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Haress Interview: “I really think the record is a product of its environment”

Liz Still and Dave Hand talk about the band’s latest LP, ‘Ghosts’.

Ghosts. Of course, some find them frightening, while others see them as a presence that cause no harm, even finding comfort in them. Then, of course, some don’t believe in them at all.

Whatever one’s persuasion, Ghosts Story, the Flexi Disc bonus track on Haress’ latest LP, Ghosts, evokes a feeling of fear. Unnerving, like a presence so close you can almost feel its breath hit the back of your neck. Whether you scare easily or not, this is some frightening stuff, as Liz Still’s haunting diatribe is best listened to in the daylight hours.

In many ways, the bonus track encapsulates Ghosts. Haress’ gorgeous and unquestionably finest offering yet.

With haunting vistas of sound, Ghosts sees Haress taking the origins of folk and galvanising them into the hazy worlds of rural psychedelia and Bark Psychosis-era post-rock.

There’s the rustic thrum and blackened tones of White Over (featuring Sweet WilliamsThomas House), which guides us through the veil of smoke where the woodsy finesse of Rites of Spring awaits. Then there’s the end-time balladry of Time to Drink and I Think, I Think, followed by the storming epic of Litres Into Metres – Susurrus (again featuring House). And who could forget the aforementioned Ghosts Story.

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This is artistic illumination at its peak, as Haress have created something sounding like nothing else in the current new music landscape. Something that completely stands on its own feet, and as Ghosts is one of the finest records released this year, it only comes on stronger the more time spent in its company.

Led by Still and Dave Hand – also founders of the Lancashire & Somerset label – both have lived in Bishop’s Castle for well over a decade. In the past 12 months, they have been joined by Haress band mates, drummer Dave Smyth (Kling Klang, Mind Mountain) and guitarist, Chris Summerlin (Hey Colossus, Grey Hairs, et al). From the outside at least, this feels like a new dawn for Haress; a collective heavily influenced by their surroundings, and on the back of Ghosts, it makes for thrilling possibilities as to what comes next.

In the lead-up to their tour with label mates (first on Lancashire & Somerset and now via Wrong Speed Records) and long time friends, Enablers, Liz and Dave answered some of our questions.

Haress (photo credit: provided by the artist)

Sun 13: Ghosts was written during the lockdown period. Can you tell us about the process of writing and recording the album?

Haress: “The majority of the record was recorded at Erbisock Mill in Mid Wales January 2020 before the Plague hit. It was a different process, though. We had the session pre-booked as Phil Booth (JTSoar, Nottingham) had booked this mill and we thought it sounded like a good place and a good focus. So instead of the music being played and developed previously live, some of it hadn’t been arranged or played as a band or even duo. We basically locked ourselves into an watermill with a constant hiss from the weir, 24/7. It was like being on a self-contained boat – maybe a submarine. Was it all great? Not sure, but it definitely created a feel and a process.” 

S13: It feels like a very northern record. There’s a subtle bleakness to it, particularly with tracks like Time to Drink and Litres Into Mertres/Susurrus. Was this something you were thinking about?

H: “Well two of us are from the north, two from the south, so essentially it’s a midlands record! I really think the record is a product of its environment – the space felt 50 per cent claustrophobic 50 per cent moving and free with no boundaries – we got to swim in cold rivers while recording it and also be shit scared and haunted at night.”

S13: White Over is such a great opening song and features Thomas House. What can you tell us about this song?

H: “It was originally written as a two piece and I think [we] (Liz and I) debuted it in Brighton. Tom had written some words in advance, we practiced it in the back of the van just before we played and it worked out well. It’s been adapted a little since then. It was the makings of a song for a while, I remember the break or bridge was written very hungover on Chris’s very nice Gibson Arch top thing after an Enablers show in Nottingham.”

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S13: Ghosts Story is an intriguing piece. Although it’s on the Flexi Disc it feels like a vital part to the album’s lineage. Was it written before or after the other songs?

H: “It was totally a revisit we had had lockdown in between the first recording session mixing in between when we could. Wrong Speed wanted to put out the record and when it we came to master, [they] gave us the great option of doing a Flexi Disc to go with the LP.

“Dave had a load of video and field recording from the time at the mill, which Liz edited into a soundscape. Chris had written a story of our time at the mill, which he edited then Liz narrated but it into my phone like an audio diary. It worked out really well – it feels like the making of documentary to the record.”

S13: You’ve been in Bishop’s Castle a while now. Do you think your surroundings had an influence on how the record turned out?

H: “Yes of course –  there’s no way it can’t. Would we sound how we do if we lived somewhere more urban? Probably no. We have a lot of space here and a bit cut off, I guess  – so we just get on and do our own thing. But that’s no bad thing. “

Haress - Ghosts

S13: Haress strikes me as a band that’s always working on ideas. Is that the case?

H: “We go in spurts – as a duo we have always been writing. Some see the light of day in the live setting, others remain on the shores of the phone recordings. Now four of us are in the same space it’s going to be interesting how this evolves. There’s a large percentage of a new record already written; some of it just needs work – we have a good rehearsal space now that we will be able to use for recording, too.”

S13: How do you see the relationship between composition, sound and space? I ask this because I think all three facets play a vital role in your music.

H: “The three evolve until the music conveys what you want it to. Plus I like that things can happily exist in different forms – some of the compositions for this record turned out very different to how I imagined once everyone added their part – and now probably say something totally different.”

S13: With regards to your artwork, does it influence on Haress’ music at all? Are the two intrinsically linked in your mind?

H: “I really think the artwork is more of a reaction to what we have recorded in front of us – yeah of course they are linked, but the first record was based around a picture Liz had taken of our daughter, and the second using prints of cuts that they had both made, they just inform the final piece. Other times in my work I do have an idea for a record where it’s the other way round; the music will come secondary to the visual vision.”

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S13: You’ve all been involved in bands over the years. Have your song writing methods changed over time?

H: “When we moved here we were playing much heavier stuff. We usually would jam stuff out electrical in a practice room after coming up with the germ of something at home. Now one of us will usually have an idea we are messing about with at home, [and] the other will say, ‘What’s that? That’s nice’, then start working on a part for it. But now the four of us are living in Bishop’s Castle, maybe that will change a bit again with more opportunities for things to evolve at practice. Interlude on Ghosts was an improvised thing we did at the mill – luckily Phil had the tape rolling.”

S13: You’re supporting Enablers on their forthcoming tour. You’ve had quite the journey with them, releasing the majority of their records on your Lancashire & Somerset label. How excited are you, firstly to tour with them and, secondly, to play these songs all across the country?

H: “Enablers are pretty much family, it’s been a 20 year journey with them. I used to run a night called Engine in Liverpool with Ches and Sean, and we had loads of bands come through. Enablers along with Grails were sent to us via Neurot Recordings.

“I remember myself and Ches being pleased at getting free records just going, ‘Shittt this is great’ as were Grails. Within like a month we had them on at Bar Fresa in Liverpool – they passed the first test of finding the place and loading in all their gear no fuss: there was no looking back, we all sort of bonded, and then they came through Liverpool many times after that. Our band Red Panda did a split 7″ [New Moon / Julia] with them which we released and we also released several other LPs and 10”s. We have played many shows with them as various bands, but this feels really good, both with new LPS out at similar times.”

Haress U.K. tour dates w/ Enablers:

  • Saturday, September 3: Dareshack, Bristol
  • Sunday, September 4: Kazimier Stockroom, Liverpool
  • Monday, September 5: Myndtown Church, Bishops Castle
  • Tuesday, September 6: The Bodega, Nottingham
  • Wednesday, September 7: The Moth Club, London

Ghosts is out now via Wrong Speed Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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