Originating from Kendal in the Lake District – a place of natural preserve and steeped in Romantic history – with your Wordsworths and that lot hosting golden flower showers or whatever – it’s unsurprising that a band might emerge with a sensibility that reflects its sonorous surroundings. Step forward Woman’s Hour, a four-piece of whom three-quarters sprang forth from the Lakes, so to speak (keyboardist Josh came hence from Cambridge), who tend towards creating atmospheric landscape paintings in musical form. Not that this was a deliberate thing – theirs was a sound that emerged free from contrivance, born more of a natural progression that became a happy accident. As indeed did the band itself.
“It was pretty organic the way it started up,” says guitarist Will. “It wasn’t like, ‘hey let’s get a record deal’ – we were just having fun. But we started writing songs and things just came out of that – and we realised we had something we could work with.”
Will’s sister and the band’s angel-voiced singer Fiona elaborates: “Me and Will drunkenly said one night that we should do some music together. He’d always been in bands and I hadn’t – he hadn’t even heard me sing before, so he didn’t even know what he was in for. When we started, we weren’t thinking of it seriously, but it started to sound really good.”
On the back of such drunken experiments, many great things are born – in this case Woman’s Hour, so named after the long-running Radio 4 show (Fiona: “It’s just something we grew up with – it’s an institution”) and comprising the brother and sister duo plus bass-playing school friend Nick and eventually keyboardist Josh. Deciding to maintain their spontaneous approach to creativity, the group pretty much leapt into the studio without a single clue what would come out of it.
“We really didn’t know what sound we wanted – it was completely organic,” Fiona explains. “It just became evident where we were heading musically. I think that’s the only way you can create anything, otherwise it’s just contrived.”
“We went into the studio with Tom Morris (engineer at Fortress Studios) and he was helping us flesh out these raw ideas,” Will continues. “It was just a process in real time – we were feeling our way in the dark. We didn’t really have the songs written when we went in there – they just happened in the studio.”
From this egalitarian, almost random process of working, Woman’s Hour forged a platform on which they built their sound – creating a harmony that was at once unforced and ultimately unique.
“It was really a process of elimination,” Fiona states. “We had to find a consensus about what songs we liked, some kind of equilibrium on which we could all agree. If somebody didn’t like something, we had to address it or just throw it out. It was all about harmony, I suppose.”
It’s this harmony that is most evident in the music of Woman’s Hour, entwining carefully layered atmospheric melodies with Fiona’s ethereal vocals, resulting in a natural sound that comes across as almost effortless – an element reflected in their approach to working, as bass-playing Nick concedes of the (eventually) forthcoming long-player…
“The album is not something we’re pushing,” he says. “It goes back to that organic thing: it’ll be ready when it’s ready. There’s no percentage in rushing anything. That just wouldn’t sound like us.”
“It’s quite an honest record,” Will reflects. “And really quite dark at points.”
“It’s quite melancholic,” Fiona says finally. “It’s not melancholic to listen to, but it’s got those undertones of darkness. There’s something about melancholy that can be actually quite uplifting. That’s where a lot of our writing comes from – you can find solace in confronting something that makes you feel down. Writing is a way of getting that out.”
This Heaven-bound melancholy reflects not only the mood of their origin – think of any Wordsworth poem, and then ponder the paradox of being upliftingly depressed – but also the dichotomy that exists within their music, which pairs Kraftwerk’s analogue-style electronics with Fleetwood Mac’s fluid song structures. Couple this with the ambiguous lyrics, and you’ve got a musical conundrum, as evidenced in forthcoming single ‘To The End’, which contains the words “Our love has no rhythm”, something penned by Will and defended with all the blinkered perspective of a hopeless romantic.
He says: “The lyric I brought along as a Valentine’s gesture, which was totally misinterpreted by my object of affection. But the fact that it’s got no rhythm is that it’s unique…” He scratches his head, seeming to suggest said ‘object’ wasn’t really on the same wavelength.
Fiona takes the reins from her brother: “That kind of summarises what we are – that there’s a certain melancholic positivity you can take from that. Some people will take the negative from that, but there’s a romance about melancholy that can be seen as positive.” She pauses, seeming to grapple with the idea, then concludes: “I think it’s a beautiful thing – love having no rhythm…”
A contradiction, perhaps, that the music they create has so much rhythm and heart that it just demands your love. The rhythmic clock is ticking. For Woman’s Hour, now is their time.
Stephen Brolan, February 2013.