When Reichenbach Falls appeared out of Oxford in late 2013 with their debut album ‘Reports of Snow’, it drew with its bittersweet melancholy immediate critical comparisons with the National, American Music Club and Richard Buckner, and was described by Penny Black Music as “outstanding” and “one of the undoubted albums of the year.”

A collective, Reichenbach Falls is centred around its vocalist and acoustic guitarist, the half-Canadian Abe Davies. It also featured on that first recording nine other musicians including Richard Neuberg (Viarosa) on guitars, mandolin and backing vocals; Ben Walker (Candy Says, Little Fish) on keyboards and Nick Simms (Viarosa, Cornershop) on drums. English Literature graduate Davies’ lyrics were confessional in tone and told with a heart-breaking and surprisingly lacking-in-self-pity honesty on ‘Reports of Snow’, a break-up album, of the aftermath of a romance that had gone abruptly wrong.

Now Reichenbach Falls have released a second album ‘The Traitor Shore’, which like its predecessor has come out on Davies’ own Observatory Records. While ‘Reports of Snow’ was a taut, self-consciously restrained record, the panoramas of ‘The Traitor Shore’ are much wider. The lyrics are once again often mournful and bleak but more diverse in tone, and much of the music has a jangling and up-tempo sound.

In our second interview with him, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Abe Davies about ‘The Traitor Shore’ and found him preparing to leave Oxford after five years of being based there to move to St Andrews.

PB: The experience of recording ‘The Traitor Shore’ was very different to recording your previous album ‘Reports of Snow’, wasn’t it?

AD: ‘Reports of Snow’ took a long time, almost three years to record. It started off as being just an acoustic solo record, and went from that to very incrementally adding electric guitar, piano and drums and keyboards. It evolved way beyond what we had originally planned, which was great in a lot of ways and a really interesting but also a frustrating process. We recorded it in three different studios with three different producers, and there were lots of delays.

With ‘The Traitor Shore’ I went into the studio with Richard Neuberg who engineered it as he had also done the previous record, and I played him the songs and we talked about it, what each song would maybe need and what was the best approach to each one, and then we did some really rough acoustic versions, sat with those for a little while and then I started recording a lot of the stuff at home, getting the basic guide tracks for everything and sending it out to all the guys. Then we got together and played a bit before going into the studio.

In a full day we got all the bass and all the drums done, and then in another single day Ben and I got all the organ and piano parts recorded. We then recorded all the vocals and all the guitars in another day. We knew exactly what each song was going to need and what we wanted it to sound like, and basically just went in and did it. The whole album was recorded really quickly.

PB: Yet for all this it comes across as a very fluid-sounding album.

AD: Obviously you don’t want to lose any spontaneity, but having a clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like made it really easy if someone, like Nick, who is such an amazing drummer, said, “Well, what about this groove? I think that might serve the song better.” There was a choice, whereas before on a lot of ‘Reports of Snow’ we were stumbling around in the dark and going, “Well, maybe we will do this.” I took the attitude with the band of: “This is what I had in mind and that will definitely work, but if you have a better idea then let’s try that.”

PB: A lot of the songs on ‘The Traitor Shore’, such as ‘English Rose’ and ‘Hey Migrator’, are musically much more upbeat and breezy in sound in comparison to those on ‘Reports of Snow’. Was it a conscious decision to write an album that was a lot less slow in sound?

AD: Yes. I hadn’t played live very much when we first began to record ‘Reports of Snow’. It was only when we started to play live - and in particular when I began to do a lot of solo shows - that I realised that there were elements of the songs weren’t quite finished. I hadn’t quite found the pulse of them, and it was really down to Richard and the others being such great musicians and able to see what I was trying to get at that we found arrangements with a lot of them that worked.

As I began to play live a lot, I started to write more with that in mind and the kind of songs that I would enjoy playing to a crowd of people. I think that is why the songs on ‘The Traitor Shore’ are, as you say, musically more upbeat. I wanted them to be dynamic and fun and to have more of a driving guitar sound. I wanted to make it more of a fun album to play live.

Richard has always said that he sees it in comparison to ‘Reports of Snow’ as much more of an indie rock album than an alt. country album, and I think that is really true. It is much more that kind of record.

PB: A lot of the people who appear on the album you have played with for quite a while – Richard, Ben Walker and Nick Simms. Who are the new people who also play on this album - Jamie Cooper, Josh Regal and Jonathan Anderson?

AD: Reichenbach Falls has the same set up that it has always had, with people helping out when they can. Nick and I, for example, have never actually played a show together. He is always on tour. He has a couple of bands, and he is also a drum tech for Paul Weller and the Manic Street Preachers. He is out of the country a huge amount of the time.

Jamie and I met at a gig. He was in another Oxford band This Town Needs Guns which was a Maths rock thing. They were pretty big and did a lot of touring. He is an amazing guitar player and super good live. I was offered an opening slot at the O2 Academy in Oxford and it was a bigger room than I had ever played, Initially I was going to do it on my own, but there were going to be a lot of people there and the band I was opening for has this loud sound, and so a few weeks beforehand I realised I needed a slightly bigger sound.

I started looking around for a guitar player, and Jamie was really into ‘Reports of Snow’, and so we started rehearsing and playing together, just at first with this one show in mind, and then more shows started coming in and we have been playing together ever since. With a lot of the songs on this album, I had the basic structure for them already, but it was through playing them live with Jamie and the guitar parts that he would come up with that they got a lot of their shape.

Josh Regal is a great bass player, and I know from him another band Little Brother Eli who play around Oxford a lot. He and I have been friendly for a while, and so I asked him if I could send him the songs and if he was interested in playing bass on the album. We managed to coordinate getting him and Nick together and that was the rhythm section. They immediately hit it off and locked in straightaway. It is really fun to see that, when you are the studio and there are these two really good players with this immediate chemistry.

Jon Anderson is a great mastering engineer in Vancouver. We applied for some funding from the Canadian government to make ‘The Traitor Shore’. It funds a lot of Canadian artists. Ben, the piano player, and I are both Canadian which is great, but to get the grant we really needed someone else who was Canadian to do the mixing and mastering and Jon was the obvious choice because Richard had worked with him before. We were exactly on the same page as to what the record should sound like, and he was just amazing. Apart from being a great tech guy, he is really creative and added some extra percussion and piano to a couple of the songs because he felt that was what the songs needed at that point. As a result of him, the album kept evolving right up until to the last minute.

PB: ‘Reports of Snow’ was predominantly a break-up album. This album, however, seems to be much more diverse lyrically, and tracks such ‘The Departure Lounge’, ‘Hey Migrator’ and ‘Canada’ all seem to be about change and moving on.

AD: ‘This album is a little bit harder to describe thematically. ‘Reports of Snow’ was written, as you say, around one theme and in a matter of weeks, while the songs on ‘The Traitor Shore’ were written over the course of a year and have a wider subject matter, so are maybe not quite as unified.

Change and uncertainty are the touchstones which are inevitable for songwriters of a particular turn of mind and if you tend towards the more anxious frame of song writing (Laughs). They are constants, aren’t they? They are what everyone is concerned with at some level, and so there is a lot of that in one form or the other on this album.

PB: What is ‘The Departure Lounge’ about?

AD: ‘The Departure Lounge’ is about a friend of mine who had been going through a break-up. It is another break-up song, but this time from my point of view and about somebody else. It is a message of comfort to my friend. The “you” in that song is actually my friend.

PB: Orphans’, ‘Buses’ and ‘Branches’ are apparently a suite. What are they about?

AD: ‘Orphans’, ‘Buses’ and ‘Branches’ are all about the same story and that is why they are sequenced together. Another friend of mine suffered a family tragedy in which his sister died suddenly. We had been friends for a long time, and the thought of this terrible situation kept bubbling away and reappearing in my imagination.

I had these three songs and ideas for them and what the chorus might be like, and they all seemed to be gravitating in the same direction about these characters, about this brother and sister, so I decided to create this suite of songs for my friend that sound musically different, but are all telling this story.

I don’t actually stick to the story. I wanted to give it a happier and more hopeful ending, so ‘Branches’ takes things in a different direction. I tried to imagine that things didn’t end as badly as they did.

PB: ‘Canada’, the final track, suggests an ambivalence and love-hate relationship with your home country, particularly with the line “it would take me a miracle to keep me there.” Would you agree?

AD: Yeah, it is not so much the country. It is the space that it occupies in my life. I have always felt very in between countries, because, although I was born in England, my dad was Canadian and I spent a lot of my upbringing there and I have lived as well in Scotland and in Spain. As my family is from there and all of my heritage, I have always felt rootless which I know is melodramatic. That is what that song is about though.

PB: You’re about to leave Oxford and to move to St Andrews in Scotland. Why have you decided to go there?

AD: I had done my Master’s degree in St Andrews and I had always wanted to do a PhD there. I have spent the last five years working in Oxford for a publisher, but I was made redundant earlier this year as very often happens in publishing. They shut down my whole department.

The reason that I hadn’t applied for a PhD before is because I had got swept up in having a job and the band and music had also taken up a lot of time too. I got in touch with my old tutors, and they very kindly immediately offered me a place and said I could apply for a full scholarship, which I was lucky enough to receive the funding for. My PhD is going to be in Shakespeare, the same subject as my Master’s.

PB: Most of your musical connections are in Oxford. How do you think moving North will affect Reichenbach Falls?

AD: I am not really sure. Reichenbach Falls has always been me, and whoever else is available. I don’t think it is going to make much of a difference. I am very excited because I am going to be living in Anstruther, which is a really beautiful little place but it has also got a really cool little music scene there. I am excited for it to be a different thing. I don’t know exactly what will happen yet. I hope to make another record with the guys, but I may do an acoustic one next. I am just going to see what happens and who is up there. It is all a bit uncertain really, but it has often been that way with Reichenbach Falls and I am looking forward to it.

PB: Thank you.

Photograph by Sally Davies

Related Links:


Commenting On: Interview - Reichenbach Falls

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last