What is it about Brighton, and its fertile music landscape? Surely, there must be more musicians per head of population than anywhere else. Every other person is in a band it seems. Certainly BIMM has been a major factor, but so has The Great Escape, and Brighton’s cultural history, a place invariably viewed as one to go to for the purposes of pleasure and entertainment. In particular, guitar-orientated music has been fruitful of late. Bands such as Tigercub, Black Honey, The Magic Gang, and Dream Wife all started here, a springboard to bigger things. There is definitely something in the water down here.
The same applies to Our Girl, the three-piece fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Soph Nathan who, along with bassist Josh Tyler and drummer Lauren Wilson, have been making waves with their guitar-based indie-garage-pop-grunge music. They’ve been bubbling underneath the surface for awhile, but with the release of debut album Stranger Today in mid-August, that’s about to change.
Soph Nathan will be familiar to some, as the guitarist with The Big Moon, who were themselves catapulted forwards with the release of their stunning debut album last year, Love in the 4th Dimension, an album that garnered a well-deserved Mercury Music Prize nomination. However, while The Big Moon is primarily the vehicle for Juliette ‘Jules’ Jackson’s songs, Our Girl revolves around the songwriting of Soph Nathan. “Our Girl started just before The Big Moon,” says Soph, who now lives in London following a three year stint here in Brighton, where the band formed. “But then I started focussing on The Big Moon, making the record and touring, with Our Girl playing and recording all the while. Jules is writing the second album, and now its Our Girl’s turn to release one. The whole time I’ve been doing The Big Moon stuff, Our Girl has been running alongside it. Like recording demos on the road and doing things on email. Lauren, who plays drums, has a full time job, and Josh is in another band, Breathe Panel. We’re all heavy on the organisation. So, even when The Big Moon do the next album I’ll still be doing shows, and writing for Our Girl. You’ve just got to make it work, and it does for the most part.”
With their management based in Brighton, as well as the independent label Cannibal Hymns (home also to early Tigercub and Dream Wife releases), which is the home to Our Girl music, the band’s roots here are deep and wide. “I went to study in Brighton. It’s where I met Josh. The best thing about it (studying) was being in Brighton and meeting people there and playing with people. I was in a house of five people and everyone was in a band, and we played in each other’s bands. We had a basement, which was called ‘the dungeon’, and people who didn’t even live there would come and rehearse. Someone might have a song idea, and they would go down and play it, and figure it out. That was a really good environment to give us the confidence to go for it, with everyone being encouraging.”
With a number of singles and an EP under their belt, Our Girl went into the studio with The Corals’ Bill Ryder-Jones to record their album. How was that experience? “His touch made a big difference on the album. We had a try-out day with him at his studio in West Kirby in Liverpool, to make sure there wouldn’t be any glaring problems, and after that we went in for 12 days with him. We stayed at his flat the night before we started recording, which is kinda funny: us staying in this guy’s house, like a sleepover. But it was good, we got to know him a bit.
“He’s a really good songwriter and an amazing guitarist. He added a lot of drony sounds to the songs and a lot of guitar lines. He’s got a really good ear, he got our sound. We went in thinking we were going to record everything as we play it live. But actually a lot of the songs were transformed more than we thought they would be because he made a big difference. There are a lot of guitars layered on there!”
What inspired you to make music? “My mum was super into (Jimi) Hendrix and Elvis Costello, and my dad liked a lot of Motown stuff. When I started learning guitar I wanted to learn all his (Hendrix’s) songs. ‘CrosstownTraffic’ was one I did when I was little, playing really badly. And Warpaint was a band that I found really inspiring, the way they were a unit, and the way they performed together. They were the kind of band that made me think I’d love to be in a band, and not just to play music.”