We haven’t been fortunate enough to chat to all that many synth-led bands lately, so we’re particularly giddy about this one. So, here we have it – Stranger Chorus’ Luke and James in conversation…
Hi guys, how are you doing?
Luke: Very well thanks. Trying to keep busy!
January’s been a strange one so far — how are you generally feeling about 2021?
James: Quite positive, but it’s still hard to know if and when we’ll able to play live. The good thing is, we have built up a few finished songs, which we’re hoping to release through the first half of the year.
Luke: Our new single ‘Limo’ was a bit of a test of the waters, being the first song we’ve put out since the start of the pandemic. And it’s gone pretty well! We’ve learnt a lot about putting a music video together ourselves, which we had no idea how to do beforehand.
James: We’ll hopefully be able to do the next few videos a bit quicker, and better. The ‘Limo’ video took us two or three months to get right. Saying that, it looks like we’ll have a fair bit of time.
Tell us about Stranger Chorus — how did you meet, form and come up with the name?
Luke: I’ve genuinely no idea how we came up with the name, but I like saying it.
James: It was one of a few that were suggested. I think we both like that it has a few possible meanings, and it also looks good written down.
Luke: Me and James met at uni in Nottingham. I’d just started playing guitar and, like everyone into music who goes to uni, wanted to join a band. I realised when we met that, as James brought all these songs he’d written that were really good, I was nowhere near as decent as I thought I was. It was a few weeks of ‘fake it until you make it’ before we started to get somewhere with it.
James: We were in another band for about three years in Nottingham. That was more psychedelic rock, and we played with The Shimmer Band and outfits like that who started to get noticed. But when we finished uni, me and Luke came back to Barnsley and then were a bit spread out and other things got in the way.
Luke: There seemed to be a mini-resurgence of that Verve-esque psychedelic stuff through the early 2010s. We had a lot of fun with it – it was very guitar-based, a lot of effects and soloing on my part. I think we learnt a lot on the writing and recording side – that band was how we met Dave Sanderson, who we still record with now, and who contributes a lot to our sound. But as we started to write new stuff, we realised it didn’t suit the typical guitar band setup. It started to hold us back a bit, so we formed this new band.
James: We began writing more stuff that suited synths and poppier sounds, and we’d started looking into programming and sampling. It was a good fit because we could write on software and email it to each other. We released our first song ‘Midnight’ in 2018, which started as an idea for the old band but transformed in the studio. Because it wasn’t just guitars, bass and drums, we had a lot of freedom to be creative.
Luke: We’ve started playing keyboards a lot more. I bought a piano, but I’m still not very good. I’ve realised with this band though that being a virtuoso really isn’t that important. I used to spend hours in my bedroom practising guitar parts. But as long as you’re proficient musically, any instrument is just a means to an end. Live, we both sing and play different instruments. We played a couple of gigs with all the backing instrumentation on a laptop, but for our most recent shows we’ve had our old drummer, John Hulse, back in, which gives it a lot more energy.
Outside the music world, do you focus on any other projects?
Luke: I went back to uni in 2017 to study journalism, and have since been working as a reporter for our local newspaper. James is a secondary school teacher. So between us, we don’t have a lot of spare time!
James: Music is the main thing. We’re always writing and recording at home, and sending rough ideas to each other. It helps doing a lot on computers, because it means when we get into the studio to record vocals and guitars, the tracks are already well on their way to being finished.
What did 2020 have in store for you musically that you weren’t able to proceed with?
James: We’d have probably released something earlier and then done a run of gigs to promote it. We don’t do things particularly quickly anyway, but when the pandemic hit, we realised we didn’t need to rush anything.
If you were to only see one band or artist this year, who would be your priority?
James: I’m tempted to say someone like Dua Lipa – just because she’s got some bangers. I’d quite like to see DMA’s actually.
Luke: I’ve got tickets to Primavera in Barcelona after last year’s festival was postponed. I don’t think anyone knows whether that will go ahead, but if it does, I’ll be seeing loads – The National, Pavement, slowthai, Tame Impala, IDLES…
Your new single landed on 8th January — give us the lowdown.
Luke: It was recorded on a trip to Giant Wafer Studios in the middle of the Welsh countryside. The song and video were made almost entirely in isolation… The studio was miles away from civilisation, and the video was filmed in our hometown’s streets during the pandemic. The only other person involved in the video was James’s sister, Katie, who filmed it. Editing it was a massive learning curve, but really rewarding.
James: Lyrically, it’s about a person or place that feels like escapism from your current situation. Musically, it’s our take on that slick kind of ’80s pop, like Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’, with heavier guitars for more edge.
Luke: The guitar riff was something I came out with while messing about in a rehearsal and quickly recorded on my phone. We went to the studio with the track pretty much there, and our drummer, John, added live drums, making it the first Stranger Chorus track without electronic drums.
James: I wrote the lyrics in advance but, as the song took shape, we realised we’d have to pare them back a bit. I think the final song has a good balance of simplicity, and lines that you can interpret in a few different ways.
Luke: The studio in Wales is surrounded by fields and was totally silent at night. We had a drink outside one evening and looked up at the stars, and a few lines were influenced by that. I like that it has a nostalgic vibe not just musically, but through the experience we had putting it together.