Peggy Sue’s story is one of expansion; expansion of personnel, sound and ambition.
Within barely a minute of Cut Your Teeth, the opening track of Peggy Sue’s second full-length album Acrobats, it’s obvious that this band are something far darker, more tension-fueled, than their twee moniker might suggest.
It’s an astonishingly ambitious and confident way to begin what could be a very significant record for the band: over six minutes of freeform, mournful, blues-tinged guitars and flawlessly harmonising vocals which alternate between those delicate drawls and impassioned howls, pleading “I wish I was quiet / I wish I was mean / but I can’t keep my mouth shut / and I keep coming clean.”
As Acrobats progresses it becomes entirely evident that the more swampy, bluesy side of Peggy Sue explored so successfully on debut albumFossils And Other Phantoms has become fully realised. Almost unrecognisable from the more fragile, folksy love songs associated with their previous name, Peggy Sue and the Pirates, this is a band focused on an altogether more serious noise, a process owing much to the measured percussive contribution of the band’s newest member, Olly Joyce, who joined twin vocalists Katy Klaw and Rosa Rex prior to the first album. From the string-laden Funeral Beat to All We’ll Keep, built around a distinctly fuzzy guitar riff in a manner not dissimilar to Brooklyn’s She Keeps Bees, to the mournful and delicate Shadows, everything about the record speaks of a band who has truly found its voice. A degree of credit for this must be given to producer John Parish, so celebrated for his work with PJ Harvey.
And why shouldn’t a young band be free to make changes to ideas made long ago? Peggy Sue have taken brave steps in terms of name, of sound, of line-up and indeed location, having moved from the place they are often associated with, Brighton, back to the big smoke of London. In fact, it’s something to be thoroughly admired. So when Crack spoke to Katy, one half of the stunningly soulful, pitch-perfect singing unit that so defines the band, there was no shortage of subjects to broach.
Where did you record the album and what was the process?
We recorded it in Bristol with John Parish. It was the first time we’ve had a complete period of time to record, because our first two album was a bit here and a bit there. This time we had a flat in Stokes Croft and we’d go to the studio every day, it was really cool to see a project through all the way. It just felt more like we were building something.
And how was working with John Parish?
It was really, really great. When we first sat down and discussed who we should do the next album with, our label suggested John Parish and we immediately said ‘that’s such a good idea’. We knew him from PJ Harvey but then we listened to some of his solo albums, and also it turns out he did an album with Eels and all sorts of other things that are really amazing. We knew what we wanted to achieve with the album, but he had to make that happen. We’re quite ineloquent, we’d use really inappropriate words for how we wanted it to sound and he’d just be really patient and say ‘ok, well we’ll try this mic and we’ll try this’. He was a good translator of our ineloquence.
On your previous albums you’ve revolved a lot around themes of love and relationships, is that the same lyrical direction you’ve taken on the new record?
I think there are definitely similarities. That’s what we naturally write songs about; I think we both find songwriting quite a cathartic process and the songs tend to be about things we’re not quite ready to talk about yet. But I do think on this album we tried to bring more ideas into it, a couple of Rosa’s lyrics have come from books she’s read and we’ve tried to bring in more of a storytelling element, slightly more removed from ourselves. We became really aware through the process of releasing Fossils… of the way we were writing the story of ourselves; that what people hear in the album and what they take from it, they turn that into the story of who you are. A lot of the songs on Fossils… are quite sad at the core, but because we were quite aware of that we were both trying to set the record straight a little bit, y’know: ‘we’re not these really sad, heartbroken girls’. I think we tried not to be victims, and also on songs like Cut My Teeth to talk about that process of writing yourself for people to take away from it. Hopefully we can find a balance between those two things…
…as well as a balance between the lyrics and the music accompanying them?
I think it’s really great when musically it’s not necessarily a slow, sad song. If you have something sad to say, then I the most interesting way can be to scream and shout it and I think that we really wanted to make a bit more noise on this album. I hope that frustration comes out in the music. If only the lyrics are telling the story then you’re missing out on something. You’re never just feeling one emotion. I don’t think the songs on this album are that sad, I think there are some bittersweet moments, and there are three of us in the band and I think we’re quite good at adding another element;. Maybe Olly will come in with a really interesting rhythmical part that is joyful, while someone might be saying something else really sad. The way we make music requires us to give it listens and pay as much attention as possible.
You’ve supported some illustrious names in some impressive venues over recent years, do you feel like you’re ready to establish yourselves as a headline act in your own right?
I think we’d really like to be able to. We’ve got two albums, but before that we had three EPs and we’ve got a lot of music that we want to play. I think the way it works, with bands supporting other bands, is brilliant, and I think it’s so bizarre when people have come up and said – and they think they’re paying you a compliment – “I don’t usually like the support band but I really enjoyed you”. I always think, ‘I know you’re trying to be nice, but it’s not a genre!’ How can you not like ‘the support band’? We’re all hungry for new music, but when it’s presented in front of some people there’s a sense of ‘no, I’m here to watch this band’. But we’ve been lucky recently to support people whose following really love music. We’ve played some shows with Two Gallants and people who love Two Gallants love to pay attention and really listen to music, so we went down really well. But I think we’d really like to be able to headline now as much as possible. We want to play some of our old songs and some of our new songs and to really make that live experience. But at the same time, there are so many people who we’d love to play with and would happily say yes to supporting.
How did the band meet? You used to be a duo, but now there’s three of you, right?
We started out as the two of us, but our drummer Olly is now such an important part of the band, and he brings so much to this album. The way we wrote the songs was as a three-piece, and hopefully there’s a good balance to those three parts. But Rosa and I went to school together and then were studying in Brighton together about four or five years ago. We played as Peggy Sue and the Pirates for a while and then Olly joined about three years ago. That’s when we became Peggy Sue, and we’ve been a three-piece ever since. Although on our latest tour there was six of us; the girls who play strings on the album came along and our friend Marcus is going to come and play bass, so it’s going to be this bloody massive band! We really loved some of the parts they’ve written on this album and we wanted them to be able to come and do that live. That goes back to this thing about support shows and headline shows again. If you’re supporting it’s much more difficult to bring in those extra elements with half an hour and about 50 pounds! So hopefully we’ll have them as much as possible this year.
The band started out in Brighton, how important has that place been to Peggy Sue?
Well none of us live there any more, Rosa and I are originally from London. But it’s just the best place to start a band. You have this space where you can work out what you want to do and the music scene there is really eclectic, and it’s easy to get to know people and meet promoters. There’s a real family spirit. It’s still a bit of a home from home and it’s really nice Brighton people still think of us as theirs, even though we’re not there any more. We kind of have two homes now, even though London is our permanent home. Plus Brighton has the best record store in the world, Resident.
So if you weren’t in Peggy Sue where would you be?
I don’t know … I’d probably be trying to start Peggy Sue.
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Acrobats is out now on Wichita
Words: Geraint Davies