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Words marta owczarek
Pictures gem hall


saint agnes
“Should we do this big organ solo?
Is it totally pompous?”
Kitty Austen and Jon Tufnell both diverged from their mother
bands to form the blues-laden, cowboy-worshipping Saint
Agnes. It was a formation that took place almost two years to
the day from the launch of debut single ‘Old Bone Rattle’ at
the Sebright Arms, where, in full circle, the pair first met during
a soundcheck for Austen’s previous band Lola Colt. Although
they consciously made a decision to stylistically depart from
their respective band’s fare (Lola Colt call to mind The Jesus
and Mary Chain, whilst Tufnell’s band The Lost Souls Club are
all fuzzed-out rock and sleazy vocals), they had no definitive
idea about what Saint Agnes would ultimately sound like.
Austen wanted to sing and shred; Tufnell wanted guitar solos
and harmonica.
“The first riff Kitty played had a very western feel to it,”
Tufnell explains. “So we just went with it.” Austen, a fan of
spaghetti westerns, rates the beginning of Once Upon a Time
in the West as ten of the best minutes in cinema – and her
opening guitar gambit resolutely played homage to master
of the western score Ennio Morricone. “It became this really
fun, over the top, dramatic thing to do,” laughs Tufnell. “And
suddenly, we had four songs.”
Their approach to songwriting is simple: “If we both like
it and are entertained by it, we go with it,” Austen explains.
“Really quick, rewarding, not over-thinking it.” And although
their style naturally fell into place, their moniker proved far
more elusive. “All the good names are taken,” says Tufnell.
Austen’s doodles threw Saint Agnes into the mix, but it wasn’t
until their video director Mario Benedetti researched the
historical figure that the name stuck. “He found out all these
amazing stories about her,” says Austen. “She was a martyred
virgin saint whose hair grew to cover her body when she was
made to stand naked at trial. Really weird but really cool.”
It’s a noteworthy anecdote, as, in stark contrast to the
pair’s high-styled, dark-rock appearance (all leather jackets,
fringed accessories and permanent dark glasses), Tufnell


and Austen are almost palpably introspective – analytical,
earnest and perhaps even shy. Their garb almost feels like
their namesake’s hirsute protection, guarding the vulnerable,
emotion-filled music beneath. It’s difficult not to immediately
latch onto these tortured, Tarantino-esque moments in their
music – the nods to Jack White, the undercurrents of Django
Unchained – but simply seeing them as derivative doesn’t
necessarily do justice to Saint Agnes’ scope.
“It’s the grandness and emotional drama of westerns that
we latch onto,” Austen explains, “not necessarily the cowboy
imagery. It’s shorthand for dramatic feelings, and, one day, we
might find a new way of putting it across.” And although they
acknowledge The White Stripes’ influence in their music, their
ambitions cast a much wider net – rock music with a pop ethos
(think Fleetwood Mac). And it’s true – they offer big choruses,
hooks and harmonies. So is it their goal to transcend the
indie underground and play packed-out stadiums? “We love
playing live,” says Austen. “I mean, we’re not like Blink-182,
taking the piss – what we do is total creative enjoyment,
immersing ourselves in the stuff we find rewarding.” It’s the
kind of borderline egotistical statement that can mark out a
new band as arrogant – or simply possessing that particularly
focused state of mind that permits the necessary ascent from
proving oneself to mastering your own image.
Charmingly, here, any hint of arrogance is countered by
the band’s attention to detail: they make their own Saint
Agnes T-shirts (each one is unique), they print their posters
on recycled paper, they openly admire national treasure Chris
Packham, TV presenter, naturalist and underground punk fan,
who initially lost the CD they gave him at one of his talks, but
then tweeted gleefully when he recovered it and had a listen
(“It was a big moment,” says Austen). It is, perhaps, this duality
that marks Saint Agnes out as ones to watch. So what’s next
in store for these intrepid cowboys? They are typically elusive
in their response: keep your eyes on the road, your hands
on the wheel and we’ll see where we end up.
Check out: ‘Old Bone Rattle’, ‘Roadhouse Blues’
Single: ‘Old Bone Rattle’ (Energy Snake Records, June 2014)
For fans of: The Kills, The White Stripes




/ alvvays

/ shunkan

/ Layla

/ Feature

Toronto quintet Alvvays draw inevitable Camera Obscura
comparisons. Combining winsome surf-pop and crystalline,
stoic vocals over brooding conceits, theirs is a familiar sound
– harkening back to a hazy, teenage summer, all tinnies in a
sun-scorched park and woozy bike rides through a swarming
city. It’s a visionary stimulus they’re not shy about: “The
Magnetic Fields left an imprint on most of our 20s,” explains
vocalist Molly Rankin. “There is bleak subject matter on those
records, but in a self-deprecating, self-aware way.”
In fact, this early 20s ennui typifies their methods – a
certain closed-bedroom-door-approach to writing (“It’s very
passionate,” laughs Rankin. “Alec [guitar] and I don’t bring
other people in until the environment is a relatively healthy
one”) underpinned by an undeterred love of obscure reference
points (“I find bands like Dolly Mixture really inspiring and
exciting, though it’s been tough finding their stuff.”)
Products of Canada’s remote Prince Edward Island, the
band grew up in secluded areas. “Having limited hang-out
spots ushered us into our musical interests,” Rankin explains,
but it wasn’t long before the band relocated to Toronto, in
search of a bigger pond to play in. “It took us a little while to
pick up speed, but we’ve been pretty lucky in having some
supportive and generous buddies early on,” Rankin says.
And it’s not just Toronto Alvvays have their sights set on,
with US and UK dates on 2014’s ‘to do’ list. “Pop music is
a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of thing,” Rankin smiles.
“We’re just happy to keep bopping around for a while.”

Google ‘Shunkan’ and you’ll find that the results gravitate
towards a 12th-century exiled Japanese monk. According
to mythology, after taking part in an unsuccessful attempt
to usurp military leader Tairo no Kiyomori, Shunkan lived out
his days on a remote island, before eventually falling prey to
despair and taking his own life by refusing to eat.
“A lot of people have compared my music to this suicidal
monk,” admits 20-year-old New Zealander Marina Sakimoto.
“But the original meaning of the word is ‘moment’ in Japanese.
I wanted to be in the moment.” Perhaps there are more
similarities to her namesake than she herself accounts for,
however, with both monk and shoegaze heroine moving from
the boisterous climbs of their former homes (in Sakimoto’s
case, Los Angeles) to more contemplative locations.
“Los Angeles made my head run at a million miles a
minute,” she sighs. “I wanted to shift my perception to the
slow, steady town I was moving to.” It was, however, a more
fruitful move for our girl – the end result, far from being a lonely
demise, was the emergence of her debut EP ‘Honey, Milk and
Blood’ in May 2014. Channelling the scuzzy soundscapes of
My Bloody Valentine, it is a rigorous record of wide-eyed
proportions – an upswell of contradictory ‘moments’, of
eagerness and dishevelment, of dream-pop and dirge, of
melancholia and mirth. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful record – a far
cry from the final moments of the legendary monk. “I want my
songs to give a feeling,” explains Sakimoto. “I hope to make
[my listeners] feel a little less lonely.”

“Songwriting is like running: you have to just work at it, and
then you can run in any terrain and in any condition,” says
singer and pianist Layla, for whom writing brilliant EPs is daily
bread. With three under her belt and another one (“gritty and
unusual”) set for release, she’s still not convinced about the
idea of an album. “EPs are so cool,” she exclaims. “People
write albums and sit on songs for ages and get sick of them.
EPs are such great opportunities to experiment.” She smiles:
“They’re so small you can try different sounds and styles.”
Having played various instruments since she was three,
Layla finds inspiration from a multitude of places, not in the
least from classical music – “you’re exposed to so many
chords and ideas and weird things,” she explains. She scores
all the brass and strings on her tracks, leaving the drums and
guitars to friends she invites to recordings. This hot-pot of
creativity all takes place in a shed-cum-recording studio,
nicknamed The Burrow. “I love the idea of having a space
where you can burrow down, and just hide from the world,”
Layla says. “It’s soundproof, no-one knows I’m there, and I
can be making all the noise I want.” And it’s an impressive
noise, all delicately crafted instrumentation and piercing
vocals, meditating on jealousy, a fear of the unknown and
literary references. Her work is appropriately grandiose, with
both orchestral and pop sensibilities and, fittingly, Layla’s
dream is to headline Glastonbury. Well, with ‘Smokestacks’
already outperforming Drake’s ‘Days in the East’ on Hype
Machine, what’s going to stop her?

Initially a two-piece, both guitarists/vocalists Jen Calleja and
Liv Willars teamed up to form indie-punk trio Feature over a
mixed bag of influences – Willars trading CDs in the Courtney
Love forums (“It was like a very early form of downloads”)
and Calleja picking up the heavy melodies of Elton John
and Muse (“We weren’t a very musical household”). The
current lineup was completed in March this year, with the pair
enlisting Heather Perkins on bass duties.
The latest EP ‘Culture of the Copy’ is the band’s initial
foray into songwriting, with clattering punk singalong
‘Psalms’ throwing out the chorus “Working is for losers,
I can’t find my focus”, with all the bygone art-punk excellence
of The Victorian English Gentlemens Club.
Yet, whilst Feature might channel the anarchic riffs of their
riot grrrl foresisters, alongside a few rogue ‘90s references
– an unconventional Supergrass cover here, a jesting Matt
Bellamy remark there (“I think we’re exactly like Muse, to be
honest,” says a deadpan Calleja) – the band certainly don’t
possess the same slacker spirit. With ‘Psalms’’ comments
on work imbalances and short attention spans, it’s ironic to
learn that all three members grapple not only with day jobs,
but also a flurry of other projects: Perkins in Leeds slackers
Slowcoaches, and Calleja in C86 indie outfit Sauna Youth.
But then, for this trio, it simply seems indicative of their
personalities. “If you have a certain mindset, there’s no other
way of living,” admits Perkins. “And you wouldn’t want it
any other way.”

Check out: ‘Archie, Marry Me’, ‘Next of Kin’
Album: ‘Alvvays’ (Transgressive, July 2014)
For fans of: Camera Obscura, Veronica Falls

Check out: ‘Dust in Your Eyes’, ‘Hail’
Album: ‘Honey, Milk and Blood’ EP (Art is Hard, May 2014)
For fans of: Waxahatchee, My Bloody Valentine

Check out: ‘Black Mud’, ‘Smokestacks’
Album: ‘Black Mud’ EP (Layla/Believe Digital, April 2014)
For fans of: Florence + the Machine, Feist

Check out: ‘Reeling’, ‘Psalms’
Album: ‘Culture of the Copy’ EP (Tye Die Tapes, May 2014)
For fans of: The Victorian English Gentlemens Club

Words Megan Beard
Pictures Press

Words Charlie Croft
Pictures Press

Words Marta Owczarek
Pictures Laura Palmer

Words Cheri Amour
Pictures Wunmi Onibudo


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