For a band who’s sound can so often lean so heavily on the instrumentally artificial – they’re certainly not shy of synthesisers – Still Corners can boast refreshingly organic origins.
“I already had this project going under the name Still Corners,” says Greg Hughes, now officially operating in the capacity of multi-instrumentalist and producer. “I’d already released an EP that I’d done by myself called Remember Pepper?, and I then I started auditioning a lot of different singers. I guess it was around January of 2009, I was on my way to London Bridge and ended up getting stuck at Kidbrooke Station; the train was diverted or something. There was only me and this one other person on the platform, we got talking and eventually, she mentioned that she was going to be late for choir; obviously straight away I asked her if she’d be interested. We recorded some demos the following week in the studio and the band as it is now really started there.”
The person in question was vocalist Tessa Murray, who made her first appearance on record as a member of Still Corners on the double A-side that saw them signed, before the band released their first full-length in 2011. “We started on this record literally the day after we turned in Creatures of an Hour, ” says Murray. “We were working on it straight through really, with a handful of gaps on and off for touring. Things were probably more sporadic this time around. We weren’t pulling together a big bulk of stuff for the album like last time out.”
For the uninitiated, Still Corners are a pop group who draw upon a range of stylistic touchpoints – new wave, dream pop, electronica – to create a signature sound that’s more about subtle nods to their various influences than a contrived mish-mash of genres. On last month’s Strange Pleasures, they moved away from the introspective themes of their breakup-inspired first record and into more upbeat territory, characterised by cinematic soundscapes.
“I didn’t have a vision starting out, really. There were no preconceived ideas for this record,” Hughes relates. “It was just a straightforward process of writing a bunch of songs and then trying to get out of the way of them, and letting them take their own course. I still write pretty much everything myself; all of the instrumentation’s me , and then I guess the vocals are more collaborative, because I usually have an idea of how I imagine Tessa sounding when I write the songs. We’ll bounce ideas back and forth about harmonies and that kind of thing.”
So far, the band have insisted on self-production, resisting suggestions from the label that outside help might be appropriate for their sophomore album. “It wasn’t that I didn’t consider bringing somebody in to work with; it’s just that I decided, in the end, that I’d probably learn more if I carried on doing things by myself for now.” says Hughes. “I’ve worked with other people before and it’s never really felt right, honestly. I have my own place, so we’ve not really worked with too much of a time constraint, which might’ve been different if we’d have had a producer who we could only work with for x number of weeks or whatever.”
“I can see why some people would see working without a producer as a disadvantage, but the way the songs usually come together, everything tends to happen at once,” says Murray. “The writing and production are kind of rolled into one; as we’re putting them together we’re constantly pointing out to each other where we might want to try a specific thing or go in a different direction.”
The aforementioned label is the legendary Sub Pop, who sounded out, and then signed, the band before they’d released their debut full-length. “Back in 2010, we released a seven-inch on a label called The Great Pop Supplement with two tracks on it – ‘Don’t Fall in Love’ and ‘Wish’,” Hughes recalls. “We made a video for the latter, and right after that – literally like a week later – we had a call from somebody at Sub Pop who’d picked up the single. They came over to see us play, we had a few drinks and we got along great; it happened really fast.”
The Still Corners live show is dominated as much by its visuals as the setlist; right from their early days, a carefully-considered combination of film projections and lighting has played a crucial role in successfully translating their music in a live environment. “We wanted to have some sort of visual accompaniment to the shows, partly because we wanted there to be a visceral side to the atmosphere that the music creates, but also, I think, because we’re not really the sort of band who are gonna be bouncing all over the stage for an hour when we’re playing,” Hughes laughs. “There’s nothing too arresting about our stage presence, so it seemed a good idea to make the effort to add that extra visual dimension. I think the atmosphere it creates kind of defines us a band.”
“It’s something we agreed on early on and wherever we could, we’ve always had some kind of projections or imagery,” Murray adds. “Obviously, if you’re playing somewhere and you’ve only got five minutes to set up, or you’re playing somewhere like South by South West, it can be pretty difficult, but it’s becoming more and more important to us – we don’t play without them unless we absolutely have to.”
Recent performances, including a stunning set in the hallowed surroundings of St. Philip’s Church in Salford, are noteworthy for the intensity of the compelling, almost other-worldly atmosphere the band are able to generate in abundance, although Hughes insists that doesn’t mean they aren’t having any fun. “It’s not as nerve-wracking as maybe it was in the beginning. We love playing now; the set up’s a bit tighter now we’ve got a new drummer on board, and we’ve been trying to push the boat out a little with the shows for Strange Pleasures, and have everything on a little bit of a bigger scale. The new songs are a blast to play, too.”
Hughes is already on record as saying that Strange Pleasures cut ‘All I Know’ was inspired by the London riots in the summer of 2011, having been written around that time. I wondered, though, how direct the influence had been. “I think I was trying to capture that eerie feeling that was just everywhere in the days following all the trouble. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Greenwich, you were walking around these empty streets and seeing everything boarded up; it was really creepy, like a total ghost town effect. I think I was trying to find a guitar line that sounded a little bit sinister, to lend the song almost like a Western vibe. You could imagine the tumbleweed blowing through those streets.”
The lead single for Strange Pleasures, ‘Berlin Lovers’, is accompanied – not unlike other aspects of Still Corners’ work – by a video that directly mirrors the concept behind the song. “When I was first writing the song, I had this vision of these two cool kids sort of finding love on a roller skating rink, and it really stuck me with me, so I ended up coming back to it for the video,” says Hughes. “We shot it in Seattle with Christian Sorensen Hansen directing; all the credit should go to him really, he did a fantastic job of taking this initial idea I’d had and running with it. He fleshed it out really well.”
With so little time for pause between their first two LPs, it’s probably not unfair to assume that the duo might already have ideas about what’s coming next. “I think our perspective’s changed on that. Last time, I didn’t even think about it, I just ploughed straight onto the next batch of songs. I think I can appreciate there’d be some benefits in taking a break. Sometimes, you need to be able to refill the creative well, you know?”
Strange Pleasures is available now via Sub Pop