Paul Wilson recently caught up with Stornoway’s drummer extraordinaire, Rob Steadman, for a chat about their new album Beachcomber’s Windowsill and their ongoing rise as folk-pop stars…
Your new album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, is out on May 24th, how does it feel to have your album finally released to the public?
It’s definitely exciting, we’re a bit nervous about the reaction. We’ve had some really good comments from people who’ve heard an advanced copy, people are saying they think it’s really great so we’re looking forward to its release but anxious at the same time. We’re hosting three launch parties at a small venue in Oxford, with about one hundred people each night. We’re doing it for our local fanbase that we started with.
The album is being released on 4AD Records, now we imagine there was a lot of interest from labels in having Stornoway on their books, what was it that convinced you 4AD were the right label for the band?
Well we were wondering firstly if we needed a label at all or if so, what label to choose. That process went on for about six months. We’d always taken the DIY process before then and it did well for us. We discussed the deal with 4AD and decided we could still be independent whilst having the backing of the label at the same time. It’s very good and we feel at home. They have a strong reputation for alternative bands and it feels like a good fit.
Popular support for Stornoway has been slowly building for quite some time now, do you feel it has snowballed of late?
Definitely although we’ve had our own momentum from the start. From being a DIY independent thing, we’ve kept pushing for gigs and building the songs up. At each stage we’ve had people want to come in and help us grow, be it the appearances at Glastonbury, Radio 1’s Big Weekend or the label. It helps us grow, so over the past four years having people want to push us on has been great. We need to see what this year’s momentum does for us and hopefully we’ll have proved to have made the step up.
You’re about to embark on a brief tour in support of the album in the UK before launching a full summer festival schedule – what would you say is the stand-out difference between these types of gigs and which do you prefer?
They vary a lot. We work well in both situations in terms of how we come across. In a small venue its very intimate and we enjoy that, Brian’s persona as a frontman works when people are really listening. We also love the festivals though with the carnival atmospheres that they have. Glastonbury last year would be the perfect example. It was our first time there and every gig was really busy but also nice and relaxed. So that’s probably our favourite setting, to be able to play to so many people at once.
The album is missing the earlier single ‘Unfaithful’, was that a conscious decision to sway towards an album of fresh music?
Definitely. It’s inevitable to have songs like ‘Zorbing’ on there because it is most people’s favourite song. There was a conscious effort to push songs that people haven’t heard and the new ones we’ve written most recently. We’ve got about 8 songs that aren’t on there at all that we don’t play live either. They’ve just faded away but we’ll be bringing them back eventually after this album has had its run. This album’s main focus is on the new songs and a mix between the singles.
How much debate was there within the band over the tracklisting?
Brian and Jon took the lead roles in choosing the tracklisting. It always works that way. Brian and Jon would spend the most time on the band’s ideas and songs because Ollie was at Uni and I’d only just come out of school. Although we do all sit down near the end of the process and have our individual input.
What would you attribute the band’s rise to? I think there’s a dream-like quality to most of your songs and a sense that even though the lyrics can be downbeat at times, there is still always a sense of them being ultimately uplifting all at the same time. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I think so. Each song has a story and there is a connection between the songs. The idea of album is that a few of the songs are connected. There’s a complete difference between playing live and the record. I think live we are totally different to what people think after hearing the tracks. I think we have an element of uniqueness that just comes naturally from our desire to play music in our own way.
What do you find is the best thing about touring? What is the worst?
The best thing for me is the bonding that goes on whilst on tour. I’m a decade younger than Brian and Jon, so we wouldn’t normally mix, there’s always been an age divide – so getting to connect with them more is the best part of being together and spending time with one another. The worst thing is probably if a gig doesn’t go so well then some people might get down about it and on tour you can’t really get away from people, but it very rarely happens. It’s normally a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Do the band have any goals set for the future?
We’re riding the wave but we’ve always had goals but we’ve never set ourselves expectations that are too high. We know that if you aim too high you’ll end up disappointed most of the time. We really want to see how Glastonbury goes for us this year, being on a bigger stage with more people knowing of us. At the end of the year we will sit down and look at the album sales. Our goal is to sell a lot of records and to do well internationally. I think we’re going to New York in July and that’ll be our first time there which will be a great feeling.
You’ve recently played a gig in your namesake town, what was that like as an experience and did any locals comment on you using the name?
We didn’t know what to expect. A lot of people that came to that gig were there to see if we are worthy of the name. For about a year beforehand, we had people asking when we were going to do a gig there. It was a great experience – arriving there and knowing nothing about the place. We took some friends, family and press along with us so it was like one big party. The gig itself was fantastic and people really liked it. We gave everyone in the audience some whisky before the encore so I think we won them over.
Finally, if you were presenting a showcase of the band and could only pick three songs that defined your sound and style, which 3 would you pick and why?
Personally I’d pick ‘I Saw You Blink’, ‘End Of The Movie’ and ‘Watching Birds’. ‘I Saw You Blink’ has an African soul touch to its rhythm section, which I love. I’ve recently started singing harmonies when playing live so it’s nice to combine that with the drumming. ‘End Of The Movie’ is brilliant because that’s where Brian’s lyrics and song-writing really come through and that defines us as a band lyrically also. ‘Watching Birds’ is a much louder and faster one that shows a diversity within us, it’s good to be able to go from calm and acoustic to a really rocky tune. It’s my favourite to play live as it gets the crowd going, I think they enjoy the loudness and change of pace.
Stornoway’s debut album, ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’, is out on Monday 24th May on 4AD Records.