Speak, Brother is a band comprised of James Herring performing lead vocals and guitar, Matt Cotterill on Piano, Dan Smith on Percussion and Nath Morris on Bass. Until a couple of years ago Speak, Brother were known as The James Herring Band. I met up with James shortly after the release of their new EP "Light Runs After Us" and we decided that the name of the band is as good a place as any to start my questions!
The obvious question for any band like this is how did the name Speak, Brother come about?
It came after many days of bashing our heads against the wall coming up with terrible names, as you do, that I won't repeat...
His wife who is sitting with us interjects at this point and mentions one of the names - James and the Giant Peaches!
We came up with a bunch of awful ones and we started listening to the first song that I had written an it's called "Before You Say Goodbye" and the lyric is in the song. The song is kind of a dialogue and a bit of a conversation and effectively we came up with this name Speak, Brother because it's an invitation to a conversation. We want to hear about other people's stories as we tell our own stories, because we all have stories to tell, our own lives to share with each other and I guess that's why it's got a comma in there because it's not a commands as such it's an invitation. Brother also speaks of intimacy and brotherhood, that sort of thing.
It's not a Brethren name then is it?
No, it's nothing religious at all.
I went to a church when I was younger and you would be greeted at the door with "Hello Brother" so I could imagine one of them standing up saying "Speak, brother!"
How would you describe your sound?
No! I hate that question, it's a folky type of indy thing. It's not really folk, but that's how some people describe it. It's how they perceive it...yes, but it's not folk at all, in terms of the sound it has some folkiness to it but it's kind of an indie poppy sort of singer/songwriter sort of sound in that it really promotes the harmonies at times and also lyrical, story based songs, but then at times it's also quite anthemic as well. So indie-pop is probably the best way to describe it to someone. We have loads of different influences which helps as well, ranging from a guy like Glen Hansard, from The Swell Season, who's in that film "Once", he's the guy in the film who plays himself, a great writer. Kate Rusby as well which is trad-folk, but I love her stuff, but also the Dylans, Marley's whatever.
You said that you wrote the first song where the name came from, so was that before the band?
Yeah I started off on my own just not really intending to write any songs, but then I wrote one, and ended up playing it somewhere and then I wrote a couple more and played a bit more and then after a couple of years or so I found Matt and Nath. They didn't really have any time on their hands but I asked them anyway and they kind of caught the vision of what I wanted to do and we became "The James Herring Band" and decided after a year to move out from under the banner of my name.
Why didn't you call yourselves the Herring Aids?
There's a good reason for that somewhere. Loads of terrible band names from my name so we decided to scrap that all together and came up with Speak, Brother.
So the other guys in the band, are you all now full time?
No we've all got jobs, bills to pay and the band isn't going to be able to pay all the bills unfortunately. We want to try and move that way obviously, but the main vision of the band isn't to "make it", we're not going for the mainstream kind of thing.
We see it as a mission thing, although we are not a Christian band at the same time, at least we are all Christians and it's very much a passion to see people come to Jesus eventually, but I think the part that Speak, Brother play in that is to facilitate a night in a room that is not a church, but fosters the environment where the Holy Spirit can just work 1 to 1 with a human and we're just there telling our stories, singing our songs and having fun really and that's what we want to do more and more.
Gigging is important to us, and recording music, but what's not really important is making loads of money from it, but money helps to keep things going obviously so it's important, but our main focus is the mission side really. Wherever God takes it, it's all in His hands.
Outside of the band, what skills do you guys have?
I'm a web developer which is handy for making a website, but the other guys are all producers in various different capacities. Nath has his own studio and Dan and Matt are producers in his own right, Dan is more electronic and does some really cool EDM stuff and all that kind of thing. Matt likes to produce Acoustic right through to full Rock really, which is great.
I guess that helps when you come together to put your sound together...
You'd think so, but at the same time there are a lot of chefs in the same room at the same time. However I think we all know what we want to sound like so it does all come together in the end, but it does leave a lot of discussion and over thinking at the same time.
What's your songwriting process like?
I probably bring the skeleton of the song, I bring the lyrics and the bulk of the song in terms of the melodies and stuff mostly. I say "Here's a song guys" and they say "hmmmmm" or "really like that" and then I will go away and hone it. The we come together and they will add all the muscle and skin and nice stuff to it.
So you have 4 songs on the new EP?
Yeah four songs that we wrote them a while ago.
So how many did you start with to get down to 4?
So those are the 4 you said you were doing, you didn't have 10 and then need to whittle them down?
We had more than that which we wrote a while ago, but these are the 4 songs that we intended to write on the EP that we recorded for the EP. So yeah, we don't write a lot of songs. it took us quite a while to get an hours set, yeah for sure we did a lot of 30 minute gigs, with covers! It's a long painful process, I guess we put a lot in it, not to say that other people don't, it just takes us a while to write songs, it's just how we do it.
Are there any particular themes coming through this new EP?
Yeah, for sure. There are a few running themes. The EP is titled "The Light Runs After Us" which is one of the lyrics from one of the songs and it's effectively about hope which is a real general way of describing it really.
The lyric is taken from a song calls "The Morning Calls Your Name" which is kind of the sentiment of a sunrise in that we have a lot of disappointments in life, which everyone does, we have desires, dreams and expectations that you put on people and scenarios and you get disappointed all the time and you think why on earth is this happening to me? You always find yourself in those places throughout life.
The sentiment of a sunrise is that throughout those disappointments there are some things that you can actually completely depend on, no matter what happens the Sun is definitely going to rise. You can't say that the Sun might not rise and worry about it, it's going to happen, you might not necessarily know when, but it is going to happen. The idea is that it feels dark, it feels hopeless, it feels there is no way that this situation can turn around for good, but there is actually some certainty in this world, and I know what my certainty is in and that light is similar to love, and God's love which is a certainty and a rock. That's effectively the sentiment throughout the four songs through various different angles and storylines.
And is that something that has affected you, the uncertainty of what life will throw next, is that personal experience?
No, this is written from a particular experience where I was talking to a couple of ladies after a gig, they were both mums and both friends and had a couple of kids each. Both of them went through a real bad patch where there boyfriends left them. It was like as soon as they had kids it was just like everything is really different, and they were really young and they couldn't hack the idea of being a dad.
So they were left with the idea that their boyfriends who loved them until they had kids could decide to not love me anymore, what hope is there to find someone else when you already have kids? They were both under the impression that they would never find anyone else and it was just how it was going to be for the rest of their lives. That's the impression I got. I didn't know what to say at the time, apart from "that sucks!" I didn't have the words.
Hindsight is typical, but I wrote that song from the back of that because I think we all go through those bad patches, it's a song I relate to a lot because there is always disappointment, it's always set up thinking "this is going to be amazing" with the band, and other aspects like work, family and stuff. it's important to remember that there is certainty in this world which can seem to be uncertain all the time.
The EP was released late March...
Yeah on Good Friday, it wasn't planned it just seemed like a good date at the end of March which worked out well.
Where can people find it?
On everywhere! The best place would be our website because you can get a signed CD and download as well. It's also on iTunes etc.
What's the next step for you guys as Speak, Brother?
We are looking to have our own nights as much as possible. We love small intimate gigs and we want to do a whole load more house gigs. We have done a few so far, we did one of Friday in Surrey and you get to kind of put on your own night and get really close and face to face with people and have fun, sing songs together and we want to do a lot more of that under the banner of "No Place Like Home".
What kind of size house are you talking, someone's lounge?
Any size, someone's lounge or back garden, especially in the Summer, around the fireplace or fire pit and on your own turf really. Have your friends over, have your family over, work colleagues, church friends and use it as an opportunity to literally have friends over and talk about something else for once, or just to have a gig in your own living room, why not? So that's what we want to do. We will be doing those kinds of gigs throughout the year.
We're really excited!
As well as potentially appearing in a living room near you, Speak, Brother will also be playing at Creationfest in Cornwall this summer. Creationfest is a Christian festival held in Wadebridge in Cornwall each year. This years event takes place from 6th - 12th August, the event itself is free. Find out more at www.creationfest.org.uk