I meet Thom and Lucy Southern in their dressing room as they prepare to go onstage to support Hudson Taylor later. The sibling likeness in the pair is immediately striking, they are both small, slight and charming with matching pale eyes and fair hair. A brother and sister duo in their early 20s who are close enough to live together and, indeed, spend almost all their time together travelling and writing is pretty rare but they say their relationship is the keystone of their song-writing process. It starts with “Thom playing guitar,” and they bounce off each other so naturally that “even if Thom starts singing, I’ll start singing too, because I know where he’s going,” Lucy nods.
Like me, the pair grew up in Belfast; we actually went to the same school and, although a few years apart we know each other so talk inevitably turns to home. Belfast is one of those ‘village cities’ with a communal nosiness and a sense of shared achievements that can be equal parts reassuring and suffocating. The pair say they are asked a lot about their decision to relocate to London and they even experience the odd disgruntled fan posting “why do you never play Belfast anymore,” on YouTube videos. “We got a lot out of Belfast though, I started busking there,” says Thom, who started busking at 15 and even travelled to Nashville a few times with a Belfast songwriting competition, but they both agree “there could be more support for artists.”
Thom thinks that cutting their teeth on the folk-centric Belfast live circuit “gives us a culture to the music that nobody else has,” and affirms, “we’re proud of being from Belfast, it gives the music an edge, because not a lot of acts break from Ireland.” Although the ‘folk niche’, as Lucy puts it doesn’t completely accommodate the growth of new bands, as Lucy points out, “with friends in Paris, we travelled there a lot for gigs and always had our sights set very high, and you need to go to places like London to get the record labels; the management and industry is all there,” they mention the Coral’s Paul Duffy who they’ve worked with recently as an opportunity they would never have had if not in London. Thom laughs, “well exactly, you know, if you wanna have two jobs, stay in Belfast.”
I wonder if they notice how their musical style has evolved from their folky Belfast busking days with the addition of new live band members, Eoghan Clifford on drums and Darryl Pruess on bass. Eoghan being from Manchester “definitely added a more Northern vibe,” to their sphere of influence. With the band spending time together musical tastes will seep into the collective consciousness and thanks to Eoghan they “started listening to a lot more Stone Roses.” Thom chips in “Darryl brings a quite experimental early 80s kind of punk sound with his bass. If I was to play my guitar on my own it would be a straight up kind of Rolling Stones vibe but Eoghan adds a rock element and Darryl a punky rift, while Lucy’s harmony adds even more genres.”
Independent label Marathon have been great for letting them develop this sound and not pressuring the pair to have “a certain clean sound for the radio,” Thom agrees enthusiastically, “they’ve done exactly what their name is,” letting the pair take the time to put together an album they’re “really, really happy with.” We discuss the idea that the idea of ‘the album’ as a whole is coming back in, from The War on Drugs to Flying Lotus to Beck, this year has definitely seen a focus on constructing an album concept. “Yeah,” Lucy agrees, “what we’ve grown up on is albums, I love that feeling of being on a car journey listening to an album and loving each song that comes up.” Accordingly they have spent time crafting an album that won’t “just be a few hits, it’s more about the concept of the album, but at the same time they’ll all be catchy songs, we like making catchy pop music,” says Thom.
The album has been “produced by Mark Rankin, who worked with Queens of the Stoneage, produced Bombay Bicycle Club’s last album, even worked with Adele, and she’s won a grammy like.” Thom’s excitement here is tangible, there really is the sense that years of busking and moving around to put themselves in the right place at the right time have been building up to these next few months, with the pair “touring in March and April releasing an album in May, and then we got our tour of Ireland and the festivals in the summer,” and potentially making it big “if everything works out.”