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A Very British Sort of Americana: Introducing Ferris & Sylvester

Thursday, 19 September 2019 Written by Anna Ghislena

Home-grown, organic. Find something stamped with words as wholesome as these and watch as it quickly leaves the shelves. By British standards, blues-folk duo Ferris & Sylvester could wear this label very comfortably.

Approaching three years since they began writing, recording and performing together, Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester have developed a repertoire of widely admired and respected material, and momentum is building fast. Tickets for their current wide-ranging tour are selling fast.

Moving with satisfying fluidity between blues, rock, folk and country, the majority of their Americana-tinged songwriting is inspired by London life, which gives the style a quintessentially British edge.  Embedded with mesmerising vocals and gutsy lyrics, their songs have the potential for longevity. We caught up with Ferris and Sylvester to discover how home has influenced the creative force behind their work.

Before you met, you had both played regularly in Camden’s bars.  Had you ever, at this time, seen each other perform before? What drew you to become a duo?

We had actually played on the same bill a few times before we met. We both played at London’s best kept secret venue, Spiritual Bar, for about six months before we were introduced at one of Issy’s shows. We knew who each other were, although Issy pretended she didn’t, and it didn’t take us long to send each other demos and start talking seriously about writing together. We were both going for a similar thing as solo artists, just executed differently. We wanted to make something stark, honest and unapologetic. As songwriters, we connected immediately. 

Living in London has given your Americana influenced sound a distinctly British edge. Has the city always been home to you both?

Neither of us are from London, but we both moved to the capital in our early 20s to pursue music. Archie grew up in Somerset and Issy grew up in the Midlands. There’s a lot of amazing Americana music being made in London, and we wanted a piece of it. We felt we could offer something different, exploring the genre without contriving it with clichés and American accents. We write about what we know, which has been living, working, forming and breaking relationships for the past few years with London as our backdrop. 

Did you have musical influences growing up within your families?

We’re lucky enough to have grown up in music-loving homes. Both our dads are into a very wide range of music and we grew up on our parents’ record collections. In Archie’s case it was Hendrix, Little Feat and Simon & Garfunkel. In Issy’s case, Queen, folk singer Christy Moore…and Simon & Garfunkel. There are a lot of crossovers in our musical upbringing, yet we also come at music and song writing in particular from different angles. That makes it all the more interesting.

Describe your songwriting process for us.  

We have no formula and we both write everything. We used to have a rhythm with our songwriting, in terms of where and when we’d write. We would always write at our home in south London in between touring. Now that we’ve been touring so much, we’ve had to learn to write on the road which was scary at first but it’s been really fun and we’ve learned a lot from it. We’ve recorded vocals in hotel rooms; we’ve mixed demos in the car and learned to work quickly.

But we have never written one song the same. That probably comes from the amount of different music we listen to. Often, though, it’s the song that comes out easily that becomes something. When we can both see the magic, then we roll with it. The key thing is to not be afraid at getting it wrong. It’s a scary thing to write, especially when it’s coming from a personal place. We find it useful to not limit the writing to a formula—if it’s a good song then it’s a good song and often that’s regardless of conventional structures or melodies. Dare to be different!

What is the most important subject matter to you?

This fluctuates a lot. Just as we have no formula with the writing itself, we don’t have any set criteria as to what we write about. Sometimes the words and melody can just fall out, almost as if by accident. We sometimes write things we didn’t even realise we were feeling. One of our new songs This Is How My Voice Sounds is a good example of this. The song is a voice confessing that it hasn’t been heard and it’s about time people listened—it started as a monologue, just a paragraph without structure. 

The song now exists as a power ballad, with a chorus and a middle eight, but because it was written in such an organic way, there are still a whole load of irregularities in the chord structures and the timing. That’s what can make a song special—the cracks. Other times, we write for fun—we get a groove going and create a story or an emotion around it. That’s how songs like Superhuman and Party’s Over were written and are now milestones in our live set.

Your first EP, ‘The Yellow Line’, was produced by the legendary Youth. How did this come about?

Archie knew Youth from his solo days. The two were introduced through a mutual friend and Youth acted as a mentor for a year or two when Archie was focusing on writing. It’s funny to think of it now, but Archie used to go round to Youth’s house on Wandsworth Common, play him some tunes to which he’d dismiss, then go away and write a load more before making his way back to Youth’s living room. When we started writing together, it was the two of us then sat in his living room, playing through a few very raw song ideas to which he loved. 

We didn’t have so much as a band name back then, and it was a huge surprise to us that Youth took us and our writing seriously. That was in June 2016 and by September that year, we had recorded an EP with him and his team in his studio out in Spain. We owe a lot to Youth. He was the first person to show faith in us and that gave us the confidence to take ourselves seriously.

You self-produced your second EP, releasing ‘Made in Streatham’ last year on your own label, Archtop Records. Was this down to an urge for creative independence?  

Yes, absolutely. We had written a lot of songs by the summer of 2017 and had been recording demos most nights after work. We didn’t have any team or anyone knocking at our door, but what that gave us was the independence to put something out on our own. We invited our favourite musicians to come to our flat, and laid down ‘Made In Streatham’ in five days. We covered our kitchen walls with insulation and hired in the microphones each day, which meant we had to drive them across town every night before midnight as to not be charged the second day. It was a crazy idea, but to this day we are so proud of it.  

Does creating your own label enable a sense of control?

It does. We have released the songs we want when we want. We’ve been able to decide how we want to release our music and what music we want to make. The ball is in our court. You can do so much nowadays without the help of a label—you can record on your laptop, make your own artwork and run your own releases. It’s an exciting time to release music. 

I Dare You is your latest single, which you have described as bold and unapologetic. What was the inspiration behind the track?

We wrote the first draft of the song in the early days. It’s a dark anti-love song. We made bold choices with the writing and it felt important to get this song out there. It shows our dark side. We wanted to push the boundaries in our writing—we brought it right down to a whisper in the verse accompanied by acoustic guitar and took it somewhere totally different in the chorus where it explodes. 

Where do you see yourselves in five years’ time?

We want to be making albums. We are both record collectors and love listening to artists and bands’ careers through their albums. We’d love to have that ourselves. And touring! The whole world. And producing other bands (Archie). And becoming an experienced knitter (Issy). It’s strange to think about how it will be five years on from now—even looking back on this past year feels overwhelming. We’re enjoying every minute. 

What can fans look forward to as we head towards 2020?

Album year for Ferris & Sylvester! This year we’ve been writing and recording our debut and cannot wait to get it out there as a full body of work. We’re currently touring at the moment with our band, and it’s so exciting to hear the album come together and develop every night. We’re straight into the studio after the tour. We cannot wait for the New Year. 

Ferris & Sylvester Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu September 19 2019 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store
Fri September 20 2019 - NEWCASTLE Think Tank?
Sun September 22 2019 - GLASGOW Stereo
Mon September 23 2019 - EDINBURGH Mash House
Wed September 25 2019 - DUBLIN Lost Lane
Fri September 27 2019 - LIVERPOOL Phase one
Sun September 29 2019 - LEEDS Wardrobe
Mon September 30 2019 - CAMBRIDGE Portland Arms
Tue October 01 2019 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Thu October 03 2019 - TUNBRIDGE WELLS Forum
Fri October 04 2019 - CHELTENHAM Frog & Fiddle
Sun October 06 2019 - SWANSEA Sin City
Tue October 08 2019 - TRURO Old Bakery
Wed October 09 2019 - EXETER Exeter Phoenix

Click here to compare & buy Ferris And Sylvester Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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