Nottingham five piece Hhymn released their gorgeously yearning debut abum ‘In The Depths’ on Denizen recordings last week(16th of May). A sepia tinged album full of a delicately tumbling wilderness of multi-instrumentation that has been compared by to the Doves more downtempo moments or Beruit‘s elegantly brass garnished arrangements. Whilst lead vocalist Ed Bannard’s affecting broken vocals are at these songsr beating heart touching upon the folk traditions of the likes of John Martyn and more recent stripped back heartbreak of Bon Iver right through to the weathered heart on his sleeve tone of Guy Garvey of Elbow.
But Hhymn aren’t just a front person’s vechile, this superb set songs shows a great care and craft shown by Hhymn’s five members and woven with personal experience of memory and loss and the sound of their home city of Nottingham. These hugely accomplished paens created by five people in unison should see them gain wider followers. They’ve already picked up fans in Tom Robinson and bizarrely Matt Horne (of Gavin and Stacey fame). I caught up with Hhymn’s songwriting pair Simon Ritchie(words and instrmentals) and Ed Bannard’s (vocalist, and words) to delve a little into their deeper inspirations.
Why ‘Hhymn’ with a double H? And are you trying to suggest something about the ‘Hymn’ like quality of your songs?
Ed Bannard: We definitely thought the songs we initially wrote had a certain hymnal feel to them, but really that name was not really though about in detail to depict the sound of the band, as to the two h’s; well we tried it with three but it just looked silly.
How did the band form was it through mutual friendships, Internet small ads, or through other bands?
Simon Ritchie: Ed and I met whilst i was recording some tracks at his studio and we just decided to give up our other bands, stop spending all our time in bands in London and start writing together instead. Pretty big decision but I’m really glad we did. this band is easily the best I’ve been in.
Can you briefly talk us through your history as a band?
SR: Well after that initial meeting we just kept refining the sound and bringing new people to make the sounds in our heads a reality, first up was long time friend Mike Wynne on drums and it grew from there to about 8 of us now. At our album launch night last week we were packed on the stage between microphones and instruments and low ceilings and tons of people, it was really intense. I’m glad they liked us as there was no escape if it had turned nasty. Its an old music hall and it was a pretty special night.
Tom Robinson and Matt Horne are Hhymn fans, what does it mean to you to have people ‘get your music’?
SR:It means a lot to have anyone like us and get what we are on about – we really believe in it and want to pass that on.
The album is beautiful over what period was it recorded?
SR: In the late summer of 2010 we headed into the studio to start work on our first full length LP, we laid down the bones to 15 songs and then started to develop them, change them, scrap them and pick them apart, by the end of winter we emerged with a record we are immensely proud of.
I get the impression that there are personal themes running through the each track, are these songs autobiographical or laced with fiction? I read that Hhymn is a song writing partnership how does that work out?
SR: Me and Ed started this band with the intention of trying to write together as sometimes that can be a very difficult process. Collaborating is a lot of pushing and pulling but if you both agree on the big picture of where you want it to go then the small things get resolved easily. It forces you to lose a bit of control over the songs as when you write on your own you can get stuck into habits and patterns and when you open the process up it makes them grow into something that’s richer. If the song takes a new direction you let it. SR
My favourite song on the album is probably ‘Light of the Moon’ the intricate observed imagery of a female and the delicate, and Ed’s yearning vocals really draw me in, what was the inspiration behind this song? Was it really written by the Light of the moon?
EB: No it was written at dawn. I guess its about asking to be let in, there is a bit of a reoccurring theme throughout the album, its not drawn from particular experience more a non intentional asking of acceptance of situations you find yourself in.
I get the impression that heartbreak and hope through tragedy of the everyday is filtered through some of the imagery? Do you keep scrapbooks or are these memories you recall as lyrical couplets?
EB: Mainly memories, I keep scrapbooks too, of which I’ll add lines in that really stand out but most of the lyrics are written subliminally and kind of gather themselves together and form stories, messages etc… I find if I try and write particular themed lyrics it can feel contrived and makes me cringe, its fine drawing inspiration from personal experience but not so obviously I find works best.
Sound wise how do you write songs together? Is it a case of building upon instrumental parts with each member chiming in or is it more complicated?
EB: It’ll usually start with either a verse or a chorus, we work out the arrangement, melody and then strip it right back, add what we feel the song needs to add colour and the lyrics appear along the way sometimes whilst trying different melodies, then I will usually gather what we have and write the final draft of words, still that can all change.
SR: We often start off with an idea that will turn into a really long song that we would record and send back and forth picking out the best bits and sort of shape down and down until it was just the essential elements, a bit like sculpting something from a big block of wood. Sometimes it can be so quick and easy and others can be incredibly hard . One of the songs had a working title of ‘thank fuck for that’ which was how it felt when we went ‘Yes. Finally’ it is written.
I read one quote that referred to Hhymn’s affecting sound as akin to retreating into a wilderness world of ‘zithers, mandolins, ukuleles harmoniums, dulcimers, double basses and brass brushes’ are there any other instruments you’d like to introduce into this world?
SR: I think just about covers it?! Although there is some harp, some synths and a new discovery, the Banjo-Bongo. We did really try and push ourselves to think outside of the range of instruments we had previously used and that’s a really rewarding process. We’re also a bit like children who just keep picking up new toys and making a noise on them.
EB: Its important to keep your options open to create, I find new instruments enable us to write in a different perspective, and coming up with something can be far more natural than hammering away on a guitar for example, I find it important to use as much as is available to come up with new ideas, even if I cannot play them.
Hhymn’s sound has been compared to Bon Iver, Doves, Radiohead and Elbow, I hear the affecting traces of the 70s folk of John Martyn and Nick Drake. Do you think there’s a theme running through these acts that you identify with or are you trying to produce something totally unique and emotionally relevant to you?
SR: They are some really flattering comparisons. I guess there is a definite Britishness to what we do but the themes are universal. We don’t want to be pigeonholed with our sound and be free to go where we want with the music, but then again, everyone says that and it seems that if you’re second album doesn’t sound the same as your first you’re back on the dole.
What kind of influences do you have whether it’s the everyday, other music, albums, literature, film?
EB: All of the above have an influence on what you create; I think the biggest inspiration you get in life is from meeting great people who have a good outlook on life, if you apply this to what you do whether it be music, cooking, writing etc it shines through.
Coming from Nottingham was there an attempt to encapsulate the cities bleakness and beauty? Shane Meadows films?
EB: No immediate attempt has been made to reflect where we dwell, there is a certain Midlands feel to ourselves which obviously creeps into our music, but you only realise it when you’re in a different town, I think Shane’s films show the characteristics of people in this area well, and judging by the support we get locally, I hope we are connecting with our immediate space as well.
SR: We wanted the music to be real though and truthful and I reckon in a city like Nottingham if you do that you are going to get a large dose of bleakness, but there is a beating heart under the surface you just have to look a little deeper. Shane meadows films are amazing for giving Nottingham a voice –
its got a unique sort of vibe it’s not easy for people to get from the outside.
There’s a sense of loss, leaving and melancholia about the track ‘Wolves’ is this inspired by any particular experience? There are some images which sound like a Soldier’s homesickness set above some beautiful brass?
EB: None of us have been soldiers, well not to my knowledge. We lose people, we find people, we get lost and we find our way home.
Why did you select ‘Girl of Mine’ as your new single?
EB: I think it shows all of our sides in under 3 minutes.
I notice you have a raft of festival dates slated for this year, which one are you looking forward to most?
EB: I’m really looking forward to Summer Sundae, playing with the likes of King Creosote, The Antlers, Graham Coxon and I Am Kloot to name a few, it’ll be mega…
What are your future plans?
EB: To keep on doing what we do…
Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions, good luck!