Interview: Smoke Fairies

Interview with Smoke Fairies

Smoke Fairies


Earlier this year, blues-folk duo Smoke Fairies unveiled their superb, second studio album. We invited them to tell us more about Blood Speaks, and ended up talking touring mishaps, busking for burgers and collaborating with Richard Hawley and Jack White.

Questions and answers

Hi ladies, where are you today?

Jessica Davies: Today we are in a van travelling back to London from Scotland where we played at Belladrum festival. It’s rather a long drive, but we have amused ourselves with games of Trivial Pursuit and seeing who can hold their arms up in the air for the longest time.

Katherine Blamire: I won.

Ok, can you explain how the band formed please?

JD: Smoke Fairies has been going for quite a long time. It all started at school, when we were about 13. Lots of kids go around singing together, but as soon as we both started playing guitars it was all we wanted to do and we became quite determined.

Some of our first public performances were on the streets of Chichester, mostly outside Woolworths where we would busk. It’s strange: looking back, I think we were mostly egged-on by people’s negative reactions. When an old lady says, “That sounds terrible. Here’s a pound: don’t go spending it on drugs,” or when the Woolworths staff start prodding you with a stick through an air vent, it only makes you want to prove them all wrong.

KB: For some reason, lots of people gave us cheeseburgers.

Through Low Light and Trees got some brilliant reviews. Did you feel any pressure this time round?

JD: Not really. We had released quite a few things before Through Low Light and Trees so doing another album is just a continuation of everything we have done. I did wonder what fans of our first album might make of [the new record], but you have to make the music that you want to make, not what is expected of you.

How long did Blood Speaks take to write and record?

JD: The album took a month to record but we were thinking about it right from the moment we finished Through Low Light and Trees. I think, as with all our albums, we wanted each song to create a world and to place the listener in that world.

To us, it displays a more confident sound. How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since your debut?

JD: I feel more free to try things out.

KB: We toured a lot with a band after recording Through Low Light and Trees, and something about that gives you more confidence with your instruments. Maybe there is more of a freedom to experiment too, because there is more space for you to branch off.

What were your musical reference points this time round? Did they differ to those of your debut?

KB: I think our influences change all the time. We have had our ears open to a lot of different sounds. We recently recorded a covers EP called This is a Reflection, and that had some tracks on it that maybe people wouldn’t expect us to try. But that’s often what we find interesting and I think that’s how we approach our own songs: how can we find our sound in something more alien or unexpected? How can we put our stamp on this? How can we make each song say something different?

A lot of our influences come from our environment, whether it’s being in London or away travelling. All kinds of things influence you: the weather, lack of sleep, people you meet, the breakfast you had. Sometimes you just have to wait for a song idea to present itself to you.

Who’s responsible for writing lyrics?

JD: We both write songs separately and then bring them together to form something more solid. Over the years there have been a few attempts at writing lyrics together, but it rarely works out. The only example I can think of where we have both sat down together and written words was on ‘Strange Moon Rising’.

What’s the significance of the album title?

JD: Blood Speaks is about listening to your blood or intuition rather than over-thinking things. Losing yourself in a moment, rather than being conscious of it.

What’s your favourite track on the record?

KB: We were both really into ‘Blood Speaks’. The voices build as the song progresses, until they become a kind of mantra. I find it quite uplifting.

I understand Jack White joined you on ‘Gastown/River Song’. How did that come about?

KB: We met him in a bar in London and gave him our record. We are really proud of the record we made with him. It has a great atmosphere and there’s something raw about it. We try to show our gratitude by sending him our releases, including our recent box set, which unfortunately got run over by some sort of postal truck in transit. We also supported him on a couple of his recent gigs: one in London and one in Paris.

Is there anyone else you’d particularly like to collaborate with?

JD: We’d love to make another track with Richard Hawley. We already sang on an EP he did a few years ago, now we would like to get him on something of ours.

Spending so much time together, do you ever argue? What would you say are each other’s most irritating habits?

JD: It’s just been minor irritations. Last year we did a tour around the States for a month, just the two of us in a car. There was only one day in Nebraska – about two weeks into the tour – where we got annoyed. It was more to do with the heat, driving and carrying things around than anything anyone was doing. Although I do remember Kaf chatting to an old guy in the hotel lobby when she could have been carrying stuff up to the hotel room…

That day ended up being particularly bad: we got pulled over by a policeman and got into an argument with him, at the show a drunk fan tried to drag Kaf outside and we had to get security, then the hotel room window flew away in the middle of the night in a storm and all our stuff got sucked out.

KB: Jessica can be quite stubborn, but then so can I. Usually we can just walk away for a bit and something that seemed important a few minutes before defuses. I guess there aren’t many people you can spend this much time with without feeling annoyed. Sometimes we just have a food fight or kick each other up the bum.

So what’s the plan for the rest of 2012?

JD: We have a UK tour coming up in September/October and then we’ll be supporting Richard Hawley on his European tour.

And what’s been the highlight of your time in Smoke Fairies?

JD: Releasing the album was a pretty big achievement and highlight. We also finally released a collection of covers we had been working on for a while.

Finally, what have been your favourite albums of 2012 so far?

JD: I haven’t bought many albums from 2012. I always think that I’m buying something new and then discover it came out last year, so I’m a bit behind. Air’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune is good, as is Richard Hawley’s new album.

KB: I’m looking forward to hearing the new Tame Impala album. The track I’ve heard from it sounds great.