Erin Young 23/05/2007
Meeting the guys behind the beautiful music that is Thirteen Senses is somewhat of a surprising experience - almost as much as when you hear it for the first time in the midst of the generic guitar-driven indie-pop filling the airwaves today, it makes you realise that there is a band of people of the same age, making something totally different. Something so mature and so sophisticated in its imagery, its lyricism, its pure musical impact that it's almost hard to understand.
Singer/pianist/guitarist Will South and Guitarist/keyboardist Tom Welham are the most down-to-earth and downright normal 'rock stars' you could possibly hope to meet. I spoke to them before their gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth last month about their new album, their music, touring, and what exactly lies behind such stunning songs.
The band formed in Penzance, Cornwall, over seven years ago. In this sleepy part of the country they say it's difficult for the way of life, not stay with you and influence your music. "Essentially it's more that the landscape sort of shaped us as people to begin with, just because growing up in the country - particularly that part of the country down there - is just generally a laid back, slow pace of life. So we grew up enjoying life... slowly!" Will laughs.
"That relaxed state of mind stays with you doesn't it, like you just felt so far away from all the action. So when we start writing, it just comes out in who you are..." agrees Tom with a smile.
"I think there's a difference between the first and second albums with regards to that, because the first album was written kind of just as we went along, and then a little bunch at the end, but it was all done down in Cornwall. This new album we toured for two years before writing it, and we were living in London for a couple of years before, so I think that's definitely more the sound of it. I think we've taken less from Cornwall than we used to."
Where did they all meet exactly? School? Mutual friends? An all night rave? Will explains. "I think the initial idea was that me and Adam, the bass player, toyed with this idea while we were in college - we were at a different college than Brendon and Tom. We didn't really get things moving until after college had finished, just because we had more time on our hands then. So once it had finished we recruited these two and so it began!"
Thirteen senses were fairly young when their debut album, The Invitation, came out in 2003. For such a fragile and honest record with its piano-driven ballads, did their age come into how audiences perceived their music? Perhaps. "We were 20 and 21 and yeah, I suppose it did. I didn't really think about that at the time though" agrees Tom.
"I guess as well for the type of music we're making, it's deemed... not necessarily for the kids, like we're not really an NME kinda band where it's angsty." says Will. "It could appeal to the broader range, so I guess people might have looked at our age and thought 'Hmm.....It's odd!' " finishes Tom with a laugh.
So with this in mind, listening to both The Invitation and new album, Contact, is a strange experience. Hearing such melancholy, such hope, and such an understanding of love and of life and of all other things written about in these songs and knowing the age of the young men who've penned them is refreshing in today's indie pop rock scene. Where does this honesty come from?
"I... don't know! I don't know! From my mind, I suppose! I don't really have an answer to that, it's just sort of who I am..." shrugs Will with a coy smile.
"I think it's also the way the music comes together, the parts that come into our minds as we put them down. I think it's a natural thing, I don't think we sought out to do it really" says Tom. "We're just vessels for a 'greater thing'!" Will laughs. "We absorb...melancholy."
So how would they describe Contact? How do they perceive it as differing from the explosiveness of The Invitation three years ago?
"It's geared up to play live a lot lot more, it's more exciting, it's more energised, and the guitar's slightly higher, the tempo's
raised..." starts Tom.
"Everything's more intense, more concise, there's not as much 'gentle waffle', it's just a bit... a bit more proggy as well than the last one." Will explains.
"But it's just like naturally stepping up as well, it's still us, but it's up a gear I guess," Tom is quick to reassure...
Their new single, the fantastic All The Love In Your Hands, was released a week prior to this interview. How had it gone so far?
"Shit." says Will.
"Swimmingly" Tom concedes with a wry smile and some cynical laughter.
Its difficult to hear from a band who are so different from the ho-hum din of 'pub rock' that's infiltrated our screens and our ears the last few years. How is it that a band so moving and so clever are being shunned so much by the mainstream? A case of the so-called 'tall poppy syndrome' perhaps? Or the usual story of mainstream music media and radio being unwilling to give something outside the norm a go?
Tom explains "I think in the last two or three years there's just been such a rise in the number of guitar bands in the charts, it's very hard to get a space now..."
"One thing we're finding that we were unaware of at the time is that as a new band you get quite a good shot at it cause everyone's wanting a piece of 'the new band'. If you end up in this ground we were in after the last album, in that it did really well [it was gold-selling] but it didn't quite propel us up to platinum selling stuff where everyone seems to know it... We're sort of in that ground where some people know us, but most people don't. So it's difficult to persuade the radio people to take another chance on us. We've got a great sounding album and we know people will love it, we've just got to give it to the masses!" Will elaborates.
"I really think it will happen eventually, we just need to keep
working away and I think we are impressing people with the gigs and how it's all sounding, so based on that if we can just get a following from that it'll happen through word of mouth..." Tom agrees.
The album itself has some big names behind it, including being
produced by the legendary Danton Supple (Kylie Minogue, Coldplay, The Electric Soft Parade, Doves, U2, Massive Attack... to name but a few). What was he like to work with?
"Well, he's a legend!" grins Will.
"He's great!" Tom agrees.
"One of the funniest people I've ever met."
"He's absolutely lovely."
"He produced our first album as well, so there were no real qualms about it, we didn't want anyone else, we just wanted to go straight into a nice comfortable place to record the album, so it was good." explains Will.
"I think also getting over that thing where it takes a week or so to get to know someone, and when you're doing something as personal as the album you really have to do everything as a group, and Danton became like the 5th member really, he understood what we wanted to do with it which was just great."
What's it been like touring again, after a two year hiatus from the road?
"Well, the first gig before this one was at V 2005, and we took quite a while off, then we've done three gigs before Christmas at The Luminaire in London, and then now. This tour's just felt like a huge step up for us, everything seems to have slotted naturally into place.
The lights have been great, the show just feels comfortable." Tom
"It's a lot more consistent, like we feel totally in the zone at the moment. It feels like we'll go onstage and know exactly what we're doing. Which we should, we're, well, professional! After this we're just going to do more promotion. Me and Tom will probably do another radio station tour around the country, we have the next single out in May, then another tour..."
"Hopefully we'll get some festivals in the summer, and hopefully just tour until the end of the year really, as much as we possibly can.
And let's hope they do - if tonight's gig is anything to go by, audiences are in for an absolute treat. To watch Thirteen Senses live is to be engulfed not in noise, but in music - to be hit by it, carried by it, wrapped in it. It's a startling experience, but one that stays with you for a long, long time afterwards. Gigs like these don't happen very often at all; to be given the chance to experience live music as it should sound is rare and truly magical.
Finally, the biggest question of all - one that should reveal all about the inner workings of the band... or not. Where does the name Thirteen Senses come from?
"Ahh... there's no exciting story really..." Will starts...
"I think we should just start telling the exciting story!" Tom butts in.
"There's a book by this guy called Víctor Villaseñor, called Thirteen Senses, which is about how everyone has Thirteen Senses and explain what they all are... we took our name from that.
"Never read it!" says Tom.
"But the name was cool."
The next Thirteen Senses Single will be 'Follow Me', out on May the 28th taken from their recently released 'Contact' album.