Photo by Rob Marsden.
Poisonous Birds are a new band from Bristol who are currently gearing up to release their debut EP Gentle Earth. We caught up with one half of the band, Tom Ridley, to find out more – and we also reviewed the EP. Check it all out below.
When did you first start making music as Poisonous Birds – how did it all start out and what made you choose to play in the style that you are?
I’ve been writing music with Finn for Poisonous Birds for about two years. Before that I spent a further year experimenting with sound. I knew the mood I wanted to convey in my next project. I knew what I wanted to say, but hadn’t found the palette of sounds with which to express it.
I became obsessed with electronics in music. I realised that synthesisers could sound way more aggressive than electric guitars. But also way prettier, more mysterious, richer, thicker. I can only really compare it to being an artist painting with blue his whole life and suddenly being given a full palette of colours. Synthesisers totally changed the way I approach composition.
It took about a year to land on the combination of sounds that nailed the mood I envisioned. As soon as I hit it, I knew Finn would be on board. That was when Poisonous Birds began. We spent the following two years writing this EP whilst I learnt to sing. We started playing the material live. The things we naturally began doing together became part of the songs and made it into the final recordings.
So it wasn’t really a conscious decision, like “I want to be in this kind of band”. It came from what we wanted to say and we found the right way to say it.
You’re soon going to be releasing your debut EP Gentle Earth. What can fans expect from it?
It’s a short EP that is bold and confident. It’s got some really delicate passages, and others that are super saturated, gnarly and intense. The lyrics were written meticulously. I hate waffle. They’re concise and vivid, and I hope interesting and thought-provoking. The EP is a brief statement of intent. We’ve got lots more to say.
Can you describe the writing and recording process for it?
All of the songs started with a sound or idea that excited me and then snowballed from there. In both Cloud Level and I Understand the original sound that captured my imagination isn’t even in the song anymore.
I always program some basic drums that I’m hearing to allow me to keep writing, but when I give it to Finn for the first time I mute them. He always comes up with something way more rhythmically interesting and takes the song in a different direction. Old Sun is a good example of where Finn’s ideas totally transformed the song. The four-to-the-floor kick drum as the song builds at the start is so simple, but so cool. I’d never have done that on my own.
Is there anywhere that you draw inspiration for the music and lyrics from?
Not in terms of other artists, to be honest. Even having finished this record and done my research I haven’t found anything that sounds quite like Poisonous Birds.
I’m pretty visual. I often imagine a journey or an event and kinda score it in my head, like a film. So I suppose I’m pulling on both experience and imagination. I mean, that’s the skill of a good artist right? To combine those two things and create something new that has never existed before and is interesting for somebody else to experience.
Were there any songs that were more of a challenge to complete, or did everything go pretty much to plan?
There’s a song that was supposed to be on the record called Big Water. It’s excellent, maybe the best we’ve got, but I didn’t finish it in time. It was important for us to get something out this Winter so we’ve gone ahead without it and we’ll release it later in 2017. We’re playing it live already.
Is it perhaps typical of what fans can expect from an upcoming full-length release, or would you class it as more of a standalone piece?
We’ve captured a bunch of ideas in Gentle Earth and apart from the forthcoming single Big Water, which is kinda the same body of work, we’re already onto the next thing. It’s too early to call but the next release definitely won’t be the same again.
As you are a two-piece band, what’s the plan for your shows? Would you consider hiring any session players or will you be recreating everything yourselves?
We use a lot of looping to build up a massive sound with only two of us. It’s challenging, moreso because we didn’t write the songs with that in mind and Finn is mostly preoccupied hitting drums. I never want to limit what a song could by worrying about how we’ll do it live. I’d rather perform a different version of the song, perhaps arranged a bit differently, or using different instruments for different parts. We’re already doing that.
We’ve got one collaborator on the record, a bass player called Si Francis who’s famous for playing with Ellie Goulding. He got in touch via Instagram and we immediately hit it off and it’s cool to have him playing on the last track of the record. I hope we’ll play that song live with him one day.
In terms of session players – maybe! I’d rather do that than put stuff on a backing track.
What can fans expect from a Poisonous Birds show?
A friend said to me last week that my stage presence is like I’m summoning a tidal wave of intensity. Let’s go with that.
You’ve been in bands before – is there anything different you’re doing with Poisonous Birds compared to your previous projects?
Artistically, Poisonous Birds is really focused. Gentle Earth is the product of one mind rather than five. I think that’s really important in creating a cohesive body of work. I want Finn to contribute more beyond percussion in future so we’ll see how bringing a second brain into the early, formative writing phase affects things. We’re in the same space at the moment, I’m optimistic.
We also don’t have a Facebook page. People keep telling us that we’re dead without it. We don’t care, things are cool just now.
What has been your best experience in the industry so far?
People. There are passionate people in music doing excellent things for all of the right reasons. It’s a pleasure to meet and work with them.
And what’s the most difficult thing?
The noise. It’s really easy to record and publish music today. I can’t slam it too hard because it has been an enabler for us, but it also means that the internet is a tsunami of mediocre music and art of all kinds. Filters and tastemakers are more important than ever in telling people what is worth their time. Problem is, everybody is trying to be noticed by those tastemakers…it’s pretty overwhelming and hard to cut through. We’re just going to keep doing our thing and trust that the stuff with weight and value will float to the top.
And finally what’s in store for the band in 2017?
We’ve got a couple of music videos in the works to promote the record and I’m working on some stuff to take the live show up a notch in terms of production quality and intensity. I’d also really like to do some live sessions and get on the festival circuit. We’ll see if that materialises, we’re trying.
Gentle Earth Review
The debut release from Poisonous Birds, Gentle Earth is an impressive listen, and one that is really easy to connect with. It’s accessible, and is a pleasure to listen to because although the music may sound a little simplistic on the surface, there’s a lot of attention to detail nestled into the songs and it’s great.
The electronic vibe to the music adds a lot of ambience to the EP as a whole, and the fuzziness nestled underneath the music adds to this, especially when coupled with the light and almost-ethereal vocal approach. Additionally, there’s a lot of colour to the music, which is evident in all elements of the instruments utilised as a part of Poisonous Birds’ sound, and everything just slots together well.
Although all four songs are great, the strongest is perhaps Old Sun, which the band has also unveiled as a single. As well as being a good insight into what you can expect from the EP as a whole, it’s a rather catchy little number that will definitely get stuck in your head after a few listens, courtesy of the repeating electronic riff woven into the song.
As a whole, this is a good and immersive listen. It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into making this such a powerful and memorable piece, and it’s really paid off for Poisonous Birds. Make sure you keep an eye out for this band!