For those of you dissatisfied with a world in which One Direction are considered a symbol of national pride fit for the Olympics’ Closing Ceremony, console yourselves with this thought; Stealing Sheepexist. And the Sheep do not just exist; they’re genuinely popular, and backed by a fairly major label in the form of Heavenly.
Our society may be crippled by unemployment and a culture in which nothing is considered more significant than one syllable uttered from the lips of Cheryl Cole, but somewhere, and somehow, people are gathering together the last scraps of their money to purchase Stealing Sheep’s forthcoming debut album, Into The Diamond Sun. Even more encouragingly, labels like Heavenly are still willing to spend substantial amounts of money on a Scouse harmony led freak-folk three piece who count “Greek sea Gods” amongst their myriad of eccentric influences. Somewhere in the world, something is right.
As we meet up with the band ahead of the release of their debut album in the vegetarian jazz café (where else) where it was recorded, their confidence in their own music isn’t left in any doubt. When probed as to whether they feel any nervousness to put out Into The Diamond Sun after working on it for such a protracted length of time, the answer couldn’t be any more unequivocal or unfazed. “No,” is the firm response. “It just feels like the next step, a step forward to bigger things”. Eventually they concede that “obviously we do feel a little bit exposed, but we can’t let things like that get to us, because then you over-think things, and you end up in a downward spiral that leads nowhere.”
This undistracted focus is undoubtedly reflected on the album, as they pursue their own creative instincts, uninhibited by thoughts of what an audience might make of it. As a result, Into The Diamond Sun feels completely organic and inspired, with their quasi-mystical sideways pop music being exactly what they set out to make it. “We kind of had it sussed from the beginning”, they admit, and it’s not surprising when you consider the dense, almost jam-like passages which litter the album; they sound like a band that know exactly what they want, and are talented enough to achieve it.
The ramshackle edge which was so ingrained in the cosmic stomp of previous single ‘Shut Eye’ hasn’t been lost in the process of producing the album, either. In fact, it seems to influence everything that Stealing Sheep do, and is almost like a guiding principle to their left-field folk explorations. It even extends to their being pragmatic with their money; hence their decision to record in Liverpool at Mello Mello studios, rather than make the expensive move down to London. In the cute, idealistic way which is completely characteristic of the band, they start off by explaining this decision by saying that “we wanted to be surrounded by our friends”, before honestly adding that “it was also mainly the price”.
There was also no superstar producer, instead, a similarly inventive and talented young producer from local band Dogshow, Sam Crombie, who was apparently chosen because the band are “all friends with him”. They clearly hold him with a great deal of respect, as they explain that they “felt comfortable with him saying that he didn’t like things”, a situation which is probably far rarer with a well known producer and without that intimate relationship. The album itself completely vindicates all of these decisions. In fact, it could almost be viewed as an eleven song manifesto which proves that money does not maketh great music; what does is creativity and inspiration, a couple of qualities which Stealing Sheep do not struggle for.
Full credit must go to their record label, Heavenly, for realising these qualities early on, and choosing to trust the band’s often challenging impulses. Despite the temptation to mother new bands, Stealing Sheep can only praise the fact that they’re given “a lot of creative control…they just leave it to us really”, before giving the band constructive feedback. We get the impression that the relationship hasn’t just not been a negative one, but that the label have really positively influence the record.
Admittedly, Stealing Sheep are potentially one of the world’s friendliest bands, but they react almost ecstatically to the mention of their label, and say that “they’re really supportive and easy to talk to. They’re always there at the gigs that we do in London.” More importantly, when things inevitably got tough, the label reacted constructively. Referring to the deadline for their album, the band admit that they had the intention of getting it in on time, “but we went over. By a month. Or maybe two months. It was stressful because there was that deadline, but we were bouncing the tracks back and forwards and they were giving us their opinion and then we were giving them our opinion, and it didn’t always correlate.”
Ultimately though, having been through that process, Into The Diamond Sun is a more complete album. “It’s definitely been worth it,” the band conclude, for it was that painful process which has made the album so unmistakably fully formed and mature. In our fickle music industry, it’s always a temptation to rush through a band’s debut album to capitalise on press hype, but by agonising over every last painstaking note for months, both the band and the label have come out with an album which does Stealing Sheep justice and properly conveys their subtle and unique pop music.
Nothing sounds laboured or forced, instead each dreamy passages melts into the next, with quintessential Stealing Sheep harmonies driving the whole thing. Perhaps this is all down to the band’s limitless vision and imagination; they’re so invigorated that they excitedly tell us that they’ve “got loads of ideas, things keep coming…Enough about the first album!” This restless attitude certainly makes Into The Diamond Sun a delight, and we can’t wait for album number two either, but please, girls, just let us enjoy this one first.
Into The Diamond Sun is available now through Heavenly Recordings.