London-based trio Flowers have been making a name for themselves on the indiepop scene for the past four years. Debut single 'Cut And Run' came out on the Bleeding Gold label in 2012, and shortly afterwards the band signed to established independent Fortuna Pop! Their first LP, the Bernard Butler produced Do What You Want To, It's What You Should Do followed suit in September 2014, and last month they released the follow-up Everybody's Dying To Meet You. This time with Brian O'Shaughnessy at the helm, whose previous works include Primal Scream's Screamadelica and My Bloody Valentine's 'You Made Me Realise' among a host of others. It's a much more direct record than its predecessor that's quite representative of the band's live sound, and as a result dispels any notion anyone might have had that Flowers are mere C86 revivalists.
Later this evening, the trio - Rachel Kenedy (vocals & bass), Sam Ayres (guitar) and Jordan Hockley (drums) - will play an in-store show at Nottingham's Rough Trade. Beforehand, DiS sat down with the softly spoken Kenedy to discuss the band's ethos, unfair criticisms and definitive second albums.
DiS: How has the tour been so far?
Rachel Kenedy: It's been really good actually. It got off to a weird start because we had to cancel the first three shows. We had this weird mixture of illness and a bereavement. But then after that we were pretty lucky as we only had three shows in a row then a five day break. So rather than having to cancel loads of dates we just had to rearrange a few. The ones we've done so far have been really fun.
DiS: Which audience has been the best to play for so far?
Rachel Kenedy: Glasgow were definitely the most attentive, even though it was a free show. Normally at free shows people will turn up who are just half interested and chat through most of the set. But even though it was a small audience people were really quiet and appreciative of what we did which was lovely. Liverpool was really fun. We played a venue called Leaf which was really lovely. All the dates have been fun for different reasons.
DiS: What's the response to the songs off the new record been like?
Rachel Kenedy: They seem to have been received really well. I think people who've seen us live fairly recently will probably know a lot of the songs anyway. We've been playing most of the songs from the new album in our live set for a while now so I don't think it's that much of a shock to the system. I think the new album sounds more like how we play live than the first record did anyway.
DiS: I get that, as the last couple of times I've seen you play at The Great Escape in May then Rockaway Beach in October was almost like watching two different bands.
Rachel Kenedy: I remember the Great Escape show we had to rush around a lot, and everyone who played the venue where we were had a few sound issues. We didn't have time for a soundcheck. We just had to plug in and go. The Rockaway Beach one was really good fun to do. And it was amazing playing just after The Fall.
DiS: You're playing an instore show at Nottingham's Rough Trade later this evening. Does it feel kind of romantic playing a set in a record shop rather than a traditional venue?
Rachel Kenedy: Yeah, it's lovely actually. It feels a lot more connected with the audience. I was trying to describe what playing in a record shop feels like to my mum, whose partner is a writer. When I talk to her about things like producers or sound engineers I have to make up these analogies because she doesn't know what they mean, so I said it was similar to when her partner does a book reading. It's a lot more intimate and you also get an opportunity to meet and talk to people afterwards so it does feel more connected with the audience. And it also feels more like a celebration of the record than just a normal gig. Rough Trade is great anyway. The label has its history and the record stores themselves seem to have a really nice culture around them.
DiS: Have the sets on this tour predominantly featured material off the new record or will there be some older songs in there too?
Rachel Kenedy: It's a mixture. It's mostly off the new album. There's one song that's even newer than the new album which we've been playing. When we played in Rough Trade in London we played the new album in its entirety as that was the day of release. Afterwards we figured that's probably not the best set to do normally, but it seemed appropriate to do on that day. For this tour we've tried mixing it up a bit between old and new songs.
DiS: Some of the songs on the new album seem to be about specific people and possibly even autobiographical at times. The likes of 'Tammy' and 'Ego Loss' for instance?
Rachel Kenedy: They're mostly autobiographical. Or at least about things related to me or that I remember. They're not necessarily about me in the first person but they're all written from my point of view. I don't tend to write Flowers songs about third party events. I used to but now I tend to write about things I've seen or experienced.
DiS: Do you feel your writing has developed and progressed between the two albums?
Rachel Kenedy: I don't know. I don't think it has changed that much. Since starting Flowers, I feel I've progressed a lot as a writer to me. I used to write a lot more metaphorical, poetic lyrics. Which I guess a lot of people might think are maybe more developed but for me, I was skirting around things a lot. Whereas now I'm a lot more direct. At the moment it feels like a powerful thing to do, so I feel in that way I've developed. Songs like 'My Only Friend' are pretty much as simple as they can get, so maybe in that way I have developed more. It's hard to know. I feel like all of our songs are very much what people have come to expect Flowers songs to sound like. It's just now we have more of them. There's literally hundreds of songs kicking around now. It just seems to be the ones that are easier to record in a certain place are the ones which end up on an album.
DiS: Musically, this album is a lot more direct and in parts, slightly more aggressive.
Rachel Kenedy: That's true. I think we've all become much more confident and braver. A lot of that is do with how we are in the studio. We'd never been in a proper studio before when we recorded our first album and we weren't really prepared for putting our foot down or telling anyone else what we really wanted. So we were sort of pulled and pushed around a lot and influenced. Not nastily, but still in a way that we didn't really want to be. It was our problem really for not saying, "No, we sound like this." We didn't have that much of an identity. Whereas this time we were prepared to put our foot down a lot more although Brian O'Shaughnessy who produced the second album pretty much got what we wanted from the get go, so we didn't really have to do that much. But I think our experiences from the first record taught us to be more assertive.
DiS: You've worked with two highly respected producers on both albums. Bernard Butler on the first record and Brian O'Shaughnessy on this one. How did those two associations come about and given the opportunity would you choose to work with either or both of them again?
Rachel Kenedy: Bernard (Butler) approached Sean Price who runs our label Fortuna Pop! about working with some new bands, and he'd heard a demo of 'Young' and really loved it so he wanted to work with us after that. At that point, we'd actually considered not having a producer at all. We were going to do it all ourselves. But Sam who does all the recording of our demos and stuff was really unwell at the time and we didn't know how long it would be before he got better so we thought it best to go with Bernard. It was a really interesting experience. Like I said earlier, it was our first time in a proper studio so it was quite difficult. It was difficult with Sam being ill, and I think Bernard has quite different tastes to what we have. He's an incredible producer, but it came out sounding more like a session that we'd done. It didn't sound to us like the definitive first album we wanted it to sound like. But that's not through Bernard doing anything wrong. It was more about us not saying what we wanted and the whole timing not being right. Whereas Brian (O'Shaughnessy) has a lot of the same tastes as us in terms of musical references, and he really spent a lot of time listening to us rehearse and seeing what we sounded like already. He wanted to help us get that out on the record. I think the big difference between the two is Bernard sees himself as a producer, whereas Brian sees himself as a recording engineer. And that's much more what we wanted to do. We had quite a strong sound and strong ideas. We're not very good at sharing them or brainstorming in the studio. We just needed someone to help us. Brian is so lovely. We had such a nice time, so I'd definitely like to work with him again. It was like being at a second home. We drank copious amounts of tea and went to the cafe for lunch. It was so relaxed.
DiS: You've just been confirmed to play Indietracks this summer. Are you looking forward to playing there again? Are you doing any more festival shows this year?
Rachel Kenedy: I am really looking forward to it. It's so lovely there. The atmosphere is something you don't really get anywhere else. It's probably our favourite festival. I don't know if we're confirmed for any other festivals yet but we're definitely hoping to tour the album around some of Europe and America. We're hoping to play at Northside festival in Brooklyn and doing a tour there with our American label mates Beverley. It's not confirmed yet but we're hoping to sort it out soon. There's always a municipal panic sorting out visas and everything for America but we're definitely going. We have this great new booking agent Rob and he's currently planning which festivals we can fit together. We'd obviously like to play as many as we can.
DiS: Flowers have have been compared to a lot of C86 bands and occasionally called twee, probably because of your association with Fortuna Pop! and Indietracks. Do you think that's quite an unfair description and pigeonhole, as I can hear lots of influences in your music from the likes of The Sundays and the Cocteau Twins through to some of the classic indie pop bands like Talulah Gosh or The Parachute Men?
Rachel Kenedy: I wouldn't say it's unfair, but that implies we're being negative when we actually love quite a lot of the C86 bands. If people say we remind them of those bands a little bit I think that's fair because we do listen to many of those artists a lot amongst loads of other things. So the influence must be there. I've seen a few reviews that have said we're like a copy or a spitting image and that I don't quite get because I think we sound quite distinctive. I often wish they'd play us the song we're supposed to sound identical to because we just don't know what that song would be. There are obviously similarities but it's not the same. People always hear different things in the music. We had a review once that was probably the most negative one we've got so far. They couldn't fault our playing but accused us of being a spitting image... so we thought, wait for it, here comes the C86 or Sarah Records reference... of Foo Fighters and Blur! We thought it was quite funny at the time. It's certainly a new one on me! We can't sound identical to both Sarah Records artists and the Foo Fighters at the same time. Someone must have their wires crossed somewhere. Maybe we're somewhere in the middle? I don't know.
DiS: Are there any new bands you're particularly excited about at the moment?
Rachel Kenedy: We tend to be terrible knowing about new bands but on this tour we've played with Britain who've just been signed to Heavenly. They were really great. We played with Plastic Animals and Life Model in Glasgow. Life Model aren't that new but both of those bands were great. Chorusgirl who are new signings to Fortuna Pop! They're fantastic and Beds In Parks who are another London band, they're really brilliant as well. They're a three-piece who remind me a little of The Velvet Underground but still very unique at the same time.
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Rachel Kenedy: Just do as many shows as you can but in as good sounding venues as you can. Be a bit discerning because as much as you can practice and sound good in rehearsals, if you're playing through a PA the size of a pumpkin you will sound horrible. And that's all the audience will hear, especially if you're new and don't have any reference points.
The album Everybody's Dying to Meet You is out now on Fortuna Pop!.
For more information on Flowers visit their Bandcamp page.
Photo by Stephanie Webb.