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DeAD SheEP "I try to write songs that take the listener on a trip"

With two cinematic, cross-genre EPs under his belt, Sheffield's Tom Jarvis tells us about his inspirations, self-imposed creative rules – and how the band name is "a bit metal".

Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of DeAD SheEp. Crazy name – how did you decide upon the aka?

The name DeAD SheEP is a symbol of anti-conformity. I am not a political person, but I do believe in free will and thinking for yourself, which is something that is often discouraged in the UK these days by mainstream culture.

The name is a bit 'metal', as any band with the word 'dead' or 'death' in it usually belongs to that genre, but I liked the incongruous nature of having a name that does not necessarily reveal the true style of the music by its association.

When writing songs for 'Lost Horizon', was it a case of an artistic extension of the tracks on prior EP Glassface, or did you start with a fresh musical canvas?

For the Lost Horizon EP, I wanted to continue in the vein of the first EP. For any project I work on, I always create self-imposed rules to keep it cohesive. With DeAD SheEP, the tempos have to be slow, with relentless drum beats that are minimal. There are no elongated intros. It's straight in with the drums and the musical hook, and there has to be a mix between acoustic and electric guitars. I don't use any electronic/software instruments or keyboards. It's all about guitars!

Dead sheep promo shot

Tom Jarvis of DeAD SheEP.

How do you go about the recording process? Do you have a specific approach to compiling the various elements of song structure?

All the parts recorded on the songs are complete takes. I rarely edit or chop up a performance. If it is not right, I'll record it again. I use digital recording equipment, but I work with an analogue mindset. The songs for this EP were written and recorded in a short space of time, as I don't like to sit on songs for a long time. The lyrics come after the music is recorded, as I prefer to write the words by improvising singing over the music. I find having a sense of the overall sound inspires me to create melodies and words that I wouldn't think of with just a guitar in my hand, working in the traditional singer-songwriter way.

Your musical journey has included spells in Canada and Paris, where you studied Turkish folk. Those international influences shine through on both EPs, don't they?

It is a very natural thing for me to slide between classic rock elements and Andalusian music or desert blues. In one sense these things are unified, for me at least, by being both melancholic and uplifting – light and darkness.

The musician Jon Hassell coined a term called 'Fourth World' music, which is a combination of traditional music from a particular culture and modern sonics, and it is a concept that I can identify with. Once you have learnt to play in these different styles, when you start composing it all comes out mixed together and it is not contrived. It is simply an overall musical feeling being expressed.

So in extending your absorption of broader musical cultures, you need to nurture those influences carefully too?

Yes. The danger for a musician is to appropriate sounds from non-western cultures to add on top of their music like a cherry on a cake. This can only be avoided by absorbing the music and visiting different places in the world and making a physical and emotional connection to the respective musical culture. As well as living in Canada, I stayed in Cuba for three months collaborating with musicians. I went to Ethiopia and made an album of field recordings there playing with various musicians. I've also performed in Mexico City. It is very humbling to play with people that are masters of their instruments and have a deep well of emotion to draw from. These musicians are my inspirations and heroes, even if they are not household names, and it is their spirit I am attempting to channel in all sincerity whenever I play music.

Have there been any specific musical and artistic inspirations behind your songwriting that you've tried to replicate in the two EPs to date?

A big inspiration that kicked off the project was the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's film Only Lovers Left Alive, which is composed by Jozef Van Wissem. He mixes traditional instruments with distorted guitars and an element of dissonance. With my previous band in Canada, pachyderm, we had attempted to do a similar thing, especially on our album Two Weeks of Spring, and I felt this was something I needed to explore more. After studying Turkish music in Paris and greatly improving my guitar technique and knowledge of non-western harmonic scales, I felt I was able to do this and go even further.

The musicianship on both EPs is exceptional – Jonny Dean's harmonica on the two EP title tracks being a case in point.

Jonny Dean is a long-standing friend of mine and a huge, but often subtle, influence in the Sheffield music scene. Primarily, he is a promoter at Cafe #9 in Nether Edge and brings a lot of great music into the city from all over the world, as well as the UK. I love his harmonica playing. It's very raw and digs in and grabs your attention. We lived together in a shared house during the pandemic, so it was a natural thing to bring him into the musical mix. I just let him do his thing.

And 17-year-old drummer Flynn Hudson-Dean. What a talent!

Flynn Hudson-Dean is Jonny's son and an amazing all-round musician and producer at a young age. For the drums, I programmed a basic beat to record the guitar arrangements along to and then he interpreted these beats and played to the backing track. He also engineered the drums, as I wanted him to give me the sound of his kit how he hears it should be. Often in a professional recording studio, the drummer is reduced to the status of a 'line worker' and has their instrument mixed as the producer wants it to be without their involvement.

There's a Morricone-style, wide-screen Americana vista element to the EP title tracks. Does the sonic picture you're trying to paint evolve consciously from such visual themes?

Yes, I'm a big fan of Morricone's soundtracks. For me, he is probably the greatest composer of the twentieth century. He wrote so much great music and melded together so many elements from classical, jazz, folk, rock in such a seemingly effortless, brilliant way. I love the drama of his music. It's very emotionally heightened and gives you the feeling of having been on an epic journey.

I try to write songs that take the listener on a trip that will provoke images in their mind. I don't ever envisage in advance what those images should specifically be. It's more creating a sonic tapestry that has elements that can trigger a visual reference. I am a huge fan of cinema, particularly films that conjure a mood. For me that is more important than a narrative, which is why the lyrics I write are also not specific to events in my own life or a certain topic. The words have to match the mood of the music and emphasise that feeling.

So what's next Tom? Is there an album in the pipeline at all?

I think if a larger batch of songs came to me in a short space of time, I would make an album. However, I do like the medium of an EP, as it's a rapid blast of music that is digestible and hopefully leaves the listener wanting more. I have considered releasing the two EPs on a vinyl, one on each side, which is something I will do at some point.

I do have my rules for this project so the next releases will be an extension of the current template, yet I think within that framework it also gives me room to experiment. I am always learning about music and discovering new connections between genres, which is what fascinates me the most. The possibilities of creating original music using guitar, bass and drums are vast.

And hopefully, you'll be drawing on the proven musicianship that has earned the two EPs such plaudits.

The next DeAD SheEP releases will continue to pool from the talented musicians and friends that I have met over the years, wherever they may roam. I plan to spend some time in Morocco in the near future and learn about the musical culture there. So who knows what collaborations might come from that!

I always look forward. I am not nostalgic about my past endeavours. There is only more music on the horizon.

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