An interview with Jonathan Ouin of Stornoway.
Stornoway’s latest album is bound to ruffle a few feathers in Ornithological circles, with samples of birdsong on each track and the album title ‘Bonxie’ not to mention the band’s name, you’d expect this to be an album by beardy folkies rather than the relatively fresh faced academics that they actually are. (Frontman Brian Briggs has a doctorate in Ornithology, something to do with ducks apparently).
For those of you who didn’t grow up in the Western or Northern Isles, a ‘Bonxie’ is more commonly known as Stercorarius skua. Well… common amongst bird geeks at least. For the rest of you it’s the big bloody brown bird with a bad temper called the Great Skua. Unlike its namesake this, the third album from Stornoway, is a far more mild mannered affair and should be the perfect accompaniment for a weekend at Bella.
Jonathan Ouin was kind enough to speak to us and I put it to him that they seemed to have an affinity with the wilds of Scotland, could they see themselves moving up here permanently?
“Who knows!? Recording an album in Scotland would be a dream. As it happens, Brian is currently already enjoying a wilderness of sorts in the form of the Gower peninsula, and Rob’s enjoying the wilderness of NYC, so maybe it’s time for either Oli or I to take the leap! I’m not sure we’d get much music done via Skype though…”
The latest album Bonxie features field recordings of birds throughout, were there any that you thought about including that didn’t make the cut?
Yes, there were a few which didn’t make the cut for various reasons – mostly because the sounds would have been too disquieting. For example we were going to feature the sound of the Manx Shearwater, a cousin of the albatross, on the album. The thing is that they create a cacophony of ghastly goblin shrieks and groans (they’re not called “devil birds” for nothing) which people might have mistaken for Brian singing.
There were also going to be Loons on the album (Otherwise known as Divers, see the Great Northern Diver as an example – TS), but they sounded a bit too spooked…and, lastly, much as we like the way that their chirring could be mistaken for the sound of a didgeridoo plugged into an FX pedal, the Nightjars had to be set free too… However, the lucky people who came to see us on tour got to hear all the above (complete with an Attenborough-style commentary)!
Birders (or twitchers, depending on which you prefer!) are known for lists and focussing on things like life ticks. Are there any bands at this year’s Belladrum that you’d be keen to get as a life tick?
I’d rather not think too much about ticks as I recently got one stuck in my armpit. Here’s my list:
1. King Creosote
2. Keston Cobblers Club (who we had the pleasure of touring with recently!)
3. John Langan
‘We are the Battery Human’ addresses our tendency to experience life through a smartphone or tablet and bands are becoming increasingly keen to see their fans put away the selfie sticks and phones and fully experience the gig. Are you finding this to be the case or are fans putting their phones back in their pockets?
It’s been a while since we recorded that song, and since then you could say most of us have become more enslaved (or addicted) to our devices. But the Battery Human song was always intended as more of a paean to the outdoors than a fingerwagging Ned Ludd thing. It does seem to be becoming more common for artists to request that people put their phones away so that they can enjoy and participate in the moment rather than be at one remove. I think this is a good thing and totally explicable: I mean, nobody wants to play a gig to a sea of iphoneheads do they? But ultimately this is how most people are opting to experience the world nowadays, and if that’s how they want to roll then that’s ok, as long as they’re happy and don’t get square eyes or RSI-riddled thumbs.
This year’s theme at Bella is ‘Superheroes’ and punters are being encouraged to come to the festival dressed as their favourite superhero. If given the chance, who would you choose to come as?
Birdman, all too predictably