An answer on University Challenge and a romantic scene near Tottenham Court Road provided inspiration for this enchanting alt-folk offering
Manchester’s Sleep Walking Animals are Tom Glynn-Carney (vocals), Nuwan Hugh Perera (keys, vocals), Joe Etherington (guitar, vocals), Jack Brett (bass, vocals), Alex Harford (guitar) and Bill Caple (drums). Boyhood friends, their indie-folk sound is enriched with textures of electronica that swirl around evocatively poetic lyrics. Those looking for clues to unlocking their sound will find hints of The Beach Boys, Fleet Foxes and Talking Heads.
Over its five tracks, the band’s new EP PINK. YELLOW. RED brings together considered harmonies and intricate touches of production, without ever losing the folk foundations at the core of what they do. To learn a little more about their songwriting process, we asked the band to take us inside one of the EP’s tracks, the University Challenge-inspired Rossignol (සිප ගන්නා විට)…
The inspiration for Rossignol (සිප ගන්නා විට) came from an outside in approach. We started with a guitar riff—lots of picky chords—and started to sing whatever came to mind first when we heard the riff. We found this to be an honest, truthful way of letting our emotions out and seeing what came out organically.
The main thing we were focused on was this overwhelming feeling of not wanting to sound like someone else. It can be easy to get lost in musical inspiration from other artists, but what we found most important was to have the inspiration come from us first before anyone else. We weren’t afraid of failing, or of not being pretty. We wanted to be authentic, and always led from that place.
In terms of real world inspiration, Jack witnessed a bloke in London, near Tottenham Court Road, lift this woman up and kiss her and spin her around, like a scene out of a romantic movie. The lyrics were meant to capture the emotion of this love, while also asking the question, “Will you miss me when I’m gone?”
The lyrics were a collaboration between Jack and Tom originally. The first words that came to Jack’s mind when he heard the initial guitar riff were, “If you can hear me now, sing out,” and much of the song was built out from there. The title itself, Rossignol, is something Jack found on an episode of University Challenge that discussed the nightingale—a lot of the bird imagery and motifs were also born from this first spark of inspiration.
Tom infuses various mythology influences in his writing, and that shows up in lyrics like, “If you can feel me hold my sword,” which add a dreamy quality to the imagery. The primary line that Jack kept coming back to was, “Leave me my sadness,” and the idea that, when someone you love leaves you, you’re at least owed your sadness upon their departure.
From there, Nuwan did a beautiful Sinhala translation of the lyrics, transforming them into his own interpretation of the lines “If you can see me standing tall (Hiru bæsa yana viṭa æya osavā sipa ganna). Nothing to say when heaven falls (Vasara gevī yana viṭa æya osavā sipa ganna). Show me the way to save it all.”
In terms of the music, this largely came from demos first. Joe recorded the original guitar demo, and then everyone’s ideas came into play when we sat down to write together back in February. Alex added additional guitar riffs, Nuwan added a percussion element – it was a total collaboration from the beginning. We added in harmonies, and everything evolved organically from there.
IN THE STUDIO
Everything changed for us in the studio. Bill added these expressive drums into the recording, and Jack’s bass part was originally recorded on guitar before changing into the more synthesized version that ended up on the final track. That was also where we really added layers and layers of harmonies, and where Nuwan’s Sinhala lyrics had the chance to shine. He sang his part for the first time on the day of recording and absolutely nailed it on the first take.
We were very lucky to have Jamie at Voltalab Studios as the mixer for Rossignol (සිප ගන්නා විට), and for our EP PINK. YELLOW. RED., who we trusted completely. We really gave him the grace to add and take away whatever he thought worked best, and worked together until we were all proud of the final product.
Our main takeaway from this songwriting process is that it usually works out better if you go in without too much preparation. Go with whatever version comes from the heart – don’t labour over the song, just allow yourself to express your emotions authentically. If you need to step away and work on something else, or step away and clear your mind, it’s best to do that and come back fresh so you can keep going with the natural flow of the process after that.
Interview: Sam Cohen