As Glasgow-based Siobhan Wilson prepares for her UK tour, Getintothis’ Cath Bore finds out what to expect when she comes to town.
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Siobhan Wilson is having a busy year.
In July she released the critically acclaimed album There Are No Saints, and last month as winner of Green Man Rising she opened the festival’s Mountain Stage. The festival appearance follows rave reviews in the likes of Rolling Stone Magazine, and a session for 6 Music. This Friday she embarks on a headline UK tour.
‘It was epic. The biggest stage I’ve ever been on. I loved it. I was so happy,’ she says of her performance at Green Man. ‘I’ve seen the photos online and I’m smiling in all of them! It’s the sort of festival where there’s loads going on…loads of bands that I like, and face painting…pretty much, if it was a place, I could live there.’
Classically-trained Wilson on There Are No Saints combines her classical leanings with pop and folk; throughout, her voice is as pure and clear as the ringing of a bell, her songs honest and arrangements unfussy. It carries two intertwining themes, the concept of moving on – from a failed relationship – and depression, a condition she lives with.
‘It’s sort of…moving on from anything that’s holding you down. I think songwriting’s good for that. It can help you make this momentum to pick yourself up out of any place that you land.’
‘I think so, but I don’t use it as a therapeutic means to make myself feel better. It can lift you out of a state and move you on to the next thing. More of an inspirational thing, motivational.’
Talking about depression on the record – Whatever Helps is kindly advice to herself, maybe, on how to deal her own depressive episodes (‘You’re haunted by the line of a song…try to move on’ she sings on it), wasn’t something she set out to do.
‘It came out like that. It wasn’t a choice. I just started talking about it at the end. I guess i did it naturally, it wasn’t an actual choice that I made.’
A Getintothis favourite on the album is Dear God. Opening with the line ‘Dear God, all I wanted was a job’, the song is a witty, rather wonderful examination of religion and faith, an ‘angry prayer.’
‘I’m glad you found it funny because it’s meant to be funny. Not as in a joke, but it’s not meant to be all serious,’ she says, laughing. ‘It comes from a place of questioning of faith and the existence of faith. It’s one of those questions it’s impossible to even think about. Or sing about. I don’t really identify as any religion but I come from a Catholic background. Three years ago when I was writing that I’d moved to Glasgow and I don’t know to describe it other than an atheist movement almost among my friends, and musicians.’
‘The idea of not having faith being a faith. And the ironies in that. At the end of the day it’s all the same thing.’
The bulk of the songs on There Are No Saints were written a day or so before recording, Siobhan reveals. Isn’t that a rather scary approach? Is it a case of, ‘the studio’s booked but I’ve got no songs so I’d best crack on and write some’?
‘I think so, but if I told you about day to day how I live my life that’s quite scary and representative of everything that I do! Kamizakee mode. It’s now or never. It’s exciting to not have a plan and think, “Oh, I’m missing a song, I’ll write one now”.’
The album was made in the childhood-bedroom-turned-studio of Chris McCrory, singer and guitarist of Modern Sky‘s Catholic Action. Not, I suggest, the closest ever pairing, genre-wise anyway…
‘It’s funny because we listen to a lot of the same bands. He really likes Jeff Buckley, The Cocteau Twins random things I hadn’t listened to for years, like Blur. We have a lot of things in common and I listen to a lot of rock music. I went through a goth metal stage when I was a kid.’
People never really grow out of that, do they? And quite right too.
‘I do indulge in it sometimes! I got rid of the nu metal Papa Roach sort of stuff but hung on to System Of A Down. Bands like Biffy Clyro embraced that sort of not avant garde but sort of improvise-y metal-y mentality, they’ve kept that in their songwriting, sometimes (in) their guitar solos before they went on to be super produced.’
(Chris and I) have something in common it’s really difficult to find, he likes doing stuff in a one take basis and not cutting it up and editing it too much. Keeping it real and looking for an authentic take. It’s not super polished and too fancy. Just keep it quite raw.’
There Are No Saints was recorded over two days. ‘They were quite long days,’ she adds wryly. ‘I play all the instruments on it, and Chris plays a couple. He plays bass on Paris Est Blanche and rhythm on Dark Matter. Apart from that I took my instruments in and played them. We didn’t have much time or budget so made the most of it.’
At age eighteen Siobhan took a gap year in Paris, which ended up stretching to five. How did living in Paris influence her music making?
‘I think the French have a very laissez faire attitude to life or at least the people i was surrounded by were. all laid back. We went into cafes a lot and talked about philosophy and smoked and drank wine like an actual cliché. And for me that was super romantic and different to how I had perceived adulthood as I child. I found it quite surprising. People could just sit in the sun, and talk about novels and stuff. There was something about the culture that really suited me.’
Like a Jean Luc Godard film. Bitter black coffee and Gauloises!
‘I watch films like that and think, I remember when I lived like that! But then in Glasgow there’s cool grungy indie pubs where you can hear one of the best singers of your life or whatever, come across hidden gems talent in these dark corners. I find that a lot more inspiring at the end of the day.’
The tour starts on Friday, what can we expect?
‘It’s going to be very intimate, it’s stripped back because the album’s very stripped back. I’ll be playing electric guitar and piano. It’s basically really depressing songs but we have a good laugh!’
Siobhan Wilson plays 81 Renshaw St on 12 September.
8 September – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
9 September – The Drouthy Cobbler, Elgin
11 September – The Castle, Manchester
12 September – 81 Renshaw, Liverpool
16 September – The Bothy, Glenbuchat
17 September – The Basement, York
18 September – Kenilworth Arts Festival
19 September – The Musician, Leicester
20 September – Sands Films Studio, London
21 September – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
22 September – The Hall, Lancaster
24 September – Voodoo Room, Edinburgh
26 September – Tolbooth, Stirling