What’s in the water up on Merseyside? It’s as if there’s an endless source of almost psychedelic otherness running deep beneath the place. It’s a source that’s bubbled up as the rumblings grew from the Cavern Club and it’s there washing up against the feet of Antony Gormley’s Crosby Beach installation. It’s there in the music of everyone from the La’s to Ladytron; an off-kilter wonder that sets the place and its art apart from the rest of the country.
Stealing Sheep are very much a group channelling that source. You could hear it in their first recordings, released collectively as the Noah & The Paper Moon e.p. And its there flowing throughout their debut album proper - Into The Diamond Sun - a collection of songs that don’t so much defy genres as gleefully hand pick the most mellifluous elements of everything from voodoo folk, DiY pop, post punk and analogue electronica and stitch them together into a glorious harmonic whole.
Stealing Sheep’s story began in a café above a shop in the heart of Liverpool during the summer of 2010. After Becky Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer bonded over their disparate influences, they decided to see whether they could forge something unique by combining them.
Rebecca “I’d moved to Liverpool to study music and I winded up working in a little shop on Lark Lane. Emily and Lucy worked in the café above the shop. We discovered that we all played complimentary instruments and we decided to see whether it worked as a band. The three of us each like very different styles of music. I remember Emily had a lot of ’70s guitar music and a lot of Krautrock. where the psychedelic influences come from. Lucy was playing in a few gypsy folk bands at that time - she likes freak folk as well as a lot of marching band stuff. I brought in a lot of electronica. Those influences are reflected in the instruments we chose and the way that we play them.”
Although creative, the trio’s initial sessions were a little confusing.
Becky “When we started rehearsing none of us knew what to make of it. Thankfully we carried on pursuing it until things started to click into place and we began to really love the sound that we were creating. All along we knew we didn’t want to repeat anything, to emulate anyone else. We were determined to avoid pastiche or doing anything perceived as being retro.”
Within days of announcing themselves via a couple of songs and a picture stuck on a webpage, Stealing Sheep had booked themselves a trial-by-fire tour of the UK. As the gigs came in, the trio kept on producing songs. It’s part of Stealing Sheep’s errant charm that Rebecca, Emily and Lucy each contribute separate songs to the group.
Becky “There’s three songwriters. Most bands are focused around one. Maybe that fact accounts for the amount of songs we seem to write. We all bring new material to the table and we all get really excited when that happens. Also, we’ve all been writing songs since before the band. Some songs date back to when we were as young as 17.”
The band’s first single, The Mountain Dogs, was released in February 2011 on Manchester’s Red Deer Club label. Part Appalachian folk stomp/part Raincoats-esque lo-fi rumble, the track was a perfect calling card, picking up airplay and gushing plaudits from the likes of Lauren Laverne, Gilles Peterson, Marc Riley and Rob da Bank. Tracks from another EP which came out on Idle Fret were collected together by Heavenly Recordings for the Noah and the Paper Moon, a record subsequently described by the Sunday Times as “capturing everything that is so wonderful about them: dovetailing harmonies, sepulchral lo-fi soundscapes and lyrical alchemy”.
Working at a positively feverish pace, Into the Diamond Sun arrives less than six months after the release of the mini album. Recorded at Mello Studios with Sam Crombie (from the band Dog Show part of the collective behind Liverpool hangout the Kazimier Club), Stealing Sheep’s debut album proper is an Olympian leap forward, so much so that at points the record sounds like it’s arrived from its own private universe. Whereas on one track - White Lies – the group could be the much-missed Broadcast closing the main stage of the Green Man, on another they sound not a million miles from a properly wigged out Go Go’s (Genevieve). Elsewhere, ghostly piano codas (Bear Tracks) brush up against galeophobic warnings about the perils of the seaside (Shark Song).
Becky “I think on the album you can really hear elements of what we each brought to the band. Also, we loved doing it so it all came together very quickly. We had half the album demoed before Christmas and we were still writing while we were in the studio, bringing stuff to the table while we were in there. Sam was mixing tracks in one room and we’d be working out another track in the room next door. That makes it sound grand but really it was a grotty basement room that stank of drains… it was pretty lo-fi really!”
Grotty basements and lo-fi studios aside, Into the Diamond Sun is a glimmering, shimmering thing - infectious as hell, it’s where Rebecca, Emily and Lucy’s contrasting visions of music warped into a singular whole. It’s also an exceptional addition to Liverpool’s celebrated lineage of unconventional art and music.
Becky “It wasn’t a conscious thing but I think Liverpool can’t help but influence you. There’s just so much good music there all about the place. There was a venue above the studio where we recorded the album where there was live music going on above us every night. Every break, you’d wander up there and hear music of many different styles. Just the kind of energy we’d seen on stage there was a massive influence. You’d see someone doing something fantastic in there every night and it couldn’t help but spur you on.”
One listen to Into the Diamond Sun and you can place a pretty safe bet that as they take their show on the road throughout 2012, touring through basements, festivals, back rooms and concert halls, it’ll be Stealing Sheep doing the inspiring. Maybe it’s something in the water back where they’re from.