’s got so much rhythm within her, she’d make an amazing dancer onstage (think Friendly Fires). Jason Friedman’s guitar riffs added punch to ‘Last City’, which is rapidly racing up my list of current favourite tracks. I was hopeful that ‘Pigeons’ would get people dancing. Well, there were some people dancing – myself and my new friends in second row. The people in front of us looked bored for pretty much the entire night, exanimate. Kind of frustrating I suppose given that the Hundred in the Hands aren’t exactly mainstream in America yet.

Same goes for Delphic, who in my opinion fared far better in the opening band popularity contest (despite drummer Dan Hadley nearly deafening the early assembled crowd testing his drum kit on ‘Doubt’). A bloke next to me who’d shown up specifically for them showed me a clipping from NME where the band was lying on the floor, looking uncomfortable in leather (you know the one I’m talking about, I bet). Besides myself and him, I think we were the only ones who’d ever knowingly heard a Delphic song before.

I was hoping they’d play ‘Submission’ for personal reasons but when you’re an opener, you have to pick and choose the best from what you’ve got to play, and I think they chose all the right ones to pick up the energy in the crowd. ‘Red Lights’ concluded with an extended synth-laden outro that got the crowd cheering. The sheer magnificence of ‘Counterpoint’, with a steady build-up from the resigned lyrics to the incredible swell of sound at the end, finally got everyone in the club into the music. I remember when I heard ‘Counterpoint’ as a single last year. I knew it was dramatic, but I hadn’t realised just how dramatic until I saw Delphic live this summer at Roskilde, and this was demonstrated even further in Philadelphic. Also, not sure how long he’s been giving it his 110%, but Rick Boardman is really going for those high backing vocal notes with passion. I’m looking forward to their new material and where they go from here.

Continue reading Live Review: The Temper Trap with Delphic and the Hundred in the Hands at the Trocadero, Philadelphia – 26th September 2010

 
 
 

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