In Conversation: Peggy Sue

Rosa Slade on ‘Choir Of Echoes’ and the positives of pop…
Peggy Sue by Mike Massaro

Brighton-based trio Peggy Sue have quietly risen through the ranks. Comprising Rosa Slade, Katy Young and Olly Joyce, the trio signed to Wichita back in 2009, and have been classed as players within the nu-folk scene. In truth, their first two albums proper – ‘Fossils And Other Phantoms’ (2010) and ‘Acrobats’ (2011) – maintained an air of versatility and edginess, far too quirky to be confined by such a limited pigeonhole.

Now with their recently released third LP ‘Choir Of Echoes’ (review), Peggy Sue are exercising some restraint, melding signature idiosyncrasies with accessible lyrical substance and depth, creating a more complete body of work – one warranting many repeat listens.

Clash talks to Rosa about why this record is their most comprehensive work yet, and the thrills and fears of pop music…

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Peggy Sue, ‘Idle’, from ‘Choir Of Echoes’

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You launched ‘Choir Of Echoes’ at the intimate St Pancras Old Church, in London. An appropriate venue, do you think?
Absolutely. There’s something very special about that church. It’s a bit ramshackle, there were these lit candles everywhere, and I loved the idea of watching a band perform surrounded by potential fire hazards. The acoustics of performing in a church are crazy, and being that the record revels in this gospel vibe, it just felt right to launch the record there.

‘Choir Of Echoes’ feels like a real statement of intent. Would you say it’s your strongest material to date?
This is the most cohesive record we’ve made. Every song on the album feels like it should rightfully be there, and we don’t feel there is a dud, however conceited that sounds. If you’re happy to play every song live, then you know you’ve made a strong record.

Immediately previous to ‘Choir Of Echoes’ came your 2012 reimagining of the (1963 short film) Scorpio Rising soundtrack, which is something of an interesting choice, with its dark thematic content…
We’re very much drawn to that darkness. Katy was the one who introduced us to the film and soundtrack, as she had studied it at university. I was very much into [director] Kenneth Anger’s work, and I guess it’s one of the first pop music videos. I’m not trying to diminish what Anger did in terms of visuals, but essentially it is a really immense music video.

You’ve got some of those ‘60s influences in your sound, in your blend of pop, doo-wop and rock, all of which comes through on the Scorpio Rising soundtrack. How did you take that work, and process it into what we’re hearing on ‘Choir Of Echoes’?
The soundtrack suited our voices really well, and musically we could translate them into our own style quite easily. With ‘Choir Of Echoes’ we had a good idea of where we were going from the very beginning but we did modify a few things. For ‘Just The Night’ we changed the drumbeat mid-recording – it was a bit more standard rock, a bit surf-rock in its composition, and we changed it to a rock ‘n’ roll drumbeat, which was influenced heavily by Scorpio Rising. We wrote the vocal piece ‘(Come Back Around)’ (which opens the album) on the last night of recording actually, and that similar vocal loop is found at the end of (penultimate song) ‘Two Shots’.

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Peggy Sue, ‘All We’ll Keep’, from ‘Acrobats’

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I acknowledged these vocal refrains in the review. There’s a consistent vulnerability in the bare vocal pieces – was that a conscious decision?
It’s something that we wanted to put more emphasis on, definitely. The echoes and looping made the album feel quite sparse and gospel-like at times. It’s very much about voices, metaphorically and literally. So it was important that we had that vocal piece to set things up.

But this reference to voices seems like it’s a running theme through all of your records…
It is, specifically this notion of losing your voice. I was obsessed with George Orwell’s 1984 when I was younger, and what I really liked about it was this idea of ‘reduction over vocabulary’ – taking away a word which makes something expressionless. This idea has been present in all of our lyrics, the constraints and power of words. Conversely, these lyrics have to have their own weight, and you can’t hear a lyric if you’re not singing it. Katy and I have are always been respectful of this. That was only intensified more with ‘…Echoes’.

Tell us what you were listening to during the recording of the album, and how you would characterise your sound to someone who has yet to hear your music?
For this record, we listened to a lot of Delta blues. Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound was a big influence, in addition to ‘60s girl-group sounds. We’ve always worn influences on our sleeves, and they’ve varied quite a lot for each record. For this record we have doo-wop, indie, folk, shoegaze and pop. Most bands say this, but certainly with us people have difficulty defining our sound, so they make lazy comparisons. We wanted to create a record with a more pronounced sound that various influences slot into, not the other way round.

You recorded the album at the legendary Rockfield Studios, and my impression of the record is that it’s more expansive than what came before it, but still contains these little intricacies. Did the environment seep into your work?
It definitely did. Expansive is a very apt word to use for it, because we developed this more reverby sound, there’s more layers and noise on this album. With ‘Always Going’ and ‘Two Shots’ we layered the vocals to create a choir-like sound, and ‘Figure Of Eight’ has that same dream-like quality. Those touches were directly correlative to recording at Rockfield. It’s important, because with the previous two albums they were much more frantic, but with this album we wanted for there to be some consistency, for it to have some crossover appeal.

Talking about this crossover appeal, ‘…Echoes’ has some pop sensibilities: it’s more hook-laden and structured, for example. Is that a signifier of a shift from the peripheries of music to somewhere a bit more accessible?
Structurally this record is simpler, and more straightforward in comparison to ‘Acrobats’. To try and counteract that we threw a bit more noise in there. Did we do that to make it more accessible? I’m not sure. I’d love more people to listen to our music, but I’m also happy being an independent band. That’s not to say that autonomy isn’t possible in pop music, because it is. When I was younger and more naïve, I remember feeling disappointed when credible artists would go mainstream with their second record. Now I realise they were just trying to write good pop songs, and we are too. Pop music can be the most innovative form of music, and we don’t shy away from elements of that now. We balance between the two, that’s our goal.

You’ve always had consistent critical backing for your records. Is that important to you?
Well the first reaction I read for this record was your Clash review! It was amazing seeing how you interpreted the record, and we really appreciate that kind of support. I feel utter sickness at reading reviews in general, because you’re very much thinking that the rest could be negative. When you release an album, one half of you of believes that it’s the best thing that has ever existed and the other half believes the opposite. All in all we’re content with what we’ve produced.

An avenue of exposure for artists, more so now than ever before, is for their music to feature on TV shows. What drama would be a good fit for your music?
Wow! Katy and Olly love Nashville, but I’m not the biggest fan. I suppose we’d have to go a bit more country for that. You know what, I’d love to hear our music on Sherlock.

Good choice. Sherlock is ace, but don’t they embrace dodgy dubstep?
Oh, you know what, I change my mind. I prefer old TV dramas, so I’ll go with Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes! I’d love to hear our music on Buffy.

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Peggy Sue, ‘Song & Dance’, from ‘Acrobats’

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photo: Mike Massaro

‘Choir Of Echoes’ is out now on Wichita Recordings. Find Peggy Sue online here. The band tours the UK as follows…

April
7th – Green Door Store, Brighton
8th – The Tin, Coventry
9th – Soup Kitchen, Manchester
10th – Broadcast, Glasgow
11th – Leaf, Liverpool
12th – The Harley, Sheffield
14th – The Old Bookshop, Bristol
15th – Oslo, London

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