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Twisted Folk: The Revival Hour
Few debut albums have had the gestation period of The Revival Hour’s Scorpio Little Devil.
It took more than three years before The Earlies’ John-Mark Lapham found a suitable collaborator in regular Sufjan Stevens sidesman David (DM) Stith.
And it was another two and a half years before the pair created an album they were proud of, which finally sees the light of day early next year.
Stith was invited to work on the track Hold Back with Lapham – which is now the second track on their album.
“John-Mark had been working on a project with Micah P Hinson,” says Stith. “They put out an EP together, which was supposed to be a precursor to an album, but then it ended and Micah’s solo career took off.
“John-Mark had these tracks he had started, so he decided to look up other singers.”
After Lapham had made recordings with up to ten other artists he hooked up with Stith and something clicked.
“We did what he thought would be the last track for his solo project and just decided to keep going,” says Stith. “It turned into something we both cared very deeply about, and didn’t want anyone else involved with.”
After a year they junked a good 45 to 50 minutes of material. “In our guts we wanted to make a record that we were really excited about,” says Stith.
That refocusing clearly worked. After making the album the pair went on to record a five-track EP of new material, Clusterchord, which was released ahead of the album earlier this month.
Hip music blog The Quietus described its sound as apocalyptic – a pretty spot on description for a record which builds from the opening crescendo of Hypergiant to the manic rhythms and energy of Fire Season and the genre-changing doo-wop/torch song/manic jazz of Altercall with Stith’s falsetto vocals at the core.
The Revival Hour is headlining the annual Twisted Folk tour, which has previously taken the likes of Tunng, Beth Jeans Houghton, Vashti Bunyan and King Creosote across the country.
It’s easy to see how they fit into the Twisted bracket, but folk seems an odd description.
“Folk music is such a nebulous term,” says Stith. “I don’t know why they have chosen us.
“The album is slightly more intimate and focused, although the second half starts to spin out of control – in a good way.”
The album and EP were based around a lot of experimentation – with Lapham introducing Stith to diverse music he had come across while working in record shops.
“A lot of the process was passing stuff back and forth, listening to these songs and trying to work out how they got these vocal parts,” says Stith. “We were using motifs from other artists and styles of singing – it was such an important part of the process. I can’t imagine going in to a studio with a load of songs already written and trying to find a sound that way.”
Some ideas originated from Lapham’s original instrumentals, others were put together by Stith after a tour with Sufjan Stevens where he wrote a song a day for two weeks.
“It’s how we got Pyre, Control and Clean,” says Stith. “It’s good to write intensively – you forget to write what you think people want to hear, and instead write what your body wants to write.”
One theme throughout the album is Stith and Lapham’s shared experiences growing up in ultra- religious homes – Lapham in right-wing Abilene, Texas, and Stith to a Wesleyan household.
“We both grew up in conservative communities and both had to reconcile that we didn’t agree with it,” says Stith.
“We were both gay and on our own. A lot of the record for me is about reconciling this cognitive resonance between sexuality and religion. It’s about embodying those figures that I have been afraid of and the situations I have been afraid of.”
It’s a contrasting approach to his more autobiographical solo work, as heard on his brilliant debut album Heavy Ghost.
“The Revival Hour was about finding different forms as foils for writing songs,” he says. “We took the feel of the 1950s/1960s girl groups and electro pop acts from the 1980s, and tried to sing from different perspectives.
“With this album I can sing the word ‘baby’ and mean it, which I don’t think would ever fit into a DM Stith record.”
Now the album is completed the challenge is to reproduce it onstage with a full band behind them.
And then there is the question of a follow-up.
“We mixed Scorpio Little Devil with Richard Swift,” says Stith. “After it was done we decided to have a couple of days jamming with him, and good things came out of that.
“I have a few other songs I’d like to pursue, that are pointing in a direction I would like to follow. Who knows where it is going to go!
“The Revival Hour has been a lot more than a side project for me – this is as much a focus as my solo stuff. It’s been a significant part of my writing life for the past two years.”
Support from Serafina Steer.
- The Revival Hour play Komedia, Gardner Street, Brighton, on Monday, November 26. Doors 7.30pm, tickets £10. Call 0845 2938480