Seven Tides the new album by Apple Of My Eye is one of the most original and enjoyable records of this year. A combination of some striking songs, great playing, but above all their voices proves to be their trump card as all of the band can sing. The record possesses an immediacy and elegant yet deceptive simplicity, which belies the intricacies that are unquestionably involved. I managed to catch-up with the band’s guitarist and singer Arran Glass who offered tales of how this exciting young combo got their sea legs.
When I catch up with Arran, he’s busy and with a short window, between staging two theatre shows a day and a scheduled get together with some of his band mates later on that evening. The first question is an obvious one as I ask about the person missing from all of the current band photos. Arran explains, “Ellie left the band a few months ago in order to focus on her solo project. She sounds gorgeous on the album and we were very lucky to have her in the studio with us.” He adds, “We still have two members of the Rusbridge family left in the band though – Dan on harmonica and Chris on bouzouki.” It’s probably an important point, but more of that later, as he continues, “For a while we were thinking about getting another female singer to join us but we’ve found people have been really enjoying the dynamic of our live shows recently so we’re going to continue exploring what we can do with a big bunch of guys singing their hearts out.”
I agree that it’s one of the obvious strengths of the band is the vocal prowess; it must be great to have that in the locker. I ask how that shaped the sound. Arran emphasises the flexibility it brings and tells me, “We love harmony and always try and make them interesting, fun and unusual. On the album the lead vocals are taken by Chris, Ellie, Kit or myself.” It’s not just the vocal arrangements, however, as Arran points out, “For us song writing is such a collaborative process and each member brings something unique to the mix, so we often leave space for the other instruments. When you have six people in a band, it’s really important to know when not to play – it’s all about what the song itself needs, when to be fierce or fragile.”
I wonder whether this explains the equal credit that all share in the writing, with all songs simply attributed to Apple Of My Eye and Arran explains, “More importantly than us being a band, we are a bunch of best friends that make music together. Everyone has valued input into the songs – whether it’s a harmony line, a bass line, a bit of melody or a snatch of lyrics.”
That raises the issue of how they all met and Arran refers to their Bristolian roots, as he tells me, “So the Bristolians of the band are from north west Bristol – Arran and Alex are from Cotham and the Rusbridges, Chris, Ellie and Dan, are from Stoke Bishop.” I too spent a couple of years living in that area, so recognised the title of the last track on the album Durdham Down, as part of the open land up past the suspension Bridge. Arran tells me that “Chris and I met at a party as teenagers and started writing songs together, but we were always in other bands so nothing happen for a while.” In reality it took a change of scene for Apple Of My Eye to finally gel and Arran reveals, “Slowly, gradually, we all migrated to London. I formed a band with the Londoners Phil and Kit, and slowly it all came together.” I wonder whether they shared a common bond but Arran admits, “It’s hard to remember what we bonded over – playing music, playing games and drinking cider probably.”
They have now developed a focal point, however, albeit a mobile one, as Arran explains, “The narrowboat is Chris’s new home. He bought it in the springtime and he and I spent a week sailing it down the canal from Rugby to London – writing songs, falling in the canals, getting stuck in tunnels and with a few impromptu gigs on route. Writing a song by the wood burning stove in winter is a fine way to pass the time.”
Talking about their various musical backgrounds, Arran points out that, “The biggest influence on the Rusbridge siblings was their musician parents, who themselves met in a folk club and still have a wonderful band Thornbridge today.” It’s this that perhaps keeps the Apple Of My Eye sound rooted in the folk stylings, but for the others, musical education has been varied and diverse, “Both Alex and I went to the same school and then drama school which may have had some impact on the more theatrical storytelling numbers.” Instrumentally however, both are more self-taught, “Alex started playing techno in Bristol before picking up the guitar and mandolin and cites Nic Jones and the Punch Brothers as influences. I learned classical guitar, played in a rock band as a teenager before discovering John Martyn and Nick Drake and later the wonderful arrangements of Lhasa de Sela.” The London contingent are more formally trained and he tells me, “Kit and Phil went to Trinity College of Music and as well as playing the violin and double bass respectively are also both professional pianists. Phil is the MD on The Scotsborough Boys in the west end and Kit plays in everything from orchestras to gypsy jazz bands.”
I ask about their first steps as a band and Arran tells me, “The first Apple gig was probably at a night called Beatroot Rendezous which used to run at the Old Queen’s Head in Islington. There’s still a video of it on the internet somewhere. We had decided that we were going to be called Apple of My Eye, but there was some concern that the name was a bit too homely or homespun. So we came up with a few different names and asked the audience to vote. Turnips Full of Mead was one suggestion. Stupid. We’re pretty glad the audience didn’t go for that one.”
We turn our attention to the new record and Arran reveals, “We spent two years writing the album, some songs we’d been playing live for ages and a couple of them we only wrote a few days before.” I ask if they have a way of writing and working together and he explains that it usually starts with an individual as he tells me, “Usually the songs start from an idea that one of us brings to the table. For example, Greenwich Town was a Kit offering, Cities came from a riff written by Alex.” A little more unusually however he adds, “Chris and I wrote The Road to London while carrying a table up some stairs.”
I push him a little on two of the songs that I most liked for being quite unlike anything else I’ve heard and he fills in with some of the details. For Jean Michel the origin was a true story he recalls, “Every now and then, Chris and I take a writing week which usually yields a handful of new songs. On one of these I had just read a story about a French couple who came home from holiday to find the body of a well known thief dead in their chimney. After that the song wrote itself – a quote from the French national anthem is hidden in the track if you can spot it!” There’s a challenge for you.
Equally dramatic although somewhat darker in tone Arran reveals “Burn Sir! came from one member of the band having some troubles of the heart and that translating into the tragic story – quite a few songs are written at arms length through storytelling but come from a personal place.”
When it came to choosing a place for making the album, it was Kit who had first worked with Joe Leach in his Cowshed studios. Arran explains, “Although Joe Leach is most widely respected in jazz circles, many fine folk records have been made at Cowshed studios. Kit, our fiddler player, performed on Sam Carter’s, Keepsakes and No Testament records there and met Joe in the process.” Arran continues explaining that there’s a degree of the old about the set up as he tells me, “Joe records directly to tape and the whole recording experience was about capturing our live sound. The thing is about tape is that if you want to record another take of a song, you rewind and record over what you’ve done – something both exciting and terrifying!” It proves, however, that they’re a well-drilled unit, as the results sing out triumphant, loud and clear. Also, by sticking close to the live band sound in the studio, Apple Of My Eye have something in Seven Tides that’s immediately portable into any gig setting.
As for future plans, Arran admits, “We have written most of the songs for our next album! It explores a very different theme to Seven Tides or our debut album, Devils, and we are unbelievably excited. We want to gig as much as we can, ideally with a glorious summer of festivals and get the back in the studio again.” Speaking of ideals, Arran adds, “Any money we make from gigs or album sales goes back into the band at the moment but if there was anything to share it would be done fairly between us.” Now there are admirable principals that you don’t come across every day and I’ll raise a glass of cider in toast to that.
Review by: Simon Holland
Don’t miss their Official Album Launch Party on 21st Dec @ The Harrison Pub in Kings Cross