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Retreating to an old barn in Greenwich owned by an 84 year old artist and his clairvoyant wife might sound like the tale of an artist who’s had enough and decided to live life on the fringes of society. Yet in reality it’s the narrative that props up the latest sonic adventure from Younghusband, who holed up together to record and self-produce their latest record Swimmers.
It’s a fresh approach taken for a record that oozes freshness from every note on it – a logical step from the busyness of their preceding album. When they released their second album, 2015’s Dissolver, it came with a string of impressive names attached to it. Released by ATP, produced by Loop’s Robert Hampson, recorded at Geoff Barrow’s Invada Studios and featuring Warren Ellis of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ sprawling viola work. The result was an album that calmly shrugged off the neo-psych label that some lazily placed them in the wake of their 2013 debut album Dromes, a record that Mojo gushed about saying “It pushes bittersweet melodies from under a reverb rug.”
By the time the subsequent touring for the album subsided the band had racked up almost a decade of being together, during which they had explored various avenues of contemporary guitar music from washed-out hazy swathes of enveloping guitars to seamless pop-tinged compositions. The four-piece of Euan Hinshelwood, Joe Chilton, Adam Beach and Pete Baker went on to do some other things for a while, such as playing in other people’s bands and having some time apart. Singer and songwriter Hinshelwood took on a lease at the Greenwich barn and set up a studio there, looking for a change of pace to the life he had been living for such a long time.
When the band did reconvene, this change of environment combined with chasing other creative pursuits would go on to shape the record hugely. Hinshelwood and Chilton both played in Wes Gonzalez’s band for a time and the former also played with Meilyr Jones, the experience of doing so impacting greatly on the band. “Playing with Meilyr was really mind expanding,” he says. “He approached things in a certain way that left things to the last minute - almost to the point of freaking out - but then you'd get this really interesting outcome. It was the same with Wes; he would play the songs to his band a week before recording them. I took that approach.”
So with the band now in Greenwich in a barn, they undertook a new creative approach that looked to solidify the band and harness a new sound that was bubbling in Hinshelwood’s songs. “There were so many things we liked and disliked about our first two records,” he says. “We thought we’d try and find a middle ground. I wanted to bring us back to that place between the first and second record but with more confidence in songwriting. Maybe being a bit more extreme - a bit more emotional extremity and openness.” Such emotional extremity and openness can be felt throughout the record’s most tender, fragile and stirring moments.
Getting the band back together was a combination of rejuvenation and rustiness. “It took a bit of getting used to,” Hinshelwood recalls. “I certainly miss that two rehearsals a week and then straight to the pub but that’s what happens when you all grow up and your lives go in different directions, isn't it? Things develop and change.” This change was embraced. There was a burst of creativity over two weekends in the barn in which the majority of the tracks were laid down. They were sessions driven by instinct and impulse. “I didn't play the songs to the guys before,” says Hinshelwood. “For the majority of the record the band had only heard the songs on the day of recording them. We then went over the top of those bare bones but at the core of it I wanted to get something loose and gritty.”
Although it would be some time before the whirlwind of those loose and gritty sessions would manifest as a finished album. “We're used to travelling to a recording studio and coming back in two weeks with a new record and it being out six months later,” Hinshelwood offers. “This was two and a half years in the making.” They wanted to let the material gestate, to think about the songs and what they meant. “I felt we had overcooked some of the tracks in the past. From playing them live a lot or rehearsing too much - we lost the essence of them. ”
The time period spent on perfecting the album has been beneficial however. The end result of the new album - one awash with glowing guitar melodies, breezy pop moments and restrained yet potent songcraft - is one that feels emblematic of where the band are; not a record in which a band is still trying to find themselves but are comfortable with their identity and making music that perfectly encompasses that. “I think when we first started we were really influenced by things,” says Hinshelwood “That's natural for a young band and moving on to the second record we tried to strip a lot of that - our identity has matured. I've always been about writing songs first and foremost, rather than having an overarching style. The style comes from the songs more than anything with us.”
Instead, the influences that are most noticeable on this record do not belong to other bands - although if you’re a fan of Yo La Tengo’s ever-shifting musical experimentations you won’t be disappointed - but with environment and a sense of time and place. “A big theme has been moving south of the river into open spaces,” Hinshelwood says. “In Greenwich there's a lot of open space and there's a water theme running through this record. I've spent a lot of time by the river down here and it's been quite a reflective time.” Whilst emptiness is also a theme that runs concurrently and flowingly with the aquatic ones, this isn’t an especially sad album for Hinshelwood. “Emptiness keeps popping up but I feel that there's a real optimism too. There's a theme of optimistic emptiness. That feeling when you know that something good is coming or could come but you're not sure where it is. That strange surge of optimism you get.”
Also, the barn the studio is in - where Hinshelwood has been recording the likes of Value Void, Wesley Gonzalez, Blueprint Blue, JC Flowers, Luxury Apartments and Charles Howl - has also been a shaping force on the record. “The barn is beautiful and surrounded by these oil paintings that the landlord Maurice has painted over the decades. He's an obsessive collector and there's things hanging around and every single one of them has a story. In terms of inspiration, that place has been one of the biggest: old objects and the sense of history that comes with being there and Maurice. He's still there everyday and making sculptures in the yard. It’s a pretty inspiring place to be.”
Perhaps the most fitting metaphor for the new place that Younghusband find themselves in, both musically and geographically, is reflected in the album’s title. “One of the reasons we called the album Swimmers is because there's a sense of collectiveness to swimmers but also a sense of individuality. They are communicating with each other in a way but they are also very much in their own space. That is representative of the songs on the album.” As a result of this approach it has opened up the band to an endless future of possibilities. “I feel like we could go anywhere from this record,” says Hinshelwood. “That's more important to me than anything.”