It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly six years since I stumbled across the music of Flyte, one of the best bands out of the U.K., or anywhere, for that matter.
While Covid has screwed up the release and touring plans for their looming second album, the band has still been slowly laying down the foundation by releasing a handful of new singles, such as the newly released “I’ve Got A Girl.”
Late last month I had the pleasure of video chatting on Zoom with the band’s very own Will Taylor and Nick Hill. We spoke about the new track, how much of it really is about the departure of a founding member and friend, the evolution of their sound over the years, some hints of the new record, as well as what movies they’ve been watching.
This is an interview I had wanted to do ever since I accidentally discovered their early single “Light Me Up” thanks to a brilliant working YouTube algorithm. So while we wait for album number two, enjoy our chat with Will and Nick from Flyte below.
Will Oliver: You guys have found some creative ways to combat the inability to play “traditional” live shows, performing outside at Parliament Hill and even going to fan’s homes and performing for them outside. Can you talk about those experiences? Any funny stories with any of the door to door encounters – and you plan to keep doing those eventually maybe even over here?
Will Taylor: Yeah it was kind of a way of playing when we weren’t able to in any other way than just coming up with some harebrained schemes. And it also was testing if people would..show up. At least with the Hampstead one [where Parliament Hill is located], I don’t remember it being definitely a Hampstead idea, it was just that we were going to play outside in various places, in parks and outdoor spaces, and get people to just show up in a sort of casual way. And then it was William Rees of Mystery Jets, who was around at my housewarming, he was like, “Why don’t you do it at Hampstead? You guys are very Hampstead types.
Nick Hill: Definitely our vibe for sure
WT: Parliament Hill is this lovely little viewpoint in Hampstead Heath and somebody said, “Yeah that’s the perfect spot, let’s do that.”
N: It’s so incredibly gratifying having some interaction with other human beings through music as well (laughs). You realize after sort of six months of not doing it that there’s something slightly wrong with your life and then it happens and it’s like “oh my god, this is what was wrong.”
WT: Yeah you get slowly more and more depressed and are like “why am I so sad?” And then the minute we got the show I just had a huge ego that needed stroking by hundreds of people and it has just gone unstroked for a while (both laugh). So yeah that was nice, that was a good look for us because we announced the show so last minute, like 24 hours before. So the fact that 100 people came looked like a really impressive thing. When in actual fact I reckoned was just that everyone was bored out of their mind and hadn’t been to a gig all summer
N: We just got there first.
WT: We were just the first people to come up with the idea and then the doorstep stuff was just an extension of that really because not long after we played Parliament Hill we actually weren’t allowed to have public gatherings at all by the government. So we thought we’d go to people’s individual houses and play to them there. We aren’t making any money out of it really, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Do you want to hear an anecdote?
W: Yeah! I was just going to ask if you had any funny stories or encounters?
WT: One of the anecdotes was that there were these two girls we were playing to who lived in an old sort of tower block and they came down for us to play to them at the exit of the tower block rather than their own door. So they were down on the ground floor outside the entrance and we were playing for them there and after the first song some guy, who had a ground floor flat with a window looking out to where we were, poked his head out and went “oh Flyte!?” And that was weird because, you know…
N: Yeah that was a fucking weird coincidence and then he was like “I went to your gig three years ago in Bristol” and one of the girls went “I was at that gig too!” And so it just got weirder and weirder, it was a strange serendipity.
WT: And now they’re dating!
N: (looks at Will surprised) Are they actually??
WT: Yeah they went on a date!
WO: Wow I was just going to joke and say “and now they’re dating!”
N: Wow I didn’t realize that.
WT: And we got a mysterious video from someone through some friends, of us playing to someone else’s door across the street. It seems we’re incredibly famous in London and nowhere else (both laugh). We’re London famous!
W: Hey you guys sold out Mercury Lounge when you were here!
WT: We did sell out Mercury Lounge! I think we are London, New York, L.A., and like maybe Berlin…but if it’s a man on the street they have no clue who the hell we are. We’re elitists!
WO: Before the release of “I’ve Got A Girl,” I did have plans to ask about the departure of Sam [former member Sam Berridge] but you sort of did that for us on the song. I don’t know how much you want to get into the reasons behind his departure but do you guys feel as it was needed to get some closure?
WT: I’d say just carrying on without him and making the White Roses EP and then making this recent album was all we needed to move on, personally. And he left the country. So we miss him as a friend as we don’t see him anymore. I wrote about this in the newsletter we sent out to fans, is laced with poetic license, and by no means the “diss track” that it sounds like.
N: Yeah it definitely sounds more like a diss…but when we wrote it we were thinking about a bunch of stuff.
WT: We were thinking of a whole bunch of other things
N: It definitely sounds like its really about him (laughs)
WT: We were asking a lot of other questions and talking about the audience’s ability to kind of cancel an artist or not, or the modern era we live in “we were your biggest fans and now we want our money back.” We tried to leave it wide open but I think there’s something so unambiguous about “I’ve got a girl, I’m breaking up the band,” as an opening line and everyone immediately thinks of Sam. Or that there was some kind of Yoko girlfriend in the mix there. But there really wasn’t. We were channeling something about Sam and about his departure, but really we were trying to maximize how good and satisfying the words could sound and how cool the track could ultimately feel. We were putting that first rather than saying this is our moment to send a message about Sam.
N: Yeah I think that’s a succinct way of putting it.
WT: If you wanted to hear a reason why he’s not in the band, we didn’t fall out, there were no creative differences. He just sort of fell out of love with the concept of being in a band, which is understandable. People always think it’s incredibly fun and glamorous all the time and it’s not, it’s really, really hard work and takes an awful lot of inner strength and morale-boosting to keep going. I mean, we probably suffered from that a lot less than he did because we were in bands a lot longer, we’ve been in bands since we were 10 years old. When he joined us back in 2013, it was his first-ever band. I think perhaps he wasn’t as hardwired to slug it out when times got sluggy.
WO: In the newsletter to fans, you gave some cool insight about the late-night drunken recording and that you used Tim Rice-Oxley from Keane’s piano. There have been a lot of cathartic emotional songs written on that thing.
WT: That’s true yeah, it was through our friend Jess [Staveley-Taylor] who is in a band called The Staves, who I now live with in this flat! It was last summer when she was playing with us on stage at the festivals and we were beginning to demo the new record we had written and asked if she knew of anywhere we could practice and make some demos and stuff and she suggested her friend Tim who happened to be in this band Keane a band that we had grown up with on Radio 2 constantly (laughs) and it was funny. Yeah, it’s his own private studio and he was just really kindly lending it to us. But a lot of the album, the way it sounds, was forged there in his studio, including on his Keane piano.
We then went off on tour in America, Europe, and the UK and the had Christmas and came home, looked at what we had and well, we had a great time in America where there are a lot of exciting producers we would love to work without there so we ended up actually recording it in L.A. in February.
N: Well we finished it off in L.A. we kind of recorded some of it at Tim’s.
WT: Bits and pieces.
N: Well, the drums and the bass.
WT: On that track yeah! But not the whole record.
N: I remember it was a really funny thing. We were trying to get the right vibe for “I Got A Girl” for ages and we were sober and the drunker we got the better it sounded and we were like we should keep going as late as possible into the night.
WT: I think we were getting drunk and it wasn’t working and we then got stoned as well which pulled the temper back a bit and got the groove. It’s a bit grim talking about drugs and music, we’re not exactly like crazy drug people. It’s just that sometimes being a little left of center in yourself can just unlock something that you couldn’t possibly locate in the day, with the daylight coming in through the window, and you may be a bit sleepy after some lunch (laughs). There’s a strange sweet spot when you’re really looking for a particular vibe. But another thing to add about that is having to be in South Downs, England, which is where Tim’s place was, is very pastoral, very English indeed and the subject matter of the album being very much about a very dark year with a horrible break-up, Jon [drummer Jon Supran] was having a crap time too. It just was not a good time and being out in the country and it was very melancholic and coming into the autumn, and we just took that Englishness and then put it through this extra filter of Hollywood, living just off Sunset [Boulevard] and going out to L.A. to record. It became very Transatlantic in that way.
[speaking to Nick]: I don’t know if we talked about this much but I was kind of afraid of being one of those English bands that go over to America to make a record and sort in the old days that would be the sort of thing that the NME would take you down for. “Oh do you think you’re all American now? Fuck you!” (laughs) But I don’t think it was that way for us, it was more about going to work with particular people we wanted to work with. The fact that they happened to be geographically in L.A. didn’t seem to make much difference. And I actually still think it sounds like an English record still.
WO: The sound of Flyte has evolved a ton over the years and it seems like you guys are still evolving with every new release. Where you started out as a more 80’s influenced Brit-pop/art-rock vibe and now a more folk-oriented sound. Can you talk about that change and if it happened organically, anything that influenced it?
WT: It’s sort of a difficult question. I think we were making songs that fitted quite well on Radio 1 in the U.K. In England that means quite big productions
N: Straight to the point
WT: Yeah, straight to the point and falling more maybe into the category of indie pop, which for us never sat well, because we felt we were being a little bit more esoteric or left field, or charming, than the idea of what U.K. indie-pop is, which is very teenage and quite meat and potatoes. I think we found ourselves caught between not wanting to be meat and potatoes U.K pop/rock kind of thing and not also wanting to be snooty, beard scratching kind of overly challenging. We wanted to straddle that middle ground. I think we found that frustrating because it’s very hard to do that.
N: It definitely took time.
WT: I think we made good music in that period but it was probably hard to really go there and get the wind in our sails because so much of the time music needs to fit into some category for it to work, and horrible to say but “sold to the world” or sit easily in some sort of pigeonhole. We got a bit frustrated and retreated into our more organic realm and that was around 2016 when we started to strip everything away and we posted videos online of just us singing songs with just one guitar or a random piano, or sometimes no instruments at all and just using our voices.
That felt like a turning point and a way out of the little corner we trapped ourselves into, so I think we saved ourselves by becoming more organic and less bound to a sound or a production. I think we always wanted to just feel like we sounded timeless and that there would be no need to pigeonhole us or to give us a bracket, that we would just be making songs and presenting those songs in a natural way that would be unchallenging to us and the listener.
I think where we’ve ended up is we still have fun in the studio and make colorful sounds and be ambitious with our arrangements but I think when we feel most at home with our music is when we’ve just done very little with it at all. We haven’t used the computer at all and we’ve never edited anything, there’s no drum editing, there’s no tuning, no trickery whatsoever. It’s exactly a capture of what we can do in the room, and that for us, the last few years, where we’ve felt happy and we can carry on with that forever.
WO: Speaking of having fun Will, you got to rip into not one, but two guitar solos. What was that like, how’d that come about?
WT: Just didn’t write enough lyrics for the other verses (both laugh).
N: [to Will] You actually wrote those guitar solos on the spot, didn’t you? Which was very impressive actually
WT: Little improvised ditties.
N: Better than what usually happens
WT: I’ve always been like that as a guitarist. If you try and teach me a really specific challenging sequence that I have to stick to, I just fall apart. But if I know my way around a key I can improvise alright. But I’d never be able to reproduce it, it would have to be different every time. It was just fun to bring in a little bit more instrumental moments.
N: Yeah we’ve never done that before…
[Will’s girlfriend arrives outside – Will answers the door]
N: Sorry, Will’s girlfriend is here! But yeah, that has been the one nice thing about this record, we have been able to have a bit more license with the playing because we had been so concerned about fitting as much song in as possible just getting it over and done with as quickly as possible. I guess that goes back to the previous question, it’s a nice way that our sound has changed, that we can just explore our playing a bit more.
WT: That’s Billie! Billie Martin [Will’s girlfriend], have you heard of her, she’s a singer! She’s just about to put her third album out, it’s going to be quite good.
W: When’s that coming out?
WT: [to Nick] Think the same time as us?! Very soon…
W: Ah so you can’t quite say yet (laughs)
WT: (laughs) Soon! Guy Garvey from Elbow has been doing some tracks on her latest record and there’s a particular song that he sang on that’s particularly good that’s going to be a hit!
W: These recent batch of songs have been about breakups – when you write these songs, you’re eventually going to perform them over and over live. Will it be hard to do so (whenever proper live shows return) or is it all a part of a therapeutic process? For instance, the line “You’ve stripped me of everything and I hate you I really do” in “Losing You” is one of the most brutally honest lines I’ve heard in a while and it’s so refreshing.
WT: I think to an extent it’s sort of an incremental exorcism. But I’m sure after a certain point the words will lose their meaning and that will mean that I’m fully past it.
N: I remember there was a track called “Everyone’s A Winner” that we had just written the day before and we had a moment where we played it live and we were like “oh god” (laughs)
WT: We really made something miserable here (laughs) There’s a line in it, “Everything’s forever, except the dog and the chair and the bedroom that we share, and the friends that must choose which one of us they wish to lose.” And there was a big cheer in the audience for that line and…
N: It was like, why are you cheering?! (laughs)
WT: No, no, I remember at the time being like, oh, ok, that line is sort of the crux of this whole record and this might be a really good thing for us. We’ve inadvertently said a lot of barefaced things like the line from “Losing You” you quoted and kind of worried about that being a little bit too much on the nose but that moment at the show we realized no, that’s exactly what people want; complete honesty.
W: I saw on social you guys have been previewing your next video with a sword and some blood. I’m sure you can’t give too much away but any hints on what to expect? You set a high bar last time working with Mark Jenkin!
WT: Yeah it’s definitely a departure from the incredibly tasteful and reserved tactile style that Mark brings to the table. This is maybe a visual representation of what we thought the music was doing when we released “I’ve Got a Girl.”
N: It’s definitely more bombastic and aggressive.
WT: Kind of terrifying.
N: Yeah it is quite terrifying.
WT: The fact that “Easy Tiger” and “Losing You” are very reserved, very tasteful, and then for this new song to be in real contrast to that, very big and explosive, I think we were trying to reflect that with the visuals. It will be with you shortly in the post!
W: What can you tell us about the new album – that you are allowed to tell us or share?
WT: Well we haven’t been briefed on what we are allowed to tell you or not, and quite honestly we don’t know ourselves what’s going to happen with Covid and us being able to tour again.
Obviously, we had a tour planned this year and it’s been moved and it’s been moved again and to a certain extent we’re a live band, we’re a touring band, and for us, the music being delivered sort of online by social media is never going to be quite enough. We need to connect with an audience in real life, so we have been holding back a little bit just waiting for a sign for us to get back on the road. But we aren’t going to be able to wait forever, so it’s coming very soon. We also did feel that there is a lot of single opportunities for the songs on the record, quite a lot of songs on there that we would have liked to be singles, so we are doing a lot of singles for this record before it even comes out.
I can say that you can expect a Christmas release but it’s not going to be an album.
W: I saw on social media that you guys have already started writing new songs for album three, was that before or after quarantine and have you been writing during this lockdown period as well?
WT: We got a lot of new material from quarantine and a lot of stuff we were trialing out on our livestream every Monday night when the lockdown was happening in the U.K., so there’s a lot of new material there and not just me, but also Nick and Jon, cause we were all separately…
N: Doing a song a day
WT: Writing a song a day for 20 days with some of our friends, so there’s a lot of stuff there and there’s also a lot of songs that have never quite made on the last two records that we still deem great songs but haven’t figured out a good way to frame them. So it doesn’t feel like there’s a shortage of material to get straight on with the third album for sure.
WO: I know you’re big film buffs, what stuff have you been watching of late or listening, reading, etc during this crazy time of Covid?
WT: Well the other morning we were watching Matilda (both laugh) and at the end, they were reading Moby Dick together, her and Miss Honey, so I started reading Moby Dick, she’s a tiny little child, if she can, I can too! (laughs)
N: I’ve been just reading Forster again.
WT: [speaking to Nick]: Forster?
N: Always (laughs)
WT: We all are Forsterers. A Room With A View and Howards End, you know, also that’s a good film segway, the Merchant Ivory films that do all the Forster adaptations we are big fans of. Howards End, A Room With A View, Maurice is brilliant.
N: [to Will] What about films, what have you seen at the cinema?
WT: There’s a brilliant new film that’s set here where we live in Hackey called Rocks..which is…uh, it may be a tricky one to recommend to an American viewer, because it’s very, very English to the point where even the English would probably find it hard to understand..it’s incredibly colloquial to North East London, there may have to be subtitles. But that’s a really, really good film.
I went back and watched The Elephant Man the other day, had a good cry [Nick laughs], and reminded me that I think David Lynch is so brilliant, but that when he is actually being a bit straighter, having to work to maybe a less abstract story, that’s kind of when I like him best really. Because he’s still trying to squeeze in all that bizarre imagery, but he’s kind of been tamed by the big Hollywood studio trying to make a tearjerker blockbuster. I love that film. And we were about to watch Kramer vs. Kramer the other day but I went no, I’m going to cry if I watch it again and turned it off.
But there’s a list on our Instagram on the story highlight and there’s a fairly long list of films that we’ve been watching, and not just that we’re watching, but that are kind of our favorite ones.