Ambient Nottingham trio creating euphoric soundscapes soaked in reverb
Embracing a sun-kissed July afternoon outside of Nottingham’s iconic Rescue Rooms, the baseball cap-wearing Sam Heaton is weary and marginally dejected. Fresh from a sanctimonious weekend at the hedonistic extravaganza of Glastonbury Festival, in which his band Eyre Llew played two stellar yet contrasting sets, the 28 year-old frontman is still recovering from one of the most important moments in his artistic career to date.
Since his band’s formation in 2014, the Nottingham outfit have released a transcendent debut record, joined forces with South Korean shoegazers ‘In the endless zanhyang we are’ on collaborative EP Carrier and extensively toured the globe to rapturous support whilst also opening Glastonbury’s iconic John Peel Stage and developing their vibrant sound base in a genre transfixed on celebrating a select group of artists, including Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver, avant-rockers Sigur Rós and delicate soundscaper Ásgeir.
Casting his eye over the five year experience Heaton declares ‘The time has flown by really but when I look back at the different eras of our journey, it does feel like chapters really with the progression from 2014 to now. It’s massive really in so many ways. We’re still an unsigned band but we’ve got this great history of stuff we’ve done which we’re quite proud to look back at.’ Having been already acquainted with pianist and drummer Jack Clark, the singer recalls the period he stumbled across guitarist Jack Bennett. ‘One of the two Jack’s used to run a recording studio in Nottingham and in-between projects I went there on my own for three sessions and just played reverb-y nonsense on guitar really loudly because you can’t play that loudly at home. One day Jack just put his head in through the door and turns out he really loved it. We jammed for a bit, and because I already had a drummer, a week later we had already written a song and started like that. August 1st 2014 was when we started as a band, so almost five years ago.’
Whilst Eyre Llew’s formation was an instantaneous success, Heaton’s personal journey as a musician and songwriter was something of a late-starter. His ambition to start playing music begun almost by coincidence, as a Lynyrd Skynyrd ringtone left a fourteen-year old Heaton desperately scrambling for a starter guitar. Within two months however, the young guitarist had already found a band and with just a day’s practice after joining, was already playing a show at his local pub. ‘It was such an adrenaline rush being chucked in the deep end,’ he smiles. ‘Since then, I’ve been in bands ever since. I felt late to the party but I just played hard and really often so caught up pretty quick.’
An aficionado of heavy rock, markedly five-piece Canadian post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, Heaton’s quest to replicate the reverb-laden and delay-line dominated discourse of his hardcore heroes led to him purchasing his first delay pedal. Yet as music beckoned him to Leicester’s De Montfort University, Heaton abandoned his penchant for playing heavier material and entered the palatial realm of neo-classical. Recollecting his musical transition, the singer notes ‘It wasn’t until I got to university that I discovered a band called Hammock, who are a really ambient and sublime band. I wanted to recreate their track Breathturn and they used reverb so I went and got a reverb pedal, but it didn’t sound as big as what they did so I bought a second reverb pedal!’
With a broadened mindset, a university module involving a collaboration with dancers provided the catalyst for both Heaton’s and Eyre Llew’s creative journey. ‘I had to write music for a dance piece and they had to perform to it. I just did really soundscape-y, reverb-based guitar stuff and I loved it,’ says Heaton. It was this collaborative experience that inspired the band’s first ever music video [for Mortné] and begun the process that has led the band to where they are today.
By targeting the very basic and widely shared facets of human existence, the hunger for Eyre Llew’s genre-bending neo-classical sound is now priceless
Unlike most bands in the preliminary stages of development, Eyre Llew had already drafted a rigorous and ambitious plan to get their creative sound palette in motion from the very beginning. ‘We wrote the first song and then after that we gave ourselves the ambition to write a song, record a song and shoot a music video for the song every single month and that was our way of doing things,’ confesses Heaton. ‘It was purely a way to figure out what kind of band we were and work each other out as well. Doing those eight singles over time built up an audience around it.’ When pressed as to what inspired that band stylistically from the offset, Heaton muses ‘I think we all started out with this fondness for neo-classical stuff. That fondness for a niche genre, as well as our love of Bon Iver and Sigur Rós and that lot, as well as the rock stuff we were into, that all forms whatever Eyre Llew is today.’
The increased mainstream exposure to classical music’s cutting edge has been in the pipeline for over two decades now, with German composer Nils Frahm, experimental duo A Winged Victory For The Sullen and the pioneer of the neo-classical movement itself, the Kraftwerk-inspired composer Max Richter all orchestrating captivating works that crossover from the hierarchical and confined medium of classical music to the more accepting and genre-blending psyche in which contemporary music finds itself in today.
Within Eyre Llew’s current catalogue of kaleidoscopic experimentation, the trio manage to bottle an emotional purity in such scrupulous detail that every single takes its listener on an effervescent rollercoaster of sentiment. The title track of their 2017 debut record Atelo is a breathtaking offering of seismic quality, conjuring a maelstrom of emotions on first listen. As a barrage of instrumentation sweeps a grandiose notion of climactic escapism across the single, the trio mould a flawless soundscape which allows a certain deft serenity and love-torn rapture to permeate into the track’s core.
‘I felt late to the party but I just played hard and really often so caught up pretty quick.’
Havoc is a demonstration of intelligent, interstellar rock at its most innovative and expansive, traversing new heights as a storm of guitar constructs a wall of instrumentation before Heaton’s voice comes crashing down on its audience like an illusive deity returning to earth. Whilst the track’s tides ebb and flow across a crashing seven-minute oceanic course, its lullabied piano refrain draws the single to a hushed, starry-eyed conclusion. Further illustrations of the preternatural quality of Heaton’s vocals lie within Glas, a hard-hitting sonic spectacle complete with reverb and feedback that drubs relentlessly before a climactic conclusion.
Even with the likes of Fero, there are early insights into the capabilities of the three talented individuals. Lyrically indecipherable, musically incalculable yet emitting the vibrant textures of a band so desperately needed in today’s musical climate, the track acted as a primary indication of the picturesque qualities that would caress and then dominate the debut record.
Lyrically indecipherable, musically incalculable yet emitting the vibrant textures of a band so desperately needed in today’s musical climate, [Faro] acted as a primary indication of the picturesque qualities that would caress and then dominate the debut record.
Yet whilst Eyre Llew’s expansive orchestrations are favourites among their growing global fanbase, the likes of Parallels highlight a band more than capable of producing snappy and charismatic rock singles, with its cataclysmic whirlwind of reverb and guttural instrumentation bringing to mind the likes of Band of Horses and Frightened Rabbit. Even the high-octane and undeviating Bloc sees Heaton’s vocals jangle with the raucous, full-bodied spirit of the 90s Britpop movement, leaping from the starting blocks with such purpose and character that it renders its listeners as inexplicable shellshocked come the end of the track.
The contrasting deliverance of wave upon wave of instrumental refrain alongside the deft piano arpeggios leaves listeners reeling with a rush of emotions which knot at the back of one’s throat, yet Heaton confesses to feeling ‘like a square peg in a round hole at times with our style of music.’ The full-bodied musical mosaic might have first come to fruition in the late 1980’s with Talk Talk’s seminal sophomore record Spirit of Eden, yet the spirit of their frontman, the late Mark Hollis, seems to be conjured when listening through Eyre Llew’s, expansive, yet very different catalogue of music, a catalogue which has seen them tour to lands afar.
‘The amount of ideas that we’re putting up now, it’s so much more than ever before.’ Sam Heaton
Following the release of their debut record, the Nottingham trio found themselves on tour in Asia playing a host of nations, notably China and South Korea. Whilst their time in the former of the two nations was marred by a conspicuously close and ever-present typhoon, something which caused the band to be stranded in a local venue with nothing but beer and bar snacks to amuse themselves with, the latter subsequently led to the birth of the band’s collaborative Carrier EP.
Although Atelo managed to shine a light into the very darkest of corners, dropping a blanket of solace and comfort for when the nights draw longer, the effects of touring in Asia started to take a toll on Heaton and the band. ‘We were about nine weeks into the Asia tour and we had just run out of energy,’ says the frontman. ‘Touring is so much fun but when you’re on tour for so long you lose perspective of the normal world a little bit. You’re crashing on couches every night and you can feel a little bit low. The day we wrote [opening track Silo], we went to a studio on the Thursday knowing we had the recording studio booked for the following week, but we didn’t have anything that we were happy with to record. We wrote the track on the Thursday, played shows Friday through to Sunday, went into a recording studio in Korea and recorded it on the Monday.’
Within Eyre Llew’s current catalogue of kaleidoscopic experimentation, the trio manage to bottle an emotional purity in such scrupulous detail that every single takes its listener on an effervescent rollercoaster of sentiment.
It soon becomes clear as Heaton delves further into the story behind Silo, just how important the track is to the band. ‘We were in Hungary before at an artists development camp and I was talking to some Romanian artists and we were all talking about the difficulties of being in a band and they were explaining how they had to write songs in English to feel accepted,’ Heaton continues. ‘It was kind of a throwaway comment and it was something I had never considered, being a British musician. It really resonated with me through the whole of the Asian tour that all of these bands in Korea, China, Taiwan that we were playing with every night, they were singing songs in English and it made us feel a little bit guilty to be honest. When we wrote Silo, over that weekend I just wrote those lyrics and it was really organic…it was exactly who I was and how I was feeling at the time. That night I decided to convert the lyrics to Korean and sing them in Korean and adapt the melody a bit. It was the influence of meeting those European artists and other artists that have different problems to you, going on tour for a few months and wearing yourselves down and then writing at the moment where you’re emotionally quite low. Emotionally it’s really raw when we play it.’
The track in question is an unwavering statement of intent from a band who haven’t taken their foot off the accelerator. Dancing piano arpeggios flicker with an ethereal suspense and awareness that something is brewing, and as the track’s introduction fades out much in the same circumstances as lights may dim before a show begins, the sense of heightened expectation is soon obliterated across the subsequent six minutes that follow.
If Atelo had listeners reaching for tissues, then Silo could well and truly be endorsed by Kleenex and the tissue industry as a whole. Blending the piano orchestration of Nils Frahm, the cinematic experience of Manchester Orchestra and twenty-first century Radiohead, the single is a frightening prospect for a band who have comfortably declared that they have even more to give in the coming years. Building into a living entity, the hulking beast that unravels with such dexterity and prowess looms over its listeners, who, rooted to the floor, gaze wide-eyed and aghast at the marvel of three musicians, who despite their musical idiosyncrasies, complement one another with such beguiling grace.
‘[I feel] like a square peg in a round hole at times with our style of music.’
The idea behind the collaborative EP with South Korean outfit ‘In the endless zanhyang we are’ came about as a result of a tour swap. in which the Nottingham trio supported the Korean shoegazers in Korea before reversing the bill on a UK tour. Containing two tracks from both bands, the EP pivots around the collaborative single Moeve, which came about in surprising fashion. ‘We were on an island in Korea for a festival and to get our equipment onto the island we had to dissemble our guitars, taking the necks off and putting that in one part of a suitcase and the other half in another,’explains Heaton when asked about the single. ‘When we got to the accommodation for the night, we were putting our guitars back together and the strings being out of tune and stuff, we’re just randomly tapping on the guitar with a screwdriver. I don’t know what it was but it sounded cool and we just started jamming! That song ended up being Moeve which came about just from dissembling and reassembling a guitar at a festival on an island in Korea!’
The story behind the Carrier EP is even more spectacular given that it was the South Korean quartet’s final release before an indefinite hiatus. ‘Korea has a three-year military service that two of the band members had to start,’ Heaton says. ‘They’ve had to take a three year hiatus at the very minimum, so I feel very fortunate to have been on their final release. It was an incredible end to that chapter for us.’
Currently possessing a steadfast mindset for writing and recording a second record, Heaton is rejuvenated when explaining what we can expect from the group’s sophomore album. ‘We’re talking to producers who write strings and tour strings,’ he grins. ‘We’ve started to introduce synths and organs and more pianos and running that through our pedal boards, it’s getting kind of crazy really. The amount of ideas that we’re putting up now, it’s so much more than ever before but we’ve got to reign it in and be more disciplined.’ Having named Radiohead and the blossoming of technology as current influences for the new material, the timeless, ethereal energy that has already been dispersed by the band doesn’t seem likely to waiver nor dissipate in the coming months.
‘The amount of ideas that we’re putting up now, it’s so much more than ever before.’ Sam Heaton
Both Atelo and Carrier have seen Eyre Llew soundtrack the desperation of the broken-hearted, the climactic highs of the love-full, the brisk freshness of a Spring morning and the sedated lull of long, Winter nights. By siphoning the mind into a melancholic state of tranquility for just a matter of moments, the overwhelming power within the band’s reverb driven-tracks carries enough momentum to transport even the most complex of individuals back into a state of simplistic nature. The world is in refuge, now more than ever, and is seeking solace wherever it can find it. By targeting the very basic and widely shared facets of human existence, the hunger for Eyre Llew’s genre-bending neo-classical sound is now priceless.
Given their aspirations for further sonic expansion, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Nottingham band alongside the highest echelons of the genre in the coming future. Whilst it’s easy to draw comparisons between Eyre Llew’s brand of sweeping artistry and that of Bon Iver, Sigór Ros and Ásgeir, what makes an artist fortified into music legend is the valour in relinquishing what feels comfortable, and instead embracing the dystopian calling of experimentation and creativity. Justin Vernon achieved that to critical acclaim with 2016’s 22, A Million but Eyre Llew’s collective ambitions might just topple the genre’s illustrious royalty.