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Ferris & Sylvester: Harmonizing the Essence of ‘Otherness’ in Music

In the enchanting realm of folk-blues-rock-Americana, the husband-and-wife duo Ferris & Sylvester weave melodies that resonate with the rawness of life. As they embark on their musical journey, their upcoming album, ‘Otherness,’ stands as a testament to the harmonious fusion of sultry, soulful grooves, and folk-tinged blues. In this exclusive interview, Archie Sylvester and Issy Ferris invite us into the heart of their musical odyssey, sharing stories of their humble beginnings, personal triumphs, and the profound impact of major life changes on their latest creation. From the significance of recording on a vintage 1960s tape machine to the captivating ambiance of Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, Ferris & Sylvester unveil the intricacies behind ‘Otherness,’ offering fans a glimpse into a world where timeless musicianship meets the tumultuous emotions of the contemporary era. So, join us as we delve into the enchanting universe of Ferris & Sylvester, where every note tells a story, and ‘Otherness’ is not just an album but a profound journey into the essence of being.

Before we delve into the interview, could you introduce yourselves to our readers and share the story of how you both met?
We are the band Ferris & Sylvester. We’re a husband-and-wife duo and have been making folk-blues-rock-Americana music together for the past seven years. We met at Spiritual Bar in Camden, which is a very cool, small blues bar – a tip for any Londoners looking for good music. We started writing, and pretty soon we realized our music, and indeed our lives in general, were better together. We’ve been on this road ever since.

Can you share a bit about your background and upbringing? Where are you originally from, and how do you believe your upbringing has influenced your perspective on music?
(Archie) I grew up in Somerset, via Croydon. My Dad is a great guitar player, and I spent my childhood listening to his CD collection – from ACDC to ZZ Top – and playing along to the songs until I had them nailed. I listened to everything, all kinds of music – blues, gypsy jazz, rock, folk, soul, classical. I got a 4-track recorder when I was 14 and spent my time writing and recording songs. It was what I spent all of my time doing. Still is. (Issy) I was born in the Midlands, and like Archie, I have a Dad who loves music. It was our thing. He was really into folk music, so I grew up with Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell as my soundtrack. Dad would drive me to gigs after school and sit at the back as I played my set to an empty room. I fell in love with playing live early on, and that’s stayed with me.

Beyond your music, what are some of your favorite hobbies or activities? How do you like to spend your leisure time?
(Archie) Bass fishing. Running. Spending time with our son, Lucky (Issy) Cooking, knitting, hanging out as a family. Preferably as close to the sea as possible.

Now, let’s talk about your upcoming album, ‘Otherness.’ Can you give our readers a brief overview and share why its release on March 1st is significant?
This is our second album. Otherness is defined as being or feeling different in appearance or character from what is familiar, expected, or generally accepted. The word really got under our skin, and it came out through our writing. Feeling like an outsider is something pretty universal, but it can feel like we’re standing out there alone. Hopefully, this album can be of comfort to people – we are with you, and you are not alone. The album’s release coincides with our headline tour date in London at Lafayette. Our favorite venue to play. It feels very special that this album will come out on that day, and we can celebrate it with our amazing fans in the best way we know how.

Ferris & Sylvester

How did the success of ‘Superhuman’ influence the anticipation for ‘Otherness’?
‘Superhuman’ came out in 2022. It was our debut album. We hit some pretty big and unexpected milestones – we topped the official album blues chart and won ‘Album Of The Year’ at The UK Americana Awards. We toured it across festivals over the summer and truly had the greatest time. Life took an unexpected turn when our son, Lucky, was born prematurely whilst playing a festival out in Nashville. It was a terrifying, and also wonderful time. We both knew that when we were ready, we wanted to release an album about who we are now. It feels great to be here.

Could you highlight one or two tracks from ‘Otherness’ that hold special meaning for you?
‘Mother,’ and ‘Headache’ (could have picked a load more). (Archie) We wrote ‘Mother,’ before we became parents ourselves. It came together in the studio with Michael Rendall, our best friend and collaborator. The song meant a lot to the three of us; we all dug in and suddenly had this massive song about dreams, reality, family, abuse, and hope. We started tracking the song that same day, and the guide vocals from Issy never changed. There was magic in the studio that day. (Issy) We wrote ‘Headache’ after an argument. It’s a very raw song and wasn’t easy to write. But we wanted something raw and real about relationships, put to the backdrop of a country love song. I remember thinking – ‘I want Dolly Parton to hear this song and love it.’ The song comes out on the 2nd of February, and we can’t wait for people to hear this different side to us.

Being named one of Rolling Stone’s Americana artists to watch, how did that feel?
We were recording at the time at Sawmills Studio down in Cornwall for the first album. The email came through; we sort of stared at it for a second. Then we just carried on recording but with this huge rush of happiness and adrenaline. It just made us more determined to put everything we could into the record and prove those guys right.

The press release mentions a blend of sultry, soulful grooves, and folk-tinged blues in your music. How do you think this unique style sets you apart in the music industry?
We are first and foremost songwriters, and we feel that writing the best songs we can, regardless of the genre, is always the best route forward. We hope that sets us apart. Our songs can often cross over genres of folk, blues, and soul, probably because that’s the music that tugs on our heartstrings the most. We’re more than happy to be picked up by listeners of all of the above; everyone is welcome.

How have your musical influences and experiences, such as recording on a 1960s tape machine, shaped the sound of the ‘Otherness’ album?
We wanted the album to feel saturated and colorful. The album needed to feel like us and where we are now. All of our experiences and influences filtered through from the writing to the recording and production. Our favorite music, our lives, the food we eat, TV shows, books, all of it ended up in there. We wanted to create the ‘Otherness’ world where these songs lived, and using the Nagra tape machine was a really important tool for this. It set us limitations in the production too, which we’ve learned is a really good thing when we’re finding the right sound.

The single ‘Rain’ is described as a song about embracing change. Can you elaborate on how the song reflects the themes of change and hope in challenging times?
Change is a scary thing for everyone. The rate of change in the world today is very fast, for better and for worse, and it can feel really overwhelming. Personally, we’ve had some huge changes happen in our lives over the past few years. The song is about riding the wave rather than fighting it, so you can move forward. There is power in giving in to what is out of your control. You can’t control the rain, so you might as well welcome it and let it soak into your skin.

How do the lyrics and musical elements in ‘Rain’ contribute to the overall message of the album?
Lyrically, the song is about a state of transition and change, something that can feel really alienating, especially if you feel like everyone else is sailing through calm waters. That is fundamentally the album’s message – you are not alone on the outside because we are outsiders too. Musically, it has tension and suspense. The song opens Side B of the album, like a fresh chapter. There are moments of release on the album too, like the answer to the question. The musical thread throughout the album is simply storytelling. The songs are all different and cross over different genres. But at its core, the music is just real instruments played by real people telling real stories.

Ferris & Sylvester’s live performances – how does your live energy and presence contribute to the overall experience of your music?
Playing our songs live is the biggest gift; we love it. We’re currently putting together the show for our upcoming tour, and we can’t wait for these songs to come alive. Playing live is so important to us and our sound, as it’s where it all started for us. We found our feet as a band by learning what an audience found engaging. If something wasn’t working live, it was normally a sign that the song wasn’t connecting and so we’d try something else. That has really shaped our storytelling, and we can’t wait to bring it back around with this tour.

With a 26-date headline tour approaching, how do you anticipate your live performances enhancing the connection with your audience?
After every tour, we feel connected to our fans more than ever. There’s something about singing together in a room which bridges the gap. We are so grateful to everyone who buys a ticket to a show, and whether it’s a small pub or a concert hall, we want to give them the best show we can and one to remember. And we genuinely do remember the feeling of each show. We don’t play to a click, and we don’t have backing tracks, so each show can move somewhere different, depending on the crowd and the night. Each show is unique. We’re counting down the days.

Ferris & Sylvester

‘Otherness’ was recorded directly to a 1960s tape machine. How does this choice of recording technology contribute to the album’s out-of-time sound?
Our idea for recording this album was to blend analogue tape recording with a modern mix. We ran each stem through the Nagra tape machine and then back into digital, which gave everything a warm distortion. It’s a sound that reflects music from the 60’s and 70’s – The Beatles and Led Zep – but is also used in modern day from bands like Alabama Shakes, Teskey Brothers, and Michael Kiwanuka. We love the blend of old meets new, as you say it creates an out-of-time sound which was right for the distorted, other-worldly theme of this album.

Can you discuss the significance of recording at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and your own Archtop Studios in shaping the album’s ambiance?
We wrote and recorded most of the album at our studio at home, which we’ve named ‘Archtop’ after our label. Recording at home was incredible really because we just lived and breathed the record in our own space until in was done. We all cooked and ate together as a band; we played a lot of scrabble. It was the best of times. Real World Studios is down the road from us, and we wanted a bigger space to record piano and strings. We were lucky enough to record in Gabriel’s writing cabin. We’ll never forget that day, hearing a proper string section on our music for the first time.

The album explores emotions inspired by major health issues. How do you channel these personal experiences into your music?
Our lives completely changed when our son, Lucky, was born six and a half weeks early, and on the wrong continent in America. I (Issy) was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia, after a perfectly healthy, happy pregnancy. We had been touring our debut album all summer, and this 3-day festival trip was the last in our schedule. It was a huge shock and the events that followed were unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. Lucky spent 3 weeks in intensive care, and we spent another month out in Nashville before flying home, with Lucky weighing 6lbs. The days were full of scary lows and also incredible highs. We got married in the park by the hospital when Lucky was just 10 days old. We met the kindest people in the doctors and nurses that cared for us, and the strangers who befriended us. When we were home and the dust had settled, there was a huge sense of feeling entirely alone. Like no one else could understand what we had been through. We really wanted our album to speak to that – the understanding that lots of us feel very lonely in our grief. But there is always a way to find your way back to the light. For me, it was through music. Music was my healer. We hope this album can be of comfort.

How do you use timeless musicianship to convey messages that reflect the turbulent era we live in?
It is a very turbulent time to be living, and indeed making music. To put it simply, we want to bring understanding and joy to people. We write about what we know about our time on earth and sing it together in harmony, without bells and whistles. If we think about how we feel when we hear great music or stand in the crowd watching a show unfold, it makes us feel alive and totally in the moment. We hope we can offer that feeling to people.

The ‘Otherness’ album is available in various physical formats. Can you explain the decision behind offering signed CDs, regular black double-vinyl, and limited edition signed marbled red heavyweight double-vinyl?
We love vinyl. We love listening to it, reading it front to back, falling deep into the world that the artist has made. Listening to an album from start to finish, turning the vinyl when the side ends, all of that is part of the experience. We are so happy that we got to honor that with this album, and it was always our intention. Even in the early days of recording, we’d sit and talk through the songs and the order, which track would finish Side A and which would open Side B. Putting the vinyl together took so much time, love, and attention, and it was worth every minute to play it for the first time. The limited edition is a marble red vinyl, and each one has its own unique pattern, so no vinyl is the same. Both the limited and standard editions are heavyweight double vinyl, and most excitingly, the vinyl holds a hidden track that’s not available anywhere else – not digitally or on CD. Both editions also have the hidden track’s lyrics etched onto Side D. As for the CDs, we are millennials. We grew up with CD collections, CDs in the car, CDs in the Walkman. Nothing could be cooler.

How do these physical formats contribute to the overall fan experience and engagement with the album?
We hope our fans will really love the physical. As lovers of the format, we think we’ve made something really special. With our first album, our physical sales shot us to the top of the Blues charts and we are so grateful to anyone who ordered a copy. We always wanted to be an album band.

Apart from the album release, what else do you have in store for 2024?
Our tour kicks off next month and takes us into the summer. We want to play this record as much as possible. Then, it’s back into the studio to make some more music… We can’t wait for the year ahead.

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