With new album ''Smoke and Mirrors' due for a September release and tour dates on the horizon, we caught up with lead singer Jess Clemmons;
New album 'Smoke & Mirrors’ done and dusted, how was the recording process different this time around?
We actually did quite a bit in London this time as opposed to before but the process in Nashville was about the same. Record all of the instrumentation in about 4 days and then spend another 3 days on vocals.
It was a really great tour of the UK this February - 6 blinding concerts in Middlesbrough, Birmingham, London, Newcastle, Glasgow & Hebden Bridge. The audiences at each gig seemed to really love it & we had a blast too! That's what it's all about...
Formed just last year, how did the band come together?
The band was formed, conceptually at least, around 6 months before the full line up started rehearsing. The idea was to form a band with a strict set of parameters ie. one single guitar and bass sound, minimal equipment etc, perhaps as a rejection of the trend for overcompensation with effects and electronics in current music, but also as a statement of quality over quantity. We try to project tasteful minimalism and high intensity, not to be confused with brash simplicity. Songs were written, rehearsal were undertaken and everything from then on has fallen into place almost effortlessly. The highest demand on us as musicians is probably physically, it's very physical music to perform.
You have a massive tour underway; do you enjoy life on the road or the recording studio more?
Yes it's the biggest tour yet and I love being on the road as were entertaining the masses and hopefully more converts to KHB. I don't think I can compare being on the road to the studio as they are different experiences, studio is a painstaking process, far more intense than performing live plus I'm not a fan of the vocal booth, I'm a born performer, I lose myself in the moment, everything is more strategic I think when recording.
It’s been 4 years since your debut album, and finally Palomino lands. Where have you been ?!
Its been annoying and we shouldn’t have spent so much time away, but a lot of it was out of our hands. Finance was an issue, we lost our management, the label weren’t committing, and we wanted to experiment with stuff so we took longer.
You have your own studio ?
Yeah, Sam owns part of one, so we get cheap rates !
How long did the whole process of writing and recording Palomino take ?
Maybe 2 years in total. We started writing then loads of stuff happened, so we went a bit off piste. I think Palomino has more twists and turns than the debut album. We experimented in new sounds and weird interludes, and having longer away benefited us in being able to do that.
So Jonathan Wilson produced the album..
Actually, he mixed the album after we asked him. He only took 2 weeks and mixed from live. Basically he takes 2 versions of each song, then old school mixes live. We weren’t actually present for the mixing process - that costs more money, so we just sent him the tapes.
Were you looking for the same mood from the first album ?
We wanted to expand and get deeper - we’re genuinely fun people but its sometimes easier to write intense deep songs. There was no plan, but we wanted to experiment and go more into space.
You are signed up to Loose. Was this a conscious decision ?
They took a punt with us on the first album, and it went really well, then they heard the stuff we were putting dow for Palomino and decided they wanted to get involved again. Its always an album by album basis. It’s good for both sides really, but Loose are really supportive of us.
What do you particularly want out of this business ?
For me it changes regularly. When I first saw Father John Misty, I thought I want to be like him. If we can get paid enough to not work, that would be great, but traveling the world with your best mates is pretty cool.. We travel the world doing music, and making music and thats a legacy someone can’t take away.
What’s next for Treetop Flyers ?
We want to record a lot sooner this time, and try and record in a different way. You have the ability to record yourself and at home, outside of the studio environment, and this is a quicker process. We may try and mix it up and evolve the sound again for the next album.
I thought Treetop Flyers were a folk-rock band until I heard Palomino.
That’s what we were aiming for. There’s a lot more to us than that. It’s louder, more groovy, soulful even. We may go even more off piste for the next record.
What’s your view on touring ? Love it or hate it ?
Generally like it. It can be stressful and long but if you have a really good gig that energy sails through for the next couple of days. Its always different and you learn from it. By the end of the tour you are that tight, you don’t want to stop. I suppose that’s why we do it.
Congratulations on the wonderful Palomino. Please tell me its not going to be 4 years until the next album ?
Definitely not, its too long. It’s all about momentum, and we want to keep it going.
New EP ‘I welcome the Flood’, where did the title come from?
I actually had the title before I had the song or the EP. Even before I started playing solo. It's been hanging around in my phone notes since 2014. It's got a Biblical kind of feel to it. It's about wanting everything around you to be washed away.
Many of the lyrics seem to relate to dark stories. is that the case or just our interpretation?
Dark is an interesting adjective to apply. I think I agree that a lot of it comes across as dark but I'm not sure it was my intention in anything other than the title track. I tried to make them pretty to listen to initially. I think some of it's kind of funny. Possibly not 'ha ha' funny.
What was different about the new EP compared to your solo EP debut?
I tried to strip it back a little. I tried to use a bigger uh... pallette. So there's a little more percussion and odd sounds. I also tried to record everything analogue. There was some MIDI stuff on the first EP. Also, on the first EP I wrote the songs just using strummed chords and the vocals, and then I picked them apart and built up the song. With this one I built the music first and applied the words later. So I had a bunch of instrumentals that kind of worked on their own and then tried to come up with the vocals. So the melodies are a little more interesting I think. I was paying more attention to them.
How is the music scene in Brighton these days, still buzzing?
It's pretty healthy, yeah. I've only been here about six months, not too long, but there's always loads of stuff to see at any one moment. Usually some of it is really alternative and interesting, which is nice.
Is your working life that of a full-time musician or do you have other work to keep the wolves from the door?
I have a full time job and any time I'm not at work I'm doing music stuff. Although the music stuff is becoming slightly less time consuming as more people take notice of what I'm doing.
What was your favourite album of 2015 and why?
To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. I've always liked artists who are brave and uncompromising. Kendrick's last record was critically acclaimed, but still fairly niche. So he was poised to have a huge mainstream breakout record. The fact that he had that, and that it was this weird, free jazz, cultural thesis thing was pretty brave and uncompromising. His lyrics are great too. There's great vision in that album.
What is your method of songwriting, real life moments, being in a particular space or mood. What is the spark that starts you writing lyrics?
A little of all the above. If a nice line hits me I'll write it into my phone. Then when I'm writing I'll draw the ones that fit together onto one bit of paper and then improvise around them. I'm not sure what the song is gonna be about until I'm singing it a lot of the time, so the space and the mood I'm in has a lot of influence on that. I'll draw on real life stuff sometimes, but largely I don't appear in the songs.
Hopes and plans for your music career in 2016?
Play everywhere all of the time. Possibly release some more music. See where it all takes me.
Ryan Adams covered Taylor’s Swift’s 1989 ... What album would you like to cover?
I have actually been thinking about this a lot lately, because I'm considering undertaking a similar project. I'd like to do something the complete opposite of what it is that I do. I'm leaning towards Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem.
Which Star Wars character are you most like ?
Kylo Ren. I'm whiney and I dissapoint people one audience at a time.
'I Welcome the Flood‟ will be released on 15th February 2016 on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and "basically anywhere else you can think of". The CD release will be available exclusively through Adam's BandCamp page.
Feb. 13th - Junkyard Dogs, Brighton (EP Launch Party) Feb. 15th - Sound, Liverpool Feb. 16th - Mr. Lynch, Newcastle Feb. 18th - The Village, London Feb.19th - The Chequers, London Feb. 20th - The Art House, Southampton Feb. 21st - Como Lounge, Oxford
I had a great Christmas thanks; I hibernated for a week reading and watching movies on TV. I don't get to do that often so it was nice.
Your new solo album ‘With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie’ is out 29 Jan. What inspired the title?
The title comes from a line in the last song on the record, 'Let Light In'. It's from the bible but for me it gives a mission statement for the record which is that not everybody is who they seem all the time. Sometimes the goodies lie with the baddies and vice Versa. People are complex creatures and we have good and bad in us. I think this selection of songs explore that.
Was there anything different in the recording process this time around and can you tell us how the band came together for the record.
It was a very different recording process from my previous album, 'The Water or the Wave', in that I recorded in a different studio under the direction of producer Andy Bell who built the tracks up over my basic acoustic and vocal track. It took some two years to complete. Our approach was to pick players who did something a little different so, for example, instead of a straight up drummer we went for Toby Kearney, a versatile percussionist who played all sorts of different instruments to take up the usual drum space on the songs. Lucy Farrell and Neil McSweeney I had worked with on various other projects and it felt right to share this record with them as we work so well together. I was also lucky to capture string quartet, The Froe, to arrange some strings on the record too. I was generally very fortunate to have so many sensitive and thoughtful players to contribute, Andy Bell was key in bringing them all together in one beautiful sound.
How do you balance your musical activities, solo, The Lucky Strikes and other musical commitments?
I really enjoy the variety my music brings and I love all the different aspects of what I do. My solo records allow me to work with amazing musicians and trial new sounds and ideas. The Lucky strikes is like a family and when I want to play loud and jump around we can do that with the band. I then get the chance to contribute pedal steel, banjo and other instruments I don't get chance to play in my other work with some great artists and friends. Last year I was really fortunate to play for Emily Portman, Blue Rose Code and Simone Felice among others. I never struggle to juggle things, it just works out.
You are always described as living on the Thames Delta. Are roots important to you and your music?
Roots are very important for me. At the moment I am trying to catalogue my local area through my music. I see so many incredible stories and poetic things when I observe local life and people that I want to mine that as much as I can before I cease to see it any more.
What creative space do you need to be in to write a song? Is it words to melodies or the other way around?
Always a tricky question to answer. It just happens. Sometimes you have some nice chords and the lyrics flow with them, sometimes you write lyrics for days and none of the chords fit so you have to wait for it to happen. My creative space at present is the corner of my sofa where I can sit with my guitar and look out onto a park and watch people coming and going. Isolation for me is generally good for writing songs, mornings or late evenings too.
There are plenty of different characters in the songs on the record, real or made up?
They're all real. Some are more obscured by the lyric but others are much more literal. Sean or Patrick is exactly how it happened as is Lalita. They exist out there somewhere.
How difficult is it to make a living on the UK music scene these days and is main source of income from playing live?
It is difficult to make a living and live music certainly brings you to new audiences. The decline of record labels and their ability to pay for press and PR and to break new artists in all genres means that the artists have gone back to the pre-music boom of the mid twentieth century. We've reverted back to the travelling balladeer playing for our supper in a different town each night. If I want to sell my music, I have to go out and play it.
On that point, are there any solo shows to promote the new album?
There are shows a plenty and people can keep abreast of my whereabouts on twitter and Facebook. However, I have an album launch on 18th February at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London and then shows in Devon and Newport before shows in the North and hopefully Scotland in March.
Before we asked you "If money was no object, what new guitar would you most like to own and why”? Have you invested in any new guitars recently?
Oh man, I have a serious addiction to guitars and instruments and purchase things all the time. If money was no object I would probably be buying a new Martin acoustic, triple zero model or maybe a Gretsch DuoJet. In reality I bought a new pedal steel, Magnum, last year as my trusty ShoBud was getting old and I replaced the pickups in my telecaster.
Released on 29th January, With Wolves the Lamb Will Lie can be pre-ordered HERE
It was an organic process really. I met our guitarist Antreo when I was looking to record the first LCS record. He is a recording engineer here in Portland and we had some mutual musician friends that hooked us up. We spent a lot of time together during the sessions and he really got a feel for my songwriting. He ended up playing some slide guitar on a song. Shortly after we started playing as a 3 piece with minimalist drums, going for a Low, Elliott Smith, Carissa’a Wierd influenced thing. I had recently got into bands like Alcest, Caspian, Russian Circles, Jakob and If These Trees Could Talk and really connected with their sound. I soon realized that this had the potential to be the kind of dynamic, heavy melodic sound that I had always heard in my head. We went through a couple of guys in our rhythm section before landing Frank after he responded to our ad for a drummer. It was our only audition and I knew immediately he was the guy, pardon the cliché. My writing has some unusual phrasing and rhythmic time changes that his dynamic and inventive style accentuated them perfectly. Nicholas is the most recent addition and has added more creativity to the bass parts, breathing new life into the songs from a different angle.
What was the ‘Eureka’ moment when you thought musically, this is what we need to do?
I think probably playing “Stented Growth” at a series of rehearsals in the spring of 2014. Some of those jams were 15-20 mins long and were some of the most epic musical moments I have ever experienced. I was going through some heavy things in my personal life that I think everyone was tapping into it. I felt like something special was happening between us and we needed to capture it on record as soon as we could.
What is your approach to creating and recording is it all done live or are there various layers of preparation, before studio time.
We definitely went in prepared knowing that we had a limited amount of time and budget. But it is important to be flexible in the studio because there are so many variables that can change the sessions. “Stented Growth” was a great example of that. At around 11 mins long, it was a massive undertaking for everyone involved. I had to rework all my parts for the last 3-4 minutes of that song, due to some rhythmic timing changes. I think there are benefits to creating and recording in the moment and some artists kick out their best work that way, but for me I prefer to wallow over the songs and let them morph and develop intuitively, over time. If money wasn’t an object, I could see myself spending a year recording an album, experimenting with every sound, technique, piece of gear I could get my hands on. Someday I hope.
How did you come to record at the Modest Mouse Glacial Pace headquarters?
I had heard of Brandon Eggleston through some musician friends and looked him up. He had a really impressive resume that included Swans, Modest Mouse, The Mountain Goats, Pelican and a host of other great artists. So I just reached out in the most professional sounding way possible and sent him some demos and practice sessions. To my surprise he responded right away and was interested in working with us. Getting a good drum sound was really important for us and so I asked him if he had any recommendations of studios in town and he said that he gets a great drum sound at Modest Mouse’s studio, which was invite only. I didn’t know at the time that he was one of the primary engineers on their last record, Strangers To Ourselves and worked out of there on a regular basis. Being a huge old school Modest Mouse fan I was super stoked to have this opportunity. Very grateful to Brandon and Isaac Brock for letting us record there. Everything from the gear, to the main room, to the console sounded amazing. Would love to do our next record there again.
Tell us about your live show, how closely do you get to the album sound and do you change your set often?
I would say it’s pretty close, but we want the live performance to overwhelm the audience with a total sensory experience. The songs are very emotionally and psychologically charged. We pride ourselves on our dynamics that lift you up then try to drown you in nicest way possible (laughs). We also have visuals that accompany our sets that have imagery that reinforces some of the conceptual framework around the band, which borrows from Jungian thought regarding the shadow, synchronicity, dreams, individuation and death. We refer to it as a reinterpretation of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic. We try to weave the guitars in an angular way then reach an epic, post rock climax. I think people have a hard time defining where we fit stylistically or genre wise, but I think that’s a good thing. We have an organic, vintage sound that I think Brandon did a great job of capturing on the record. We still maintain that live, but more kinetic, engaging and enchanting.
What do you hope people hear on the new EP and where do you hope the record takes you as a band?
I hope people genuinely connect with our music. I think the things that motivated these songs are universal themes and that has the power to create meaning for the listeners. I think artistic music needs to be important again on a global scale. There is a generation of kids out there that are being subjected to terrible fucking music that is only in existence to sell you some hollow identity, product or transient mood in order to make us complacent and apathetic towards the power of art and music. We hope that Emerge From The Illusion gives people a glimpse of what is being created out there by great bands and artists that are not being heard or not being given the chance to be heard because of the nature of the business. We feel like our music reflects a lot of the pervasive societal and cultural dysfunctions, namely narcissism and the lack of empathy. It is a reaction to those deficiencies and a willingness to embrace the journey even if it’s covered by darkness. Even if you don’t buy any of that bullshit, at least the record can melt your face off.
What was the record that blew you away in your school/college days that you still play today?
I still listen to a ton of stuff I did when I was that age. My favorite record is probably Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins. That was a life changer for me. I still think it sounds unbelievable. The production, Chamberlin’s drumming, the emotion, the Big Muff! Just an authentic musical experience front to back. People like to rag on the Pumpkins these days but that’s just because they weren’t there.
What was your top album of 2015 and why?
Wow, tough question. I would say have to say Marriages, Salome. I love that record. Emma Ruth Rundle’s vocals and guitar work has an immediacy to it. She’s got that sultry delivery and then destroys you with some badass guitar slide riff. That record flows really well too. I’ve seen them live a couple of times and I’m amazed they are a three piece. Huge sound. Big Sargent House fan. Honorable mention: Caspian, Dust and Disquiet.
If you could tour with any other band, who would it be and why?
Tougher question. Sigur Ros. I’ve seen them 3 times and every time it was just devastating. They are the most other worldly band I’ve ever heard. To be able to see that every night would be a gift.
You are an active band on the ‘bandcamp’ site, what do you like about this method of distributing your music?
I dig Bandcamp. Very flexible and immediate. Direct to fan is a benefit in many ways. Being able to buy music in any format at any price gives the artist more control on how they want to distribute their work.
Hi guys, how’s life in the music business for you today?
Its changed beyond all recognition, but my only concern is to keep my art alive & leave that stuff up to our manager.
The new single ‘Strange World’ is a fine and gritty record. Is the spark for creativity and live performances burning bright within the band again?
It certainly is. We are writing our best songs ever at the moment, long may it continue.
Who designed the cover for the single?
A Brazilian girl called Moara Marques, she's amazing she sums up our whole style in that one piece of art.
What was your approach to creating and recording the new LP was it all done live or were there various layers of preparation, before studio time?
I start off on my 8 track recorder getting basic structures melodies & words down, then I transfer everything to Phil & Franny's computers to tidy it up. We all practice the songs till we come up with the end product.
Does the creation of a song come about easily or do you need to be in a particular space or frame of mind?
I constantly write and even if the song doesn't work I will recycle it until it does.
How is the tour going, it’s certainly an impressive schedule?
The tour's been amazing, the fans are loving both the new and old songs.
Do you think you are still carry the the same crowd from days gone past or do you get the feeling of people new to the band at the current shows?
We have noticed the old crowd along with a lot of young kids who have either rediscovered us or their parents have got them in to us.
Is there a record that you brought in your School / College days that you still play today and what is your favorite album of 2015?
Yeah I still play Spizz Energy 'Where's Captain Kirk?' My fave album of the year is The Sums' 'Start at the Finish'.
Plans for Christmas or just a good rest?
I'm gigging up until the 12th. I'll enjoy watching my daughter open her prezzies and probably watch Jason & the Argonauts a hundred times.
Finally, any advice for someone starting out in the music industry today?
Never ever give in.
Sat 21 CREWE - THE BOX Sun 22 MANCHESTER - FAC 251 Tue 24 SWANSEA - SIN CITY Wed 25 CARDIFF - THE GLOBE Thu 02 READING - BOWERY Fri 27 BRISTOL - FLEECE Sat 28 COVENTRY - KASBAH Mon 30 SUNDERLAND - THE POINT
Tue 01 EDINBURGH - ELECTRIC CIRCUS Wed 02 ABERDEEN - TUNNELS Thu 03 GLASGOW - CLASSIC GRAND Fri 04 LIVERPOOL - EPSTEIN Sat 05 LONDON - BRIXTON JAMM Thu 10 TUNBRIDGE WELLS - FORUM Fri 11 WOLVERHAMPTON - SLADE ROOMS Sat 12 LINCOLN - PLATFORM Fri 18 GLOUCESTER - GUILDHALL Sat 19 NORWICH - UEA
I can’t complain! I’ve been very busy these days, tour solo and touring with John Fogerty. The new “Mojo Deluxe” record has been getting lots of press and airplay. I miss my wife and my cats an awful lot, but in 6 weeks, I’ll be done with the road for the rest of the year!
When did you start playing the keyboards and what was the spark that led you to play?
At 9 I started taking classical piano lessons. Nothing much happened for the first year, but all at once, something happened, and I became a little virtuoso, almost all at once. After that, they couldn’t tear me away. Around 15 I was corrupted by rock & roll, followed quickly by an introduction to the New Orleans piano professors, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you discover your singing voice, has it improved with age?
I started singing because I wanted to write songs and communicate with people that way. I never had the greatest voice, but I always felt it was the best one to tell my story with. And it has most assuredly improved with age!
What is your favorite story from life on the road?
There are way too many to tell! But there was that one time when I took a 6-seat mail plane to this town in the Australian outback and couldn’t get out for 3 days after the gig because the whole town got sick...
What was the first record you brought that you were most proud of and where did you buy it?
The first record I ever bought with my own money was a recording of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. I bought it at the supermarket - they were selling the “Great Composers Series” 0 one a month, for a buck or something like that. I was probably 10 or 11 years old and I still have that record!
You have played with many famous musicians what one piece of advice would you give to a new band or artist starting out today?
Do it for love, and do it to elevate the music, not yourself. Otherwise, no about if success, large or small, will make you happy.
Where is your most favorite place in the world?
How have your keyboards changed over the years and what was the best one?
For piano, I like real pianos, and that’s what I play whenever I can get one. I’ve done shows and recordings on battered old uprights and 9-foot concert grands and they all have a personality and a story to tell. Digital pianos are convenient, of course, but they don’t excite me much, although there are some pretty good ones out these days. I recently did a series of demo videos for the Kurzweil Forte, that’s a nice one. beyond that, all of my favorite keyboards are straight up vintage 70s. Wurlitzer, Hammond B-3, Clavinet, Rhodes. I missed that era as a player, so it’s been great to be able to finally have access to the old stuff these last few years and get to play them live on a regular basis. When touring with Fogerty I play a 60’s era Hammond B-3 through a Leslie, and a red-top Wurlitzer electric piano. And I have another Wurli that I tour with solo (although sadly I won’t be able to get it on the plane to the UK!).
Music for free? Streaming? downloads? Is it just the road where a musician can earn a crust these days?
For those of us who haven’t had hit records, the road has always been the place to make most of a living. So in a way, it hasn’t changed all that much for me. Although, yes, streaming has taken a big bite out of my sales income. I also do a lot of recording session and arranging (horns, strings, musical theater scores) back in LA, so that’s a good source of income as well. And I get royalty checks for TV music I’ve done. Multiple income streams, and all that. It’s all moving and changing so fast I can’t say how it’s going to end up.
You played Glastonbury in 2013. How was that experience?
It was really wonderful - I hope to be back one day! Although after the show I ventured out of the backstage area to wander the grounds and nearly got trampled by about 50,000 people on their way from one stage to another. That may have been a mistake :-)