James Herring is the lead singer for the indie folk pop band Speak, Brother. Last time we spoke it was very much about their EP "Light Runs After Us". A year later and things are moving on swiftly with something new brewing on the horizon. The band are working on their first album and have just released their first single in anticipation of this. The "He'll Fight" video is available on YouTube (or below) and the track is available now in iTunes.
In this short chat before their performance at Gig In A Field a few weeks ago we discussed the new pressures of writing a whole album as a group, working with a professional producer and the inspiration behind the new album expected in November.
Last time we spoke we were talking about your last EP which had been out for a little while at that point, but I believe there is something on the horizon as we speak?
"Yeah, that's right, after our second EP I guess we wanted to do something different bringing out some different ideas. Someone suggested 'I think this time you guys need to do an album" and we're like 'album! Scary' because it takes a long, long time to do an album and it's a lot of money if you want to do it right. So wewere just confronted with reasons not to do one, but we thought it was right to do it."
"We didn't have enough money for it so we did a crowdfunding campaign and managed to raise a total of £40,000. £20,000 of it was crowdfunding and half of it was an investment from someone who believed in what we are doing, and yeah, now we are recording it."
When are we expecting that?
"That will drop in November. We will be going into the studio in a few weeks."
So you haven't laid anything down as yet?
"No, we have done a single, which is out May 12th and you can see the video on YouTube, so you can see that now. That single will be on the album, so we have done that last year just to get something out there really because it's been a whole year, year and a half, since the previous was a bit too long. There will be another single coming out in September time, nearer the album coming out. It's really exciting."
Last time we talked about the writing process, and it was mainly you, and you only write what you require for the project. Has that been the same this time?
"Well it started off that way and it kind of developed and we started to learn that we can just play with the different ways of writing songs. It started off with me coming with the bare bones of the song and basic melodies and bring it to the guys. Then we tried a more collaborative approach which always takes a lot longer because you have more chefs! We did one or two songs like that. We also tried individually going away to different buildings, going away writing stuff and coming back with our own songs. So not all the songs are written by me, which is really nice, there's a few that we'll hope to be on the album by the other guys."
Hopefully be on the album IF they make the cut. Are you going to be like Simon Cowell saying, 'No, that one's not good enough!'
"We've definitely taken a more equal approach to the songwriting I think, so we will all have a say in whats best for the album."
"One of the main differences actually for this album is that we are working with a producer, rather than sort of co-producing it."
Two of you are producers anyway aren't you?
"Yeah, I think that's all the more reason to have somebody who's the producer!"
So it's their say...
"Ultimately. The guy we are working with is Gavin Monaghan who's worked with lots of great people. The first thing that comes to mind is KillSwitch Engage, he worked on a record with them once, which is amazing because they were a childhood kind of band, so that's really cool. So he's very experienced, but also very positive and adds a lot of positive energy to what we are doing, which is great when you start to burn out a little bit with 5 or 6 months of solid writing."
"We haven't gigged for about 5 months now, this is our first gig since starting...we are playing 3 new songs that we haven't really played before, we've only practised them a few times."
So it could be fantastic and validate the songs or it could be 'we really need to work on this a bit more!'
"It could be a bombshell! We'll see how it goes. It'll be good fun."
"That's really exciting for us, building a bigger team, we've got Dan who's writing with us now as well, who had never written with us before on the EPs. There's a lot more percussive thing that with what we are doing and its very exciting."
You said it's more percussive, is there a change to your style. How are you pushing on from where you've been? I guess every band wants every album to be a little bit more complete and a little bit more them, but also branch out and try different things.
"I think naturally with Dan being part of the band it adds a whole new ingredient and changes the blend of music as well. We change musicians as the years go on, so I think our style is changing, but I think the album will probably be a fairly solid stamp on who we are. As our first album it will be 'This is Speak, Brother' and this is what the previous EPs were trying to point to, but this is our sound."
"I think it's really trying to figure what that is as we actually go into the recording process. What is the thing that makes a Speak, Brother track a Speak, Brother track and try and magnify that, rather than trying to sound like anyone else, but at the same time allowing to be influenced by all sorts of things."
So track #12 the reggae track will be a bit of a shock to people...
"Well one of the producers ideas for one of the songs is opera. 'If we could have an opera singer in the middle of that track, that would be cool,' and we're like 'OK, yeah, opera singer, never saw that one coming!' He's excited, so if he's excited then I'm happy."
Previously you have the creative control and you've had a theme running through the EP, is that going to be the same with this album?
"Yeah! As I mentioned some of the guys have gone off and written different songs and it's kind of spun off various other themes that we have been developing so I think they do all come from one place almost."
"It's interesting because the last song on the last EP is a stripped back song that we just stuck on the end of the EP because we wrote it after recording the initial 3 tracks and I thought it would be great to capture that on a live performance. So that was the last song we had written before starting on the album, and I was thinking about it more thinking that there was just so much more to unpack from that song, that kind of started the album process. That is a song about a blind woman that we saw at a gig, it's called "See For Miles" and she was so joyous. She just captured the emotion of joy so well in the facial expression in what she was going through in simply listening to music. It's like she was able to experience and see music like no-one else could, and see joy like no-one else could."
"I guess that's what started the first song that we've written for the album which is a song called "Young and Brave" which is a song about reminiscing on childhood and the innocence that comes with that."
"You are born, you're just an innocent baby, unadulterated, completely pure being and the process that happens when you grow up and you go to school and kids say things that are not uplifting. You start to move out of that safety boundary of the garden, or living room, or whatever. You are subject all sorts of things that cause you to fear, cause you insecurity and to question who you are and all that kind of stuff. You grow up through all of that, being bullied, girlfriends, whatever it is, media as well and the impact that can have on a young person growing up."
"It's a song reminiscing about childhood and realising that there is still a beauty in that and actually there is a real innocence in the relationship we have with Jesus, it's a blameless reality at the moment as a result of Him dying on the cross for us. I think there's a yearning to rekindle that desire for innocence and realising that what we have at the moment is this kind of padded, comfortable, westernised time that we live in where we are gods or kings of our own lives, isolated every human in their castle. There's no sense of togetherness or community with people, and that discovery of unity togetherness and innocence and really all the gifts that God gave us originally when He created us and we are all brothers and sisters on this planet. There is so much that is fed into our minds that tells us differently and I guess it's just a song yearning for that. The whole album is basically unpacking all that."
I was going to say, because otherwise that's a pretty long song, 'it's a 56 minute track for the opener!'
"I guess that song has ended up being the emotion of all that, and the rest of the album unpacks it all."
Is there a name for this album yet?
"Not yet. I think the running name for the album at the moment will be "Young & Brave" but there is no official name yet. We will start to realise what songs aren't going to make it onto the album..."
Normally you take a name from a line of the song rather than a title of the song itself, don't you?
"That's true, yeah. Well "Young & Brave" isn't in the chorus or something, it's literally 2 words in the middle of a verse somewhere but it seemed to be the best words that summarised the track."
So it's a period of recording and you're starting to gig again...
"We've got a few lined up after recording. It's nice to come here and play at Gig in a Field, it's a safe place to be for when we play songs for the first time, where we can say 'this is the first time anyone has heard these songs, we only put them together yesterday in practise, I hope you enjoy!'"
It's always a pleasure speaking to James, if you want to purchase the single and support the upcoming album then it is available from iTunes now.