An Interview with Greg Hughes of Still Corners
The London-based ethereal indie duo Still Corners met, by chance, on a train platform. Luckily for us, they have been able to enrich our lives over the last five years with their stunningly eerie melodies, beginning with 2011’s Creatures of an Hour. However, we’re now almost three years beyond that album’s followup, Strange Pleasures, and it seems that something new may finally be on the horizon. Below, the project’s own Greg Hughes sat down with our Christos Doukakis to give us a few hints about their next full-length and what lies at the foundation of Still Corners.
Heathen Harvest: Hello, and thank you for accepting this interview. Could you please tell us about how you met and where the inspiration came from to start Still Corners in the first place? Were there any preceding incarnations?
Greg Hughes: Thank you for having us. Tessa and I met accidentally on a train platform in London while waiting for a connecting train. Weirdly, the train had gone the wrong way and dumped us off at some random station to reconnect. We were the only two to get off and so we started chatting as the next train was in half an hour. On the way back to London, we talked about films and books. She told me she was missing choir practice and a light went off because I was looking for a singer to work on a new music project with. We exchanged details and she came down to the studio in London to check it out. It was pretty obvious she was perfect for the music right off, and the rest is rock ‘n’ roll.
HH: Almost three years after your last record, ‘Strange Pleasures’, was released, a less ethereal, dream-pop digital track was released. Are you turning towards a synthpop direction, or was this a momentary experiment?
GH: Not a direction, no. ‘Horses at Night‘ was written recently and was just sitting there. It didn’t fit with the new album we were working on, but we liked it so decided to release it. There wasn’t too much thought put into that part of it. I think songs more or less write themselves, and it’s best for you to just get out of the way of that process. So, the direction part for us comes more from looking at groups of songs we’ve written and seeing if they go together rather than approaching songwriting/album formation from a preconceived notion. Having said that, we did set out on our new album to write a ‘dark synth type of thing’, but that’s all we agreed on really.
HH: Are you satisfied with your collaboration with Sub Pop thus far? Do you believe that another, probably smaller label would ‘invest’ more in Still Corners, or do you think you’ve found a permanent home for the project so long as they’ll have you?
GH: Sure, we’re happy. They picked us up early on and we were able to launch from a well-established platform. That’s a real opportunity and one that a lot of bands don’t get. Investing in bands nowadays is a tricky one. How much of a financial commitment can a label make when people really aren’t buying records anymore? I think the industry is far too fickle for any band to assume they will find a ‘home’ with a label. I think that concept of finding a home anywhere with any job is becoming a thing of the past. I don’t hear about ‘lifers’ anymore. Labels are very much a business, and it’s not the old days where you could release a record or two that didn’t do great sales-wise but still stay onboard. Second chances don’t really exist, but there’s also more opportunity just in different ways with streaming, live shows, etc. But it’s all about the love and reaching your own creative potential and grabbing that prize hard and not about all that other stuff. Do it for that, and forget everything else like finding a label or home. When you do that, you’ve done all there is to do. If for some crazy reason you think you’re in it to make money, it’s best to quit now as it’s about the least effective way to do that, like mowing your yard with a pair of scissors. Nearly any job in the world pays better than being in a band.
HH: Having taken your name from a Robert Frost poem, I imagine you read a lot. What are your current day reads, and how do these reflect in your music?
GH: I tend to read a lot of books at once! Currently on the go are two books by Ajahn Sumedho—one is a quotation book and the other is called The Mind and the Way. I’m also reading Seamus Heaney’s collection of his favourite W.B. Yeats poems and, finally, Cannery Row by Steinbeck. I don’t know if they reflect directly on the music we’re making, but the Sumedho writings really help with clearing the mind, which in turn pave the way for better thinking and living which then helps with the music.
HH: Back in 2010/2011, while preparing your debut, ‘Creatures of an Hour’, did you expect so much critical acclaim and audience support? Obviously the music industry isn’t what it once was, but did it change your life in any way?
GH: No, we didn’t expect anything. We thought it was a great record, and we were putting it out there because of the straight-up love of music. It was amazing, of course, to have it be so well-received. Things were heating up for us up until that point too. We did well with Endless Summer and our Don’t Fall in Love/Wish 7-inch with the Great Pop Supplement. Those were the precursors to Creatures of an Hour. We sold 700 copies of that 7-inch in a day, so we thought people would probably like the record.
HH: If you had to choose one single song from your discography as the ultimate realization of what you’ve wanted your sound to reflect, which one would it be and why?
GH: Wow, that’s like picking my favourite food! Probably ‘Strange Pleasures’ as I think that sums up the band well. It’s moody and atmospheric, has a good beat, it’s a bit ‘off’, and it’s about love and desire—the two topics closest to our hearts. I think that song sums us up well.
HH: Which bands/artists inspired you towards the sound you’ve formed with Still Corners? Have you taken influence from anyone new since beginning the project?
GH: For our new record, we’ve been listening to a lot of weirder synth stuff, and I think that will rear its head on this new album. Things like Wendy Carlos and soundtrack work from the likes of John Carpenter, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Manhunter, and new films like Ex Machina all have a role. I also like James Holden‘s record The Inheritors. Of course, this all goes through the filter, but yeah, those have influenced us over the last two years.
HH: How would you describe your live shows? Do you think that visuals help you build atmosphere?
GH: Entering a dream world of color, light, sound, and nightmares obviously. Yes, the visuals definitely play a part in getting that atmosphere together. Leon Dufficy has always done our visuals, and he really brings that visual vibe to the live show.
HH: Having a glance at your Facebook page, I noticed that you don’t have any upcoming shows for the near future, and with the exception of the “Horses at Night” single, you’ve been fairly quiet in general the past few years. Is this silence due to you preparing your third album, or are you just taking a break from music to concentrate on other things?
GH: Currently we’re playing two shows at SXSW as well as an amazing festival in Las Vegas called Further Future with Caribou and Four Tet.
When we finished our second record, we just needed to let the well refill. Tessa and I rented a big fuck-off house literally right on the beach way outside London and took about three months putting a studio in there. We just finished that album and will be releasing it later this year which is very exciting!
HH: London has been hit particularly hard by the refugee crisis that has swept Europe. Has the crisis affected your life personally in any way, or do you have any opinions on the situation?
GH: Sure. Anybody that watches this unfolding should be affected unless you’re a robot or a dickhead. It’s a very difficult and sad situation. Either you’re on the side of helping people in need or not. Of course, any environment has finite resources, and how far these can stretch I have no idea, but stretch they need to. The most important thing is to realize we are all connected, and here in the West, we are very lucky. I feel we have a duty to lend a hand wherever and whenever possible.