Hailing from the city of Bristol in the United Kingdom The Desert are an outfit who possess all the credentials for success. The quartet made some credible noise with their first project Playing Dead (2017) a four-track ep. It featured stand out numbers like Soulmates an atmospheric multi-layered down-tempo number.
Their follow-up ep Gone sees the band occupy the space of trip-hop. Perhaps with their current Bristol roots this is no surprise. Bristol’s connection to great trip-hop bands can be traced to names like the defining Massive Attack. While they will be the first to admit that inspiration for their second four track ep has been inspired (in part) by fabled Bristol trip-hop exponents The Desert are clearly bringing their own take on the genre. The second single from their ep Distract Me is a down-tempo lo-fi track which resonates with an addictive verve.
With that #itchysilk decided to get some time with two members of the band Gina and Tom.
So firstly, give us a bit of info on the band and personnel.
Gina-There are 4 of us now. It started out as Tom and I-I play guitar/sing and write the initial skeleton of the songs (the lyrics over guitar chords) and Tom arranges them/fleshes them out with his guitar/piano/production. We also now have the wonderful additions of Ryan on bass & synths and Jonny on drums, percussion, samples & keys.
We’re from all over the UK. Jonny is from Chester and makes the trek up and down regularly for rehearsals, Ryan, Tom and I all live in Bristol now but are originally from Devon, Hastings and Cambridge respectively.
Talk about the formation of the band and how you coalesced into the band you are?
Gina-It started out with Tom helping record/produce my songs in his bedroom. It took us a few years to realise we had something worth going after hard.
Funnel signed me as a solo artist in September 2016 and soon after got Tom on board to form a duo when they heard the songs of mine he’d produced stand out. Tom’s production involves a lot of layers, pulling in sounds to form complex soundscapes and we quickly realised we were going to need more than the two of us to recreate the tracks live.
Ryan responded to an advert we put out and later we found Jonny with the help of our management, Funnel Music. We all put a lot of time into this project and we also love hanging out together, so it works well.
The pr states trip-hop-are there more genres you might say encompass The Desert?
Tom-I think there’s a mix of genres encompassed in The Desert. We all listen to a range of music and bring different influences. There is an element of folk with the roots of the project coming from guitar based, lyrically focused songs.
Gina writes a lot of discordant guitar parts which may have come from listening to blue grassy music like Gillian Welch. My background of listening to more synth based/electronic vibes-Boards of Canada, Burial and Radiohead. Jonny and Gina also enjoy a bit of pop-the other day they were playing along to Jorja Smith’s Blue Lights (2016). Ryan listens to an eclectic range of music, so that has helped enrich our sound too.
Gone is the most trip-hop track we’ve done. Hip-hop and rap music have changed a lot though in the time since Massive Attack and Portishead blew up, and now those genres are much more mixed in with pop culture. Tom listens to a lot of classic and modern hip-hop so I think that does come through in our sound in a different and interesting way.
You are based in Bristol, but we understand (if right) you are from London. Explain the significance of the move?
Gina-I spent a year living at home with my parents in Cambridge travelling back and forth to London to play open mic nights. I needed to get more confident performing and London provided the perfect anonymous stages. I often went on my own with the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach. I still get nervous sometimes, but I have managed to ‘get in the zone’. Now I really enjoy performing like I never thought I would.
Tom-I grew up not far from London, so it has always been quite a big part of my life. I spend a lot of time there and a lot of the found-sound recordings in our music I recorded there too.
Bristol is the home to great names like Tricky. Tell us about how the Bristol music scene past and present may have shaped you as a band?
Gina-The present Bristol music scene has influenced us in a big way. We live close to Stokes Croft where there are bands playing every night of the week. There aren’t many cities that offer this. It helps to keep music human when you can pop around the corner and the musicians are just there to share a pint with. There’s a massive music scene in Bristol now, which makes it an amazing place to be in. There are so many brilliant artists playing and performing at an underground level. There are great things coming out of the city all the time.
You have been compared to some big names like Portishead and Little Dragon-do you see it and what makes you different to these bands?
Tom-I’ve loved bands like Portishead and Massive Attack since I was young, so it’s not surprising to me that people hear these influences coming out in our music. Bands like that are a big reason why I moved to Bristol in the first place, as well as the Sound System culture here, with things like St Pauls Carnival happening, it’s brilliant. I think what makes our music different is just that it’s new. We’ve got a good way of working which allows all our different influences to come through but gives the feel and style of the music a determined direction.
How difficult has the journey into music been and have you had to change to push your heads above the parapet?
Gina-We’ve all had our low points. I’ve played loads of shit solo gigs, like in the corner of pubs where everyone is either watching the rugby or shouting at me to play covers I don’t know. I think it’s important to go through those tough times though to test your love for it. I’m not sure if we’ve made any conscious changes to the music to ‘push our heads above the parapet’, I guess we’ve just realised over time that it will involve hard work and sacrifices but its 100% worth it.
Tom-I’ve played a lot of gigs like that too. I think the great thing about working with Funnel, our label, is that they have always encouraged us to make the music that we want to make. But they also push and help us to make it the best music that we’ve ever made. So, we’ve had to change, yes, but only in ways that have helped serve our goals as artists.
Playing Dead was your break out ep-the response was positive. Talk to us a bit about that project and how it helped set the foundation for your most recent project?
Gina-Playing Dead was the first music we’d put out as The Desert, so we didn’t know how it would be received. We were happy with the response and grateful to the people out there who took the time to listen. We wanted to release another EP, like Playing Dead, which explored different genres and ideas, so we chose 4 tracks that are all different to each other. Now we are working on recording an album which we’re really excited about.
Tom-Gina and I recorded some of the tracks we put on the Playing Dead ep together with very little help from Funnel, then after we got signed, they helped us finish it off. This ep has been recorded to a higher standard right from the beginning of the process. The Playing Dead ep really set the tone for us as a band and since then we’ve always kept the home-recording aspect of the sound in various parts of our process.
We know you explore the theme of loss in the lead single. Can you elaborate on that and other themes you explore in this second release?
We like to think Gone isn’t your average heartbreak song. It explores how you feel when you lose something suddenly and how that can really throw you off but not necessarily in a negative way. it’s got a kinda ‘fuck it’ attitude. The other tracks on the EP explore ideas of nostalgia, and the capturing of different moments in time and trying to come to peace with things even when you’re in a lot of noise.
There’s a long wait between the single and the release of the full project-why is that?
We’re staggering the releases and putting out new material every two months. Then shortly after we want to start dropping tracks from the album. We want to keep putting out material consistently now until the end of our album campaign.