Another Sky – Interview

These trying times continue. But there are many pockets of resilience, and stunning new music is thankfully still being released, despite the lack of almost any live action. For the established bands it’s obviously an issue that careers, livelihoods, and simply their love of performing, have been thwarted and stalled somewhat, but for new bands it is even worse. Take Another Sky, the four-piece London based band led by singer Catrin Vincent. Along with a small number of single and EP releases, they had been gigging, and building up a profile and following. And they had recorded an album. But lockdown came down, and live performance was suddenly shelved. It’s a big deal for bands such as Another Sky. Any band’s debut album is perhaps the most important one they will ever release. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay down a significant marker, to show that you have the creative juices and the necessary drive and commitment, in order to produce a body of work within the format of an album, from which many more fans can be gained, especially with the concurrent touring that pre-lockdown, invariably happened with its release.

And yet Catrin Vincent feels lucky. She says so several times during the interview, displaying a remarkable level of stoicism, and positivity, within this landscape of turmoil; of overlapping political, social and environmental flavours. Irrespective of global events, perhaps her optimism is justified as the lockdown eases and socially distanced live performance becomes a reality, something which the band seem to be keen to pursue later on this year, with a tour of the UK. Moreover, this resilience seems to have been built upon the trials and tribulations that have hampered her development, as a child, teenager and adult. She has faced all this full on, with I Slept on the Floor being a stunningly honest lyrical portrayal of personally experienced mental health, rejection, sexism, and bullying issues, side-by-side with the sweep of the aforementioned social, political and environmental concerns that she, and all of us face.

Not only that but I Slept on the Floor is a beautifully written, arranged, performed, and produced work that will surely go down as one of the best debut albums of the year, topped off by that arresting voice that has turned many heads, and acted as a strong magnet to the band as a whole. As she has said: “A lot of people think I’m a man… I think people are embarrassed when they initially think it’s one of the guys singing, but I love it. It’s like I’ve got two voices – there’s this soft, whispery voice that can go really high, and then suddenly there’s this angry chest voice. Somewhere along the way, I drew the two voices together.”

You must be delighted with the response to the album so far, I ask Catrin. “We’re really happy. We did not know what to expect, especially when we said what the album was about. I thought a lot of people were going to be like, ‘well, fuck this’. But actually, the response has been pretty nice. It feels like it is quite a cathartic album for people, maybe? Just to hear someone say what has also happened to so many people?”

I Slept on the Floor moves elegantly throughout, from the anthemic love letter to London, ‘Fell in the Love with the City’, to the driving epic ‘Brave Face’, before detouring to the electronically manipulated brittleness of the title track, and the cinematic artiness of ‘Life Was Coming in Through the Blinds’, the gentle guitar and strings of ‘Tree’, and the magnificent ‘Avalanche’. It bristles with passion, and a love of music. It is a generous shaft of much needed light in these gloomy times. And for Catrin, music has long been an escape. “It’s totally therapeutic. You never think about that consciously when you’re creating music. You look back retrospectively, and you look at school and when you’re being rejected, your lunchtimes were spent locking yourself away in the music room. And I’ve spoken to so many musicians who said they did that as a kid. It becomes this escape, it becomes not only a distraction, but a way for you to help you with what you’re going through. The only time people ever listened to me was when I performed in the music assemblies. Usually, I had to shut up, no one cared, but people were forced to listen to me. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, almost. That is your escape.

“One way people can interpret the album, is that I have escaped, and I’ve been able to do music. It is a success story in a way, but the meaning I get from the album is that in some ways you never escape how you grew up, and you’re always second guessing yourself. I was really excited to get to London, but by moving to London I am gentrifying London. This going around in a circle… Have you watched Hypernormalisation? The basic argument is that the world is so vast and complicated you can’t understand anything fully. Everything is smoke and mirrors, stacked upon smoke and mirrors. As soon as I watched that a lot of things, ironically, made sense to me. You can tell yourself one narrative that you escaped from this town, but in some ways it will always stay with me. That feeling of rejection will always stay with me.”

What was this sense of rejection? “I think, me as a person. When you are a kid, you internalise bullying, and you think it’s your fault. And when you learn about the wider world, you learn, ‘OK, women haven’t been traditionally able to do this, this is why I was doing that’. Rejection because I came from a left-wing family, rejection because I spoke about ideas that other people didn’t have. I do remember I spoke out about gay rights, and being shot down. A lot of people found it annoying. A lot of kids said, ‘I don’t care people are gay, but I don’t want to see them being gay in front of me’. I remember that shocking me. Because I hadn’t been allowed to fit in, I started railing against everything. It was the only power I had. And I think I’ve taken that into adult life. And it does feel like the world is stacked against certain types of people. But I do feel that ultimately I want to use the rejection I felt as a kid to understand other people’s rejection, and to empower rejection in that way, because you can use it to have empathy.”

You have been quoted as saying you didn’t realise how much silence plays into society, and how much people are indoctrinated to believe that they shouldn’t talk about anything difficult. How do you feel about that now, in terms of your own development? It feels like you are protecting yourself by being silent, but ultimately you never are. It’s just a sign that you aren’t free. I’ve been thinking about it a lot – what can I say, and what can’t I say. These interviews can be really upsetting because I’ve always dived in, head first, and got myself into trouble, because I believe in no silence. It’s about the nuances in what you are saying and it’s about allowing people to have the chance to be wrong, but to learn from it.

“I never want to do small talk. I always dive in, at the deepest end. I get that from my Mum, she’s a therapist. She gets peoples life’s stories in like 12 seconds. I just want to know who people are, and where they come from, and why they are the way they are, and if I can help. I don’t know if that is healthy or not, but when you are silent you can’t let that stuff eat you alive. I know when I am silent that is when I am the most mentally unwell. So, I always feel like facing the dark things to get through them.”

Throughout I Slept on the Floor, Vincent’s honest, and direct lyrics, whilst shining a therapeutically optimistic light, also contain a streak of dark pessimism. Such as on ‘Avalanche’, a song the band released on seven-inch vinyl, their first ever record, but which was only available at gigs, and is now already a bit of a collector’s item. Despite the punchy, dynamic musicality, there’s no doubting Avalanche’s message, that there is a massive task facing us as we struggle to deal with the seismic changes brought on by Trump, Brexit, and climate change in particular. “That song was written at the end of 2016,” she explains. “I think we are realising that power corrupts, essentially. It’s very slow, and it might not happen in our lifetime and it might be too late if it doesn’t happen in our lifetimes, especially with climate change. But I think hanging on, doing good at all times, is the only way to cope, because the alternative is certain. If you’re always doing stuff hoping for the best, there’s a slim chance that the best might actually happen. But if you’re always in a nihilistic headspace – which I have definitely, been in, especially as a teenager – that is absolute. You are going to get what you think is going to happen, because you are not doing anything to change that.

“I’m trying to come to grips with being able to entertain two opposing thoughts in my head all the time. It does feel especially with climate change, that is the big one. That feels inescapable now, we’re just so far off the mark, it’s just gonna happen, and it’s about lessening the worst outcomes of that. On the other side, I read a book, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis (the American political activist), and a quote that completely stands out for me is, which I wrote out, and put on my wall – ‘sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible’, I try and tell myself that. Trump and everything that surrounds Trump and what he stands for has been around for years, and it has been ignored because you have people-pleasing Democrats in power, who sweep issues under the rug, and kinda look like they are doing something about it, which is exactly why Trump got in. People didn’t trust the establishment anymore. I think these things had been bubbling under the surface, and had to come to light, and everyone has to be confronted with it, and will continually have to be forced to confront it. I think it was this new year’s where I decided myself that I wanted nihilism to go. I don’t want to be despondent. I don’t want to be apathetic. Nihilism isn’t cool. It was cool for a while, but it’s not cool!”

The mix of deep and meaningful lyrics with a strong musicality, is expertly merged throughout I Slept on the Floor. The title track itself, whilst being about a particularly bleak period in Catrin’s life, has nods to several musical influences within its abstract sounds. “It was originally written as an interlude for our Village Underground show in London last year. I just wanted to write as honestly as possible. I had just got a vocoder that I wanted to play around with. I was very aware of ripping off Imogen Heap, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), but didn’t mind for some reason. This song just came out, these chords came out, and we thought ‘that’s a song!’. I was recording my friend Ellen, on clarinet, and she added in these pads, and I thought ‘this is so Talk Talk!’. And then we’ve always been obsessed with ‘pull-stretch’ Justin Bieber. There’s this Youttube video of one of his songs which is 800 percent slower, that’s what that is,” she laughs, “this software, that Jon Hopkins used on ‘Immunity’, which is where I learned about it. It sounded like a choir on a cassette. I know that sounds like a specific reference, but I run these nights called Bedroom Gigs, and someone was messing around with a choir on cassette, and as soon as we pull-stretched my voice, it was like ‘oh my god, it sounds like something it is not.’ And then when we were finalising the album with the Executive Producer Jolyon Thomas, he put my voice through a synth, put some delays in. I could talk about the production on this song for ages. It was the one song I produced, it was really fun to do.

For a band so young, and relatively inexperienced, I Slept on the Floor is an incredibly mature and sophisticated offering, the result of six years of hard graft, beginning with the time they discovered each other whilst at college in London. “We just never gave up,” says Catrin. “It can be so discouraging when you first start out. It can be so slow. We said from the beginning, ‘one practice a week, every single week, no excuses’. We’re just lucky we’ve got the energy to carry on.

“It wasn’t even trial and error,” she says about how the band’s sound developed. “We never spoke about what we wanted from the band. We just got in the room, jammed, and it worked, and I don’t know what that is. Sometimes I think the fact we never spoke too much about it helped us. We never had the chance to fall out and go ‘I don’t want this to be post rock, I want this to be something new’. We just accepted whatever came out. That’s difficult for some people, that can easily go wrong – you can get this mess of music and it has no direction. I think the fact we stuck with these organic instruments, like Jack (Gilbert), who really cultivated his sound on the electric guitar. And Naomi (le Dune) developed what we think is the sound of the band, with her reverb bass, and Max’s (Doohan) drumming is always going to sound like Max’s drumming.

“I had never been in a band, but everyone else had been in ten million bands. I had never played to a drummer, never had to keep in time,” laughs Catrin. “In the beginning I was awful, Max was staring at me, ‘wow, you’re not in time’. But I quickly learnt and took it as a challenge. At the time we were at uni (Goldsmiths). I think Naomi won a competition at the time for being in the most bands at any one time. She was in 13 at one point. Eventually our band was the only band she was in, and we were all really, really invested. So, we’re lucky. I think with every band along the way people have to make difficult choices. We wouldn’t have found each other any other way. Where I come from people were actively discouraged from doing music. So, it’s like when everyone comes to London to do music you’ve had to fight to get there. You’ve had parents tell you it’s stupid. You’ve had all your peers going ‘well, I’m not going to make any money from it, I don’t want to play in a band anymore’. it’s almost like everyone is escaping to this one place where everyone is just as passionate as each other. It kinda felt like this explosion of passion. It feels like a little family now.”

Luck, as she freely admits, plays a part, in any artist’s endeavors. But so does resilience, fortitude, and hard work. Add to that sheer talent, and Catrin’s candid honesty, and it’s easy to see why that has helped the band gain considerable traction. Even the band’s name has probably helped, an unusually meaningful reference to living life. How did that come about? “I’m often inspired lyrically by poetry, and it was from a time in my life where I was taking direct inspiration, and there was a poem by Emily Dickinson, There Is Another Sky. It was just after Brexit, and we were leaving uni, and we were thinking ‘what are we leaving uni to go into?’ There was a song with me singing about another sky we could be under. And when we were choosing a band name, that one stuck out. It made sense, with everything I was singing about. It feels quite poignant. I’m glad we have a name that means something.

Jeff Hemmings