Opening for one of the hottest bands in indie pop is a tall order, one that requires the ability to pull in a crowd and take them places they didn’t expect to go. And while Scottish synth sensation CHVRCHES definitely lived up to their top billing and showed why the Black Cat was packed to capacity, Still Corners set the stage beautifully with a visual spectacle and a performance that was both entrancing and exciting.
Still Corners is a London-based duo and the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Greg Hughes, who was on synth, keyboard, bass, guitar, and shakers at various points during their 45-minute performance. Hughes danced to the beat throughout the set, really giving the already peppy music an extra jolt of energy. During their final song, he jammed so hard on the guitar with such a frenetic intensity that he even knocked his microphone into the drum kit.
The star of the show, however, was vocalist Tessa Murray, who was behind the mic and keyboard during the performance. It was an incredibly sensual experience, with Murray captivating the crowd with her bedroom eyes and ephemeral, ghostly presence. The combination of her breathy vocals, the juxtaposition of languid synths and pounding drums, and projections on the wall behind the band made for a very atmospheric performance.
Not only does Still Corners have a dreamy sound, but they also have a dreamy look. Murray wore a sequined and bejeweled jacket that looked like it was straight out of a fantasy. Murray often let her blonde hair cover her entire face, adding to the charming mystery of the performance. The band played in front of a screen that had an erratic mix of video clips, ranging from peculiar close-ups to scenes from old movies. In all, it was an almost meditative experience.
There’s always a bit of a difference between what you hear at home and what you hear in a live performance, something about the acoustics in a venue or the way studio tracks are mixed. With Still Corners, the weight of the synth and the keyboards came through much more sharply than it did on their most recent album, and definitely in a good way. The synth pouring out the Black Cat speakers transformed what could have otherwise been classified as dream pop into waking-up-from-a-dream pop, with almost lethargic vocals being layered with hard-hitting electronic beats, creating an enchanting auditory push-and-pull that left the audience breathless.
Now, an interview with Still Corners’ Greg Hughes (multi-instrumentalist and producer) and Tessa Murray (vocalist):
Raynell Cooper: You guys are from London, correct? How are you guys liking DC, did you see any of the sites or anything?
Greg Hughes: Not yet, we just kinda rolled in, but we have been before, we’ve seen the White House.
Tessa Murray: We saw the top of the White House today, from the road, from a distance, that was pretty amazing.
GH: But yeah, we need some tips, so we’ll get that going on Twitter. What should we go see? [Note: According to Twitter, they went to Ben’s Chili Bowl]
There’s so much to do in this wonderful city. So how did you guys get started, how did you guys get together and start a band?
GH: Well, it was just purely by coincidence, I was going to London Bridge on a train and it was diverted to another station, and Tessa was on that same train, and when we got off the train we were just standing on the platform and she came up to me and said “Hey, did you get on the wrong train?” and I said “Yeah,” and we just started talking because it was like 20 minutes until the next train and she told me she was missing choir and I was like “Oh,” because I was looking for a singer for my project that I had going and we shared the train ride back and we talked about film and books and movies and she came down to the studio and we started working on some demos and it grew from there.
Lotanna Obodozie: Can you talk about the meaning and origin behind the name Still Corners?
GH: I was looking for a name and I was reading a lot of Robert Frost at the time, and I came across the phrase “still corners” from the poem called “New Hampshire” and I just, I don’t know, it just struck me as right for the project, it kind of evokes like an atmospheric kind of vibe and I just went with it.
RC: Now you’re here touring with the Scottish synthpop group CHVRCHES, kind of a similar sort of sound. How long have you been touring with them and what is it like touring with them?
GH: This is like our fourth week?
TM: Something like that, yeah.
GH: And they’re awesome and they make great music and they’re really lovely people, so it’s been great. They’re really hot at the moment and they’re selling out all these great venues and yeah so for it’s wonderful because we usually don’t play to that many people, as many people as we’re playing to on this tour
LO: Who would you say influences your music, do you draw inspiration from other artists or places maybe?
GH: Well kind of everything influences us, we were talking about it earlier, I think artists-wise it’s probably a whole range of people, Simon and Garfunkel, the Cocteau Twins…
TM: Yo La Tengo…
GH:…Yo La Tengo, but we’re also kind of influenced by movies and soundtrack music, like To Live and Die in L.A., Manhunter, and things like that.
RC: Kind of coming off the influences and what you’re compared to, a lot of people give you sort of an ’80s label, how do you feel about being compared to that era of music, do you embrace it, do you see it as a little cramping if you will?
GH: I mean I don’t feel like it’s that much 80’s, I can kinda see how maybe a few uses of the keyboard might suggest that it’s a bit 80’s but what do you think?
TM: Yeah, I think it’s just one of those things that people like to kind of attribute your music to some kind of era or genre and the 80’s is fine. We use synthesizers in quite a lot of the songs on this record so I guess that makes sense.
GH: Yeah we get it, we get it.
RC: So your music video that came out in April for Berlin Lovers, set in kind of an almost rundown roller rink, I don’t know if they’re still a thing in the UK but roller rinks aren’t much of thing anymore which gives it a great sort of nostalgia vibe. What led you to decide to have a music video there?
GH: Well, we finished the song Berlin Lovers and I think we wrote it really quickly, seriously, like in fifteen minutes, and we were just kind of dancing around the room and the first thing I thought of was rollerskating and I don’t know why, but we actually shot the video in Seattle, it’s a Seattle roller rink, and it was just fantastic. I just emailed Christian [Sorensen Hansen] who did the video and I said “Ah, we should do it in a roller rink with young kids” and he kinda took the idea from there and made it what it is.
LO: So from what I understand, during your live shows, you guys have a very visual performance, you include projections, how do you come up with them? Do you use movie clips, music video clips, do you film your own videos?
TM: It’s a combination of things. Leon [Dufficy], who plays in our live band, puts together projections that kind of match the vibe of the songs that we’re playing, some of it is footage he shot himself and some of it’s kinda found footage from really old weird films and it kinda combines some of these images into what you will see tonight!
RC: Definitely looking forward to that! Now as I understand from reading through media and things and what you alluded to earlier, it kind of started off as your project that you needed a vocalist for and you found said vocalist. Has that evolved since then in the last two or three years where it’s been more collaborative or has it been more or less the Greg Hughes Show, if you will?
GH: I mean, yeah I mostly write everything but definitely on this last record there was far more collaboration and we look forward to doing the third record, which will be even more so, definitely Tessa was way more involved in this.
TM: Yeah, definitely.
LO: So this is more of a broad question: Is there any music that’s come out recently that you guys have really been enjoying?
DH: Yeah, Mac DeMarco.
TM: The new Dirty Beaches album [Drifters/Love is the Devil], it’s really cool.
LO: You guys are signed to Sub Pop Records, which is a fantastic record label; how has that experience been? How do you like your record label?
DH: Yeah, we love it, it’s awesome, the whole way that we met was really cool, they flew over and saw us play and we sort of hit it off and it’s been really great. They send us on these great jaunts across Europe and America, and yeah they’re cool, really cool.
RC: If you can describe your music as a plate of food, what dish do you think best encompasses the type of music you play?
DH: I’m thinking like a grilled sea bass with…
TM: I was thinking salmon but we’re thinking along the same lines, which is good.
DH: Grilled sea bass, it’s fulfilling but it’s not too heavy.
Still Corners’ new album, Strange Pleasures, was released on May 7th on Sub Pop Records.
–by Lotanna Obodozie and Raynell Cooper