London trio Flowers first came together when Rachel Kenedy responded to an ad that stated, “In search of a singer to make music like Madonna through a broken tape machine.” The ad was placed by Sam Ayres, a guitarist with equal affection for pure pop of the 1980s and the earliest (and best) stages of punk from the previous decade and a half (in addition to quite a few things in-between… including ethereal wave). Rounding out the trio is drummer Jordan Hockley, who went to college with Sam. The three immediately moved in together and converted their house into a practice space and recording studio. Without any official releases, the band proceeded to post a handful of recordings online, which gained enough fandom to lead to a tour across Europe with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. However, their debut record, Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do is finally set to drop [stateside] September 9th on Kanine Records (home to PHILTHY favorites Beach Day, Beverly, and Fear of Men). The album was produced by Bernard Butler, former Suede guitarist and producer extraordinaire (who was recently in town, accompanying Ben Watt for an especially intimate set at The Tin Angel). Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do boasts a brand of indie pop that is as whimsical as it is soulful and intensely delicate, while delicately intense. It exists in the space that’s a little too sincere for twee, but too unimposing for post-punk. I recently got a chance to chat with lead vocalist Rachel Kenedy, who told me about the process of recording their album and how that actually evolved the sound of the band itself… and how fans should expect more drastic evolutions to come.
Izzy Cihak: This band is still relatively new. What have been the highlights of the group so far?
Rachel Kenedy: Oh gosh, there have been a lot of highlights in a short space of time! Spending a weekend of our first summer as Flowers with Stuart Moxham, drinking Polish beer, going on tour with The Pains around Europe, so many great shows in general, all the Popfests!! And Indietracks (if you haven’t heard of it, it’s this amazing festival at an old railway station, the atmosphere is unbelievably lovely)… There are really too many highlights to think of in one go!
Izzy: Is there anything you think is especially for fans and potential fans to know about the band, or is it all in the music?
Rachel: It’s all in the music really… And I’d say a big part of Flowers is we have one very distinct kind of song, but we have different sounds. Our live sound is very big and loud and hopefully engulfing! And our home demos are a big part of our sound, as that’s how we write all our songs and we always put them online for people to hear… They’re pretty fuzzy and ramshackle because we make do with what we have and we only seem to have broken things to work with!! And our album obviously sounds much more polished and refined; you can really hear the songs, the words, without so much reverb as our live sound or as much fuzz as our demos… But they’re all sides of what we’re like as a band, they’re all together part of our sound. We never try to replicate the album or our demos live, and we certainly didn’t try to replicate our demos in the studio, or what’d be the point of going? So I guess we’d say to fans and potential fans, something that I think is missed sometimes, that we aren’t changing sound from one thing to another, we’ve not really progressed anywhere… We just keep making all these different sounds at once!
Izzy: Your debut LP, Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do, is about to drop. What were the album’ s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
Rachel: It’s funny being asked about the album as though we really thought about what we were doing when we made it… Unfortunately, we aren’t nearly so organized as that! All the songs on the album, all the songs we ever write, come to be because Sam says, “Wanna write a song?” and I say “OK,” and that’s that. I always wait to hear what comes out of Sam’s guitar and then whatever it makes me feel or think about is what I write about. Of course we’re influenced by all the music we love, consciously or unconsciously, and we love all sorts of music…. The past few days we’ve been listening almost exclusively to The Misfits and Boyracer, so goodness knows what our next album will come out like!
Izzy: And the album was produced by Bernard Butler, who is just so incredible (And whom I just met and who made me feel like a teenage fan for the first time in ages.) How was the experience of working with him? Do you feel he brought something new to your sound?
Rachel: It was really an amazing experience. First of all it came about so unexpectedly, we weren’t even looking for a producer at the time, let alone Bernard Butler! It was our first proper time in a studio and it was kind of unnerving leading up to the first day. We had a sort of trial day with Bernard, so we could all see if the album was something we wanted to do with him… What if it didn’t work out? We’d have to turn down working with Bernard Butler, everyone would think we were crazy! But we were all agreed if it just didn’t sound right or feel right for us we wouldn’t do it. But of course it was just a great experience and he’s so good to work with, he made everything as easy as possible for us and left us room to do what we wanted to do.
Of course he brought a lot to our sound, yes! We feel the album is a sort of collaboration with Bernard more than anything else, in terms of sound anyway. For example, when we played him the songs initially, we included the guitar pedals we use live, to give him a feel of the sound, and we used sounds that work in our own recordings really well… But the quality of his equipment and studio meant those lo-fi sounds just didn’t fit right in his recordings. So instead of filling our sound out with fuzz or reverb, we got to use some incredible analog synths and more acoustic guitars and things (These are all things we love to use at home too, just in different ways.) So the album’s sound is totally unique to working with Bernard in his studio.
Izzy: For that matter, do you have any particular favorite records he’s worked on?
Rachel: He’s a really great producer; you can hear that in all his records, whatever style or genre they are, they’re incredibly well made! Having said that, being the age we are and where we’re from a lot of our teenage years were spent listening to The Libertines, so that’s one with particularly fond memories attached to it.
Izzy: You’ re signed to Kanine Records, which is totally an awesome label. How is it working with them?
Rachel: It’s been really just a wonderful experience from day one! Lio messaged us about possibly being on his label with such enthusiasm about our music it was just unbelievable! That means a lot to us. And then he and Kay have just helped us constantly since then, in person when we were in New York last, and daily via email when we’re here… They offer us a huge amount of guidance and advice… We really have no idea what we’re doing at the moment, we’ve never made a proper album before in any bands we’ve been in, and we don’t have a manager or anything, so Lio and Kay have really taken us under their wing in that respect. We couldn’t imagine a better label to be on, we’re really ever-grateful to them.
Izzy: Do you have any favorite labelmates? Beach Day are actually my personal favorite people in the music industry. I’m also really into Beverly, Chairlift, and Fear of Men.
Rachel: Well, they’re all great bands on Kanine… Lio and Kay have really great taste!! We’re also really indecisive, so we couldn’t really pick one favorite music-wise… But Fear Of Men are definitely the most lovely people!! We’ve spent time with them as they’re also from the UK and they are absolutely lovely, so they win on that count!
Izzy: And what are you hoping and planning for the remainder of 2014? Any chance of some US dates?
Rachel: Yes!! We’re very excited to come back to NYC in October for CMJ! And before that we’re playing several festivals over the rest of the summer, and we’re having an album launch show on 8th September here in London, which we’re planning a lot for!