INTERVIEW

Despite a discussion on domesticity and a spot of bickering, the time we spend with Woman’s Hour is about as far removed from the Radio 4 programme as possible.

Photography by Gemma Harris

Despite a discussion on domesticity and a spot of bickering, the time we spend with Woman’s Hour is about as far removed from the Radio 4 programme as possible. Sure, we talk dishwashers, romantic rendezvous by swimming pools and contemporary dance, but it’s more like testosterone-fuelled Man’s Hour. The only female member of Woman’s Hour is absent after all, leaving the remaining three quarters of the band to play around in their beautifully gothic rehearsal space. Bringer of oestrogen and lead singer Fiona Burgess is in Spain, searching for some last minute sun. So it’s down to her brother, William, and his two close pals, Josh and Nicolas, to do the talking.

“Shall I be Fiona then?” says Will, offering up a high-pitched hello. “We’re mostly from Kendal,” he continues, correcting false assumptions that the band, now based in London, are originally from the capital. “Obviously I know my sister through childhood and everything, and I know Nicolas through schooling, although we met by a swimming pool. Man, I’d love to see you swimming now!” he laughs. “Josh is from Warrington and we met him through Fiona. Didn’t you have a massive crush on her actually, Josh?” Josh smiles and tells a story about how he’d text her all the time but she’d never reply.

A close-knit foursome, Woman’s Hour have been carving out their zestful, seductive sound for over a year since leaving the North for London. “We’ve been here a good while now,” explains Nicolas, “about three years, and we don’t miss it, although it’s lovely to go back once in a while.”

“Kendal’s one of those places that everyone moves from anyway,” adds Will. “Most of our friends in London are actually from home. It’s depressing, but it’s also kind of nice as it’s people we’ve known for donkeys.”

“There’s a real ex-pat community,” says Will. “We’re an odd bunch.”

That may be so, but Woman’s Hour’s peculiar pop is fast garnering the attention of fans with sophisticated tastes. There’s nothing giddy or amateurish about what this four-piece do. They revel in dead space, unafraid of the pauses, not unlike The xx. Slow burn synths and esoteric song structures paint vivid pictures while Fiona’s enigmatic voice adds to the intrigue. They tell stories through fluctuating patterns and by building any given song with sections of sound that don’t appear to belong to one another. For Woman’s Hour, conventional song structure can fuck off.

It’s their track ‘Human’ that’s the real whistle-blower. It comes on like two characters; a glimpse into the before and after of someone’s life. You can pretty much split it straight down the middle, separating the extremely sparse Portishead-at-half-speed beginning and the breezy mid-paced ending, which has Fiona crying out where she once provided a dusty sigh.

“I’d say that the first half of that song is about someone looking into themselves before getting around that and revealing themselves at the end,” says Josh. “A few people have questioned the track and said it should be two different songs…”

“But it’s got to be long to work” interrupts Will. “If they were two tracks they’d have to be listened to back to back. Some people maybe don’t get it, but… fuck them.”

‘Human’ was recorded during a two-day session in the heart of Leeds with the man responsible for Wild Beasts’ second album, ‘Two Dancers’. Richard Formby, clearly drawn to kids from Kendal, shaped much of Woman’s Hour’s sound-scapes.

“His studio is just such a relaxing environment,” says Will. “Fish and chips for lunch, terraced houses.” Will’s eyes gloss over as he curls a nostalgic smile. “It really was a nice environment to work in. If you look out of his window all you can see is chimneys. We’ve never worked with a producer before and it was so intrinsic to how the songs came out. He said the songs weren’t realised, musically, so we worked through and developed them for a better result.”

“Watching him do things, running around and throwing stuff through a tape machine then back to his desk,” Josh gestures wildly, “it was a really humbling experience.”

Human by Woman’s Hour

Already Woman’s Hour have a bewitching back catalogue in the bank, although their recorded output has remained minimal and sporadic, leaving more questions than answers. As Josh explains, the band believes this patience is deemed necessary if they are to realise their potential: “There are too many bands that are rough and ready and want to make it big, quick. I’d rather we took our time and put things out exactly how we want them to be. You are not going to get an artist put up a half finished painting, after all.”

With good ears and eyes, Woman’s Hour have an admirable openness to new notions and ideas. Curators of the captivating SssH BOOM, SssH BOOM nights – evenings dedicated to the arts and performance – the band clearly embrace all forms of expression. An upcoming show will see them perform a 15-minute song with contemporary dancers joining them on stage, suggesting that experimentation is something they don’t shy away from. “I’m not saying we are a daring band but it’s quite a bold thing to do,” says Josh. “It’s similar to writing pop music with a twist, why the fuck not try something different?”

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