An outpouring of love enveloped the Soup Kitchen basement at Abigail Wyles’ and Holly Simpson’s ‘debut’ Manchester performance. Those lucky enough to attend the legendary Norvun Devolution at the Roadhouse around 2009 or 2010 will have caught the pair on stage in an earlier incarnation. Wyles and Simpson, as they’re officially known, have spent the past three years honing their sound and ideas into an album.

Recent single and album opener ‘Stormy Skies’ caught the attention of many, including Jo Whiley and Zane Lowe, with its call-to-arms march and forlorn but eerily familiar hook, a stark contrast to the subtle layers of the ‘Light and Dark’ single from December. A happy marriage of songwriting and production, the intricately-crafted eponymous full-length is ready to drop at the end of March on Chase and Status’ MTA Records. On the wind-down after the gig, we sat down for a chat.

So, how have we got to this point?

AW: It’s been a bit of a process, hasn’t it?

HS: It still feels quite embryonic. It’s growing organically, bit by bit by bit. The programming was the biggest part. Doing all the mixing, finalising the tracks in Pro Tools then swapping to a completely different program, Ableton. Learning Ableton, getting all the stems over, building a live session, and then figuring out what gear we needed. Cos we want it to be interactive, we want to have triggers, to be spontaneous.

Do you worry about how you’re going to perform songs live while you’re writing them?

HS: No [laughs]. That would be a nightmare. There’s too much to think about when you’re recording and writing anyway. But it’s nice to be in a new chapter.

AW: It feels quite empowering. Before, you’re feeling around, trying to work out what you’re doing.

HS: It’s isolated in the studio and now we’ve opened the doors.

AW: It’s far more interactive and then you get feedback, people’s reactions, and we want to do as much on stage as we can, performance-wise, and maybe eventually we’ll start to incorporate other people, but it’s got to be right, and it’s got to feel right and it’s got to fit. That’ll take time.

HS: Starting a dialogue with people is a really nice process – going from studio time, being isolated, to playing it to people and getting responses.

‘Stormy Skies’ was a great choice for a single and has obviously made an impact [at the time of writing the video has 13,000 views on YouTube].

HS: Yeah, it’s an extrovert song. Some are extrovert, others are very introverted.

AW: It’s the favourite of all. Everyone seems to get something out of it.

HS: It’s accessible, whereas some of the other ones are growers. You need time to sit and get to know them and they open up the more you listen to them.

AW: The album’s a grower, isn’t it, really?

HS: Yeah, friends and family have said that. They’ve had time to sit with it and get used to it.

HS: It’s ten tracks with some bonus tracks, that ‘Shout’ cover [of a 1985 Tears For Fears song, which finished off the gig], a little ditty, kind of interlude…

AW: A demo really.

Did you have the narrative of an album in mind when recording it? Or was it a more disparate affair?

AW: It happened so naturally. It’s the statement that we wanted to make and it happened to be a statement in ten tracks.

HS: We’ve got loads of songs, but those were the ones that stuck out and felt right at the time. The ten songs we’ve got were the ones that really hooked us and we felt were pertinent to us.

AW: They go together as a piece of work, which we definitely want to press up.

The album release is soon. Is it solely digital for the moment?

AW: It is very soon, but it’s been a long time getting here. It’s digital, but it needs to be on vinyl.

HS: We’re hell-bent on that.

AW: It would feel like a failure, actually, if it wasn’t.

Now the final product is ready, do you feel you’ve managed to carve your own path towards it?

AW: We’ve stayed true to ourselves the whole way through, but it’s been tough.

HS: It’s been a game of push and shove.

AW: It was a struggle to become accepted as producers, writers, the whole shebang, and it took us some time to work out anyway.

HS: We were given that space. We’ve been resolute about our sound since the beginning. We’ve known what it was we wanted, but we haven’t been able to do it, so we’ve spent the last three years in London learning how to produce, and finding those sounds, crafting those songs, writing and producing together and creating those soundscapes, learning electronic production, that electronic world.

AW: It took a lot of work, but it just fits. That’s ‘album number one’ and we’re happy to stand behind it and feel really proud of it. That’s us.

You’ve managed to squeeze in some collaborations in the last few years.

HS: I worked on a track for Rihanna with Chase and Status [‘Jump’, from the 2012 album Unapologetic] and then we wrote a track with Chase and Status and Nile Rodgers [‘What Is Right’, from the 2013 C&S album Brand New Machine]. We’ve worked on different projects. [Abigail] worked with Doc Daneeka [the haunting ‘Tobyjug’, on Ten Thousand Yen, 2012] and then him and Benjamin Damage [three tracks on the album They Live! on Modeslektor’s 50 Weapons label, 2013], then I worked with Matthew Halsall [on 2012’s Fletcher Moss Park, Gondwana Records] and Illum Sphere [2009’s Incoming EP, Fat City Recordings], but we’ve always moved together.

So what’s the plan of attack on the eve of the album release?

AW: I think live is a big thing for us. We want people to come down and go away feeling as though it was something…

HS: …they can relate to.

AW: Yeah, and will stick with them.

HS: The plan of attack is to get out there and start this dialogue. As many places and people, to share our music. You feel very vulnerable and exposed getting up on stage, so we’re breaking that block. We want to communicate.

AW: We know that we’ve got to be performers…

HS: And we’re learning bit by bit.

It’s at this point Wyles and Simpson pretty much collapse and settle down with a well-earned gin and tonic. After emerging from a great big hug, they’re all smiles.

AW: Our music has really grown as our relationship has grown. We’re family…

HS: Sisters! Our songs are conversations.

The album Wyles & Simpson is out on 23 March on MTA Records.
wylesandsimpson.com
An extended version of this interview will be available on groovement.co.uk

 

Jamie Groovement