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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

A meeting with indie folk blues rockers Peggy Sue.

Peggy Sue tell me all about making their new album Fossils and Other Phantoms, and how they lost the Pirates. Illustrations by Kellie Black.

Written by Amelia Gregory

peggysue by kellie black
Illustration of Peggy Sue by Kellie Black.

I arrive by bike as usual to meet the three members of Peggy Sue at Spitalfields Market. Rosa got lost on hers and didn’t make their 6Music interview earlier in the day, more about which handily alerted me to the fact that it is Katy’s 24th birthday today, as well as the official launch of their new album Fossils and Other Phantoms. I wonder if their plan to go bowling in Brick Lane has come off, but it turns out the bowling alley was closed and they had to make do with chucking oranges at Lucozade bottles in the Old Truman Brewery instead. After their launch gig at Rough Trade East the band plan to head over to the Scala to enjoy the scuzzy sounds of Mount Eerie.

Even though Peggy Sue have been around for a few years they were only signed to Wichita at the end of 2009. Despite this, Katy, Rosa and Olly began recording their album over a three week period in New York last year. Producer Alex Newport – who has worked with the likes of Does it Offend You, Yeah? – first discovered the girls a couple of years ago at SXSW and he was joined by John Askew, better known as a producer of trance music, but who has also worked with The Dodos. They worked on the album in the studio at night and it was really intense. “But we wanted to do as much as possible,” says Rosa, “plus we like to work really hard.”

peggysue by kellie black
Illustration of Rosa by Kellie Black.

Many of the songs were written in New York, but they came back to the UK to overdub the tracks with friends. Peggy Sue seem quite amused that some of their session musicians belong to bands much more famous than theirs, with a horn section provided by members of Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio.

With the album finished a little over a year ago I wonder if they aren’t perhaps a bit frustrated with the long wait for it to come out officially?
Katy: For a little while we were, but then you just realise that you have to work around other people’s schedules. We’ve only been playing a few new songs on tour so we’re not sick of them yet. We haven’t run out of emotion!
Rosa: We purposefully held back some songs till the album came out.
Olly: And we’ve written some new songs since the album was made.
How pushy is your record company?
Katy: No one tells us what to do.
That I can well believe….

Quite a few reviewers seem to have identified a strong theme of heartbreak running through the album. How would you respond to this?
Katy: Some songs are about breaking other people’s hearts
Rosa: …or endings in general. They can be morose when taken as a whole body of work, but not when taken individually.
Katy: Some people are just ignoring the other themes. We take it in turns to do lead vocals so it’s not like they’re all about just one break up. I don’t know if I want to be known as horribly bruised by love…
Rosa: I don’t remember the last time I had my heart broken!

peggysue by kellie black
Illustration of Olly by Kellie Black.

They used to be Peggy Sue and the Pirates. What happened to the Pirates?
Katy: When Rosa and I started the band we were both studying at Sussex and it was just for fun. I was doing American Studies and Film. I’m still supposed to go to the US for a year as part of my course, but I keep deferring…
Olly: I was studying Popular Music at Goldsmiths, but I didn’t finish either. I prefer to actually make music.
Rosa: I was studying English Literature, but I’m the only one who finished my degree. We started getting serious two years ago when Olly joined. It made sense to drop the Pirates bit when we stopped being a duo and our music became less folky.

How did you girls hook up in the first place?
Katy: I was offered a gig as a solo artist and I asked Rosa to help out.
Rosa: I was so nervous I vomited into my mouth when I went on stage.
Katy: It was really nice to do it together. It was how you should start a band – it didn’t work when I tried to find people I didn’t know; a band needs to be built on good relationships.

How did you guys find Olly?
Olly: I went to Brighton and saw Peggy Sue playing as part of Brighton Festival – I fell in love with them immediately and became a bit of a groupie. I met them again at SXSW, and saw them play in my hometown of Margate.
Rosa: You were one of our favourite fans; we used to give you CDs for free!
Katy: We made him come and watch The Dodos so he could see what we wanted with the drum section and he liked it.
Olly: To start with I didn’t think it was a good idea for the girls to get a drummer because I preferred them without… but then I kept sending lots of pestering emails…
Eventually he organised his own audition in one of the practice rooms at his college, at which point Katy and Rosa realised he could be a great asset. Does he mind being the only man in a band with such strong women?
Olly: Not really, I’m half a girl
Rosa: …and I’m half a boy.

peggysue by kellie black
Illustration of Katy by Kellie Black.

Olly learnt drums at secondary school, Rosa learnt piano and Katy learnt a bit of piano and some clarinet. But as a band they play whatever they can lay their hands on, with great aplomb. How do they pick up all these different instruments so easily?
Katy: There’s something about teaching yourself that means you only play what you can but you play it really well. It’s nice to be self taught as it means there are no rules.
Rosa: I understand enough about how to put music together but I can’t read music very well. It means you discover new things.
Katy: I understand music in quite a mathematical way but I find it hard to translate that into playing a guitar. They are two separate things in my head
Which are your favourite instruments?
Katy: I like my electric guitar.
Rosa: For me it always goes back to the guitar. But when I try a new instrument I end up writing new melodies as I learn how to play it, which means that every song turns out differently.
Olly: I never imagined I would play the guitar but I ended up strumming a few notes on some of the songs, and now I’ve built a bucket base too…
Rosa: …it sounded in tune until we started recording…

I loved the video for single Watchman. How did you get that made?
Katy: We asked illustrator Betsy Dadd to make the video when she was going out with my best mate.
I like the humping angels. What guidance did you give?
Katy: I said she could tap into whatever themes she wanted. We don’t often make videos.
Rosa: In a perfect world we’d have one for every song
Some of the imagery would be great for putting onto merchandise.
Katy: I’d like to put some of the stills onto a t-shirt. We’ve got only one design going at the moment. It features a wolf dancing with a skeleton.

At the time of interviewing the band Katy had just been offered a place at Berkeley in California, but fear not she won’t be going unless she can put her heart and soul into it. Which means we’ve lucked out instead. For now you can catch that great big heart and soul at a whole pile of festivals this summer. Including Dot to Dot and the Park Stage at Glastonbury on Saturday morning.

You can read my review of Fossils and Other Phantoms here.

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