Carl Marsh hits up Ben Fletcher and Tom Higham, aka electro-indie-chill duo Aquilo, with their long-awaited third album A Safe Place To Be about to drop, and hears about run-ins with Lancashire parish councils.
You’re both from the village of Silverdale in Lancashire, but found yourself in LA before the craziness the last 20 months has bestowed on the world. Did you go back there to get any ideas for your new album – after all, the home is often the safest place to be…
Ben Fletcher: We’ve lived in London for the past eight years now, but obviously we go back every now and then. We actually went back two weeks ago to film live videos, which are set in, basically, this model village.
Is that what the new album cover is depicting?
Tom Higham: Yeah, the model village is Silverdale, essentially – the village where we grew up.
Ben: It’s based on our memories of the village.
Tom: There are things in it that are not in Silverdale, though. Like a diner! [Laughter] Apparently, the Parish Council Of Silverdale shit themselves a little bit when we literally pulled off the Gaskell Hall [from the model] and replaced it for an LA diner…
Ben: It actually got raised in the Parish Council meeting, as a joke – but all the older people in the village, who don’t know who we are, didn’t see it as a joke. One guy said that some planning permission had been put in to change the Gaskell Hall, that’s been there for over a hundred years, with a diner! And people were kicking off!
How did you cope with this new remote way of working?
Ben: In lockdown, we both lived in completely different places. I was down at my girlfriend’s in Dorset, whilst Tom was in Camberwell, in London. So we tried working remotely just like people were doing, all of these Zoom sessions – but we just don’t believe in that. You have to be in the room with someone to connect and even remotely be on the same wavelength.
COVID kind of stifled us a bit, but when we were able to move around a little bit, we started working from Tom’s kitchen, and wrote a lot of the music there.
Tom: It was kind of back to basics for us – that was how we started. We had a similar setup: a laptop, a MIDI controller, a mic, maybe a bass. That made us concentrate on the songwriting aspects, rather than the production in a studio.
Ben: There was something really nice about it, and I enjoyed going to Tom’s kitchen every morning instead of a studio. The fridge was only like [points] there!
Tom: We started a bunch of random production ideas ideas that will never see the light of day. You’re constantly learning, and with production, it’s trial and error – the wrong thing can often be what you end up using. There’s a certain amount of serendipity with it.
I don’t know – I guess we were just writing songs. We had new laptops at the start of lockdown. We got our new Apple Macs, and it felt like a fresh start… for some reason.
Ben: We had loads of files that didn’t get transferred from our old computer, so we lost quite a lot of things.
Tom: Nothing that was considered for the new album, so we were quite lucky in that way; it was other people’s stuff we’d started working on!
Swings and roundabouts!
Ben: Working with other people on their projects is beneficial to us too. We’re classic candidates for getting in our heads – you know, double-taking what you’re making, overthinking: “oh, no one’s gonna like it”, “is this actually good?” When you work with other people, you don’t do that – you’re free of it, because your name’s not attached to it. And it ended up being good for us. So we’ve started working with other people – we like just lending a hand with songwriting, production, wherever, to artists that we believe in.
Aquilo’s A Safe Place To Be is released on Fri 15 Oct through their own Aquilo label. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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