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Woman's Hour

In the Studio with Woman’s Hour

Over the past few years, Kendal four-piece Woman’s Hour have slowly been cementing a sound as distinctive as their stage name, which pays homage to the popular radio show. Capitalising on a wave of buzz generated by standout singles ‘To the End’, ‘Darkest Place’ and, most recently, ‘Her Ghost’, the quartet were picked up by indie powerhouse Secretly Canadian and have been hard at work on their hugely anticipated debut album, the aptly-titled Conversations.

Hannah Daisy tracked the band to a South London studio stooped in the history of many an iconic label – 4AD have offices there, while Beggar’s also frequently use the space – to sneak an early listen to the record in progress and quiz the group about games to play on the Underground, their recent live exploits with Volcano Choir and Metronomy, and, of course, the long road from Kendal to London that’s led them to Conversations.

Sat within a bare room, fresh paint lining the walls, bassist Nick Graves and keyboardist Josh Hunnisett offer oatcakes and hummus: every inch the humble beings, yet with a talent that’s affirmed the band as one of the finest up-and-coming purveyors of modernist pop.

Contrary to the suggestion of their stage name, I’m initially caught in conversation with the three boys that make up the band, all the while frontwoman Fiona Burgess lays some vocals downstairs.

Though 2013 saw the band cause a stir amongst both fans and critics, it wasn’t their first taste of success. Two years ago, the quartetmade up of Burgess alongside her brother Will on guitar and the aforementioned Hunnisett and Graves – were thrust into the spotlight following the release of their debut single ‘Jenni’/’Human’, though they soon retreated.

“I guess we didn’t really know what we were doing”, begins Will. “We didn’t really take it too seriously at that point. We were just making a little bit of music in our free time. We then got the opportunity to come into the studio and make these tracks, which were fun for us to do, though it wasn’t something we were too comfortable with after we realised we could do things better”.

Nodding in agreement, Hunnisett adds: “We released the first single then, through writing new stuff, we realised that we wanted to move away from it. I think a combination of making some mistakes, along with trial and error and realising that we needed to hone ourselves a little bit. That was our reason for coming away”.

It’s evident the time off enabled the band to discover their potential, not just musically but stylistically too. Like the best of bands, Woman’s Hour are more than just the music. Fiona soon emerges, with her cropped hair and slight figure, emphasising the importance behind their decision to step back:

“It was a decision that we all made to take time out after our first single. Obviously, the music is first and foremost but there’s so much potential to get your teeth stuck into everything else. So now, rather than think of a gig as a gig and the sound being really good, we think of it as a show. Personally, I’m really into performance, though I kind of never joined the two up. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about how we can make our performances more of a show and how everything – from our stage set to lighting to the outlook that you see online and physically – can compliment and feel part of this one whole if you like. I definitely think that we’ve all decided that that’s kind of important to us.”

Pushing the boundaries in terms of creativity is obviously important to both Fiona and the band as a collective entity. Fiona collaborates with Oliver Chanarin (of Broomberg & Chanarin) under the moniker Frank & Jane to create the band’s imagery, artwork and videos.

With such attention to detail married with their wistful melodies and inimitable soundscapes, it comes as no surprise that the band have enjoyed a whirlwind few months, touring with Justin Vernon and his Volcano Choir outfit, along with being personally selected to tour alongside Anna Calvi. Following a handful of shows across the US, including their SXSW debut, the band most recently opened for Metronomy at Brixton Academy.

Alas, it doesn’t stop there. With several festival appearances lined up for the summer, it seems this period holed up in the studio serves as a brief calm before the storm: “It’s crazy exciting,” they all agree.

Sliding in her seat, Fiona discusses their recent exploits in the studio. “We’re very familiar with this studio and Thom. We’ve been working with him for over two years but this kind of studio time has been way more intense than we’ve ever done before. We were in here for two weeks before Christmas and then a month in January. It’s pretty intense, all day everyday for six weeks.”

Echoing his sister’s sentiments, Will continues: “Before, like Fi said, we were here for two-and-a-half years, coming in every now and again. We didn’t have anything apart from books and Thom in here so we were just doing music as more of a creative thing. Now, we’ve got a team behind us but in terms of the studio, it’s still the same; in terms of equipment, it’s not really changed massively. We’ve found some different techniques for stuff but nothing major.”

Speaking between one of the group’s late-night practices, the band discuss preparations for the first shows of the year with Calvi. “We have three days to rehearse before heading out on tour for the first time in Europe. It’s a new challenge as we’ve been stuck in here recording. It’s different to performing live. Rather than be too daunted by it, we’ve got to just see it as a challenge.”

Until then, they’re busy here with their heads down, though you won’t find them staying into the early hours. “I think it’s good to have a cut-off point. We have to catch the last trains home,” says Fi before William adds, “We’ve got a nice little game on the way home too, on the Victoria line: ‘Who played at Brixton Academy tonight?’ It’s great. We try and work out through the fans. The 1975 fans… lame.”

“Will doesn’t see any daylight – seriously look at him,” jibe the rest of the band.

It would seem calling this dark London studio home for the past few months is quite the stark contrast for the Northern outfit, as they enthusiastically reflect on their hometowns. “I miss walking and stuff, just getting out” Fi says. “It’s beautiful, just being able to take a massive walk and at the end of it, you go to the pub, you’re knackered, you’re muddy.”

“You sit by the fire and watch some shit TV,” Josh interjects.

“Yes exactly, that’s perfect. That’s the main thing, just getting out into the hills and not being in crazy London all the time.”

So are we to expect a Bon Iver-esque retreat in the picturesque surrounds of Kendal? Unfortunately not – unless it’s in the South of France – though they seem to have it pretty good here in London. Recording in the small, cosy surrounds of the basement studio, adorned with synthesizers and Woman’s Hour merch hanging from the walls.

Nearing the end of their lengthy studio time, the next few months will no doubt race by as the band prepare for the release of Conversations. First, they will release two singles, including ‘Her Ghost’ which Fiona says has been locked in the Woman’s Hour vault for some time. “It is part of a larger body of work we’ve been working on for a while now. For us, it reflects a period in time when we began to develop and find our own sound, so it’s nice to finally share it with the outside world.”

- Hannah Daisy

Conversations is available from July 14 on Secretly Canadian. Pre-order it here.

Visit Womanshour.co.uk for upcoming tour dates.

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