LMS caught up with Fyfe Dangerfield, Guillemots' frontman, before his support slot for Corinne Bailey Rae at Leeds Met.
I remember standing on the front barrier at Leeds Met, it was probably two years ago now, entranced as Guillemots played a headline set to a rapturous audience. At that point, the thought would never have crossed my mind that someday I'd be given the opportunity to sit face-to-face with Fyfe Dangerfield, the chief commander of the Mercury Prize and Brit Award nominated eccentric indie quartet. But he's not 'Fyfe from Guillemots' as I talk to him tonight; he's Fyfe Dangerfield, the multi-instrumental, singer-songwriter who's just released his first solo record, Fly Yellow Moon, to critical acclaim.
Nevertheless, he's quick to point out that Guillemots haven't disbanded despite rumours otherwise; quite the opposite: "I'm doing this and Guillemots; it's quite full on at the moment. We've been writing since last March, just meeting up and rehearsing. It's weird because at the moment my head's really in Guillemots, so it's weird going between the two [projects]."
Guillemots then, it's safe to assume, is still clearly his first priority; in fact, I get the sense that his solo project was always intended to play second fiddle: "It's not really taken much time from the band, like the record [Fly Yellow Moon] didn't take long to make at all" he quickly interjects.
Talking to him though, it seems as though this project was inevitable, something he felt he needed to explore: "I always thought I was going to do something by myself at some point," he admits. Yet, whereas for some this would be for wealth or individual fame away from any distracting band members (you can look at Sting or Morrissey for that), his decision was rooted in exploring different avenues in song writing: "The other three are so strong musically, Guillemots is always going to be defined by them as well as me. So there's obviously going to be things I want to do [that they don't]."
This explains the remarkable shift in focus from the sonic eccentricity and offbeat production of Red, the result of Guillemots' last outing in 2008, to the basic, stripped-down recording of Fly Yellow Moon. "In Guillemots, we were always so obsessed with trying to get everything to sound original," Fyfe adds, "I think that's the thing with this record, I just wanted it to be straighter." It's "straighter" to say the least; minimal of production and bare in comparison, it's a record that's unconventional by today's standards.
In truth, the record is often at its most fluid when Fyfe's strikingly plaintive vocals are joined by just a single, downbeat acoustic melody or subtle key or string arrangement. "That's what I thought the whole record was going to be like originally," he confesses, "that was the idea: it was going to be a Nick Drake-y kind of mellow type record." And so it was with this intention that he adopted an altogether different approach when writing the material for the record: "When I write, I find it really boring to write on an acoustic guitar ... I was making myself write on an acoustic [this time around though]." You can't help but feel this explains the inherent intimacy of certain tracks like 'Barricade' and 'Livewire'; yet "it definitely wasn't conscious though... but maybe it's just because that's what comes out more when you're writing in a more hushed acoustic way," Fyfe intimates.
The somewhat ad hoc and controlled nature of its recording also seems to contribute to the album's innate charm; it was "the five days we had before Christmas 2008 that I did a lot of the record," he says self-assuredly. Tracks were barely touched after this, so much so that the whole process felt "very much like doing demos; it really took me back to when I was writing songs for the first record in my early twenties when I used to do four-track demos on my bedroom floor. And it was like that, but just in a studio where it was actually recorded at a decent quality." He talks of this time with so much animation and elation, that it's not surprising to discover "it was just one of the best weeks I've had in the studio. I don't know why, maybe I'd just been building up to it, but it was just really fun." And with its effervescent and refreshing character, you sense this more than makes its mark on the material that left the studio at the end of that week.
Fyfe was far from being new to songwriting when he embarked on the studio in the winter of 2008, but even after nearly ten years of honing his skills, he doesn't seem to have strayed from his original approach. "I'm not cerebral about it," he argues, "When I write, 9 times out of 10, it's about getting a melody - it's something about the emotion. It's all about how it makes me feel - you get a feel on the instrument." He is after all, first and foremost "very much a musician" after all, unlike "a lot of people [who] come into songwriting because they write words and then they get into music as a way of putting that across." It's because of this that putting pen to paper and writing lyrics doesn't seem to come second nature to him, even though his "vocals and lyrics are obviously going to be the thing what people are going to focus on the most" but are nevertheless the two things he's "least confident about, in a way." It's surprising, to me at least, that he writes lyrics only out of necessity (he later admits "I only do [it] because I wrote music and I started writing songs and so it's like 'you need someone to sing your songs now'") considering the endearing sentiment of his adept vocals and poignant lyrics at certain points in the record, as with towering cry in 'Barricade': 'Love is a crippled dream / Love is a barricade.' But he is, in the end, full of surprises.
Take Fly Yellow Moon, for example. Although being a record that's consumed largely by tender ballads, he doesn't look at it as a 'love album'; he contests that "it's [not] that simplistic; about half of the songs are a lot more bleak in a way." Despite this, he still maintains that "it is [a positive record] overall" regardless of any 'bleakness'; it was in any case "an album written in a place of comfort." I suppose it's because of this that he looks at the record with such confidence, proposing afterwards that "it's the type of record that, if it's going to do well, it'll definitely be a long-term thing." It's with this optimism and the hope that it'll "gradually get passed around by people" that he reveals "I'm definitely going to do more things by myself" in the future.
But I guess this won't come as any surprise to those of you who know of the countless other musical endeavours Fyfe currently has on the go; seemingly doing a little bit of everything, he's anything but a one-trick pony. Aside from Guillemots and his solo project, he admits to "writing for orchestras or choirs" (something he sees as being "very freeing, [since] in a ways it's easier [to writing new Guillemots or solo material] because there's no rules at all."), whilst also exploring the rarely trekked terrain of "free improvised jazz" under the name Gannets (something he later modifies to a "five-piece like chaotic shambles thing. I suppose it's not jazz; it's too noisy to be called jazz."), a group that are "hoping to get a record out this year." Yet it's at this point that you have to question how much one man can do, surely?
In the end, however, all the best artists have a personal drive within that compels them to push themselves as far as they can artistically, and it seems as though Fyfe has the same instinctive motivation. In spite of this, I wouldn't say he's disappointed with what he's achieved so far, though I get the distinct feeling talking to him that he doesn't feel he's fulfilled his potential as yet.
"I'd be a lot happier in my life if I was like, it's ridiculous, but if I was 23 or 24 and I was where I am at. I'd be like, 'right, I'm on track'. I kind of feel like I'd like to have done more. In a way, I actually feel a lot less confident than I did before I had any sort of success".