Interview: Common Tongues

common tongues interview2017 is turning out to be a spectacular year for music, and it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to pick out favourites. I have no doubt in my mind however that Brighton band Common Tongues have released one of the strongest debuts of the year. Their eclectic album Divisions shifts with the greatest of ease between genres, providing a whistle-stop tour of everything from folk to electronica, indie to prog. Naturally I just had to chat to them about their fantastic new record: 

You’ve just released your brilliant debut album Divisions, are you happy with the way it’s turned out?
Aw thank you for the kind words. Yes, absolutely, we’re all really happy with how it turned out. Having put 2 years worth of blood, sweat and tears into that record, feeling anything less that immensely proud of it would be deeply disappointing. Thankfully we had Gavin Monaghan and Joe Murray at Magic Garden Studios at the helm. They had a great grasp of us and what we were trying to do with the record. Reading great reviews of it, like your one, always helps of course.

The album is a bold change of direction compared to your previous releases, incorporating a range of styles. What was the catalyst for that? What made you decide to kick things up a notch?
To be honest it felt like a natural evolution born from picking up new instruments and experimenting with how we processed the sounds we were making, it wasn’t something we consciously thought about or had decided upon. Andy had started to mess around with putting his violin through different effects and suddenly it wasn’t this lovely acoustic instrument anymore, it was a jagged train crash of a noise. Gibson lent Tom and I some electric guitars around the same kind of time and we started experimenting with delays and volume swells, arpeggiators etc. And then beginning to introduce these elements whilst writing and jamming together, suddenly we had these tracks which all had a rawer, more electronic thread to them… which became Divisions.

With Divisions being more experimental, were there any particular tracks that proved to be a challenge as you were writing and recording the record?
‘Picture a Scene’ comes to mind. We spent probably about a year toying with and changing it from when the shell of it was first written. We have a constant battle when we write music, do we go for catchier more accessible songs or maybe more musically satisfying, proggier, more experimental tracks, both I think we’re capable of doing well. With ‘Picture a Scene’ we knew we had a chance to indulge the latter, and once you remove the frame of conventional song structure, the sky’s the limit. We spent a long time trying different sections, changing them round, trying it live, going back to the drawing board etc until we fell into the structure that’s on the record. The track holds a special place in our hearts and hopefully that sense of journey and no holds barred freedom comes across.

There’s so many different elements at work in tracks such as ‘New Moon’ and ‘Pioneer’. Were all the little nuances planned out or did the songs grow and evolve over time?
The songs definitely grew and evolved over time. We always make a point of taking songs out on tour, playing them live over and over to let them really grow and breathe in a way only playing them live can let them; seeing what worked, what didn’t work etc, before we commit them to track. Also in the studio we had a chance to sit back and listen to what we had, take on suggestions from Jo and Gavin… to be honest most of the time we had to take bits out, realise what parts really make the song or section what it is and take out unnecessary elements and give it a bit of space.

You’ve released an excellent debut and have made an incredible first impression, but second albums have a reputation for being tricky. Looking ahead, are there any other directions you’d love to take your music on future records?
I think we’d love to vary the exactness of some of our music, there are so many elements at play all interlocking with each other and usually quite complicated in their own right. I think we’d like to play some more groove based songs, songs you can relax into and really enjoy playing, not be under the strain of locking all these intricate parts into each all the time. To be honest we’ve already got roughly half of a new record together that we’re already playing live and growing, letting them breathe. And they’re all getting great reactions from our fans so yeah we’re very confident the next album will a real step up again from this one in all ways.

What has been your biggest achievement thus far as a band and what big dream goal are you working towards?
We’ve played our fair share of Radio shows, festival stages and supports to bigger bands we idolise and love but it has to be this album. To write a body of work, refine it, record it to a professional standard and release it with all the myriad processes and struggles that go along with that is a hell of an achievement. And to have something at the end of it that were very proud of, that’s unique and says something, and then to have press and critics turn round and say “yeah, that’s great!”; it’s the pinnacle of our career so far. Not every band can do that, and to know we’re already writing better songs is a great feeling. There’s so much more to come and it’s just gonna get better. To get that opportunity and a growing platform to do it on is the only real goal we’re working towards, and the dream is to be totally free to focus 100% on it.

What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Tom and I are heading to the South of France to write and record a record with fellow Brighton artist Michael Baker. We’ll be holed away in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks so we’re excited to see what we come up with, there will definitely be a healthy dose of Common Tongues in it so hopefully will be of interest to our fans.
We’ve also just started up a record company with our good friends Time For T called Last Train Records which we put Divisions out on, so that will no doubt be keeping us busy.
CTwise, we’d love to get back into the studio before the end of the year and lay down some new tracks. Divisions took a long 2 years and we love those songs but they can feel old to us, so we’re very eager to get back in the studio and show you some of the new tracks we’ve been working on.

Massive thanks to Common Tongues! Looking forward to more new music! Their debut album Divisions is out now.