The young Tilly I first met at The John Peel Centre all those years ago now lives in Liverpool and her new album “If I Could Gather All The Songbirds” is a natural progression and very far from the cutesy fourteen old songs of old. Tilly and I chatted about the new album ahead of it’s launch on 22nd November.
Why would you want to gather all the songbirds?
It’s a line from the last song on the album, which is a love song. The full line is “If I could gather all the songbirds to sing to sleep your weary head.” It’s a sort of lullaby-esque sentiment. I thought it was quite an evocative title that brought to mind lots of nice images, so we ran with it and we thought we could make some nice artwork with that, which we did.
What’s it like living in Liverpool?
Yes, I moved last week, it’s all very new to me. I’m just nesting at the moment, still trying to sort the flat out. We are quite central which is quite a nice change for me, it means I can get around when I’m not well – we have a lift, so I don’t have to do battle with stairs. There are trains here and buses.
But do you miss Suffolk?
Yes. But it was time to leave, I was ready. I’ve not been here long so I’ve not got homesick yet – but I probably will do. I miss the quiet, it’s always loud here.
Let us talk about the album… the second studio album with Ginger Dog Records.
I love the recording process with Ginger Dog, they do things on a short time scale. We did the first album in seven days, the second in eight so you have to make instinctual decisions about things and stick with them. It’s odd, sometimes you do things and think afterwards, have I made the wrong call – you are under so much time pressure. Then you listen back and think of all the things you might have done and end up saying… no, I was right first time, this is how it’s meant to sound.
I always feel that we come out with something quite honest and raw, sounding like it is supposed to but fleshed out enough that it is a studio album.
We met a long long time ago, in the intervening years I’ve just gotten older but you have gone through that change from child to woman. Has your music changed?
That’s a tricky one, I’m a very instinctual writer. Others talk about their process but I can’t, I write because I have to – I write when something is bothering me, or when I don’t even mean to! I’ll pick up a piece of paper and start writing and there it is. That has stayed the same, and probably always will but in another sense, I think that the things that bother me have changed, they are much more worldly.
I’ve gone from someone who doesn’t have to think about… cooking, or cleaning or paying the bills or any of the real world stuff. Your perspective widens, so on the second album you hear a lot more stories about interaction with other people. Little Bird, for example is a song for my Mum, because you reach a point where you realise how much your Mum does for you.
Plus, I have simply listened to much more music. As a teenager I listened to very pure singer songwriter genre. I now go out with an absolute musical madman who just listens to everything on earth. You put shuffle on and you have no idea what you are going to get: Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B, some random Taylor Swift songs, you just never know… Thrash Metal occasionally, Math Rock! I didn’t even know that was a genre, but it exists! All of that influences your ear and you tune into things that you didn’t know you loved.
For example, on the second album we’ve added more jazz elements, I love the chords we’ve used, the piano work is jazzier. The single we’ve put out, Rot & Ruin, is popier than I anticipated it being but I love that about it.
And it has a lively Irish sound to it with the fiddle and whistle.
Yes, that’s my favourite bit on the whole album, when they drop in, you have these mad jazzy chords at the beginning, really stripped back on the piano. Then it builds into a kind of pop song and suddenly, whack, in the middle you sit these traditional elements, that was really fun to do.
You have Lucas Drinkwater playing on this album, yes?
Yes, he’s one of my musical idols. He has played on almost every award winning folk album for the last five years but you wouldn’t know it, he’s always hidden away doing bass lines or harmony singing. He worked with Ange Hardy for years. He played bass line and I was really excited.
What is it like when you get someone like that playing in the room with you?
Its bonkers! When we did the first album, we had Sam Kelly, I’d sent him a message saying I know this is a silly thing to ask but… and he said yes, when? So I’ve learned from that that you have to play it cool even if you are freaking out inside!
The folk world is a big family, and everyone helps each other out and that builds your confidence in a nice way.
You mentioned the single Rot & Ruin, in the cover of which I am seeing echoes of Painted Faces, but tell me about the song.
That is really funny – the point of the cover was, it was supposed to be a departure from cutesy fourteen-year-old me. It’s interesting that you have drawn that parallel, I should have spotted that, and I totally didn’t!
One of my big life changes, I am now a disabled woman and I live with all the mad complexity of that – the brilliant bits and the horrible bits. When I was writing my dissertation on Disability Ethics I suddenly just stopped and needed to write a song down. It was done in about a minute, the tune was in my head, I recorded it on my phone and carried on writing my dissertation.
When we got into the studio, I thought: I don’t know if it’s any good but I’ll just play it and see what they think. They absolutely loved it! And although I had no music for it, we wrote it, went for it there and then.
I have a variable disability, every day you wake up and do a full body scan and wonder, am I going to be able to make it to the bathroom today? Am I going to be able to walk 10,000 steps? It could be anywhere between staying in bed sipping water or I could vaguely climb a mountain – and I wrote Rot & Ruin about that feeling I get when I know I am going to be pulled into an episode of weeks of not being able to get around and do the things I want to do. The kind of odd world of bridging between two worlds, the able and the disabled and never knowing when that is going to change.
It feels like you are standing on dry land and suddenly you are dragged under water and there is nothing you can do about it.
It is darker, bigger, more intense than the last album.
One last question: your dream gig, either one you have played or one you fantasise about, who would that be with?
Oh that is so hard, why have I never thought about that before? I feel like people might go for something quite big, but my favourite gigs have always been the small ones, something intimate. So, if I could sing with Lisa Hannigan that would be a dream come true… or just even supporting her even – that’s the dream gig.
Tilly launches If I Could Gather All the Songbirds at The John Peel Centre in Stowmarket on Friday 22nd November – tickets available here… https://www.wegottickets.com/event/473293