‘It feels good to finally have a solo record out – it should have come out years ago…’

Sophia Bye Bye

UK singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall has just released her first solo album, Bye Bye. Formerly one half of Americana duo The HaveNots, from Leicester, Sophia decided to go it alone in 2015.

Bye Bye is a strong, confident and varied debut record – from the killer, radio-friendly guitar pop of Losing You, to the gorgeous, late-night, organ-soaked country of  Flares, the jaunty, ’50s rockabilly of Missing Piecethe edgy and disturbing, trip-hop-tinged Hey Al, Woah! and the sea shanty Drunken Sailor.

I spoke to Sophia to find out how the album came together…

Q & A

Hello Sophia, but I should really say ‘Bye Bye’… How does it feel to have your first solo album out there? Was it scary going it alone?

Sophia Marshall: It feels good to finally have a solo record out – I feel like it should have come out years ago. It’s actually not too scary going it alone, as, funnily enough, I have managed to surround myself with even more influential musicians and confidants, which is very different from previously being in a duo.

Are you pleased with the record? 

SM: I’m really pleased with it, considering it was mostly done on a shoestring, pulling in favours. I like to think we did well. And I’m proud to have worked with some wonderful musician friends, including Andy Jenkinson, who produced the album. He breathes life into my ideas. And lets me try silly things.

Did you have a big pool of songs to dip into? How did you decide which ones made the final cut? It’s quite an eclectic album – pop, country, rockabilly, a sea shanty and even a bit of trip-hop…

SM: At first, the songs were recorded fairly sporadically. I only really wanted to get polished versions of some old songs down. There was no real deadline set initially, but. at the start of 2017, I decided it needed to be completed and officially released. Conveniently, I was inspired to write some new songs, which were added to the list.

Where was the album recorded and what was the process like? Was it an enjoyable record to make?

SM:It was partly recorded at Andy’s home studio, definitely all mixed there, and partly recorded at The Paddocks Studios, [in Melton Mowbray] – a place I once lived and worked.

Normally, I demo the songs on my own before taking them to the band, or sometimes just Andy, to see how they can be developed. It’s the people who make the process enjoyable. It was great working on my own material, but, at the end of the day, the people around me inspired and encouraged me, which is a real blessing.

Let’s talk about some of the songs. Losing You is a big, guitar pop tune – very instant and infectious. Where did that track come from? It sounds like your shot at getting on the Radio 2 playlist…

SM: That’s a fair comment. Radio 2 airplay would be splendid. Losing You was actually on the never released, third HaveNots album, Weakender.

Liam Dullaghan [from The HaveNots] and I wrote the song in a slow, acoustic fashion, but I had wanted to pump some indie-pop/ folk-rock life into it for a long time. My new bandmates helped me to do exactly that. I also added the middle eight, which I guess came from some Britpop musical influences of my teenage years.

“Flares was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar”

Flares is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track?

SM: What can I tell you about Flares? It was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar, in a house I had been in for less than a year, after a huge chapter of my life had ended. I was finally switching my focus from looking backwards to looking forwards.

When we came to record it, I had been listening to Frazey Ford’s Indian Ocean. Obviously I had listened to it non-stop when Sarah [Marshall – Sophie’s sister] and I were backing vocalists for her on that first album tour of the UK, but it wasn’t until about a year later the album stopped feeling like homework and I could enjoy it for all that it was. So I think there’s a sprinkle of Frazey in Flares.

Missing Piece is very ’50s/ rockabilly-country. Where did that track come from? 

SM: It was originally written in the same vein as a Camera Obscura song called Fifth In Line to the Throne – a lot slower and ballad-like, but I think this changed around the same time I decided to shake up Losing You. I guess I was fed up with the melancholy sound of things for a while. It’s about the realisation that you don’t actually mean all that much to a person who had once made you feel like a huge and special part of their life.

Hey Al, Woah? is one of the darker songs on the album – arguably the darkest. It features the lines: “You can’t go around saying shit like that to girls”, and “you should know no means no”…

Where’s that track coming from lyrically and musically? It’s very personal – a disturbing and edgy song, with shades of ’90s trip-hop. It has echoes of Martina Topley-Bird, who sang with Tricky…

SM: It was a very late addition to the album – a very new song. I spent a lot of time with a songwriter who loved Portishead. I think the feel of Hey Al… comes from that, but, lyrically, it was inspired by a person who I had exhausted my every effort of politely saying ‘no’ to. I’m not easily intimidated, but the psychological disturbance got to me – something snapped. I started worrying that the next girl may find his approach threatening…

Earlier this year, you played live in the basement of The Green Note in Camden, supporting  US singer-songwriter Chris Mills – you did two nights in a row. I went to both shows – they were great. Chris has been a big help and influence on your career, hasn’t he? He worked with you in The HaveNots. Aren’t there some unreleased songs from the recording sessions you did with Chris?

SM: Chris has always been a great help and, indeed, a great influence on me, musically. There is a whole album of HaveNots songs still unreleased, which Chris Mills produced.

Losing You, as I mentioned earlier, was one of them, and, actually, also Beauty Sleep, which I used on my album. I just didn’t want those songs to go to waste after all the hard work Chris and the team in Chicago had put into them. But even before that, Chris had helped Liam and I get over to tour America and release our first album Bad Pennies over there, too. Chris has a great heart and is a great songwriter.

Full Band Promo Pic

How did you launch your new album? Didn’t you do a six-hour, live-streamed house concert tour of the Midlands? How was that? You’ve been touring with Case Hardin, too. What was that like?

SM: I did more than a six-hour tour! It was more like 12 hours and it was a great, Challenge Anneka-style adventure. Pulling up at my old music college where I met Liam, racing off to a coffee shop near where I live now, and then over to a music shop in Nottingham, where I have a habit of drooling over all the acoustic guitars.

Then we started running behind schedule, when another Leicester venue performance at Firebug was late, which made us late for our Melton Mowbray appearance, to the point where the venue’s owners apologised, but said they couldn’t put us on, as the main band had arrived. But, as we walked off, people who had been waiting ran after us and managed to set up a last-minute gig at a bar down the road. Then we stopped to eat and catch our breath before an intimate. live-streamed performance of Flares, while we waited for the Simon and Garfunkel tribute band to finish at The Musician, so we could serenade people out the back of the bus while they left the gig.

We had a handful of shows with Case Hardin and Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland (The Be Good Tanyas), who were all so nice to catch up with again after years of being out of the scene myself. We also opened for The Sadies in Bristol and we had a sold-out show with Eilen Jewell.

What music – new and old – are you currently listening to?

SM: I’ve been enjoying the Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland album Wildflower Blues. The title track is my favourite. I also made a point of revisiting the Tom Petty album Wildflowers, which I thought was a good one to follow that. Also Mountaintop Junkshop, who are from my hometown.

Finally, what are your plans for 2018?

SM: I’ll be catching up with admin, checking the festivals and, hopefully, starting work on some new material. We have gigs in March 2018 and I’m working on a monthly, free download EP, having a bit of fun with some pop songs.

Bye bye, Sophia…

Sophia Marshall’s album Bye Bye is out now: http://www.sophiamarshall.co.uk/

 

Best Albums of 2014

Pete-Fij-Terry-Bickers-Broken-Heart-Surgery-Signed

This year’s Say It With Garage Flowers number one album can be easily filed alongside Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker as one of the greatest breakup records of all time.

Broken Heart Surgery by singer-songwriter Pete Fijalkowski (Adorable and Polak) and guitarist Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) is intimate and stripped-down, with nods to Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, John Barry and The Velvet Underground. A raw, deeply personal, melancholy album, it documents the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath, but is shot through with plenty of gallows humour and deadpan wit. 

On the record, there are several lyrical references to material possessions – leaving them behind, or being saddled with someone’s else’s old stuff. There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved, but also a lot of physical baggage, too… There are some brilliant lyrics on the album – some of which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. For example, “Hope – it’s more addictive than coke. Yeah – it’s cupid’s cruel joke…” (Betty Ford) and  “[she] just left me with cutlery and a whole pile of her duff CDs…” (Queen of Stuff).

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When I spoke to Pete earlier this year, he told me: “I wanted the album to reflect the various aspects of a breakup, so while some of the subject matters are taking place more in the head, there are others that have a very physical location and an obsession with small details – the division of objects between a couple (Breaking Up), the forgotten objects left behind in a now half-empty flat (Queen of Stuff) or the changing soundtrack to a couple’s life as their relationship deteriorates – from furtive whispers and kisses, to slamming doors and uneasy silences (Sound of Love).”

Asked what he wanted to achieve with the album, Pete said: “First and foremost, I wanted to make an album that I was proud of.”

Rest assured, he can hold his head up high – it’s a stone cold classic.

While we’re on the subject of masters in melancholy, Morrissey made a welcome return this year with World Peace Is None Of Your Business – his first album in five years. His best long-player since 1994’s Vauxhall & I, it was a glorious comeback record, with epic ballads (I’m Not A Man, Mountjoy), unabashed pop songs (Staircase At The University, Kiss Me A Lot, The Bullfighter Dies ) and lavish, exotic arrangements, including mariachi brass, strings and flamenco guitar.

Alas, due to a dispute with his record label, Harvest, the album is currently not available on Spotify or iTunes, so, instead, here’s a YouTube clip of the mighty Staircase At The University…

Other notable 2014 albums included Fair Warning by folk-rockers The Rails; Charade – the debut album from LA-based country singer Meg Olsen; A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye by San Fran garage-psychers Cool Ghouls ; Phantom Radio by the Mark Lanegan Band, which explored dark, electronic territory; The Breaks by former Boo Radley Martin Carr – gorgeous, lush guitar pop – and Alexandria by alt. country artist Chris Mills, which was his first album in five years and saw him team up with a new backing band – The Distant Stars.

Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt impressed with his solo album Hendra, which featured former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler on a poignant set of songs that, at times, recalled the legendary John Martyn, while Cherry Ghost’s latest record, Herd Runners, was a soundtrack for the lost and lonely, similar to Richard Hawley’s late night laments…

Chris Mills

Chris Mills

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention News From Nowhere – the ‘long-lost’ debut by ’90s Britpop band Speedy. Recorded in 1997, the album finally saw the light of day earlier this year and was well worth the wait. The band even reformed and played live for the occasion. 

I  played a small part in getting the album released – a 2009 blog I wrote about the record attracted some interest and one thing led to another…

Here’s a list of my favourite 30 albums of 2014 and a Spotify playlist to go with it. 

1) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery

2) Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business

3) The Rails – Fair Warning

4) Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio

5) Martin Carr – The Breaks

6) The New Mendicants – Into The Lime

7) Chris Mills & The Distant Stars – Alexandria

8) Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners

9) Ben Watt – Hendra

10) Meg Olsen – Charade

11) Johnny Marr – Playland

12) Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye

13) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

14) The Delines – Colfax Avenue

15) Beck – Morning Phase

16) Speedy – News From Nowhere

17) Temples – Sun Structures

18) Cleaners From Venus – Return To Bohemia

19Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

20) Kings of The South Seas – Kings of The South Seas

21) Gallon Drunk – The Soul of the Hour

22) Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows

23) Little Barrie – Shadow

24) Tweedy – Sukirae

25) The Autumn Defense – Fifth

26) Neville Skelly – Carousel

27) Johnny Aries – Unbloomed

28) Pete Molinari – Theosophy

29) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

30) Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything