Trading in chaotic art rock for mellifluous folk harmonies as frontman of London band The Great Silkie, we caught up with former Voyeurs guitarist Sam Davies to talk of encounters with nature, his development as a songwriter, and the importance of making life difficult for yourself.
Hey Sam. So, to begin with, for people out there who may not yet be aware of The Great Silkie, could you give 3 words that best encapsulate what you’re all about?
Melodic, Sombre, Simple.
So you’ve made the transition from guitarist to frontman. Was that something you’d always had in mind for yourself?
Not at all actually. I’d never really tried to sing, because, you know, when you’re young and kind of just singing along to something in your bedroom – well for me anyway, my sister would always come in and kind of sarcastically say ‘nice singing!’ so I’d always be thinking like ‘oh God, this sounds terrible!’ So that turned me off for a while. But you know I always loved writing music. In The Voyeurs I’d be writing full songs minus the vocal melody. So now with this band that was the last bit of trying to do that, and now I’m completely obsessed with it.
You relocated from London to the countryside prior to forming the band. What was the thinking behind that?
Yeah, well I’d been living in this room that was about the size of a cupboard in South London and I realised I hadn’t had any had any kind of break since I first moved there. A friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years then asked if I wanted to come and stay with him near Longleat forest in an old converted barn which had like an accordion and a load of other old stuff there. It was about a 20-minute walk to the nearest town so I’d go out and get a bottle of wine and then walk through the forest where I’d be having deer and all sorts jumping out at me. It was nice to indulge in that kind of isolation for a while.
Well that serenity certainly seems to have influenced the music – there’s a real sense of delicacy and vulnerability to what we’ve heard so far, especially when you compare it to the noisy and sometimes abrasive sound of The Voyeurs. Was that a conscious decision to strip back?
Yeah, all the previous bands I’ve been very much orientated towards the more heavy psych or post-punk sort of sound. I’ve always been into a lot of the softer folkier stuff adjacent to everything else, but the longer I’ve gone on the more I’ve been listening primarily to that kind of music. And I also realised that in everything I’ve done so far, I’ve almost found myself, in a sense, hiding behind the sound. But recently I’ve really been trying to focus on making things harder for myself. Like today I went and played piano in a pub, which I’ve never done before in front of anyone, which was a quite a challenge. So yeah, I’m really into the completely bare, stripped-back, little to no effects on anything and try it make so it’s just about the songs.
That’s interesting because there’s a definite similarity in the sound of Great Silkie to Madcap Laughs-era Syd Barrett, which has that similar feeling of being completely laid-bare.
The funny thing about that is that it really wasn’t a conscious decision. I’ve always been massively in to Syd and that side of it but I’ve started writing songs and no matter what I do they’ve seemed to come out sounding Barrett-y, which is completely unintentional but I think it’s just because I’ve literally listened to that album since the age of about 10.
So how long was it before you hooked up with Andrew and Roberto, the other two members of the band?
I stayed in the cottage for about a month and a half before moving back to London. And for a while I was slowly writing without really doing that much. And then I met Andrew who plays bass, and straightaway I thought he was really good and played really nice so I asked him if he wanted to be involved. And then after that we got Roberto in, who I’ve known for years. I actually booked a show before we’d even rehearsed together, so that gave us a real challenge where we had to be completely focused to get ourselves up to speed in time. It ended up going really well and so we’ve been steadily going now for the last year or so.
You released your wistful first single, Scared To Be alone, along with an accompanying hortiullry-themed video, recently through Crocodile records. Is there any more new music on the horizon?
Yeah, we’re going back into the studio at the end of April to do some more stuff. Ideally, we’d love to do an album but apparently, it’s not really viable to do albums these days, so it the moment it makes more sense to do an E.P. or just singles.
What can we expect from a Great Silkie live show?
Well the way the band works there’s different ways we can do it. It can be either me, on my own, acoustically, or Andrew and I together doing a lot of harmonies, which is largely what the group is based around, or it can be the full band. We’ve got two more coming up as a full band in April and then a hopefully a show in Glasgow later on in the year.