Crystal Balls, Raw Steaks and The Lady Downstairs: a Q&A with Stornoway

Exeposé Music online (2 March 2017)

Back in October, Oxford-bred indie folk makers Stornoway hit us with some sad news: they’d soon be parting ways after ten years together.

The good bit? Their farewell tour would include Exeter. Ahead of their Phoenix gig tonight, I got to pick keyboard player Jon Ouin’s brains on all of life’s important questions – from easing break-ups and doing the “student band” thing properly, to… well, predicting the future. Here’s how it went:

Not every group does a farewell tour: what made you decide to?

We’re actually following the Paltrow-Martin divorce manual very closely, and our “conscious uncoupling” included a mandatory farewell lap as part of the process, so as to ease the suffering of the children (in this case, the children are possibly our instruments or possibly they are the fans, or maybe that’s getting a bit weird?).

We wanted to mark the end of a decade making music together in as celebratory way as possible and say goodbye properly. It would have been a bit rude to just slope off without looking anyone in the eye.

You played Exeter’s RAMM in 2015, and have been to the Phoenix a couple of times before. We’re thrilled Exeter is part of this final tour: what made you decide to return here?  Does this mean you’ve got some good memories of the city?

It’s great to be coming back to Exeter! We’ve played in the city quite a few times over the years, right back to when we first started touring outside of Oxford. In particular we have great memories of playing at the Phoenix as part of a festival called Acoustica (one of the first festivals we ever played) back in 2009.

You and Brian [Briggs, singer and guitarist] famously met during Freshers’ Week and played together throughout university. What advice would you give to current Exeter students trying to juggle degrees with making music? Do you think you got the balance right?

Our advice would be to write essays with a guitar in your lap, and with a musical keyboard right in front of the qwerty one – without fail. You can divide your time up very neatly then. I think we managed the balance OK, but it’s worth adding that we unwittingly goaded a lot of people in nearby bedsit rooms. Jon’s next-door neighbour used to do bad impressions of Brian singing (to his face), and the lady below Brian didn’t like our foot-tapping one jot. She came up quite often to establish which types of foot tapping were to her liking and which weren’t.

So, the moral of this is that you should always try and be considerate towards your fellow students when music-making. Perhaps involve them? But don’t let thoughts of their distress inhibit the wilder, more exotic strands of your creative processes – ever, ok?

Beachcomber’s Windowsill was one of those lazy summer day post-GCSE anthems for me (and I’m sure I’m far from the only 20-something who’d say that!) You guys have done so much since then, but I think that first album will always have a special place in my heart. What’s been your favourite album to make and tour? And what are you most looking forward to playing on this tour?

Thanks! I hope you had a really constructive, absolutely no-nonsense, career-driven post-GCSE summer listening to our album.

To answer your question, of all the albums we made, I probably enjoyed the process of making the second album ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ the most. After ‘Beachcomber’s’ we had a bit more assurance to aim a bit higher, delve a bit deeper with what were basically DIY production techniques, sonics, location recording and arrangements, and that sort of thing without surrendering anything creatively. I don’t think it was the easiest to tour though, and it’s probably our least ‘commercial’ album, but never mind!

The most fluid transition between recording and touring was possibly with our most recent album, ‘Bonxie’, in that it was slightly more outward-facing and shiny, which made it easier for audiences to get straight from the off.

The tour’s ending in Oxford: any special plans for that final homecoming, or is it all under wraps at the moment? Are you expecting things to get pretty emotional?

The last one in Oxford should be pretty special, yes. It’s at a massive theatre in the middle of town and is already sold out. We’re in the middle of plotting some top-secret shenanigans that will be part of the show. Some band members are keen to shower the audience with spiders or raw steaks at the end, but other band members don’t think that this is the best way of showing gratitude to your audience.

Anyway, it will all inevitably be a bit emotionally charged, and we will be crying into our pints later.

And finally: is this really the end for Stornoway? Do you think you’ll end up playing together again in the future?

I have consulted my trusty crystal ball to answer your question… and I can see four craggy faced old men in a foul-smelling, dimly-lit pub singing the same Chesney Hawkes cover over and over again and instantly forgetting they’ve just sung it. They look like they’re having a ruddy good time, though.

>>View original Exeposé Music Q&A>>

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