Sitting in the plush lobby of a Lower East Side hotel of New York City, Dan Gillespie- Sells and Richard Jones blend right in to the crowd, so much so that I walked past them lounging around a table with two tea pots, near a roaring fire without recognizing them. When I set myself up at another table and brought out a notebook, Gillespie- Sells figured I must have been their 5:30 interview and came over to collect me. Deliciously friendly, stylishly attired and completely unassuming with movie-star good looks, one would not guess that these two have played Wembley. They immediately feel like old friends, not celebrated musicians.
In town to do some press and play some gigs, on the day that their latest CD hits shelves in the US, Gillespie-Sells and Jones are the founding members of The Feeling. With huge popularity in the UK, the band's latest, Boy Cried Wolf
(BMG, 2014) has already come out to critical acclaim in the UK. Other members of the band include the Jeremiah brothers Ciaran and Kevin on keyboards and guitar, respectively as well as drummer Paul Stewart. The group shares a history of meeting in Music College, working as session musicians and performing together in different configurations including as a covers band Superfly which was the house band on The Richard Blackwood Show and as the resident band at La Tania Ski resort in the Alps. As The Feeling, they have shared great success. Their debut album Twelve Stops and Home
(Island, 2006) rode the top of the UK charts and produced three top 10 singles. They were crowned the most-played band on UK radio in 2006 and were named as the Songwriters of the Year at the Ivor Novello award soon after. Two more albums followed, increasing their already solid fan base.
The songs from Boy Cried Wolf share the heartfelt theme of an ending, a striking finality stringing itself through the chords. These songs were born out of a tumultuous time when singer songwriter Gillespie-Sells found himself dealing with the end of his long time relationship, as well as the band ending their association with their record label.
"It all happened at the same time, in one week," recounted Gillespie-Sells thoughtfully. "And I suppose my response to that was just to get back to the work and to get back to writing. I kind of threw myself into it as a form of therapy as much as anything. Everything else kind of goes upside down and you just go to the things you know and for me, it's sitting at the piano, writing songs. It's what I know best. So that's what we did and before we knew it, the album was just done."
Bassist Jones agreed," Professionally, we were mirroring the same thing that Dan went through with his relationship breakup and so the music became such a lovely thing for us all to do because it was a release of the feelings and emotions that you go through, like feeling obviously all feeling a bit worried."
Gillespie-Sells interjected, "And dejected, as well."
Jones continued, "Being dumped essentially but then beyond that, really excited and liberated and just totally joyful because there was no pressure anymore and no reason to do it than any other reason but we wanted to do it."
A few years back, Gillespie-Sells purchased an old pub in the East End of London called the Royal Oak which has been converted to his residence upstairs as well as a recording studio downstairs, now affectionately known as The Dog House. Having their own studio gave them freedom that has proven priceless.
"If Dan hadn't bought the building at the time and we didn't have that, I don't know if the band even would have continued or if we would have made the album," explained Jones. "When we made our second album, we bought a lot of equipment so we had that in a rented space that was costing a lot of money per month to store our gear. So when Dan found the pub, it was a great opportunity to put it all in one place. He was living upstairs and it actually totally liberated us because when we left our label after many years, it took all the pressure off and put us back into the situation we were in before, before anything happened when we were just recording in bedrooms and sheds! Back then we improvised. We went to Kevin and Ciaran's parents' shed, borrowed a load of mics. Having the pub meant we could just make music for the sake of it again. There was no contract, there was nobody paying us, no reason to do it other than cause we wanted to. The album came out naturally. "
Getting positive feedback to the songs felt good. Gillespie-Sells said," We played them to a few labels and BMG offered us a deal. They heard it and they liked what they heard and they just trusted us. Total creative control and we got to finish the album and do the artwork and everything exactly as we wanted it."
Jones followed," It was really gratifying because we put the album out in the UK and we had the best reviews that we've had in years. People are getting that it's honest. Dan's writing, the five of us together created this thing. It's got purity to it."
Part of the creative process carried over to the artwork for the CD cover as well as vinyl album cover. Of the eye-catching image of a boy standing under a helicopter, Gillespie-Sells explained," It was very instinctive. We knew we wanted a striking image. We knew we didn't want to have our faces on there, we've never been into that. We wanted an intriguing, cinematic kind of dark and kind of solitary thing to the artwork. And the idea of the boy, like almost a scene from an 80s Spielberg movie or something, that was always there. And it wasn't post production, that shot. It's really is a helicopter flying over the boy."
Jones excitedly tells the story of the lucky and fateful day. "I've got a pilot's license. I fly little fixed wing airplanes up at the airfield called Elstree Aerodrome (in London) and Dan has a photographer friend and we thought about doing some band shots with him as an experiment. Initially it was just the band being up there just to get an idea and some perspectives, to get access to the runway and different things at the airfield. And pretty much the day before we said, you know we have this idea involving something Spielberg-esque with a kid. We just need a kid and we can try it. And Paul had a friend. I've got kids but they were in school but the friend's kid was in preschool so his parents said, ok, we'll bring him down and they brought this cute little kid and we were taking some perspective shots on the runway and this friend of mine who owns several helicopters came over and said, "What are you doing?" I said we're taking shots and he said, do you want me to bring the helicopter out? Ok! So he did, he's got a Bell 47, Korean War era. There's only two in the UK that exist, amazing looking bubble thing with a spotlight on it and that's another thing, most recreational helicopters don't have a search light on it. So we thought it would be really cool if he flew down and shined the light on the kid. I think we got about 5 shots of him. And it was one of those things, all we did to the shot was there was some stuff on the horizon that was removed. But that's the only post, otherwise it's the shot. If you tried to organize that, hiring an airfield, hiring a helicopter, getting the insurance to fly a helicopter over a kid...firstly the budget would have been through the roof, secondly you probably wouldn't have even got as good a shot!"
Gillespie-Sells agreed," That's part of being what an artist is, a bit like how we improvised in making that first album. We improvised. We're improvising again. Trusting our instincts and doing what artists always do, which is kind of make it up as you go along. Make sure that you stick to the theme and trust your instincts. And that's what happened with the videos that will tie in with it as well, that we recreated the shot as part of the video. "
The image is stunning, like the 11 songs on Boy Cried Wolf. The CD was mastered and sequenced as an album, with the song "Hides in Your Heart" serving as the last song on Side A with a little more of a gap in between songs . Side B begins with the haunting and melodic , "Empty Restaurant" featuring the lines "It's poisonous, poisonous/ It's hazardous, hazardous/ Falling in love had me on my knees." The swirling strains and clever lyrics belie the upbeat music at times. "Anchor" puts words to the feelings of loss: "I'm not your anchor anymore/ You can go sail another shore/ Now you've broke loose." "Rescue" beseeches the listener to "search through the wreckage once again" and scan for signs of life again. The lyrics are real, they strike chords and they are thoughts everyone can relate to. But the lines aren't force fed to listeners, a concerted effort on Gillespie-Sells' part.
"The title on the track "Blue Murder / Boy Cried Wolf" is all about not telling the whole story. Leaving your audience with gaps to fill in themselves. The album cover doesn't tell the whole story. Like a still from a movie, you don't know what's going to happen. The rest is up to your imagination. Same with the videos we shot to go with it, it's intriguing and sets you up in the right direction, but the rest is up to you. If you're concise and you're artful about it, it's a nice thing to do. It's respectful to the audience rather than laying it all out all the time."
They may want to leave things to their fans' imagination, but these two are transparent as fans of music themselves. "We were looking for David Bowie today," Jones said with a twinkle in his eye. "We were driving around and we just sort of feel like one day we'll drive around New York and go, there he is! He still has that mystique somehow, in this celebrity driven world."
Gillespie- Sells concurs, "We've been to New York so many times and one day, we're gonna see him! I don't know what I'd do but just say, Saw Bowie! Yeah, walking down the street in New York and saw Bowie!" When asked about the last great concert they saw, both proclaimed Roger Waters Wall as bring brilliant and still relevant.
"Probably the best concert I've seen production wise, just sound wise. Everything wise! It was amazing," praised Gillespie-Sells.
"Plus we grew up with that album in our parents' record collections, both listened to it as kids," added Jones. "So it's in my psyche. I've seen the live DVDs of the early tours several times. What he can do with modern technology and projection and the fact that everything can be totally synched up now. I was talking to Nick Mason
about when they originally did the gigs and they just had to watch the screen and follow it! That's how they did it. They would watch and say, oh, I have to speed up a bit. When they build the wall and the projection appears on the brick, as soon as they put it down, its mind blowing! Like, how'd they do that?"
One night later, in an intimate gathering at BMG offices , the duo settled behind their instruments, Gillespie-Sells moved seamlessly from piano to guitar, Jones held a new bass that he bought on this trip. A life-sized cutout of Roy Orbison
stood sentry behind them in the corner, photobombing nearly all photos taken. The industry and press folks on hand met the stripped down set with enthusiastic applause, eager for the full band's return to tour later this year.
Additional contributions by Mike Perciaccante.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon