Pooling ideas, sharing inspirations – when Snow Ghosts decided to expand to a three-piece they knew they would be changing their sound, their approach.
But then, that's exactly what the band wanted. Ross Tones (aka Throwing Snow) and Hannah Cartwright (Augustus Ghost) were joined by multi-instrumentalist Oliver Knowles (EXES), with new album 'A Wrecking' fusing an awareness of folklore to noise, fragmented electronics and more.
Out today (February 16th) it's a wonderful, engrossing return. All hidden depths, murky retreats and moments of beautiful clarity, you can tune in below and then find a track by track guide after the jump.
A Wrecking (Part One)
Ross: This is the first of three instrumentals that set the scene for the album. It begins with a binaural recording of the sea taken at Chesil Beach in Dorset where a lot of the initial writing was done. You can feel the waves as they crash from the left to the right and it feels desolate. The track then morphs into recordings that we made in an abandoned bank vault in central London with amazing reverb.
I remember how freaked out we were when the dripping water was recorded because as the bank is underground, and close to the tube, sounds leaks in from the outside world; it sounded as if Hannah was singing although she was stood totally silently. This slightly scary moment made it into the recording because it influenced how the album turned out and fitted with the world we are trying to create.
Held The Light
Oli: Held The Light was the first track we started working on when we holed up in Badgers Cottage, Dorset. We set up and Ross played these menacing blasts of noise that you hear at the start of the track that are actually samples from a Mosque in Abu Dhabi that Hannah recorded on a recent visit. It was a great start to the writing process as we were immediately inspired by the abrasiveness of the sound. The clicks that fade in are the sound of my watch ticking through the pickups of my guitar and going through a delay pedal. This is a sound I’ve always wanted to use as it always happened accidentally in pretty much every band I’ve been in.
When we recorded the violin, we set it up to go through my amp and I stood in a separate room. Ross wore the binaural microphones and began the recording in the garden of the cottage, then walked into the room with the amp, and then into the living room where he picked up the live sound of my violin, and back out into the garden. You probably can’t make it out but on the clean take you can hear birdsong and a tree creaking in the wind, as the piano comes in. I love the transition between the urgent, noisy blasts and Hannah’s chords on the beat up old piano that was in the cottage.
Circles Out Of Salt
Hannah: Within the album we tried to explore all aspects of wrecking. This track is about the wrecking of a person and a relationship. The title was inspired by the casting of salt circles in ritualistic magic, to protect those inside, only in this track the circle is broken. Lyrically, it relies heavily on imagery. Not only is her heart torn apart, but it is practically dissected in the second half of the track.
The syncopated piano and waves of slightly-detuned synths contribute to the sensation a descent into waves of madness and loss. Ross used a freezing reverb on the vocals in the outro, which helps the whole track to build but holding one note while the melody continues around it.
Take A Life
Hannah: The folky melody in the verses is something that had been running around my head for a while, and it seemed to cry out for the Dorset-inspired lyrics. Whilst we were away writing in the cottage, we would take walks down to the fleet, through wind-swept fields to deserted coves that seemed to tell their own story. When in a place so unchanged throughout history, it’s hard not to imagine what tales it could tell.
We wanted to transport the listener to this timeless place with the use of a slow, repetitive grove continuous violin pedal. The lyrics explore the concept of how easily a life can be destroyed by untruth.
Oli: I’m pretty sure this track came to life about 7am when Ross and I had just woken up. I was making coffee and Ross was chatting about some weird noise he’d captured that his speakers were making. After a few minutes he’d created this swirling buzz that flourished into this kind of electrifying metronome. It really reminded me of the Resident Evil 2 soundtrack for some reason and I immediately got this synth chord progression in my head.
We got it down and that was the first part of the track. Hannah came down a couple of hours later and said ‘what you doing?’. We showed her and she belted out this incredible vocal line in about 15 mins. Ross and Hannah added the second part of the song months later after most of the recording was done. Hannah: The scream in the middle of the track is one of the snippets Ross recorded binaurally in St. Catherine's Chapel when Oli and I were messing around with vocal sounds.
Ross: This is meant to represent the actually wrecking. The distorted wash is the sound of the waves and the sea smashing the outside of the hull, a storm engulfing a boat. The percussive ‘gong’ that runs throughout represents the swinging of the lantern used to confuse the sailors so that they run on to the rocks. It fits in with the narrative of the album as the middle point and dividing line. The ‘gong’ sound was recorded in the bank vault by swinging a very old and rusty zither against a metal pole and the sharp percussive sounds were made by sliding the strings over the edge of a concrete column.
Oli: The Fleet was really fun to write. We wanted to come up with something fiercely immediate and driven to balance out the record and once the initial idea was down the rest kind of wrote itself and Hannah’s vocals really smoothed out the edges and glued everything together. It was also a good excuse to chuck in a rock star violin solo.
Ross: This was recorded in the beautiful and windswept St Catherine’s Chapel near Abbotsbury. As the acoustics are so amazing there, we decided to record binaurally to capture it. Oli and Hannah were stood opposite each other and I walked around as the song was performed. You can hear and feel this journey as it progresses, with the vocals and violin changing emphasis and sides. The wind outside, the gravel floor and the my dog’s collar shake at the end, all add to a sense of place. Hannah: The vocal and violin are strongly influenced by British folk music. The song itself is a written as a lament for someone lost as sea.
Oli: This was an interesting as we were all in different places when we wrote our parts. Ross sent over the body of the song and at first I couldn’t really pick out anything I liked about it. After Hannah put her vocal tracks down the whole thing made so much sense to me. I wanted to contrast the crisp, icy feel of the verses with a really turbulent chorus by using a really simple, clean violin line and then crushing, trebly guitar chords drenched in a kind of washed out, black-metal distortion. Hannah: Ross named this track ‘Bowline’ before I’d even written the vocal part. He always names tracks brilliantly and they quite often inspire the lyrics themselves.
Hannah: Drought evolved out of a practise session that we had when Oli first joined us (before our SXSW venture). It is the first song that we worked on together as a 3 piece.The concept, as the title suggests, is about an unquenchable thirst - both physical and metaphorical - and there is a desperation and urgency that we have tried to intensify with the whip-crack drums and driving synth bass. The violin solo at the beginning of the track was recorded in the deserted bank and the rest of the track we finished at Nowhere Man Studios in Brighton.
Ross: Binaural mics are placed inside to ears like headphones allowing you to feel what the wearer is hearing. For this track we wanted to explore what the performance sounded like to Hannah, so she wore them while singing and playing the piano part. The piano was the one we found in the cottage while writing, it’s out of tune but in a beautiful way.
Hannah: This was a really interesting experience for me. The piano part was something that I had been playing with since we arrived at the cottage. Ross and Oli headed out to the garden and left me to write the track and then record it with the mics in my ears. This is definitely the first time I have ever recorded using binaural mics in my own ears. I love being able to share what I sound like in my head with you all!
A Wrecking (Part Two)
This closes the album and is a distant memory of the first track. It’s the desolate ending to a desolate album. It morphs into a weird feedback loop that appeared from nowhere when I turned off a drum machine that was running in to the Microbute synth we were using. It had a strange stereo image that was recorded binaurally by inserting my head between the two monitors.
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'A Wrecking' is out now.