Sarah Howells, better known as Bryde, has crept into my consciousness in the last few years that I honestly cannot think of anyone else, except maybe Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief, who has emotionally moved me with her music. A longtime Rearview Mirror artist-to-watch, the Welsh singer songwriter anxiously awaited sophomore LP The Volume Of Things released a few months back, still feels like it came out yesterday to me. Written and recorded between London, and different friends’ studios in Berlin and produced by Thomas Mitchener, (Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and The Futureheads) The Volume of Things arrangements of vocals and sound is every bit satisfying. In short, it’s Howells most personal offering to date that moves the heart & soul with equal measure. Moreover it’s great to hear Howells continue to cement her indie rock leanings on the new album that she began with her acclaimed debut Like An Island. That said, I recently caught up with Sarah to talk about her latest offering. Here is some of what we talked about.
Sarah, with your first album Like An Island you pretty much reinvented yourself. Where does the new album stand in the scheme of things?
Like an Island was a progression from the first two EPs but yes it was very different to albums I’d make in Paper Aeroplanes my previous band. This album just turned out the way it did… it wasn’t very contrived or planned. The songs started to be a certain way after I detuned a couple of strings and messed about with slightly different chord shapes to normal. It was a very organic process.
Did the pressure of a follow up feed into the making of The Volume of Things?
Not at all. It didn’t take long to write once I got started .The pressure for me is always getting it recorded and ready to go in time. By that point it’s already written so luckily I didn’t feel much pressure during the writing process. Just the right amount to spur me on.
The album has many influences, including a solid rock presence. Was this the direction you were always aiming for?
When we chose Mitch as a producer I knew it would have a rock sound at it’s core as that’s what he mainly does. The drums are the main thing that give it the rock presence and it was important to get those right.
Are you still predominately playing your Burns Cobra? I also remember, if I’m correct, you were a fan of guitar effects on the last album. Did you employ those effects on this album too?
We stuck primarily to strong amp sounds with this album and actually most of my other recordings. I use a Mesa Boogie V-twin live but it’s always been a bit noisy for recording and to be honest with a more controlled environment and more time we always get a good sound from the Burns and the right amp.
The Volume of Things feels so much more emotive than Like An Island. Is that a fair comment?
Strange you should say that, as I feel that it’s less emotive.. or maybe it’s just less angsty so a more subtle set of emotions? My songs will always focus on emotion as that’s what inspires me to write more than say stories. I’m glad it comes across.
Over the past few years, the world’s become a much scarier, less liberal place again. How much did what is going on around us infiltrate into your songwriting this time around?
Well all of these songs were written in 2019 so it was bad but perhaps not as worrying as this year has been. I think the theme of connection became more important due to the division between people. I wrote four songs for the album in Berlin with close friends and have others who’ve moved there so the idea of Brexit and getting our country back, America building a wall for example seems ever more ridiculous to me. My music is very personal so although these things permeate it’s also about where I am and who I’m with in the moment.
What I think you do quite well on the album is allow some relatable moments to sink in with the listener. Could you tell us something about how the song The Trouble Is came about?
This was the first song I wrote for the album. Although Outsiders is an older track from around the time of LAI. I write TTI in December 2018 right at the end of the year. It’s about an important friendship, two people sacrificing things to follow a dream and me questioning everything along the way.
On Paper Cups, you sing: “Sipping on your sympathy and/ Pouring out my heart in paper cups” What drove you to write those particular lyrics?
Paper Cups is about getting closer to someone by showing them your vulnerable side. Allowing them to help me. I was having a hard time and someone was there through a lot of it.
The title track finds a curious place at the end of the album. It’s almost as if the whole album leads to it. Is that what you were hoping for?
It wasn’t planned. I chose the title because it made so much sense in relation to the rest of the lyrics. But once we found that marching drum beat I think the fact it was going to be the climax of the album became more apparent.
Finally, can we talk a little bit about the album artwork. I see you decided to have a little bit of fun with it? Is the T Rex your favourite dinosaurs?
The artwork come together is a very round-about way, the guys at the label and I all arrived at the idea of still life pieces on plain backdrop, at sort of the same time. Then I started to decide what those items should be and why. To be totally honest I can’t remember who came up with the T-Rex but once the items were all together it was like a finished jigsaw. The dinosaur very much represents the “Make America/ Britain great again” idea that is steeped in closed minded right-wing ideals that many of us thought we’d grown out of as humans. The T-Rex is definitely the ugliest and angriest of the dinosaurs so it fits.
I love these words “closed minded right-wing ideals that many of us thought we’d grown out of as humans”, that beautifully articulate why I personally loathe conservatives.