With a gig supporting US band Caravan Of Thieves this Friday at Oslo in Hackney (E8 1LL) London just announced (ticket link) Adrian Roye took some time to respond to a few questions about his band the Exiles, the extraordinary circumstances behind the recording of his new album Reclaimed (review here) and about his inspirations.
How long have you been writing and performing?
I started writing songs from about seven years old. We couldn’t afford instrument lessons, so I used to make up lyrics over songs I heard on the radio. I also used to ‘multitrack’ my parts using two tape recorders. It was a mess by the time I’d finished, but it was something!
When and where did the exiles come together?
We were two sets of school friends (Beth and I, Simon and Dan). I met Dan while we were temping and found we had common musical interests. I’d been paying with Beth for many years at the time as a duo, performing each of our compositions (Beth is an incredible singer-songwriter in her own right). Dan and Beth played on my first record Welcome To One Man Town, which was co-produced by Dave Burn, formally from AHAB. Dan introduced me to Simon as I was keen to have a cellist on my next recording. The intention was to work with them on a session basis, however the chemistry we had resulted in us taking it further.
Can you tell me a little about the other players and specifically what they bring to the band?
Beth (Bass, Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar BV’s) is very adept at picking up ideas I might have in terms of arrangement or harmonies. She can pretty much pick up anything and make it sound and look good. I’ve lost count of how many instruments she has mastered. She’s got a good sense of balancing light and shade in terms of musicality.
Dan (Drums, BV’s) never fails to excite and challenge me. There is so much complexity in what he’s doing on the drums, yet he makes it all look so simple. He’s really grown from being a good to a great drummer. He’s got a Jazz background so it opens up the songs in so many ways.
Simon (Cello, Electric Guitar, BV’s) He’s has the finest Cello playing style I’ve ever heard. He really knows how to translate the heart of the stories I write into what he plays. He’s classically trained, but knows how to ‘keep it real’ (Ha-ha!) He also brings a cool Neil Young quality into the equation when he gets on the electric guitar.
Can you tell me a little more about the gig at the 12 Bar and also how the invite to America came about?
The whole situation was, “Pretty cosmic,” (to use Michael Chorney’s word). About two years before, I was put onto the music of Anais Mitchell via Beth. I was so blown away by the production and recording of her record Hymns For The Exiled that I contacted her producer (Michael) on Myspace (remember when folks used to use that?) and told him what I thought and how one day I’d love to record with him.
We eventually became friends with Anais and during one of her tours, Simon asked Michael if we could support him at a solo show he was doing at the 12 Bar. We were about midway through our set when he asked us if we’d like to come over to Vermont to record with him. Needless to say it was a very happy second half of the set.
Was it difficult to organise, what was the trip like?
It was pretty tough to organise. We had to bring some of our instruments with us (including a Cello that required it’s own seat on the plane)! We sorted a few gigs there and in New York where we were based at the start and end of the trip. We demoed all of the songs we wanted to record and I put down any production ideas I had. It took plenty of meetings and phone calls but it made the process when we were there so much easier. We managed to record the tracks in about four and a half days because we were so prepared.
The trip was truly incredible, especially starting with New York. Plastic Bag Goldfish is about the time I got lost in New York a few years before. It felt like everything had come full circle getting to play it in the place of its inception. Vermont is such a stunning place and has some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. My heart belongs to that place. I think the whole journey affected us all so deeply, way beyond the band sphere.
How did the sessions go, did you stick to your plans or did things take shape as you went along?
The sessions were mostly good. We recorded the album live (with a few overdubs added later). We recorded the album at Michael’s house (The Goose Coop). The others were in the main room, whilst I was in the room with Michael in isolation to record my guitar and vocals. The problem with live recording is that it’s pretty hard to paste over a screw up, so we’d always do a take as though our lives depended on it. Some of the songs are pretty emotional (The Calling for example), so it was pretty draining performing that song over and over. It wasn’t about attaining perfection though. It was important to capture the live element of what we do and give people the truth within the songs. I think the thing that took the longest was our hand claps on Seven Hours…Go figure!
Where does your inspiration come from as a songwriter? You have talked about making up your own words to other people’s songs have you always had a literary
and poetic side?
My inspiration comes mainly from things I’ve observed, whether that be directly or from articles etc. I quite enjoy writing from the perspective of others. Making up words to other people’s songs was something I did when I was very young and couldn’t afford instruments. I think doing that now would possibly result in a court hearing of some sort!
I always found my creative writing classes at school the most fun, because I have a very over-active imagination. I often failed to complete assignments because my short stories would become novels. Right now, I’m actually trying to re-write my murder ballad Josephine as a play because I couldn’t fit everything into the five minute song.
Do you write much and are there themes that you keep returning to?
I’m not a prolific songwriter and I’ve just recently come out of a long writer’s block. I’ve been inspired recently and have written four songs over the last two months. I enjoy writing about social issues (not necessarily political), which I guess is what keeps the core of what I do as folk music.
The term Afro-folk has been used to describe your music, to me it seems a little simplistic, but what feeds into your sound? What was the music you grew up with and who are the artists with staying power for you? Who is the biggest influence on your writing and playing style?
Afro-folk was coined by a friend of the band. Whilst it’s a succinct way of describing the band’s sound, I personally find it limiting to describe what I or the band do without missing something out. It’s the same problem I have when I mention all the artists I listened to growing up (and continue to do so) and how they influenced me. Artists like Tracy Chapman, Labi Siffre and Richie Havens were key influences as a young kid but my record collection is vast and varied.
Are there any landmark gigs other than the obvious one?
I’d say the gig we played at the Jazz Cafe. We had a sell-out audience and the venue treated us like real musicians. That’s not very common when you’re coming up.
What are the hopes and plans going forward?
I’d like to get out and tour around the UK in particular. It would be great to work with somebody who knows how to plan all of that stuff. It’s proven very tricky in the past, which is why I’d prefer a professional to come on board. I’m also hoping to get some of the newer stuff recorded and out quickly. Some of the themes are very relevant to current events.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Come and see Adrian Roye & The Exiles support the wonderful Caravan of Thieves this Friday 22 August: Facebook Event Page
Reclaimed is out now available as CD/Digital via Bandcamp: http://adrianroyeandtheexiles.bandcamp.com/