Pale Fires are a four-piece psych act from North London who combine spiralling shoegaze with rock sensibilities. Formed in 2010, the band only recently released their debut EP. Louring Skies draws on Pale Fires’ extensive experience on the live circuit, and was released as a free download on BandCamp on April 18.
“Our main focus has always been playing live,” says guitarist and vocalist Oli Swan.
“Not to say that we have shunned recording because we haven’t, but we have never been desperate to put an album out ourselves like some bands do.”
Upon moving to London, Swan and Leo Runswick (vocals) played with the idea of getting a group together, and thereafter quickly met Jean Stevens (drums, percussion). Swan then invited Harry Wreathall to complete the lineup on bass.
“Harry and I had been in bands together in the past and kind of had an unspoken agreement that both of us would call the other one in if they started something,” says Swan.
Initially formed through meeting up in various studios across London, Pale Fires has maintained a focus on performance since its inception, with a strong emphasis on improvisation.
“This is something that we still make time for now and has become an important part of the writing process, ” says Stevens.
Born from a year-long break from gigging, Louring Skies is the result of a concentrated effort to record.
“We were pushed into spending time to focus on the songwriting and ended up recording a pool of about 20-25 tracks,” explains Swan.
Seven of these made it onto Louring Skies.
“All tracks were taken from different writing processes, so I guess we weren’t chasing a particular sound. I’m quite amazed at how well they seem to gel together on the record, ” adds Runswick.
Despite Pale Fires’ live history, Louring Skies is not a mirror reflection of the band’s live sound.
“I think the only real live-feeling track is ‘Intermission’,” says Runswick.
“We’ve always taken playing live as an opportunity to do something different. I don’t think you’ll come to a gig and hear us playing the EP track for track.”
Even with its guitar-heavy, psychedelic base, Louring Skies sounds sleek and confident, as if it were specifically crafted, and effortlessly so. Ambitious without urgency, the EP speaks volumes of a band comfortable within their skin – a trait undoubtably linked to Pale Fires’ approach to writing.
“The writing process tends to involve a lot of playing together and improvising,” says Wreathall.
“Other times someone might bring more of a half formed composition in.”
The band does admit, however, that their first time recording had its challenges.
“The recording process has been a steep learning curve,” says Wreathall.
“‘Louring Skies’ was a bit of a multi-tracking process which worked, but I don’t think we’ll do it like that again.”
Named after a book written by a friend of Stevens, Louring Skies opens with tone-setting Come Closer. Showcasing the nuances that combine to form Pale Fires’ sound, Come Closer guides the listener through a divide: faraway vocals become coarser; hidden basslines seamlessly appear; obtrusive walls of electric guitars fall to reverberated depletion. With vocals on the back-burner and melodious, upbeat rhythms, gentler tracks like Intermission (The Egg), So Soon and EP closer Sky Dance reveal Pale Fires’ penchant for colour and delicateness.
Nearing Louring Skies‘ middle comes Intermission, a rapid-fire track of indiscernible vocalisations buried among guitars and heavy percussion. Intermissions fades into Burn Alone, a definite highlight of the EP. Finding intensity in both power and grace, Burn Alone‘s infancy gleams with gentle riffs and soft harmonisation. “There’s blood on your hands, and dirt on your soul/ And into the fire, you’ll burn alone” Runswick and Swan sing as the song builds to complexity.
On Burn Alone, as with much of Louring Skies, it’s Swan’s guitars that unassumingly demand attention. Like flecks of silver paint on a scratched black canvas, Swan’s emotive, atmospheric riffs rise and fall among reverb-soaked layers of guitars, vocals, and percussion.
Louring Skies has already seen Pale Fires compared to The Verve (“on acid at a rave”). Though the band have clear chemistry and may be as musically moody as their name and comparisons to The Verve suggest, Pale Fires don’t pigeonhole themselves as any type of band in particular, and work under a large scope of influences.
“We all listen to different music but there are a few that we all agree on,” says Swan.
“Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Funkadelic, Can, Verve, Band of Gypsies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, John Martyn, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, My Bloody Valentine, to name a few. “
With differing influences and taste, the band list their collective favourite tracks from the EP as those they laboured over the least.
“Tracks like ‘The Egg’ and ‘Louring Skies’, which came together without too much mixing,” says Swan.
“I think the mixing process can often kill the artists’ like for a song.”
An apparent necessity, Pale Fires’ next release will see the band take a step back beyond the recording stage.
“We want the next EP to be done completely to tape, no computers needed,” says Wreathall.
For a band named after Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 postmodern novel ‘Pale Fire’ (“Really, it was just that we liked the combination of the two words”), Pale Fires anticipate a suitably postmodern approach to future releases.
“We have a plan to release a series of EPs, with a similar ethos to ‘Louring Skies’ – D.I.Y, artwork created by friends, a very sort of in-house approach. “
“I think our ambitions as a band are pretty realistic to be honest,” adds Runswick.
“Personally, I’m happy to be in a band that some people can’t get enough of but that others might hate. I think it’s more interesting that way.
“Ideally we’d like to take the live show out as much as possible and just keep doing what we do, uninterrupted. Undaunted. Unhinged.”
Louring Skies is available for free download at:
Pale Fires are playing the Hunter Club, Bury Saint Edmunds, UK on Friday, June 6, 2014
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