Since the release of their debut album, 2009’s The Day We Ran Into The Sea, Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn – aka Paper Aeroplanes – have forged themselves a solid reputation as purveyors of breezy yet thoughtful acoustic pop.
Following 2011’s We Are Ghosts, the duo step things up a gear with Little Letters, their first release for Navigator Records (out 13 May 2013). They’re still exploring the same territory, with songs shaped by personal experience and the Welsh landscape, yet musically, there’s a clear step forward with a fuller sound.
Prior to the start of their UK tour, we caught up with Sarah…
Would you agree that Little Letters has a different feel to your previous releases?
This album is definitely a little different to the last. We decided early on to record it in a proper live studio rather than just at our tiny bedroom studio in Rich’s flat. Recording the drums and bass as a band, playing all at the same time definitely adds an energy that wasn’t as present on previous albums. The songs have a darker edge on this record too. It’s a more intense side that started to come through on our Time To Be EP and has progressed with Little Letters. I think the lyrics are more raw and honest as well. I don’t think we consciously wanted to write different songs, they just came out that way. We’ve changed as people, the music is bound to change with us.
Did you have any musical reference points before you went into the studio?
I’ve never really tried to make a recording sound like anything we’ve heard before, but when we were mixing Little Letters there were various bands mentioned – everything from Midlake and Roy Orbison, to Jeff Buckley and The Pierces.
You’ve said in the past that you’re ‘constantly inspired’ by your home towns and the locale – what is it about those locations you find so inspiring?
It’s the raw, untouched beauty of much of the West Wales coast line which has always provoked imagery and metaphors for me when lyric writing. I especially love the winter on the beach with violent waves pounding the shore and it feels almost frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Then there’s also the ugly, man-made grandeur of the refineries and the power stations that mark my immediate views growing up. Oil tankers and the lights on the water at night.
Can you give us an example or two of how the location has shaped a particular song?
With Circus, I was caught up with the idea of making music (rather than lyrics) that sounded like waves lapping the shore then reaching a crescendo. The kind of restrained, calm seas that gradually let loose. Fable and Red Rover use water imagery that in my mind I can place, even down to the cove or beach I meant. Hopefully other people see their own places.
It’s also the remote and often ‘left out’ feeling of a small town so far away from a city. Growing up we had no real big influences from visiting bands or shows and fashion and cinema takes ages to trickle down. Pembrokeshire kind of has its very own style and fashion and I feel that makes our music a little less easy to place and less trend focused.
The song When The Windows Shook references specific events…
When I was a child, there the Sea Empress disaster (huge oil spill when the tanker ran aground) was a very big event in the Milford Haven Estuary, I could pretty much see it from a bedroom window in our house. My Granddad managed the tugs and so I felt really connected to the event as did everyone in the town. Milford seemed to make the national news for the first time in my life. A few years later there was a big explosion at one of the refineries which actually made our plastic double-glazing blow in and shook the house. We all ducked for a few seconds thinking it was maybe a bomb. More recently, four people died in another explosion at one of the refineries. The oil industry is probably the biggest job provider in our county, so it’s a reflection on that.
What are the personal highlights on the record for you, and why?
Circus for me is a song that really lays bare some very close feelings and is the most succinct on the album. Simple but exactly how I wanted to speak about those feelings.
Singing To Elvis always manages to draw some powerful emotions from me when we perform it even though we’ve been playing it live for a while.
What’s your plans for the next few months?
We have a month long tour of UK and Germany … then we’re playing some lovely festivals over the summer including Isle of Wight, Wood Festival and Wychwood. We’ll be releasing our video for next single When the Windows shook, then in October we have a theatre tour of Wales and further UK tour dates in churches and alternative venues.
Interview by: Dave Freak
The UK tour kicks off in Narbeth on Saturday 11 May 2013, and includes shows in Birmingham (May 19), Nottingham (May 23) and Cardiff (May 26). For full dates, see: www.paperaeroplanesmusic.com/live-dates/