Tomorrow We Sail is a Leeds-based group of sweeping textures and dynamics.

Fusing together elements of post-rock, neo-classicism, folk and ambience, Tomorrow We Sail formed in 2009 and have released both a previous EP ‘The Common Fire’ and an album ‘For Those Who Caught the Sun’.

‘The Shadows’, their second album, which like its predecessor is being released on the Manchester-based label Gizeh Records, will come out in March. It is a record of astonishing soundscapes, shifting across its seven tracks from moments of stark piano-led minimalism such as ‘Winifred’ and ‘To Sleep’ to orchestral-sounding, reverb-driven numbers like pulsating opener ‘Side by Side’, furious central track ‘The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes’ and elegiac closer ‘The Golden Elevator’.

Lyrically ‘The Shadows’ is also similarly diverse, reflecting on how things once were and they are now, and under this canvas telling of fragile, fading love affairs; old age and weighing up economic failings and philosophy.

Tomorrow We Sail consists of Ella Blake (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonium, harp); Angela Chan (viola, violin, vocals); Matt Clarke (guitar, keyboard, hammond organ, glockenspiel, vocals); Alistair Hay (drums, percussion); Tim Hay (vocals, guitar, piano) and Tom Ilett (bass, vocals).

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Tim and Alistair Hay about ‘The Shadows’.

PB: ‘The Shadows’ has in its concluding lines the chorus “If anything has been lost it is togetherness.” Its central theme seems to be loss, both personally and on a grander scale. Do you think that is a fair assessment?

TH: That’s a very good question. It certainly wasn’t something we were conscious of when we were writing the album, but looking back at it now it’s finished I’d agree that themes of loss do run throughout.

I don’t think we had set out to make it a central theme, but, in hindsight, a lot of the songs are about the loss of tangible things - communal space, the changing environment, the loss of opportunities, stability, community - but I think there’s a broader theme running through most of the songs, about the sense of the loss of the world that, growing up, we thought we knew. There’s a word in Welsh which I absolutely love, ‘Hiraeth’ - there’s no direct translation into English, but it’s often translated as homesickness or longing, tinged with sadness, for a place that no longer exists, or perhaps never really did. I think it’s a feeling that definitely runs throughout the album; this sense of longing for a world that part of you knows never existed, but somehow you still look back towards nostalgically. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a melancholic record; there’s definitely a sense of hope and resolve rather than resignation, and an idea that just because something has been lost it’s not gone for good.

PB: It also seems to be a more urgent record than ‘For Those Who Caught the Sun’ and ‘The Common Fire’. In the four years since ‘For Those Who Caught the Sun’ we have seen Brexit, the rise of Trump and the UK government spin increasingly out of control. How much is that urgency a reflection on the times?

AH: It’s really interesting that you picked up on that, as it’s something we’ve definitely thought about ourselves. Initially, almost all of the songs started as a musical idea, which we then developed as a group, and the lyrics followed. When we set about writing this album there was a semi-conscious idea in the band that we wanted to try writing shorter, more concise tracks, with more focus on the songs themselves, and the musical style was driven more by that than it was directly inspired by recent events - they’re certainly not ‘political’ songs in any usual sense of the word. But it’s very hard not to be affected by what’s going on around us at the moment; it feels like we’re living through quite a chaotic, urgent, angry time, and that pushed the lyrics in a certain direction, which in turn perhaps pushed the music in a more urgent direction. Like everyone, we’re definitely influenced by what we read, see and hear around us and I think this definitely fed into the tone of the album.

PB: ‘Winifred’ is the sparsest track on the album, a contrast to a lot else of what is going on the album and yet equally gripping. Was or is ‘Winifred’ a real person?

AH; ‘Winifred’ is definitely one of the more personal songs on the album, but it’s not about a single person per se. The idea for the song came to me during a visit to Gladstone's Library, which is an amazing residential library in the former house of the nineteenth century British Prime Minister in North Wales. I spent a few days there with my partner, and each day we’d potter down to this incredible old library and just spend the day reading and writing. Throughout our stay there was an elderly couple who used to spend the entire day sat in the same part of the library reading; I remember being struck by how caring and attentive they both were to each other and the lyrics just seemed to flow from there.

It’s very much a song about love in old age, and whilst it’s not about a single person it has always felt very personal - it’s a stage in life that’s hard to imagine when you’re younger, but as you see your family start to get older, and as you become a little older yourself, you’re struck by the realisation that every older couple you see was once your age and, in time, you’ll be that older couple in the room. And most importantly, you realise that age really doesn’t change how you feel or how you are as a person. It’s the same as when you visit an older relative and see pictures of them when they were your age - it’s quite a sobering thought to imagine them when they were your age and you when you’re their age.

One of the things we really like about the album though is the contrast in the musical styles; ‘Winifred’ and also ‘To Sleep’ are definitely the most personal songs on the album and it felt right for them to have a different, much sparser and stripped back atmosphere compared with the rest of the songs on the album.

PB: ‘The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes’ takes its title from the pre-war economic philosopher John Maynard Keynes. For a long time his theories were out of fashion, but they have seen since then a partial revival of fortunes. How much relevance do you think his theories have in current times?

AH: Sadly, probably not as much as they should. The idea for the song’s lyrics came from a book I was reading about Britain in the 1930s, and I was really struck by the extent to which so much of the language that was being used about the poor over eighty years ago seemed to chime with the the language politicians use today – “deserving” and “undeserving” poor were the 1930’s equivalent of “strivers” and “skivers”.

Without getting into the debate around whether Keynesianism is the solution to the ongoing economic difficulties of the country, it does seem astonishing that so many ideas that were popular before World War II but yet were largely discredited in the Keynianist post-war era - that you can cut your way out of a recession, that poverty is a personal failing, that you should treat a national economy like a household economy, that the government should step aside and let the market free - have made a comeback. In fact, I feel that what we need most is not a revival of Keynes’ theories necessarily but an opposition to the return of so many of the economic and social theories that he opposed so strongly and which seem to have dominated discourse in the UK for the past four decades, as that might actually help us find an approach to economics that works today, for everyone.

PB: Your songs involve a lot of instrumentation and are often very complex. Is it difficult for the six of you to get together given that there are so many of you, and how did the songwriting for the album as a result work? Did you begin with a lyrical idea and build it around that or did it work in another way?

TH: In terms of the songwriting for this record quite a few of the ideas had actually started to come together during the latter stages of touring the first album. We found ourselves adding early versions of a lot of the new album to live sets around that time and I think that period of road testing really helped when it came to producing the new album. That was an experience that we hadn’t really had with the first album so it was interesting to see the difference it made as we’d been able to try out subtly different versions of the songs and let them develop naturally before recording anything.

In the early stages of preparation for this album getting together did prove quite difficult as we were spread out between Leeds, Newcastle, and for quite a long time Missouri in the US. Al was living out in the States for a year but when he got back to Leeds we picked up where we left off and got stuck into finishing off the songs that we had demoed previously.

Almost all of our ideas start off with the instrumentation before any lyrics are written. Someone will bring an idea on the keyboard or guitar which we’ll develop it together in the practice space. Interestingly though, we do tend to start adding vocal melodies fairly early in the process even though the lyrics might not be finished until near the very end. We’ll usually sing wordless melodies to begin with which in turn helps develop the structures. We did start to develop themes and ideas for the lyrics much earlier with this album than the last one though, and that definitely had an impact on the way the songs developed.

PB: All tracks were “written and recorded” and presumably produced by the band. In what way do you think that benefitted the recording?

TH: There wasn’t at any point an active decision to carry out the recording and production ourselves, it just made the most sense to us at the time, and it’s how we’ve always worked before. It would be something that could be really interesting to think about in the future though, the idea of having somebody who has not been involved in the writing process being involved in the mixing especially; someone who can lend an extra perspective to the final record.

As a group, I think our ability in the studio has improved a lot since we recorded the first album. As is often the way with these things, there was a lot that we wanted to try and do differently and learn from after the first album. One of the big differences with recording this album was how much we were able to record together as a group. We were fortunate enough to have access to larger spaces to record in this time around so almost all the tracks were recorded as whole live takes with drums, bass, guitars and keys recorded together in the room. I think this benefitted the recording massively as we were able to make informed decisions on performances there and then in the studio. Overall the recording of this album felt like a very natural process, and certainly one that was quicker and easier to manage than the first album.

PB: The strings were, however recorded separately. Why did you decide to do that?

TH: That was a decision informed more by geography than anything else. At the time that we were at our busiest recording in Leeds, Angela was living up in Newcastle. It ended up proving to be a good way of working though as once we had completed a session we would send the files up to Angela who could then sit and develop the strings separately. It would have proved difficult to incorporate the string recording into the full band recording sessions happening in Leeds from a technical point of view, so I think ultimately working in that way meant we could get the best from both recording set-ups.

PB: You’re playing the Gizehfest in February and have your album launch night in Leeds in March. What other plans do Tomorrow We Sail have for the immediate future? Will you be touring a lot?

AH: We’re really looking forward to Gizehfest. It’s going to be a real pleasure to share the stage with some amazing people from the label. It’s definitely going to be a diverse night of music! The full line-up has just been announced for our album launch show too. We’ll be sharing the stage with our friends Fieldhead and Hoamin from Bradford, who are great.

We’re definitely planning on getting back out on the road this year - it’s been a long time since we’ve toured properly and there’s definitely something about touring, as opposed to playing occasional shows, that we really love. But in the past we’ve often thrown a huge amount of effort into a single big tour and then played the odd show here and there in-between, and it would be nice to focus on doing more smaller tours across the year and, hopefully, really keeping the momentum going.
At the moment, we’re aiming for some festivals over spring and summer - we’re playing Portals Festival in London in June which has got an amazing line-up! We’ll hopefully have a couple of tours lined up for later in the year, as well as some other projects, like videos and live recordings, on the cards as well.

PB: Thank you.

‘The Shadows’ will be released on CD, download and a vinyl edition limited to 300 copies on GIzeh Records on March 2nd. Tomorrow We Sail will be playing the Gizehfest at Aatma in Manchester on February 17th and the album launch for ‘The shadows’ at the Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds on March 3rd.

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