“we are so lucky to be part of such a supportive, positive and creative community“
Sunflower Thieves, the Leeds-based pop-folk duo made up of Amy Illingworth and Lily Sturt-Bolshaw, have just released their latest single ‘Hide and Seek’. After listening to this track once, you will find yourself falling deeply in love with its gentle charm, beauty and soothing magic. The duo’s ethereal harmonies never fail to impress and as always, their nostalgic lyrics are moving and sensitive. In these times of social distancing and isolation, this track’s caressing melodies and soft guitar riffs provide a perfect place to seek refuge and comfort.
The duo also recently released, ‘Heavy Weight’, an equally bewitching track which centres on their experience of dealing with social anxiety. Its stripped back form adds to the intimate and honest nature of the track. The lyrics powerfully convey the aching desire to be relieved of a burden and to find freedom, “restlessly waiting for the train/To take away your heavy weight/To make the whole thing go away.” It was so much fun to chat to this wonderful duo about their two latest releases, their thoughts on lockdown and their creative process…
What have you been up to since we last spoke after the release of your debut track ‘Two Halves’?
Throughout the last year we have focused on new music, both for our live set and our new releases. Since releasing ‘Two Halves’, we have definitely felt more confident in the music we want to make , and this shows in our performances, and in the music we have been creating.
One of our highlights from the last year was definitely our mini tour in May 2019. We drove to and performed at gorgeous venues in Amsterdam, then in Rotterdam and ended the trip with two sets at the wonderful Maiwoche Festival in Osnabruck, Germany. This was a whole new experiences for us, which we LOVED – driving across France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, with the band and our videographer friend, Lewis Dodds.
Can you describe the process of creating your latest single ‘Hide and Seek’?
‘Hide and Seek’ was written back in January, on a writing trip we took to Norfolk; we stayed in a little beach-side house with a log fire and spent time together and that definitely influenced the song. ‘Hide and Seek’ is about childhood memories and ignorant bliss – a time we all wish we could escape back to when we felt safe and other people would take care of us. We’re really proud of ‘Hide and Seek’ – it’s definitely our best yet.
How has lockdown impacted your creative process and the release of your new track?
If anything, lockdown has really stimulated our creativity – we’ve had concentrated time to write, share mixes and ideas with one another and send them to others for their opinions along the way, without all those daily things that get in the way sometimes. We speak to each other every day, do sessions via Zoom, and we have been able to work with some fantastic musicians who have also been available and excited to get involved with the song. Most of the instrumentation (guitars, strings, bass, etc) was recorded remotely during lockdown. Our production and song-writing are both hugely inspired by Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Rose for this song, and we really feel it’s our best yet.
It’s been interesting thinking about the way in which lockdown has affected our release. There is a big over-saturation of creatives fighting for attention at the moment, and rightly so. We are all trying to keep our audiences engaged, keep earning and spreading the word about our music. However, we had such a lovely response to the announcement of our new release, and we are so lucky to be part of such a supportive, positive and creative community. We’ve been writing so much over the last couple of months with our good friends Sam and Tom from the Leeds band, Heir. We’ve been sharing snippets of this writing on our Instagram, and the responses have been overwhelming. I think people are perhaps even more excited to see and hear what artists are getting up to at the moment, considering live gigs and ‘normality’ is missing. That has motivated us to keep writing, sharing and get this song out for people to hopefully enjoy! The song is about being at home with the people you love I suppose, so it’s quite fitting.
Your previous release ‘Heavy Weight’ deals with your personal experience with social anxiety. Why did you choose to write a song about such a personal experience?
After we had both attended a friend’s gathering, along with a lot of mutual friends, it started a conversation between us about how overwhelming this kind of event can be, and so many of the details from this conversation appear in the song, hence, “What would you say to all of your secrets? They fill up the space when all your friends have unfamiliar faces.”
Our experiences with mental health often filter through into our songs. As friends, we discuss these experiences, and if something is a part of our lives, it is only natural that we express it through our writing.
When you feel suffocated by social anxiety, do you feel like music is a safe space for you to turn to and if so, why? If not, what do you turn to for support?
Sometimes, yes, and sometimes no. In writing about how we feel, we can express these thoughts and feelings in a sort of safe space. By the time we’ve finished arranging and developing the songs, we are less vulnerable than we were when we wrote them, and the raw emotion hopefully still holds, so we can be proud of what we have created.
However, music is a competitive, vulnerable and ever-present community, which is difficult to turn off from, and this can sometimes make you feel frustrated and trapped. It’s a very sociable industry and in the unsigned/local scenes you earn others’ genuine support through supporting others, which becomes difficult when you are struggling with social anxiety.
As for most people (I imagine), music is a huge support when we need some time alone to recharge and take a break from the outside world. It can both comfort and inspire you.
What role do you think solidarity plays in managing issues such as social anxiety disorder?
Everyone struggles sometimes, in some way, and everyone deserves to feel that it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to speak about it, and it’s also okay not to speak about it if you’re not ready, but they should always know they aren’t alone. The questions asked in the song are a train of thought. Sometimes, when you are feeling anxious, even the people you know best can feel intimidating and unfamiliar. We liked the juxtaposition of lights casting shadows and making you feel unsafe, when light is supposed to make you feel safer, and darkness is usually scary.
How does your anxiety impact you when performing live? Do you feel like in some ways it has allowed you to connect with people more?
It is definitely a topic through which we as artists can connect with listeners and audiences, as everyone has experienced anxious moments, and especially in a live setting, it kind of creates a safe space where someone can feel less alone but also relate to what we’re saying. We’ve had a lot of feedback about our music comforting people, and lifting their mood. That also has a calming effect on any nerves we may have about performing.
To keep up to date with the latest news from Sunflower Thieves, you can follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To listen to their latest releases, head to YouTube, Soundcloud and Spotify.
by Eveline Vouillemin – Up&Coming