Edinburgh ‘cinematic folk-pop’ quartet Storm the Palace are set for their first dates in the north of Scotland next week – with shows in Lyth, Inverness and Nethy Bridge. Frontwoman Sophie Dodds gives Kyle Walker the lowdown on the band, the album, and what Highland music lovers have in store...
Hi Sophie, thanks for answering these! It’s Storm the Palace’s first gigs in the Highlands – are you looking forward to it? Ever visited the north before? If not, what are you expecting of your visit?
Hello Kyle! We are very, very excited about our Highland Tour. It’s going to be like something out of a dream. Most of us have been up North before, although Reuben and I have never been as far as Wick on the mainland. Willa is from Vermont and this will be her first proper tour around Scotland. I expect she’ll be staring wide-eyed out the car window for most of the journey, attempting to pronounce Gaelic place names…
So what’s the story of Storm the Palace – how did it all come together as a band? I understand much of the project is driven by yourself and Reuben Taylor – how did the two of you meet, and when did you decide to start a project together?
Reuben and I have known each other through the Edinburgh music scene for over 10 years, but it was round about 2014 that we got together as a couple and started playing together. Reuben and Jon go way back – they both studied at the RSAMD (now the ‘Royal Scottish Conservatoire’, although neither of them approve of that name). And Jon met his wife Willa whilst he was touring with his band Cantrip in the States. We now, happily, all find ourselves living about a mile from each other. I sometimes describe us as ‘North Edinburgh’s ABBA’.
I’ve seen from the website that Storm the Palace describes itself as “cinematic folk-pop”, which is obviously an amazing moniker – how would you define that description yourself? What goes into the group’s songwriting? What are the influences?
All bands find self-describing difficult, so I try not to make a meal of it. But I fear that just ‘folk pop’ makes us sound more boring and generic than we actually are... I suppose ‘cinematic’ means ‘inclined towards atmosphere and romance’ and also perhaps alludes to the highly visual nature of my lyrics. I write most of the songs myself, taking inspiration from everywhere – dreams, TV shows, the natural world, houseplants, politics, friends, family… The music, similarly, comes from everywhere. We obviously have strong folk-ties – ranging from Scottish and American to Balkan and Scandinavian – but we’re just as influenced by well-crafted rock and pop and contemporary classical. I’m not sure there’s one thing we all like, but if we drew a venn diagram it would look something like:
me + Reuben = Scott Walker
me + Jon = Kate Bush
Reuben + Jon = Frank Zappa
me + Willa = Metric
Willa + Jon = Americana/bluegrass
Willa + Reuben = er, the theme tune from Portal?
You released your first full-length album last year – congratulations! How did the recording go for it? Now that it’s been out for 12 months, what are your reflections on the album?
Thanks. That album was a long time in the making. There was a lot of life to be getting on with, so writing and recording always had to fit around that. The other three members of the band on that album were all based in London – as was I at the time – but now I’m up in Edinburgh we’re not playing with those guys anymore. So it definitely captures a period of my life that is now over. Reflecting on it… I have no regrets. I’m proud of it. But I’m looking forward to moving on to the next batch of songs, and exploring what the new line-up can come up with. I think the first album was quite serious, whereas the stuff I’m writing now is perhaps a little sillier and more playful.
This is your first time up in the Highlands of course, so what can Lyth, Inverness and Nethy Bridge expect from your live shows?
We’re playing as an “acoustic” line-up – which simply means no drums or bass. I think it’s going to sound really lush. We’ve played once or twice like this before, and there’s something about the combination of the fiddle and accordion with electric guitar with lots of reverb, chorus, delay etc. that just shimmers. And the stripped back arrangements mean the harmonies and the lyrics can really be heard. When we play “acoustically” we veer towards the folky/atmospheric end of our sound, rather than the raucous/poppier end. So we will be playing the songs that suit this – lots of chanson-esque stuff with strong narratives and 6/8 time signatures.
Of your previous shows, what would be your favourite gig? Your least-favourite? And your most interesting?
That’s a very hard question to answer. In terms of the gig where we sounded best – I’d probably say our Edinburgh album launch last summer, as it was the last date of our tour and we were tight as nails. But in terms of the most fun… Perhaps the Starday Tavern in Portland, Oregon? This was during our West Coast US tour in 2016. It was a bit of a dive and there were no monitors, so we just went for it, and the crowd were really receptive and lovely and kept thanking us “for coming to Portland and expressing ourselves”. Haha. Most interesting? Definitely playing at the children and young people’s wards at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton (a specialist cancer hospital). It’s weird playing above the sound of all this beeping machinery, and wearing anti-contamination aprons etc. But the kids were just wonderful.
With an album and an EP out and a few years of gigging under your belt, what has been the best thing that somebody has said about your music?
Someone who worked for Grazia magazine once said she could imagine us playing at the Bronze (the local venue in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). That made my year.
After these current Highland dates, what plans have you got for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
The idea is to put gigging to one side for a bit and focus on getting a new batch of songs together and really fusing the new full-band line-up. I would hope to be in the studio before the end of the year and working on album number two. We’re going to try and not take so long over this one!
Storm the Palace play Lyth Arts Centre on Thursday, June 7; Mad Hatters, Inverness on Friday, June 8; and the Dell of Abernethy on Saturday, June 9. For more information, go to stormthepalace.net