You Tell Me
As one half of Field Music, Peter Brewis has been honing the craft of pop songwriting for almost fifteen years, whilst Sarah Hayes has been exploring contemporary folk in her solo work, and the world of indie-pop via her band Admiral Fallow. Their debut self-titled album, the last to be recorded at the old Field Music recording HQ, is set to be released in January on Memphis Industries.
After meeting at a Kate Bush celebration concert, the pair clicked. “I’d been an admirer of Field Music for a good while before meeting Peter at the gig,” Sarah recalls. “So I was pleased to discover he wasn’t an insufferable diva, and delighted that he was keen to try working on some music together.” Peter had been “blown away” by Sarah’s voice during a rendition of “This Woman’s Work” and when investigating her solo work heard a lot of parallels to what he was trying to do in Field Music.
Sarah had previously only written instrumental music and arrangements up until this point, often favouring interpreting others’ lyrics or working with traditional songs. “I’ve always loved words but had never thought I could be a lyricist”, she says. However, when she sent Peter some songs she had written, the initial plan of working together in the capacity of him producing her soon evolved into a new band being formed. They spoke about a shared love of artists such as The Blue Nile, Jon Brion, Rufus Wainwright, Tortoise and Randy Newman and got to work.
By blending their distinct compositional talents, they’ve created a record that possesses their own clear styles but also a new voice too. With both of them writing songs and lyrics, Peter describes it as “a sort of dual-personal record”. Sonically, the result is a subtly crafted album with a rich and intricate sense of composition, in which strings glide above multi-layered keyboards and percussion, and vocal melodies wrap around one another in snug unison. In many senses it feels like a classic songwriter record – rich in craft, songs, arrangements and vocal interplay – yet it manages to feel stylistically contemporary and void of nostalgia.
Lyrically, Peter says, “most of the songs seemed to either be about conversations, be conversational or about talking or not talking.” Sarah echoes this: “the subject of communication – talking and listening, guessing and questioning – looms large on this record and in general for me. It’s something I think about a lot.” Which makes sense given that this record is fundamentally a musical conversation between two new collaborators and friends, a constant back and forth of new ideas, shared influences and the expunging of inner feelings.
The album represents struggle on a personal level but a shared sense of uninhibited joy on a collective level, says Peter. “Although I think we were both going through some big, difficult changes personally, we tried to have fun making it too. There was probably a time when making the record was a bit of an escape from other matters. We were able to just please ourselves with what we did and how we did it.”
The quietly brooding acoustic-heavy number – sprinkled with saxophone honks – “Get Out of the Room”, “is about jealousy, insecurity and how they can fuel resentment, anger and even a sort of desire” Peter says. Invisible Ink features perpetual-motion piano lines a chanty chorus and swoopy synths and, according to Sarah, deals with “expectations and people’s individual ways of navigating these.” “Water Cooler”, another Peter led track looks at an inept office romance “I was literally imagining two office workers failing to talk to each other at the water cooler. No metaphors here”, whilst the Fairport Convention-inspired “Clarion Call” is “about the idea of waiting: to feel ready to spring into action, to be free of fear and anxiety, and then realising it’s often good to push on in spite of these things.”
Whilst the subject matter can occasionally be personal and explores troubled or conflicted conversations around inner turmoil, there’s also a stirring sense of beauty that comes from the record; a feeling of pastures new and moving onto new things rather than being held back by the past. What makes this an even more remarkable musical statement and achievement is that two first-time collaborators were able to channel so much of themselves into a project and create something coherent and poised.