Posted In: Adam Williams, Harry Towell, Over Exposure, Paper Relics, Paper Relics Interview, Stuart Towell, Time Released Sound
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Paper Relics is an experimental duo formed by sound artist Harry Towell of Spheruleus and Audio Gourmet fame, along with Harry’s guitarist brother Stuart. Working somewhere within the blurred boundaries of Blues, Folk and Ambient/Drone, Harry and Stuart create distinctive, melancholic music. With their debut full-length release out now on Time Released sound, we thought it high time to have a chat with the pair about their influences, plans and recording methods.
Hi Harry and Stuart, first please tell us about your respective musical backgrounds and how Paper Relics was born. As brothers, have you always played music together?
Harry: Working on music together is a relatively new thing for us really. I have recorded some sounds from Stuart’s guitar playing for some of my Spheruleus tracks over the last couple of years but the Paper Relics project is our first musical venture to which we are both contributing in equal parts. In terms of our tastes in music we have taken completely different paths as kids, with Stuart veering towards rock and me getting interested in
My tastes in electronic music have come full circle however, having become increasingly interested to that which includes sounds of acoustic instruments. So it was a natural progression that our differing musical paths would cross.
Stuart: I guess our musical backgrounds are completely different. We never really liked the same music growing up and pretty much constantly criticised each other’s taste. We occasionally met in the middle, mainly due to musical influences from what our parents listened to. My own musical background went from being generic popular music, to me discovering a guitar and a bass at 16.
Paper Relics all started when I was jamming one evening and Harry ended up using some samples on some of his work. I guess that opened my eyes to the genre that Harry was working in, I believe one track was called Vast Treeless Plains, that was some of our early work. I then started trying to play some acoustic guitar over ambient drones. We then created a first track, and kind of shelved the idea a little. We kept going back to it and eventually decided to produce an EP with a view to a full album release. Interestingly our first track is included on the album.
Your previous release Recovered Artefact was deeply inspired by the local landscape in your home town of Bourne and told a narrative of days gone by. Would you say that this same narrative carries on into Over Exposure?
Harry: Certainly – Recovered Artefact treads some similar ground to Over Exposure. Both were inspired by our rural up-bringing and our surrounding landscape. Although, the cover for Recovered Artefact was taken by Stuart in the Malvern Hills and we came up with the idea of change and urban development. It is a kind of ode/lament for change and in that sense, Over Exposure is very similar to the EP. For the limited and ultra arty version of the album, a hard copy of the EP is actually included. We thought that looking at the track titles on Recovered Artefact, you could quite easily apply them to the album as they refer to the destruction of the farm that the album is all about.
Stuart: I think we were always going to continue to carry this on into Over Exposure. We both grasped the theme, and seem to often link the music to what surrounds us. I believe this is only natural, as we have both developed our musical taste and influences in the same surroundings for the majority of our lives.
Over Exposure showcases a wide range of influences, with hints of virtually every major guitar-led genre and style. Please tell us about some of your individual and shared influences.
Harry: Personally, I have naturally been influenced by my involvement and intense interest in the ambient music field and a lot of this falls under that rather loose category. For Over Exposure, I felt particularly inspired by the more acoustic side of things from artists such as Loren Connors, Offthesky and Richard Skelton.
Stuart: As I started to learn to play guitar I quickly discovered blues and am heavily influenced by that. I never liked to play much ‘note for note’ music, I like to be free to express myself musically. I listen to many different styles and can appreciate it for its musical ability and value. I tend to lean towards most musical styles that have instruments clearly audible. This inevitably comes through in paper relics as I draw from different areas and themes. My main musical influences come from the guitar player’s whose music I really appreciate. These include Lindsey Buckingham, Bryn Haworth, Les Paul & Stuart Garrard; All of whom play different styles.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lee
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
- Thomas Gray 1750
Paper Relics has a sound quite unique to any of Harry’s solo efforts, so it is clear that Stuart has an equal share of input. Talk us through a typical songwriting process; Do you both have your own specific roles within Paper Relics or is it a looser, jam-based songwriting environment?
Harry: It’s centered around improvised guitar compositions and we’d basically both experiment until we felt we’d ‘found a track’. Typically, I would start by playing a light rhythm and Stuart would take the lead and play over the top. My guitar skills are barely existent and I’m unable to play fluidly. But I allowed my ears to come up with ideas of simple fretted and played through notes which would prompt Stuart to come up with something more fluid. After a couple of tests, we’d get to a stage where we’d feel comfortable with jamming and then hit record. Sometimes we’d have to do a few takes…because I’d keep messing up! Once we’d got to a stage where we were both happy with the main guitar recording, we’d export the track using a Tascam multitracker. Then it was down to me to work with the recording and add layers to it. Maybe extra guitar layers, field recordings, drones made from instruments, static, other instrument recordings…
Stuart: I think we start off as a jam, but either one of us may have an idea for a track. If this is the case this usually guides that particular songwriting process. For example Soft Focus was a track guided by a riff that I had. I really wanted to base a track around it for the album. This lead to me doing all the guitar work on that particular track as Harry stepped aside, to allow me to fully express the idea and he felt no further guitar work was necessary. Other tracks were just born out of a Jam.
The artwork for Over Exposure is very interesting, can you tell us a little about its concept and creation?
Harry: Artwork and packaging is something that Time Released Sound do exceptionally, as anyone who owns one of the limited edition ultra arty versions of the releases will testify. For our EP, we wanted to try and weave in references to our locality and the theme of the album. Most of the images and cover photography was taken on the farm that our Dad grew up in and we took a visit there during the production of the album to draw inspiration from it and see how it looks at the moment. Stuart took a couple of hundred photos on the day and I believe some of them ended up in the packaging of the limited edition. For the digipack, you will notice that the credits are printed to what looks like some kind of building plan. These were found in a puddle near my work one rainy day and I left them to dry before staining with tea. Colin at Time Released scanned them and used them for the eventual packaging which references the imminent change and building that will soon commence, taking the place of the farm we grew up with.
Stuart: I didn’t have to much input into the artwork but I feel it perfectly mirrors the music and the themes we coined for the album.
What is Over Exposure’s overriding theme?
Harry: Put simply, I’d say it’s about nostalgia and loss, with lots of little sub concepts throughout. We both grew up spending summers on the farm where our Dad was raised so a lot of our childhood memories are attached to that farm. Pretty soon, the farm will be flattened as it has been sold for a housing development. Not only that, over the last few decades the fields around it have been subject to an on-going quarry project. In fact, on the album cover there is an actual photo from back in the seventies – the land where the tractor sits is now a gaping quarry!
So, the obvious concept for us when recording was to kind of preserve our memories from childhood, when the farm thrived before it vanishes and becomes something else. We both have an interest in photography and since this is a great way of preserving memories in a single frame – a snapshot, we decided to add photography into our overall concept. All the track titles are loosely based on a photographic term, translated into something that relates back to our youth or the farm itself. The loss element of the album mainly focusses on the loss of time and how it will never return to focus. The older the memories get, the more blurred they become.
Stuart: For me, the main thread through the album is the idea of capturing glimpses and memories through time, as an existing ‘known’ memory is fading. The known memory here is a farm where Harry and I would often visit, as our grandparents lived there. The memories aspect are snapshots from us remembering a thriving farm, to now effectively a heap of ruins that is earmarked for housing development.
Time Released Sound is a label with a fast-growing roster of fine artists, how did the decision to release something with the label come about?
Harry: When we had got the general body together for our album, I started looking into the label aspects and Time Released Sound were pretty new and intriguing at the time. I saw there was a strong art and design emphasis with the releases and I felt that our material had plenty of thought provoking ideas that could be worked with from a packaging perspective. Time Released is doing very well, down to the sheer quality of work by Colin, who runs it. The releases are selling up fast and the label is gaining a great reputation. I’m pleased we managed to make contact so early, as the label was only just up and running and I don’t think we’d have been able to release with them if we’d left it any later. I know Colin is very busy and he’s starting to build a release catalog in advance, with a bit of a queue forming…!
Stuart: I personally was incredibly impressed by the plans for the initial releases on the label. As Harry had more experience in the genre, I trusted his judgement on decisions regarding the label. I think an excellent choice has been made. The sheer quality of artwork and the releases as a whole have been very impressive and I am excited to see the reaction when Over exposure is released.
What’s next for Paper Relics, have you any long-term plans about the band’s future?
Harry: We’re certainly not going to rush anything out the door, but take our time. We don’t often get the opportunity to record together as we both lead pretty busy lives, but we’d certainly be interested in doing something again in the future. Maybe incorporate lots of new ideas and sounds and allow them to develop slowly.
Stuart: I see us certainly working towards another album, and bringing some more of our differing influences together, and from there who knows? Watch this space...
- Adam Williams for Fluid Radio
Limited Edition copies are available in low numbers over at Stashed Goods along with regular Digipak copies