“What we have together, we wouldn’t have with anyone else. There’s no member of the band you could replace. It’s what it is,” professes Fyfe Dangerfield, self-appointed ‘band leader’ of indie four-piece Guillemots.
If you’re not familiar with Guillemots and their Mercury Music Prize nominated debut Through The Window Pane or their top-ten follow up Red, then you may know Fyfe Dangerfield as the guy who got a top ten single with the Billy Joel cover that scored the John Lewis advert last year.
‘She’s Always a Woman’ refused to leave radio playlists for a good portion of last year, but its success was somewhat of an accident, according to Dangerfield. He explains he was asked to record the version for the advert, and then “we kinda had to release it; radio stations started playing it without asking us and people were like ‘where can I get this song?’”
“I don’t feel like that was anything to do with me,” he insists, fidgeting awkwardly as he speaks. “That was a Billy Joel song; it could’ve been anyone singing it really.” When asked to consider that it was his voice that helped a whole new generation fall in love with the song, he doesn’t seem willing to accept his part in it. “I sung it and it sounded nice, but loads of people could’ve sung that song and it sounded nice. It’s more to do with the song,” he says.
It took Guillemots three years to release their third album, after they took a break following Red. “We had some really fun times with that record, but it was just a learning thing for us all,” reveals Dangerfield. “The band had obviously wanted more input because the first one [Through The Windowpane] had been in my head for a few years. I think it was all of us just trying to find our dynamic.”
During this break Dangerfield wanted to write, record and release a solo album and that’s exactly what he did. The desire was born from his need to “just go and do something that I could control”, as opposed to the collaborative efforts with Guillemots.
“I never thought that I’d join the band and then not do anything else. That would horrify me, because I don’t want to be tied to one thing,” explains Dangerfield. “I had some down time from the Guillemots and wanted to record some stuff, so I just did and I’m sure I’ll do more of that stuff. But I love playing with Guillemots. Music is my life really, and I want to do as much of it as I can and obviously you get different things from different people,” he says.
The big break from Guillemots seems to have been good for the band. Dangerfield reveals that they’ve found their natural way of working when producing their third album, Walk The River. Although less inspiring and melancholic on first listen, after a week living with the album and playing it at every opportunity it proves to be one of the most interesting albums heard in a while.
“It feels like, with this album, when someone gets it they really get it, and that’s really nice,” says Dangerfield. “All of us believe that it’s a record that’s a grower and a word-of-mouth thing. I don’t think it’s an instant record; I think it’s something that’s supposed to envelop you and creep up on you.”
And that’s certainly what Walk The River does; it creeps up on you until you’ve got tracks like ‘Vermillion’ stuck in your head, because it’s catchy enough to stick. It’s a pretty layered album that takes a few listens to grasp the drama of it; it’s lo-fi in parts, and orchestral in others, it’s chaotic yet controlled, dreamy and distorted, and it’s absolutely stunning. If you can get past the first few plays, it really is an album to fall in love with.
“It’s a melancholic record but I think it’s still hopeful,” Dangerfield explains. “It’s definitely got more sadness than our other records, but ultimately I want people to come out of it feeling uplifted, though you can’t impose on people how they’re going to react to it.”
When writing the album, Dangerfield says he would record the band improvising, play the recording back and could sometimes pull out strands of songs. “We write a lot together now,” he says. “We’ll just meet up and play and improvise and not think about it and just play for hours.”
“I write music, I don’t sit down to write songs about a subject,” he says. “The music is the thing… Maybe I used to believe that if you force it, that’s contriving it, but that’s rubbish. It’s amazing when a song just pops into your head. But the amount of songs I’ve written just forcing myself to write. It can be painstaking trying to just write if you’re struggling.”
The songs aren’t always received so well, Dangerfield explains, as he talks about how you need to follow your own instinct when being creative. “There’s this one track on a demo that I think’s amazing and I keep playing it to people, but no one gets it,” he says. “But that’s not gonna make me think that there’s nothing in it.”
Speaking of a quote on Lykke Li’s website, Dangerfield says it’s important to be tuned into your own energy. “If you block it, no one else will ever do it,” he continues. “It’s not your job to compare what you do to other people, but to keep that channel clear. I think there’s still validity on doing something you believe but no one else does.”
Reviews of Walk The River have been mixed, but Dangerfield says he avoids reading reviews because he believes musicians shouldn’t be influenced by critics. “You’re always compared to the first thing you’ve done,” he says. “I’m immensely proud of our first record, but at the same time we don’t want to make that record again. I think some people maybe want us to build on that record.”
If some critics aren’t fawning over Walk The River, the fans certainly are. On the day of its release Guillemots played the material to a sold-out crowd in London, who fell silent when the more gentle songs were played. “I think something amazing happens in a room with that amount of people and they’re not talking. It’s amazing.”
With plenty of songs not chosen for inclusion on the new album, Dangerfield explains that Guillemots are keen to get back into the studio and crack on with another. It won’t be another three years until the next release, the band leader jokes.
Words: Laura Nineham
Photo: Michael Robert Williams