THE DESERT’s Melancholia-infused "Distract Me"
Frequently compared to 90s trip-hop band, Portishead, The Desert, are a bristol band made up of members: Gina Leonard, Tom Fryer, Ryan Rogers and Jonny Parry.
The band share “Distract Me” one of the few tracks they’re dropping in the next few months before their debut album release in 2019. In this interview, Gina and Tom describe their music style and the inspiration that influences it.
Where does the name “The Desert” come from?
It comes from a passage called 'The Desert' from Carl Jung’s ‘Red Book’ where he talks of exploring the inner self, and how it is like a desert, ‘eerie’, ‘barren’ and ‘lonely’, how without our connection to the world we inhabit (to ‘things, men and thoughts’), we are nothing. We felt it reflected our music which is often sparse and introspective. The last lines give credit to words; ‘the word is a creative act. The ancients said: in the beginning was the Word… The words that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning are the oldest and truest.’ A lot of our stuff is quite lyrically playful, but still drawing on meaningful themes.
How did you guys start working together?
Tom: Gina and I met at Cambridge folk festival about four years ago. I offered to produce a few of her tunes and she started travelling down to Bristol to work with me. The music got better and better, and eventually Funnel music, our label heard it and offered us a deal. We recorded our first EP together, then got Jonny and Ryan in for the live side of things, and they've gradually become more and more involved in the project.
How would you describe your music style?
Gina: I usually describe it ‘soundscapey alt folk’.
Tom: I usually just say ‘indie’ and hope they don’t ask me to elaborate.
What is the music scene like in Bristol?
There’s so many amazing musicians here and they play in so many brilliant different groups. You can watch such high class music, often for free, or just a couple of pounds.
There’s a lot of hype around Bristol’s music scene at the moment following the success of IDLES who are smashing it. Also there’s still a good bit of nostalgia for the 90’s trip hop scene celebrating Massive Attack and Portishead who we get compared to a fair bit. Bristol has so much going on it’s hard to claim to know the whole scene. We’re big on an area called Stokes Croft because we live close by and there are awesome bands and artists on every night of the week. In the circles we move in we’d say it’s definitely a supportive, friendly and exciting scene.
What kind of things influence you both as artists?
Gina: I’d say I’m definitely influenced by the music I listen to. I try and listen to range of different music… also what life throws at me in terms of experience- whether that’s relationships, work, travelling, politics, the films I watch and the books I read - it all feeds into the songs.
Tom: I think my production and composition is influenced a lot by moods and feelings. Particularly the emotions in the songs Gina writes. I love capturing organic sound and moments in time around the city, and using those in my recordings. Often these days, we’re writing music more as a group too.
What is the process like putting out new music?
Exciting. It’s often a long time after we’ve finished a track that it’s released so it feels really great to finally share it. It takes a long time to build the campaigns and do all the behind the scenes stuff. We’re lucky to be working with a great team people who make all that possible.
Who are your heroes?
Gina: I guess I have lots of heroes; friends, family, political figures, sometimes strangers, but in terms of musicians I would regard as heroic; Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Sharon Van Etten, Gillian Welch, Courtney Barnett (the list could go on a lot longer!) -those that write/wrote honest lyrics for the right reasons. I was obsessed with Jack Johnson when I was younger and definitely used to regard him as a bit of a hero and a huge inspiration although I don’t really listen to his stuff anymore.
Tom: I’m not sure about heroes. I love the poetry of TS Eliot for example.. but hero is a strong word.
What’s next for you?
We’ve got 3 tracks coming out over the next few months, and we’re going to keep cracking on with writing, recording and gigging. We are currently working on our debut album which we’re planning to release in 2019. We’re also playing lots of gigs over the next few months which we’re really excited about.
If you’re going to be a book, what book will you be and why?
Gina: Earlier this year I read ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde and got pretty obsessed. It’s a pretty dark, and some of the themes explored pop up in our songs like being haunted by the past and exploring human nature and relationships. I love how Wilde winds ideas around so tight you end up back where you started, it’s so contradictory and some of it’s quite outrageous.
Tom: I loved the Picture of Dorian Gray too so I’m happy to go with that! I think the ideas fit The Desert's music pretty well too. Introspection, vanity and the darker side of human nature.
If you’re going to have the chance to support any charity who would it be and why?
Tom: I did some work raising money for a small charity called the Pahar Trust who build schools in rural Nepal. I went to visit one of the schools they built and it was one of the most beautiful experiences. I’d love to work with them again, the work they do is incredible.