By Mark Glenister
Back in April I reviewed the debut In Earnest single ‘Put me Under’. It was the first review I’d ever done. What drew me to the band was how openly they spoke about Mental Health and how their songs reflected dealing with this illness.
I was contacted a few weeks back by the band, they had enjoyed my review and asked if I wanted to review their forthcoming single ‘Come Upstairs’. I of course said yes, but would they be interested in a proper interview via the wonders of Zoom (other video conference services are available), and they jumped at the chance, or perhaps they just wanted to speak to another human being. Anyway, I spoke with Tom and Sarah (2/3rds of the band) and it was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting chat, we spoke a lot about mental health, lockdown, the history of the band, song writing and how Tom managed to answer my questions before I had even asked them . . .
So, first of all, how are you both?
Tom – yes good, its been a weird few days
Sarah – Its been a weird few months, but yes generally OK
Tom – How are you?
Yes, good, as you say it’s been a weird time, and the novelty has worn off with being at home. I’ve got myself in to a routine and have had some bad days with my mental health, but I expected that so just dealt with them.
Sarah – Yes, very much the same, the novelty has worn off and its now about finding things to do to keep yourself occupied, that’s one of my main struggles now.
Tom – it has become harder and harder, we were doing loads of musical stuff for the first few months. I’m lucky enough that I can work from home, but Sarah does Dog Sitting so all of her work has gone for the foreseeable future. We sort felt that we had loads to do, and it was interesting to begin with, looking for things to keep us occupied. But as it has become ‘normal’ life, it’s started to feel tough, especially for Sarah, the novelty has worn off now definitely. Weirdly, at the same time we don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ and be amongst loads of people all the time.
It will be interesting to see what happens when we go back to a normal way of life; one of the more worrying things is that I teach music at the YMCA, so I can still do lessons via video calls. The difficult thing will be trying to find the time to responsibly go back to proper lessons, and for us a band when to be able to put on a gig. At the moment we are launching a whole new band without playing live, which is weird as its not something we have ever done before. We both want to go to gigs and festivals to play our own shows, but it will be interesting to see how and in what form we will be able to do that.
So, at the moment can you see the band playing a live show this year?
Tom - I think if we do, it will be very sparingly. Which is a shame, because it the thing that we all enjoy the most, performing these songs. We love the idea that people listen to them, appreciate them and take something from the words and content. But, in that live environment, we are really …..
Sarah - ….able to connect to people in a different way, that you can’t really do with just an audio performance
Tom – It’s a shame, but at the same time it is what it is. We have to have the mind set that there is nothing we can do, so we have to focus that energy on other areas of the music.
I think that’s how a lot of bands and fans feel at the moment – So, not being able to play live, have you had to learn new skills instead, learning a new language, making bread?
Sarah – We have done a lot of Yoga, we have done it every day since this began.
Tom – Yoga is something we have both tried at different stages, but with the lockdown it gave us a reason to do it every day, which I think we will continue to do beyond this. Its now part of our daily routine, along with walking our dog. I think that’s the good thing that we’ve experienced from lockdown, is that it’s given us no excuse not to have a good routine. We’ve figured out a routine that is good for both of us, not just for our mental health but our physical health as well.
Sarah – Yes, the routine has been one of the biggest things. I’ve also been practicing on the piano, as the Keys player in the band, I really should be better at piano than I am. I have a terrible memory so have been working on all our songs and refining my piano playing.
Tom – The thing is with that, this band came out of our last band which was called Carousel, which was an American style band with a few more members. That band evolved into what you now see as In Earnest, and we’ve only actually played 2 gigs as In Earnest. So, despite having this enforced break where live gigging is so limited, we’ve kept adding new songs into the repertoire but without always practising everything, so its like learning new songs that we’ve written whilst forgetting the old ones as we’ve not been gigging. We have only recorded six songs so far, which we did last year and these are the ones that we are slowly releasing, but we about 15 songs currently in our set. So, when we do gig, we play all the songs, but when we promote its just the song that we are promoting, so you do forget things. Especially as we haven’t been able to rehearse as a full band, because we are missing Toby our third member, so we haven’t been a full band since just before lockdown. As time goes on it is harder to remember everything which is all very frustrating.
Sarah – there is only so much we can do with just the two of us, and when lockdown happened nearly all of our gear was at Toby’s house, so we just have a guitar and piano here to play on. As a live act we rely on a lot of pedals and digital equipment, we plug a lot of stuff in. So when we did live streams we had to basically turn it into an acoustic act for the benefit of the live stream.
Tom – I write a lot of songs on my acoustic guitar, not plugged in, just me and the guitar. I’ve really noticed that when the song takes on a life of its own is when we take it into the rehearsal process; we rehearse in Toby’s conservatory; he has a full PA and a big mixer. We have pre-mixed stuff, so when we go there and just plug in and we sound great. So, the real eye opener for me, is that once you get used to doing that in that slightly elaborate way, when you then strip back the songs to being just you and the guitar, sometimes it just doesn’t do it for you anymore, some of the songs don’t really do it when they are stripped back; which is strange as that’s how they were originally written, and I was really in to them.
It’s shown to me really what taking songs to the band does for the songs - it really brings them to life, almost to the detriment of when I play them on my own. I wouldn’t say that we overly rely on having all the gear, and we can’t’ perform, but its definitely shown me that I prefer performing when we do have all the equipment. I think quite a lot of our song writing is quite open in terms of genre, its what we do when we elaborate on the core song that makes it the genre we love: which is this American, indie flavoured sad music. So, when we just strip then back to just the chords I find it very boring and I’m just playing chords, so that’s really strange. And one other thing is that when I cover people’s songs, I find that if I can’t place myself directly in the lyrics or the tone of the song, I don’t enjoy playing those songs that I love by other artists!
I think a lot of bands feel that way about live streams, they soon realise that it doesn’t sound the way they want the band to sound. You mentioned it there, but how do you approach song writing, is it just you Tom, or both of you or does Toby get involved as well?
Sarah – We both write, but for some reason we can’t write together. We’ve been a couple for 7 years, but find it so difficult to sit and write together.
Tom – the way I would explain it is that to me, I like to meticulously write a section, and I’ll then work on it so it transitions into the next section, and then the next. They have to happen in that order, and I won’t move on or skip a bit until I am happy with how this section moves to the next and so on. Where as I feel Sarah is very good at going here is a rough sketch of what I want to say, and how I want it to sound, she can skip over the details much easier than I can.
Sarah – I think Tom is much better at playing guitar, you play a riff and go oh that’s interesting I’ll write something around that riff. Whereas I tend to wake up with something to say, so I have to get some lyrics down, so lyrics are first for me. Normally one of us will write a song, or we’ll write a bunch of songs, take them to rehearsal. So, if ‘s my song, Tom and Toby will be session musicians for me, I’ll then try and explain how I want it to sound, and they will work with that, and make it sound lovely.
Tom – In our last band we tried to make the process inclusive of everybody, what happens then is that you end up with the person who really had the idea and had written the whole of the song, they then end up casting their vision aside for the benefit of just having everyone with equal input, that can really effect the song in a negative way. The way we approach it now is that its your song, you know what you are trying to say, we will support you in this song. We have this philosophy that we are all just trying to support each other when that person is leading the song. We are trying to get Toby to bring some instrumental ideas to the table, so he has slightly more of a part in the song writing process, because at the moment he is the guy who decorates our songs. He is so clever, he can play every instrument to such a high standard, and we want that added to the song writing process. We write individually, but we then bring those songs together and work on them collectively.
OK, new single ‘Come Upstairs’ who wrote that?
Tom – I wrote that, at the moment it’s a 100% who ever is singing the track they are the person who wrote it. What we did this time around, we’ve thought out a plan, looked at the songs we have recorded and how they relate to each other, and how we can tell a story through those songs.
The singles we picked, we didn’t originally think they would be singles. But we looked at what songs told the story of us. The idea was that ‘Put me Under’ is Sarah’s letter to her depression, it was written very quickly on that specific topic and feeling. And then what we did was how do we convey what the band is, so we put that out a song and it has a female singer, is everyone going to think that the next song will be a female singer, despite us saying on our press releases that we have 2 main singer songwriters in the band and they talk to each other through their music.
So ‘Come Upstairs’ is a response to ‘Put Me Under’, which again you might not get unless you read the press releases which is why we spent so much time on them. We pick not what we think are the catchy songs or the most accessible, but the songs that tell our story in the order that the story runs. Its quite an in-depth process, but we’ve thought about it a lot and I think that’s why things in the past didn’t work, because actually they didn’t have enough reason behind them. Its all well and good realising the song that you think is the best song, but if that doesn’t encompass what the whole band is about its kind of useless. So ‘Come Upstairs’ was written by me, it was a flow of consciousness around mental health, and how difficult it is. It’s a number of things, the really obvious thing is that its about being there for someone who is suffering, its trying to keep moral up, keep them positive and saying yes we could give up and give, but what about doing this.
When you listen to the song it builds to a crescendo, which to me in my mind when writing it is the intensity of living together at those really difficult times. There are so many things I could say and talk about the song, but its difficult sometimes. If someone asks what its about, its about all these different things wrapped up into a feeling, that goes for the artwork as well. The artwork is a one-off test thing that we ended up liking, it’s of me pulling Sarah off the sofa to go upstairs, it’s me saying to her it’s the end of a terrible day, lets go to bed and see what tomorrow brings us. The scratches over the face on the artwork, are what I feel it must be like for Sarah when she is in a depressive way, its about that filter that when she feels that way, does she know who I am, does she see that I am trying to help her.
We just wanted to show people that we are trying to do things in a meaningful way, and hopefully will resonate with them. We decided a while ago that whilst looking for people to release our music, that the DIY way of doing things, which we were doing at the time, was actually the best for us as we have complete control over what we do, what we released and what we want to say. So, our singles, our press releases as we mentioned, our artwork, are all under our control. So, as I said, we can then hopefully release the records that tell this bands entire story, not just one side of it.
Tom, thanks you’ve just managed to answer my next few questions, without me asking them! I think your DIY approach is spot on, a lot of young bands and now some of the older ones are seeing the control you can have now. With regards to your 2 singles, as someone who has mental health issues, I understood them straight away and could see which point of view was which, but I still think even if you don’t suffer from mental health you will interpret the songs in your own way, but its still getting those messages across.
Sarah – I think just talking about the topic, and us being so open and honest about it, is a talking point for someone who doesn’t suffer or know anyone that does suffer. That’s what I wanted to achieve really, just getting people to talk.
Tom – You get different levels of understanding, which is why its so important to raise awareness and not be ashamed or afraid of talking about these things. In our old band we had a couple of songs that were quite emotional, but we have now almost got quite relentless about it, because its what makes us feel worthy in a way, being brave enough to say these things makes doing what we do worth it. It’s a topic that goes under the radar because people are worried about what its OK to ask, or whether that person wants to be asked about it at all.
We know a few people who struggle with a lot, even to this day and we’ve known for years. So, it’s weird that it’s such a big thing for us, where as some people can’t understand that there are things going on in our brains that you can’t control, they are like ‘I don’t know what you mean, I control my brain, I control my body’. We try to be open and honest with different people about the topic, to encourage awareness and how to deal with someone who does suffer, being mindful about how their day might have been or how their life might be. We just think all of that is so important, we put in all the press releases that we want to create conversations about mental health, but we haven’t been asked about it that much. We want to be asked, because then all the articles will mention it and that conversation will start.
Sarah – a lot of the interviews for ‘Put me Under’ there was probably about 1 or 2 questions in those interview that were about mental health, considering it the song is solely based on mental health, we could have had a greater conversation about that. I know some people find it uncomfortable to talk about, but its something we have to.
I talk about mental health quite a bit in whatever I write, and I post a lot about it on social media – not so much for people who are suffering, but for those who don’t understand it. I know I will get people reach out to me and go ‘I didn’t realise it was like that’ now that wont be everyone that reads that article or sees that post, but to me that’s a few more people who want to be educated and understand mental health. I think the way you are approaching it is the best way to do it.
Tom – I think there is a fine line between doing that because it is what you are, but you could also argue that mental health can and maybe sometimes becomes a very click bait thing. I don’t think it comes across that we want attention, so we are all ‘Mental Health, Depression, Mental Health, depression’, it is just what it is, its just honest and hopefully our reasons behind what we do come across as honest.
That’s all you can do as a band, you believe in what you are doing, and you are happy with your output, then that’s all anyone could expect. Some people will like some won’t, but the fact a band like yourselves are talking about it is so important, because 10 years ago that may not have happened. But now so many bands want to talk about this, and that’s great, the more the better. More people will listen to music than read my blog, or someone writing a letter to a paper, they will get some attention, but a band can spread that message to far more people. That’s a really positive thing, and full credit to you for being so vocal.
So, final question, what’s next for the band?
Sarah – We have been trying to videos for each of the singles, so we had a time lapse video of me over a period of time for ‘ Pull me Under’ and for ‘Come Upstairs’ which is quite weird and quirky, and shows the mundane parts of life and living together.
Tom – We will do some more live streaming around the new single as well
Sarah – and the next single will be out in September sometime, the song is ‘29’ and that should hopefully tie all 3 of us in these stories. The song was written from Tom’s perspective of his childhood and memories of growing up, but the video is going to be videos from all of our childhoods as we’ve grown up, so that hopefully ties us in as a trio.
Tom – Toby musically appears quite heavily in that song, so that’s why we’ve chosen that one as our third single
Sarah – Then hopefully after that our EP will be out, which is 6 songs including the 3 singles. And then hopefully we will be recording by the end of the year, as we are itching to record some new songs which we have been sitting on for a while.
Tom – we are really looking forward to playing live, it will be nice to do the fun part of this job which is going out and playing.
And so with that, we say our goodbyes. This was such a good chat, and really interesting to see both their views on song writing, DIY bands and of course mental health. Once they are able to play live, go see them, they are definitely a band with something to say, and they are worth listening to.
Their new single ‘Come Upstairs’ is out now.