Stealing Sheep – Not Real


Heute erscheint das zweite Album der britischen Psychedelic-Folk-Band STEALING SHEEP. Exklusiv für Popmonitor haben REBECCA HAWLEY, EMILY LANSLEY und LUCY MERCER ihre Songs kommentiert…


The summer nights are getting longer, we’re still recovering from Glastonbury and it’s time to start writing our new album. And so it begins! We set up a studio above Mello Mello cafe in Liverpool – a light room with big windows. Origami crane birds are suspended from the ceiling with fishing wire and a few other relics from past art exhibitions line the walls. There’s a hive of activity going on in the cafe below with everything from freeform jazz nights, improv, poetry, burlesque and cabaret. Above us, we haggle over noise levels with dancers, yoga clubs and mindfulness classes. We’re well placed between happy distractions and dedicated focus! It feels like a few weeks of endless jamming when we decide it’s finally time to latch onto something we like, we loop it and get thinking. It’s the early days of our track “Sequence”. There’s a punchy, minimal feel to our drums and bass. Lucy reattaches the snare to her snare drum and suddenly the soft melodic back bone we are familiar with transforms the atmosphere and a bold, direct, consistent energy fills the room. We know we’re on to something new. The lyric pattern of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” get’s in our heads and subconsciously inspires the plodding pattern of the bass line. A few dreamy arpeggios, twinkling synths, a flighty ‚chic‘ inspired guitar line, a cannoning mirror ball vocal hook and suddenly we’re feeling ready for a neon-tinged discotheque. A summer of dancing to Daft Punk was starting to show and our own euphoric Ibiza “lighter” moments we’re being created. We started singing along and a mutual message was starting to unfold about “loosing yourself” and “getting carried away”. We’d shared a heady summer of festivals and we were all starting to feel like it was time to move on, get back to real life and out of the sequence we’d found ourselves in.


“Appariton” came about in quite a schizophrenic way as it began as two or maybe three different songs and captures a very different approach for us. At first there was a verse that jumped straight into the chorus in a disturbing way which we were trying to figure out for a while to see if it worked. But it just didn’t, so we recorded all of our sections and Becky took it home to work on. When she brought it back in the next day it had transformed into this great, hooky and fun tune that just didn’t do what we’d expected. The previous day we put at the end of our recording a tiny bit of music that we we’re really into that I thought was quite like John Carpenter and it was this section that became the chorus. Becky had taken the word “trouble” from the verse and put it over that section and it had worked in an unusual but really simple way. Sonically there’s a lot of new stuff going on: We abandon our live acoustic drums and opt for plastic-y programmed drums, 808 drum machine claps and a classic Casio beat. It feels radical at first but we’re feeling good about it, it all comes together perfectly with the help of our co-producer Sam, who steps up the drums even more with his production expertise! Stylistically it’s starting to feel sophisticated. We all feel like a new style is being defined that helps us evolve from the first album into our new stage. There’s a simplicity to the chorus bass lines that after delicate minimal verses have a big impact. One word hook „trouble!“ is repeated in the choruses. Instead of the usual three-part harmonies we hold off and leave a lot of space. Instead, a distant helium-style voice backs up Emily, it’s drenched in reverb and characterises this ghostly doppelgänger ‚apparition‘, a bit like an unwanted memory that won’t go away until it feels loved again. When the song gears up for its revolution we knew it needed something extra and we asked our friend Andy from a band called Outfit to sing with us. He became the omniscient voice of the song, telling us not to give up and to keep trying in this here crazy life! Lucy wrote these lines for him to sing and they became a motto for us and anyone in doubt „if you fall, don’t give up, fix your bones and get back up, back to where you started“.


“Not Real” was largely developed by having access to logic and control over the recording process. We were able to re-arrange and chop and replace as we went. We consciously chose a more classic pop structure. Lucy wanted to make a more consistent drum pattern compared to “Into The Diamond Sun”. We had been making a comical music video with our friends to a Hall an Oats song “I Can’t Go For That” and somehow this atmosphere infiltrated to our next rehearsal. We felt a bit more tongue and cheek that day and it seemed to show in the attitude of the song! Emily’s new lap steel had arrived through the post and quickly tuned into a nice chord to make those bright 80’s skrangs that stylise the song so well. We’d also made the tune by Yes called ‚owner of a lonely heart‘ into a bit of an anthem throughout that year and it comes through in this song too. The lyrics are about not forgetting who you are within yourself, and not being fooled into being told who you should be, by advertisement, marketing and media, and not surrendering to projected ideas of the “better person you should be”.


We’d heard Emily singing this song for years on the guitar and in various band formations that pre-dated the sheep. It’s always been such a classic song and although it took a lot of convincing, we brought it back to life together and had a lot of fun adding our spin to it. There’s a groovy bass line (that reminds us of cool 60’s tunes), a windy scale-y guitar hook and meandering time changes that feel like an effortless autumn day walking through woods and passing by rivers. It has a nice link to our first album and when we recorded it, we kept it organic, capturing everything live without strict tempos. This song has a natural identity and we didn’t tamper with it too much. Our co-producer for this song was our friend Joe. He helped us capture the essence of the track by using reel to reel tape machines and got us singing our harmonies together, Phil Spector style, but don’t worry – it didn’t end too badly! He also applied the ‚infinite monkey theorem‘ to his recording methodology, letting us loose with his analogue arp synthesisers and getting field recordings of our studio time. If you listen very closely, you should be able to hear Lucy’s sizzling culinary skills adding a tasty texture to her beats!


Lyrically, this track is about searching for something that doesn’t necessarily exist. It is inspired by Grayson Perry’s work “Our Father” and “Our Mother” about pilgrimage. Lucy wanted the track to feel like a long journey that must be endured, either a physical journey, or a personal journey into your own thoughts. Lucy also wanted the melody to be like long out breaths. It was written on the drum kit and the melody was pitched to the bells. Becky and Emily then formed extra ambience and hooks around Lucy’s melody and beat that helped to create this mediative committed journey. There is a bit of an arabic feel to some of the scale notes and this helps create the picture of dessert and desperation before coming to an oasis of resolve towards the end.


“Deadlock” was a song that was put to one side at first, a jokey bossa nova tune that was fun to play and jam along to. It had a bit of dark humour to it, almost like a game show theme song or hotel lobby waiting room. It began with Emily and Lucy playing it and Lucy writing a strange melody over the top with her acoustic guitar. This melody later became the synthy intro and outro. On a side note, it also became the main melody theme for our live score to the Fantastic Planet film! The core of this tune was written by Emily on a Casio keyboard, firstly using the bossa beat, auto bass chords and some intense repetitive melodies. Strangely the toilets of the Mello Mello cafe, where we were writing, were lined with book pages and a chapter on engines inspired this metaphor for the lyrics of the song „the engines turning round, but something always holds you down“. We started recording it quite early on before there was a solid structure or drum pattern. Instead of recording the drums live altogether, Lucy started layering percussion on the track individually, this shaped a really interesting approach to the patterns she ended up with. When Sam started the co-production he identified quite a lot of unnecessary sections and he decluttered the song with his strict ‚less is more‘ policy. This transformed the song and gave it a more defined direction. He also made a few structural changes „you guys wouldn’t know a chorus is it slapped you in the face!“ we couldn’t see it but our middle 8 was our chorus, we tried changing it and it worked, very well! So we switched a few things around and Deadlock wasn’t so deadlocked anymore. Right at the end, in a wave of insanity Bex drops in straight kick and yes „it’s not very Stealing Sheep“ but with a bit of convincing we can’t resist the four on the floor outro that gives the ending the extra fuel it needed.


This tune was a very clear and straight forward recording process. Lucy recorded the guitar and vocals together with our friend Richard. The only overdub was a layered a harmony. We kept it very minimal and added a zither about half way through. Lyrically it is about the hope of a better life and Lucy wanted to portray that by sounding beguiling and seductive like you are being lured into false hope. The style of guitar playing is very simple finger picking, which Lucy plays and links to her drum style. „I find it a very meditative and therapeutic way to play music“. It is very linear, repetitive, calm and consistent. The effects were added towards the end to make it sound as if you are being incised in to stay.


This was the first out of our demo recordings that made us think they might not be demos anymore. We had been subconsciously doing a lot of sonic production on all our demo recordings, tweaking our sounds, adding plugins, using more midi options, programming beats and bass lines and stylising our new aesthetics. This one held a few breakthrough moments in the recording process as we started accurately capturing the vibe that we wanted to achieve. The message of the song is quite sad, which contrasts a lot with the light hearted summery, shimmering feel to the music. Tuned cow bells allude to steel pan street music and Emily gets her dusty bass guitar out of hibernation to give the track some extra clout.


We were singing Ketty Lester’s “Love Letters” when our own love song arrived. The sentiment is so universal and it flowed quiet easily as we tried to convey this feeling of wanting to share an experience with someone you love, to tell them you love them and to hear them say they love you too! We wrote this one together adding our own vocal parts and each taking a section to mould. It was a freeing song to write and had an elating energy that made us all feel good. We’d wanted to use an alphabetic chant in a song for a while and what better to chant than “L.O.V.E”: It made for a catchy section too and we’ve already caught fans singing along to this bit at gigs!


“She” was written about a dragon that represented our search for creativity and joy; a dragon of good fortune that was guiding the way for us. It started as quite a visual song somehow trying to tell the story of a person’s struggle through their daily grind and them day dreaming about following their dreams and discovering that maybe they aren’t what they thought they were in the end or maybe they are the story continues. The music also represents the sentiment of this song’s very well passing nostalgic reverie: contemplating being lost in the world, trying to figure out where you belong, running after everything, trying it out and joining in but still not feeling as though you’re quite fitting in. The verses are quite dreamy, taking you on a dusty visual journey. Towards the end the song sort of walks back into reality. A wake up call of ravey air horns and techno bass. The song was initially written on Em’s friend’s out of tune Bontempi, which we ended up recording and using in the final version of the song because it showed the roots of the song and the modesty of not really realising how big it could become once we all started working together on it.

Not Real
(Pias Coop/Heavenly / Rough Trade)
VÖ: 10.04.2015