INTERVIEW

Our first year with Tony, the passing of Mother Teresa, Leo drowning on the Titanic. 1997 was a memorable year.

sunless97

Photography by Elinor Jones

A YEAR TO REMEMBER

Our first year with Tony, the passing of Mother Teresa, Leo drowning on the Titanic as The Simpsons became the longest running animated series on primetime television. 1997, for better or worse, was a memorable year for all of us, but especially for Ed and Alice, it seems – the couple at the heart of Sunless ’97. “Loads of insignificant things happened,” admits Ed, “and highly significant too. ’97 was a really strange year, but also we both went to the same music festivals and saw some of the same bands – we were probably standing right next to each other when we were ten years old. Thousands of personal things happened to us but we won’t go into that,” he smiles.

Named after their favourite annum and their favourite Chris Marker film (Sans Soleil), Sunless ’97 evolved through a relationship that started in Ed and Alice’s teens. “Are we an item? What, like the Justin Bieber lyric?” Alice teases. “No, we are. And there goes the mystery. We’ve been together for about ten years now and worked together on loads of stuff before, although this is my first musically.”

For Ed, he’s been here before, and this new project is seemingly a reaction to his former self, as front man in urchin pop band Larrikin Love and then as The Pan I Am.

“I guess it’s a natural progression,” he ponders. “I didn’t have too much to do with Larrikin Love in terms of music and stuff – it was four big egos knocking against each other, so it was a different sound and then The Pan I Am was purely me but through a very dark phase, so this one is Alice and I together and I feel like I’ve opened my mind a lot.”

“Yeah, you had your first band and then you’ve had your niche and now you’ve broadened your boundaries again,” says Alice.

One haplessly nostalgic and exuberant, the other born from a propensity for wearing black and listening to Neubaten, Larrakin Love and The Pan I Am really were worlds apart, and now Ed’s dark alter ego of The Pan I Am has given way to an explosion of taste. “I think all that was a reaction to my teenage years and now I’ve been listening to so much music over the last three years from every corner of the planet,” he says. “The song we were working on the other day sounds like a fuzzed out conga rhythm with Ethiopian synth lines.”
The band’s ‘Making Waves’ EP, released back in November, overflowed with potential. Combining killer hooks with dizzy melancholy and playful boy/girl vocals, Sunless ’97 borrowed the best bits from chillwave and merged them with a dash of pop. The result was a kaleidoscope of warm electronic tones and meant-to-be vocal harmonies.

“We’re just getting used to communicating something across with decent sound,” says Alice. “It’s all about the atmosphere at the moment. It’s a vibe more than anything. We went to see Peaking Lights recently and although the sound was awful the show was great because of the atmosphere they create – it’s weird really. We have to channel that, we have to understand that it’s rawer than the sound and we are still honing what we do.”

A complex and layered EP, Ed and Alice have gathered a bewildering amount of influences from Robert Wyatt to Broadcast to produce a hazy summer condensed onto 12 inches. Helping them do so was, funnily enough, this month’s Loud And Quiet cover star, Kwes, who’s studious in the studio and, in the eyes of Alice – a self-confessed musical novice – a God-send. “We’ve learned so much from working with him and it’s all taken on board,” she assures. “He doesn’t really say much, he just sits with his back to you. He just knows, doesn’t he,” she says to Ed, “and he finishes all your sentences as well. His record could be the best in 2012.”

“It was like having a master class as he’s such an instinctive, intuitive kind of guy,” continues Ed. “We were constantly taking notes and downloading cracked copies of all the plug ins he’s got. They only last for 30 days at a time as we can’t afford them!”

Back in the studio, the couple sit alongside their bassist Matt – a crucial component when it comes to constructing their shimmering sound. “A lot of time we will drill a song into the ground at home until we can’t hear it any longer and then Matt comes in and says… ‘nah!’” explains Ed. “It’s really essential for us to bounce off another person as it’s just us at home until we take the song out into the world. We’ve already started recording our next release and we have so many ideas. We are looking to put it out around March, so you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Matt’s input – and bass playing – certainly made a difference to ‘Illuminations’, the beautifully built lead track from ‘Making Waves’. It was probably its soaring chorus that caught Fearne Cotton’s ear-holes first. “Yep, I take back everything I ever said about her,” says Alice wryly.

“She really likes us so that’s cool,” elaborates Ed. “When she played it on the radio I just happened to be flicking through stations, Alice’s sister called and suddenly there she was, Fearne waxing lyrical about us. It’s cool but I only really listen to Radio 4.”

It’s doubtful they’ll get a spot on Celebrity Juice anytime soon, but Sunless ’97 are set to wind back the clock a decade and a half and make 2012 another year to remember.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 34 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. January 2012

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