The resulting album, Sweet Sour sounds anything but unsure or unbalanced – quite the opposite, with tracks like The Devil Takes Care of His Own or Bruises sounding determined, lean and muscular. It sounds like a step forward for the band, while at the same time holding on to a very definite and individual sound.
Going back to the speed with which they returned to the recording studio, Russel says “it kept the two albums together as well. There’s a definite sound there defining the two eras. The initial ideas were definitely connected.”
So if pushed on it, what would the band describe as the difference between Baby Darling Doll Face Honey and Sweet Sour? “I think we stripped away a lot of things from the songs, things that they didn’t necessarily want or need”, says Emma. “So on the first album there are more solos and extended parts where we thought ‘this is great’, and then live we extended them even more, but for this record” – and again, here there’s a switch over as she pauses, and singer Russel joins in – “yeh we were a lot more strict with ourselves. It’s not like the first album was this epic three-disc voyage or anything but we just made a record the first time around without thinking much about it. With the second album we’ve been a bit more sparing and strict with arrangements, knowing that we can change them as we play live. The record is minimal, the bare bones, the songs.”
And the bare bones are something they’ve thought about, and worked on plenty – partly out of necessity, being a trio; like so many of those great trios in the history of rock, close your eyes when they’re on stage and you could imagine that there’s six or seven members of the band. “Because we’re a three piece we had to work really hard to build our sound” says drummer Matt, “and we learned quite quickly that you can do it as much by leaving things out as filling up all the space. It’s really nice, because it’s simply bass, drums, guitar and two vocals, so it’s a question of what we can do with that.”
There’s a value in not knowing what exactly you’re writing about, and then only realising in retrospect – and that often happens with us
So, no temptation, after the success of the first album, to bring in an orchestra and choir of backing singers (a la Guns n’ Roses)? They laugh in unison, showing how off-the-mark the question is. “The thing is, We’re still quite excited to be a three piece, it’s the avenue we want to go down. Until we’ve explored it fully, and we’re in no hurry – until that time we’ll skip the orchestras etc.”
What about influences? Who are the bands/artists that have meant the most to them? “Now that we’re fully fledged I think that we have less and less influences – we influence ourselves, but when you start out you have those core things that you grew up with”, Russel answers. “mine would be the beatles and hendrix, which goes a bit into Matt’s world of Led Zeppelin and then Emma’s into the Stones and all those blues records. Emma and I then have a shared love of those great jazz singers, and duos and harmony singing.”
On stage the dynamics are, unusually, shared almost completely between each member – but how does that work out in the songwriting? Does everyone play a role, or is their a leader in the process? “We set out to be a collaboration in the writing”, Russell answers while the other two nod their heads in agreement. “Sometimes you can’t help it if you might have more than your fair share of a song, but it’s always important for us to leave space for each other, and with this record we refined it even more – which makes it harder and longer to finish songs.”
We go on to talk about the place of the lyrics in the songs, and Russell says something that reminds me of the soundcheck and the harnessing of the feedback, or rather the band’s ability to latch on to sounds and images to use to their advantage: “The lyrics are really important, but we try not to get too bogged down in them when writing. There’s a value in not knowing what exactly you’re writing about, and then only realising in retrospect – and that often happens with us. Songs can sound ambiguous and then later on you’ll listen to them and they’ll make complete sense in summing up that time.”
Watching them later, as they take to the stage and rock it as comprehensively as if it were a Californian football stadium rather than a small venue in a small city in the middle of Europe, everything seems to fit into place perfectly; they match up inspiration and craft in equal measure, and have several of those spine-tingling moments when the songs meet the crowd like old classics – a sure sign of a band bound for greater success.