Gently Tender have an expansive, exceptional sound.
Timeless, contemporary, the songs have a psychedelic-rock edge, a flowing amalgamation of Spiritualized, Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips, Dirty Projectors and more, along with the band’s own unique stamp.
Initially appearing in the spring of 2018, you may be forgiven for assuming that they are only just making their voices heard. Emerging from the ashes of Palma Violets, the band comprise Sam Fryer, Peter Mayhew, Will Doyle, Adam Brown, and Celia Archer, who is also a member of The Big Moon.
But even back then the future did seem promising. Being able to start afresh with a clean slate was ideal given circumstances at the time, and when the global pandemic reached the UK, Gently Tender adapted to the situation, quickly seeing how the time could be used in productive ways. They converted gig time into writing time, the longer spells they normally would have spent touring instead got set aside for composition.
On a hot British summer day this year, just as the band begin to ease themselves into the promo phase of their campaign for ‘Take Hold Of Your Promise!’ they open up to Clash about their journey. Their debut album is due to come out on So Young Records, and it marks the label’s first full-length release.
Viewing it as a journey, which according to Sam Fryer, did see them write for four to five years. Many songs seemed to come and go, while it looked as if others may never even get to see the light of day, but some were inevitably going to be on the record. “Then we had so much time to write even more, that there was just a huge body of work, and now we’ve honed it down to the record.”
One thing that stands out within minutes of the conversation is the ambition and the clarity that comes across when each individual band member discusses the songs they are so focused on. While their wish list references ‘the big stages’ and Royal Albert Hall, what perhaps is more telling is the openness as well as the importance they attach to the music they have been writing and recording together.
“It sounds really egotistical, and I don’t mean it that way,” Fryer assures me. “But these songs do belong on a big stage, instead of when we play in a small club venue, which is the venues we’ve played so far. I feel as though it doesn’t do the songs justice. They’re so wide, expansive that I think when we come to do the tour with The Big Moon in September, the songs are going to be truly realised at the bigger venues.”
The scale of their ambition is one thing, the determination to make a distinct record, one that resonates is something else, entirely. There is traditional sound, and one that stirs and explores emotion, and Gently Tender were always going to settle for the latter. “We didn’t want it to be ‘rock’,” insists Brown. “We wanted to make it soulful, we weren’t trying to make a big, loud rock record, we wanted something a little bit more subtle than that.”
Subtle, yet addictive that is. One person who precisely understood what they were after was Matthew E. White. Having met the esteemed producer in Virginia prior to the pandemic, they knew it was a relationship they were keen to maintain. When travel restrictions prevented them from going back to the States to record the album, White agreed to come to the UK instead. The British location was to be Rockfield Studios, and the iconic Welsh recording destination would work as a positive, unforgettable base, a home away from home during that time.
The right vibe was there at the beginning, and the recording sessions mirrored that. It’s a period Gently Tender are more than happy to revisit in their minds. Yes, they did work hard, but they also knew when to relax. Going for proper long walks were part of their routine to the extent that the walks became closely associated with the intimacy of the recordings.
A song like ‘Sunlight In Motion’ works to that effect. “It does remind me of that walk we went on,” says Fryer. “When I’m looking back at the time in Rockfield, I remember less about recording music in the studio than just hanging out, that’s the main part that I think of, and the whole studio setup, it is all morphed into a part of my brain. Playing cricket was another big thing; cricket and the long walks.”
Archer also looks back at their time at Rockfield with content and ease. Being the ‘only two weeks’ of summer “We were in the countryside, going for swims in the river, and the five of us being together again, which we hadn’t been in a year, was great, joyful and fun. It was amazing to finally put some of these songs on record. The record just sounds like that time; it’s the sound of sunshine, and it sounds so relaxing.”
Naturally there was work to be done, but White’s structured, organised ways of working in the studio were exactly what the band had been looking for. “Matt was good at making things very simple,” confirms Fryer. “He’s good at managing everybody individually, he knows that everybody has a different way of working and an individual pace.”
“Yes that was his main thing,” says Brown, nodding in agreement. “His structures are amazing, because for us things often seem very cluttered. But he just writes everything down on a whiteboard, every single thing such as when we were going to eat, when we were going to play cricket, and when we’re going to play some more songs.”
More to the point, the producer got the exact vibe and the emotion Gently Tender wanted, he knew that they weren’t looking for a straight, traditional rock sound. Based on prior knowledge of White’s own material, the band knew this was likely to be a good match. “It’s very soulful music. It’s almost old school, and he has a house band at his label. He’s got some production tricks up his sleeve, and it was fun when he came out with those.”
The desire to capture emotion comes across. Fryer is open about his own mental health and the desire to tackle depression and anxiety. Conveying a more eye-opening message to what one might expect, the songwriter offers an interesting perspective. It’s about an inner dialogue that is playing out, at times it sounds like he is having a conversation, which could be with a friend or a lover.
“But it’s actually a conversation with an emotion that I’m trying to deal with at a time,” he tells Clash. “It’s me saying that I’m willing to be patient with this emotion. If a feeling of fear or anxiety is going to stay with me forever, then I’m willing to allow it to be with me forever, and that’s the only thing you can ever wish for. It’s about befriending it.”
He means every word, there is no bullshit. Explaining that ultimately, it’s about being present in the moment, no matter what sort of emotion you are faced with. Depicting the important message, the song ‘This Is My Night Of Compassion’ tackles that subject, and the track is central to the album.
Gently Tender have a togetherness, a natural chemistry between the band members that connects everybody, and it makes things work. Singing together only strengthens that bond, but above all, they find it enjoyable to share the activity. The sense of unity has been there all along. “The big thing is the vocal gang sound that we had since day one,” enthuses Fryer. “I’ve always enjoyed what happens when there’s a load of people singing together, particularly in choruses, it just sounds great and timeless. It’s just something that we’ve honed in this band, and on the record it reached its peak when we performed in a room together.”
Not every moment of a studio recording session is fun and games, it can get quite intense. There are times when you are tired, irritable and you just want to get away from it all. Being in a dark room all day will have such an effect on the biggest artist, but these feelings are usually short-lived. “When we’re singing together with one microphone, the smiles come back on everyone’s faces, and I think that’s a big part of it, that singing in unison,” Fryer maintains. “You just get a lot of endorphins from singing with others.”
The fact that they are enjoying the process makes everything all the more attractive. With Gently Tender’s journey being off to a splendid start, the next chapter can begin, and it feels like we just enjoyed an exclusive peak into what could happen next, the direction things might move in… and it’s all good.
‘Take Hold Of Your Promise!’ will be released on August 26th.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Louise Latimer