Amelia’s Magazine | Once There Were Sparks, Now There Are Ashes: An interview with Winter Villains

Winter Villains by Jo Dumpleton
Winter Villains by Jo Dumpleton.

Winter Villains are an experimental, chamber pop band based in Cardiff. In 2013, their alluring debut album ‘February’ was met with much acclaim and shortlisted for the Welsh Music Prize. Having already showcased what they are capable of, their second album Once There Were Sparks, Now There Are Ashes proves they aren’t one trick ponies. This new addition to their discography teases you back out into the wild with their signature sound exploring landscapes unknown.

Your debut album ‘February’ was inspired by and reflected the fragile beauty of the winter. What inspired you this time around?
Josef: Both of our albums have been a result of continuing to explore our ideas and just letting the music happen. We’ve never sat down and said ‘Ok let’s write an album about this‘, they’ve been subconscious processes, and when the albums were finished, we’ve been able to sit back and think about where they came from. I suppose our music reflects our interest in aspects of human existence that have been part of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences forever and are still relevant today. The first album has a very nature based theme to it. The songs on that record are mostly about communal survival, wonder, despair and hope amongst the elements. With this record we found ourselves writing about threat, change, loss, fear, but also the beauty of being able to start again and the uncertainty that comes with that. I think there’s a big part of us that struggles to relate to lots of things in the modern world, but there’s something about being a human now that hasn’t changed from early human existence and it’s that essence of human experience that has been the subject of our songs.

How did the writing and producing processes differ this time?
Faye: They were actually very similar. We write and demo everything at home so when we’re in the studio we know 99% of what we want to happen. There are often small sections that we like to leave open to improvisation or the performance of our friends who come in to play on some of the recordings, particularly string players. We worked again with our friend and producer Charlie Francis (REM, Turin Brakes) who knows us well and our relationship with him is great. Everything feels really easy and straight forward which takes away any unnecessary apprehension that you just don’t need in those situations. I suppose the main difference is that the first album was recorded over 3 sittings during a 9 month period, with the mixing of each session taking place after each recording. This time we got everything down in 6 days then took our time mixing it. We had it mastered by an Icelandic musician, producer and record label boss who’s work we really admire – Valgeir Sigurdsson (Bjork, Bedroom Community). The whole process was really enjoyable.

The video for your first single ‘Empire’, taken from the album, is a beautiful piece of work in itself. Did you visualize how the video might look when you were writing the song?
Josef: No not at all. We’re lucky to live in a really creative city where we have lots of friends involved in different art forms. By chance I was chatting to Cyrus Mirzashafa, who made the video, on email just as we had a first mix of ‘Empire‘. I shared it with him and he instantly had an idea that we loved. He ran it by us in more detail and we were more than comfortable to let him have free reign.

You’re based in Cardiff, Wales. What do you love most about the music community there?
Faye: There’s been a thriving music community in Cardiff for as long as I’ve lived here and it’s supported by a much wider creative community of designers, film makers, promoters and people writing about music. Anyone who has lived in Cardiff will tell you it’s got all the benefits that a capital city brings, without the negatives of it being too big and unmanageable. There’s a really diverse and eclectic mix of people making music, but at the same time it’s small enough for people to get to know each other, and for it to feel like a real community. It’s been perfect for us because of the type of people we are. We’ve met people through music who will be our life long friends.

I love the artwork on your album cover. Who took care of that?
Faye: Thanks, we really love it too. It’s by an artist named Florence Jackson. I work in the arts as my day job, and a colleague sent me a link to Florence’s work. Josef and I loved it immediately so we got in touch with Florence to ask her to make a bespoke piece for the album. We were interested in Florence interpreting the music to make a one off piece, specific to the feel and themes of the album. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

Winter Villains by Netina
Winter Villains by Netina.

What are your favourite things to do when you’re not recording or touring?
Josef: We both love being outside, so we spend as much time as possible in the outdoors – we love walking, camping, cycling and generally enjoying the landscapes around us. That’s another great thing about Cardiff – there’s so much on our doorstep. We also love most art forms and generally try to experience as much as possible, whether it’s exhibitions or live performances. It’s all very interesting to us. But we have loads of interests that aren’t related to that… animals, food, travel, history, reading… are all things we love.

You played The Green Man Festival and SWN after the release of your debut album. Do you have plans to play at any festivals this year?
Faye: We’ve got a bunch of dates booked for spring and early summer which is when the album will be out, so that’s our initial focus for now. We’re always interested in playing live as much as possible, and those festivals have always been great for us, so it’d be a pleasure to play at them again.

Once There Were Sparks, Now There Are Ashes is released on Owlet Music on May 11th 2015, and is preceded by single ‘Empire’ out on 13th April. Follow them online on Facebook and Twitter.

Live performance – The Air – Church Sessions.

Catch Winter Villains live on their upcoming UK tour:
27th March – The Grain Barge, Bristol
23rd April – Oxford Contemporary Art, Oxford
24th April – The Globe, Hay on Wye
25th April – Sebright Arms, London
15th May – Phipps NBC, Northampton
16th May – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
22nd May – St Paul’s Church, Cambridge
23rd May – Union Chapel, London
18th July – Harbour Festival, Bristol
20th July – Irregular Folk, Midsummer’s Weekend Festival, Oxford

Categories ,cardiff, ,Charlie Francis, ,Cyrus Mirzashafa, ,Empire, ,Faye Gibson, ,February, ,Florence Jackson, ,interview, ,Jo Dumpleton, ,Josef Prygodzicz, ,Netina, ,Once There Were Sparks Now There Are Ashes, ,Owlet Music, ,review, ,Valgeir Sigurdsson, ,Welsh Music Prize, ,Winter Villains

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