Ten Fé // Interview

Ten Fe; Press Shot; Abi Raymaker
Ten Fé; Photographer: Abi Raymaker

The thing with ‘new music’ is that there’s always ‘another’ band to discover (surprisingly) but like everything fresh, a new song begins with a wave of excitement, the thing is, you can often end up spiralling off from one artist to the next like a Radio DJ (forgetting a few along the way), it’s only the exceptional that stand testament to this, consistently nailing both that ‘excitement’ and ‘freshness’ with every listen – for us, over the past year now, Ten Fé have been that constant force. They play an unmissable homecoming show at Camden’s Dingwalls in less than a week (Thursday 23rd Nov).

Ahead of next weeks show we were keen to chat them on a personal level, discussing everything from living up to their namesake ‘to have faith’ (as it translates from Spanish), to conquering America this summer and capping off their manic year by recording their second album in depths of winter in (one hour of daylight) Norway next month. They stand true to themselves and are content from standing devoid from ‘coolness’ and ‘scenes’. These are romantics at heart, but in head, real, deep and inclusive – once you’re into Ten Fé, you’re in for good! 

We have an inkling that we’ve caught you at a very exciting time – not only have you just released a new song: ‘Single, No Return’ but ultimately, a teaser to your second album. To be honest, there is such an infectious buzz surrounding you at the minute, we’re literally counting the days until your London show next Thursday (23/11). Tell us more about recent events for you – what have you been up to as of late, festival-wise this summer, any touring stories to share from your experiences of Europe and America?

Yes, good times on Planet Fé at the moment. These last few months, and the whole of the last year really has been wicked. Things feel like they’ve been building and falling into place for a wee while now, so we’re just cracking on. The US tho – being able to go there and find people are into what we’re doing was a mad mad trip. We’re all hopeless romantics, so starting off the first US tour in Manhattan, and playing our way across the country and reaching the Golden Gate at sunset for the final show, was heavy.

You said in the past that you have a lot of strong American music in your veins, and that America remains a romantic place for you? Do you think there’s any fear we might loose you (hopefully not, please God) to the States one day?

Ha, well you can only go where you’re loved … so if they want us over there it’d be rude to say no! America is just mad fun really; and yeah, course, on a deeper level it’s a romantic place for us; all those artists and places that are so clear in your imagination when you’re sitting in a bedroom in Birmingham or London. But going there this year, it’s allowed us to see that there’s a reality behind that too. You get a tangible feeling that there’s an attitude towards music and playing live which is different to here – in some ways it feels a lot more solid, less ‘flavour of the month’ than it is England, or London in particular. That definitely chimes with us, and we want more of it!

Would everyone in Ten Fé associate London as home now or is there a closer bond to the north of England – Birmingham, where a few of you were born and reared?

Ah, if you’re not from London in the first place, it’s always hard to call it home. So, I’m not sure. We couldn’t have been born anywhere else as a band, we clearly ended up here cos we were hungry for something other than Brum, and we’ve got a lot of love for London. But there’s something pretty Midlands about us no doubt. No one in this band tries to sh*t higher than their own arse, which is a Brummie way of saying, everyone’s got their feet on the ground.

I have to ask – you mentioned you busked in Dublin via Twitter recently and I was intrigued – can you share with us details? What’s your thoughts on their approach to music over there? I love the city myself (Rachael) and go back and forth to family a lot. Have any of you any Irish relatives, possibly even involved in music back home?

Glad you asked 🙂 yeah I (Leo) have a lot of family over there – my dad’s from Dublin … I used to live in there myself for a time. It’s a deep, deep city. Especially the music side of things – like I was taking about with the US – there’s a tradition of music, performance, song which is just under the surface. It’s not necessarily a ‘folk music’ thing, but it just seems to be there – everyone has a song to sing, a poem to say. My family are no different to everyone else’s in that regard I guess – once the guitar comes out, everyone gets involved.

It’s funny, it’s not as though your music can be pinned to a particular country, I wouldn’t necessary say your music is distinctly English, (or Irish as it stands) – is it something that you’re proud to say doesn’t shoehorn into a particular style, scene or modern wave?

Yep, I think you’re right. We don’t come from a scene or a sound that could be associated with a particular place; and we try to ignore the pressure to fit in to one. Because that’s an outside pressure – from press, peer pressure, or social media. As a band, you shouldn’t be worrying about what scene you fit into, or band you sound like. You should just be making music you like the sound of. And we do; so in that sense we’re proud of not fitting in. That’s where you’ve gotta have your faith, stick to your guns.

You recently supported the Music Venue Trust campaign, performing a set for them for part of their series of gigs at the Ultralounge, Selfridges – the cause felt something close to your heart, can you explain why?

There’s a lot of pressure these days to appear as the finished article when you’re starting out as a band. And I’d say we just think that’s not very helpful: you need time to develop playing live, and being a bit sh*t for a while, and find things out about how you want to sound. The more small venues close, the less bands are able to do that; and the more you get these one-off, stacked, industry ‘events’ / showcases – which aren’t good for the music. Just makes everything tense and spontaneity gets swept under the carpet.

But ultimately, we’re not into fighting the rising tide on a point of principle; if venues are getting shut down, so be it, that’s the way of the world and it’s up to bands to put on their own shows in venues they’ve found. As we did.

For those unfamiliar with your music and background, can you take us way back in the day, where playing bongo’s at a house party spiralled off into this brotherly bond and busking duo – how much have you overcome to get to where you are today?

Yes, it’s fair to say much ball-ache has flowed under the bridge since that fateful Night of the Bongo. I’m not sure ‘overcome’ would be the right word tho; we’re no martyrs – we love what we do. For a long time we were just having fun, busking around the place before we decided to do this band. Since then, the things that have taken time and effort are the things every band has to do – writing good songs, finding good people to play them with and the money to record them with; and finding the right people to manage you and work with you on your dream. Like I’m saying above, plenty of people think you can short-cut those things – us included – but you can’t, dammit.

Busking has been an important element to your band right from the start. Has performing in this way helped build confidence in both your delivery and style of playing? It takes a lot of guts to put yourself on a stage of your own making, would you say that this has encouraged you to pursue/realise the potential between you, Ben and Leo?

Busking is very intense. Certainly the way we do it: jumping on the trains, playing to everyone sardine-d in a rush hour, and running from the BTP, and all that (not the CARLING sponsored, sanitised buskers-corner nonsense, with amps, lighting rig, etc) – so yeah, it’s gonna have an effect on how we perform in general. You get a good sense on how to hold someone’s attention with a song, and how you have to be inclusive – and that is definitely something we have in our live shows. We hate the way some of these style bands act like they’re cooler than the audience.

Busking is brutal though, and we’ve definitely paid our dues on the District Line, not to miss it if we never did it again. We’d have formed the band with or without busking, it was always a way to make money first and foremost…pimp or die.

As a five piece now the live shows have taken on a new dimension – you seem to understand each other live really well, like you’ve always been together. How long have you known Johnny, Alex and Rob, and at what point did you decide to pool them into the band (willingly or under duress, haha)?

Well, if we’ve learnt anything its that you CANNOT form a band with an iron rod – believe us – we’ve tried! We’ve know everyone in the band a long long time – either directly or through other people. And when it’s your best mates you can’t bullsh*t them, or start twisting arms – think everyone can see is that the five of us together has something deep going on, and long may that continue.

When you think you have a decent song what’s the process you go through in deciding if it’s recording material? Who’s opinion do you value the most, as individuals, and collectively as a band?

We play everything we write to our managers, Russ and Clare (Some Kinda Love – give me some looove) are the best in the biz. They’re f**king amazing and we sound everything off them.

A sublime and timeless album hits that perfect chiaroscuro of light and dark, it’s all about the emotion created, how did you go about achieving this with ‘Hit The Light’ – would you say the choice of songs was consciously crafted to deliver this bittersweet pathos, tell us more?

Kind words indeed, thank you. I think that light and dark you’re talking about comes from the way Ben and I are as songwriters. We’re really quite different from each other; definitely not in the way that one of us is ‘light’, and the other is ‘dark’ … more that we compliment each other – so when he’s light, I’m darker, and vice verse – we naturally balance each other. That’s not a conscious thing at all though, and if we started to try and engineer that we’d be curtains.

The way both the band’s name and music captures a mood, a feeling, almost a guiding light for us listeners, ‘to have faith’ as it translates from Spanish – how do you keep this binding and driving faith as musicians?

Tough question! Not too sure, how does anyone keep their faith? By not questioning it I guess. Surrounding yourself by good people; “be nice, not cool” is another old Brummie aphorism that can’t really be argued with. A bowl of porridge every morning certainly helps.

Instead of attempting to categorise your music, because to be honest, who likes being put in a box, reminds me of that scene in The Mighty Boosh, (are you fans?) that conversation between Howard and Vince: “People are always trying to put people in boxes”. (Haha, miss that show big time!) Instead, let’s talk about what musicians you look up to in terms of their style of playing and songwriting?

Ha – yes – love that show! The Moon has provided much spiritual guidance over the years.

Around now, we’ve lot of time for War on Drugs; saw them at Ally pally a couple nights ago. F**king Amazing. Feels like he doesn’t give a sh*t about what people think – just does his own thing. Others, for the same reason: Kurt Vile, Kevin Morby, Khruangbin, Twin Peaks, Mac D, Delicate Steve, Courtney Barnett, Angel O, King Krule …

So your debut album was recorded in Berlin and you’re heading off to Norway for the second album – do you choose to purposely record abroad, (escapism from home and routine) or does it just happen to be where the best producers reside?

Yes we do purposefully escape. We’ve noticed that we’re not really into how things end up sounding when we’ve recorded them in London. We are buzzin to get over to Norway too – there’s an hour of daylight there in December, so we shouldn’t get too distracted by whats going on outside the studio. We’ve heard its £15 for a 1/2 a shandy over there too, so light relief may be at a premium. Can’t wait.

Do you feel at peace with who you are as people and artists, content and know exactly what you want to achieve at this stage in your careers, if so what do you think has helped this?

 Ooof, too big. Ask us when we come back from Norway.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and also, if you was to give any advice to musicians starting out, what would it be?

‘Stick to thy guns, lad’…and I’d say the same to any wide eyed and bushy tailed ones starting out.

Not long now until you headline Dingwalls, Camden, have you thought through the set-list and any covers that you might play – you recorded (and often encore with) a sublime cover of Born Slippy (Underworld) – is there another cover that you feel as passionate about sharing with your fans?

Ah, cheers – yeah we loved doing that Born Slippy 🙂 I reckon we’ll be up to a few tricks at Dingwalls, but which ones, I don’t know – we’ll be in the lap of the Gods by then.

And finally, any updates that you can give us on your (hotly anticipated) second album?

We’re rehearsing the new tunes every night in bunker below Oxford Circus. They’re sounding goood: deep and upbeat.

Ten Fé headline Dingwalls,  Camden Thursday 23rd November // Tickets are available here – we’ll see you there!

In the meanwhile enjoy their debut album, ‘Hit The Light’ here (released Feb 2017) and their latest single, below.

Ten Fé  // Website // Twitter // Facebook

Words: RACHAEL CRABTREE (@ECCENTRIC_EEJIT)

 

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