Sister Wives’ Songwriting Survival Kit
Sheffield’s bilingual four-piece divulge the essential items needed to make their cavernous music – just don’t forget the snacks
With the release of debut EP Gweler Ein Gofid last November, Sheffield four-piece Sister Wives introduced their prog-flecked post-punk sound. Switching between Welsh and English, there’s something primal about their combination of rumbling rhythms and hypnotic vocals. That potent combination is just as evident on recent double-A side, Crags, with a sprinkling of foreboding added to the mix. Drawing from landscape and ritual, it’s impossible not to be drawn into their world.
Beguiled, we were keen to learn more about the group’s writing essentials…
1. BIG SOUNDPROOF ROOM (AND EARPLUGS!)
Our sound is pretty loud and heavy so it’s tough to write songs quietly – we’re lucky to have a room at local DIY space Delicious Clam (who are also releasing our new record) where we can turn up our amps and make a lot of noise. Earplugs are also a must, thanks to years of standing next to speakers at gigs. It’s also good to have a space where we can leave our gear. Lugging big amps and organs around isn’t ideal. Two of the band have recently been pregnant and had babies, so limiting the carrying of large items has been a must.
2. EFFECTS PEDALS
We’re lucky to own quite a few pedals between us and they’re a really important part of our sound and songwriting process, they help to create the mood we’re after whatever that may be on the day! For the bass sound, Rose [Love] likes to use a lot of overdrive and sometimes a Boss Octave pedal. For the guitar, Liv [Willars] alternates between a Hot Cake, Big Muff, Polychorus, and various delay pedals.
We try to build up lots of layers into our sound to make it sound cavernous. For our synth and keyboard player, it’s important that the layers of sound are easy to replicate whilst playing live as well. The mixture of old and new is important within the synth and organ set-up to allow for the sound to be eclectic. The organ is a 1970 GEM Sprinter which sounds exactly as you’d imagine! The rig also includes a couple of the Korg Monotron analogue synths which mean that the sound can be layered to create tense and eerie noises in the background which all work to create the Sister Wives sound.
Being easy to use whilst playing live is super important as there’s so much to do to produce the live sound alongside the singing and harmonies, so setting up in a way that’s accessible and usable in a dark room is useful. We also have a theremin which we use which whirs in and out of a song or two – it’s very fun to play and sounds so good!
4. VOCAL EFFECTS AND HARMONIES
Sister Wives’ distinctive vocals are an important element of the sound we are trying to create. Donna [Lee] sings predominantly in Welsh, so for her, time to research Welsh pre-history is important as many of the songs summon the ancient consciousness of Cymru. Going for ambles in her homeland of Wales (especially in Anglesey, pictured below) is important for gaining inspiration for the lyrics and feel of the songs. Donna wanted to create a vocal style that sounded as though it had echoed and rumbled through the millennia from prehistoric Wales to present-day Sheffield. To do this, we use a vintage Roland Space Delay for Donna’s vocals.
To create her vocal patterns and harmonies, Donna takes a lot of influence from traditional Welsh folk music and the Welsh girl groups of the 1960s which adds to the cacophonous sound. For creating the harmonies, we tend to sit together with a recording of the song and hum over it until we find something that sounds good altogether. We tend to like four-part harmonies to add further layering to our sound, although these can be a challenge to play live.
We use our phones for all parts of the writing process – we balance the band with full-time jobs and families, so our time together is very precious! We often record little riffs and melodies at home that we email around to each other, so we can get started with songwriting as soon as we get to the practice space. We’ll also record songs as they’re coming together so we can carry on working on them and coming up with ideas in between sessions.
6. SNACK BREAKS
Making music can be knackering when things aren’t quite working or we’ve just got cramp from practising so snack breaks are essential! Not only delicious, but they’re also a chance for us to chat through ideas or just watch stupid YouTube videos which is what usually happens! Our practice space is also pretty cold in winter so a constant tea supply is needed, or a beer jacket, to make it more fun to be in.