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Alt Indie

Navigating the Waters of Change: An Intimate Dive into Strange Tides’ EP ‘Differentiation

In an evocative conversation with Strange Tides, the artist delves into the profound themes encapsulated in their latest EP, ‘Differentiation’. This collection of songs emerges from a decade of transformative experiences, reflecting on personal growth, familial roles, and spiritual introspection. With a candid exploration of breaking away from past influences to forge a unique identity, Strange Tides discusses the intricate process of songwriting that mirrors their journey towards self-definition. This interview not only reveals the artist’s struggle with faith and identity but also showcases their commitment to authentic expression through genre-fluid music.

Strange Tides, thank you for the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss your recent EP, Differentiation; the thematic undercurrents in the lyrical poetry are beyond compelling; can you tell us a little bit about the concept of the release and what inspired its creation?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you! I’m so grateful to have the chance to dig a little deeper into this little packet of songs.

“Differentiation” came out of a process of perpetual disorientation and reorientation that unfolded through my twenties. At the surface, this included a lot of adulthood firsts: first bereavement (Ides of March) and first experience of doubt as a person of faith (Out of Deep Waters, Father of my Father) being the clearest. More abstractly, I also found myself reassessing a lot of assumptions for the first time. In particular, this stage of life saw me examining my role in my family as an adult, my role as a person of faith, and God’s own attitude towards me and humanity at large. While examining these ideas, I spent a lot of time contrasting myself against those around me, or against my past self…. But I continually bumped up against the wonderful reality that, despite all our differences, we are unavoidably shaped by others. These tensions: connectedness in the presence of difference, and the new and old self, were soil from which this record grew.

There’s a strong lyrical emphasis on autonomously determining your own values and goals; how hard do you think it is to separate yourself from social and familial conditioning to know what you truly want and need? 

I suspect the answer to that is some combination of a person’s personality and the dynamic of their family or community of origin. I must admit, with some embarrassment, that I am easily influenced by others, so it is fortunate for me that my parents encouraged me to move away so that I could gain some autonomy and perspective. If not given that freedom externally, I think I would have found it exceptionally difficult to grasp. Even so, the experience of thinking differently from people I love or admire was still painful. There is a core group of people with whom I will always belong, even as my convictions and outlooks shift, but these changes still upset the existing balance of relationships. As I change, there’s a bit of effort required of my loved ones to stay curious about me, and also to stay rooted in their own values, while still being willing to be shaken up every now and again. And I owe them that same effort in return. Indeed, in Father of my Father, you see me in the midst of a battle between my own disappointment with other people’s changes in belief, and my desire to keep my mind and heart wholly open to those people.

Your advocacy for authenticity is made all the more convincing through your distinctive songwriting and genre-fluidity, was this intentional, or did it just happen naturally? 

Thank you! I pride myself on my intentionality in stepping out of my usual habits and matching musical to emotional tone, but there are certainly genres I gravitate to. Breaking out of those requires some effort. I’m not sure I can quite assert that I’ve succeeded in doing this, but I’m certainly taking steps in that direction in songs like “Out of Deep Waters”. This is an example of a song for which I put a great deal of thought into breaking my usual patterns: the verses and bridge employ different chord progressions than I usually go for, and I had to push myself toward a higher tempo than I ever naturally land on. However, the choruses in that song include a major key walk-down that is very instinctive for me (and which shows up again in full force in “Lighthouse”).

We love how your releases can meld grandiosity and intimacy simultaneously, how was this achieved with singles such as Out of Deep Waters? 

I think the answer here is simple: I have a lot of feelings. Conveying these many feelings in the context of a single song creates a lot of drama!

“Out of Deep Waters” specifically took me a long time to get around to writing. I wrote “Lighthouse” in 2018, which I knew would serve as a resolution to some kind of tension; this meant I needed to write a song that would lead into Lighthouse, and which would put across some heavier emotions. I had in mind the idea of using gritty instrumentation and fast pacing, as heard in the verses. But it wasn’t until I was properly writing the song in the summer of 2023 that the lighter choruses bubbled out of me. I felt that the switches between the heavy verses and the lighter choruses could effectively capture that which I had been struggling to convey: joy and despair were both living in my chest, and the frequency with which I bounced between them was dizzying! Even as I was totally dismayed in the face of my own intellectual unbelief, a sense of kinship with the divine, and a connection which seemed to remain through no effort of my own, was a source of joy.

Can we delve deeper into the emotional themes of Out of Deep Waters and the final single on the EP, Lighthouse, and how the instrumentals visualise metaphors for disorientation and resolution? 

“Out of Deep Waters” feels increasingly like the manic creation of somebody who has given up on trying to make sense of things, and perhaps that’s what it is.

This song is first and foremost about the loss (and rediscovery) of my faith, which is why it employs so much resurrection imagery. The experience of letting go of faith is different for different people – towards the end of the song you hear me refer to a friend who was relieved to find herself in a place of unbelief. But for me, it was a profound loss, and you can see me processing that loss in the song’s verses.

The verses describe everything from those early, defensive emotions (e.g. disgruntlement, denial of the situation) to later, deeper ones (grief and loneliness). Musically, they hit hard and fast, because that is how unbelief came to me. Both verses also contain a church organ moment: an obvious nod to the theme at hand and intended to sound a little unnerving. Furthermore, The predictability of the three-beat shots we hear in verse one is broken in verse two, where one beat is missing from each set of shots, creating a sense of confusion.

And yet, hope lies beneath the chaos: the choruses come in with major chords, clean guitar tones, and some charming pizzicato work on the cello to give voice to the uplifting moments that were peppered through an otherwise dark season. In the second chorus, a background voice enters (“Yoohoo! Where are you?”) with an absurd playfulness, as though all I am doing is playing “Hide and Seek” with the divine. Godself echoes this sentiment in the bridge, where a couple of phrases of steady but light baroque piano provides the backbone for a message of assurance in God’s voice.

However, the tension which characterises this song is not yet resolved. Instead, it reaches its apex during the transition into “Lighthouse”, where ever-changing chord progressions, an increasing tempo, and increasingly crowded instrumentation bring about a sense of urgency reflective of my own deepening desperation and confusion. In the climactic moment, a variety of loved ones pull me from the body of water in which I did not realise I was drowning. The baptism metaphor, which was opened with the line “[I] was laid in the sea as they lifted him up” is brought to a close with, “this baptism isn’t quite what I’d imagined \ I break through the surface, and see I’ve been drowning”, leaving the song to resolve with a peaceful bass melody, before flowing into “Lighthouse”.

Where “Out of Deep Waters” is jam-packed with different instrumentation, chord progressions, and emotional tone; “Lighthouse” is a picture of musical predictability, with warm, major chords carrying the listener gently to the end of the album. The voice of God shows up one last time, in the form of a call to rely on loved ones for wisdom and strength (and to provide the same in return, when the time comes). The steady rhythm thumped out on the floor tom and bass guitar during this section provides a sense of confidence and assurance that was conspicuously absent through most of “Out of Deep Waters”. The piano, cello, and lead guitar team up to build to an ending which I hope evokes similar emotions to the experience of receiving kindness from someone during a moment of need.

How did your artistic journey start, and where has it taken you so far? 

My musical journey started at the age of six, in the basement of my first piano teacher’s house. I began learning songs using the Suzuki Method (by ear), before learning to read music and moving through Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music for piano and theory. I expanded to other instruments around the age of ten when I first began to play the guitar and write songs. From there, I was lucky to be a part of a church where my musical gifts were intentionally fostered by leaders and fellow congregants; this is the context in which I first learned to drum and play the bass. I’ve since developed these skills further through lessons and by playing in bands in which I’m held to a high standard!

As I honed more instruments, my at-home recordings of the songs I was writing became more sophisticated, and I began to develop an instinct for production. To this day, creating a dialogue between many musical voices is my favourite part of songwriting.

During my undergraduate years, I picked up the occasional coffee house gig, but it wasn’t until I met my former bandmate, Victoria, that I began gigging on a regular basis. It was at a pub gig together that we met Sound Engineer and Producer, Dan Ponich, who has recorded all of Strange Tides’ songs but one. With Dan’s help, I was able to grow into a co-producer role for this most recent EP: an experience that has shaped my vision for future projects.

How has your songwriting style evolved for this EP? 

This EP marked quite a few shifts for Strange Tides. This is the first Strange Tides record since Victoria’s departure, and for me, it was a return to the practice of writing on my own. I took the opportunity to re-examine some old songs that I had written, but not recorded, and saw the “differentiation” theme tying them together. This motivated me to create a record whose sole purpose was to examine this theme and helped me to crystalise my vision for future EPs. Furthermore, having made a couple of meaningful connections in the music world over the last few years, I had access to musicians capable of doing things I could only dream of doing, so I was able to write with other people’s skill sets in mind. The presence of cello and upright bass on this record is a real treat!

Is it hard to find the balance between following your experimental muse and releasing music that will resonate with your new and existing fans? 

I think this is probably a problem that most musicians grapple with. I profess that the best art comes from whatever is truly within (cheesy, I know), but then I find myself wondering where I should bend to the tastes of the masses so that perhaps reveals a paradox within me. That being said, there is a Venn diagram of that which is marketable, and that in which I find joy and meaning in creating. So perhaps my goal is to find the area of overlap when that which naturally pours out of me can connect well with the listeners.

What’s next for Strange Tides? 

If only I had endless time and money to devote to this project; I have so many ideas I’d like to execute. For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue releasing 4-6 song EPs that each explore a single theme, and I have themes in mind for the next two or three of those EPs, with the themes informing their musical shape. My plan for the remainder of 2024 is to play some gigs (likely more intimate ones), write lots, and create a few demos so that I can record the next record in 2025.

Listen to Strange Tides’ EP Differentiation on Spotify.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Spotlight Feature: Reverberations of Longing Linger in the Affecting Agony of Pinwheel Valley’s Single Reverie

Pinwheel Valley’s latest eclectically alt-indie single, Reverie, echoes a poignant symphony of emotional turmoil and tender confession. The bittersweet draught of love is the lead single from their eagerly anticipated Reverie EP, which heralds a significant evolution for the Canadian artist, formerly known as KAIS, now steering the ship of Pinwheel Valley through the waters of the indie music scene from their Mediterranean home base.

The melancholic mosaic of poetry, agony and rhythmic intuition is the first signal to be distributed via Levantine Music, it stands as a testament to how honed the artist’s sound has become in the absence of lyrical inhibition. Qais Khoury’s vocal delivery and melodic structuring evoke the spectrally affecting beauty of Jeff Buckley as Reverie traverses the complex emotional landscape with soul-stirring urgency and timeless poignancy.

The guitars, warm and overdriven, act as the perfect counterpoint to the raw lyrics, as the progressions journey through the valleys of longing and the peaks of despair. Pinwheel Valley masterfully conjures a world where every note and every word is steeped in emotional significance. The result is a track that does more than just resonate with the listener; it pierces the soul, leaving an indelible mark.

Khoury’s influences, ranging from Thom Yorke to Ben Howard, shimmer through in the song’s intricate fabric, but Reverie is unmistakably Pinwheel Valley’s own. As the band starts this new chapter, writing through their inexplicably alchemic signature, it is clear they have the potential to write the future of alt-indie.

Reverie is now available to stream on all major platforms, including Spotify.

Follow Pinwheel Valley on Facebook.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Get in harmony with your soul through Skydivers’ indie pop kaleidoscope of 60s hues, Maybe I Can

Slip into the cradle of nostalgia with the latest single, Maybe I Can, from the Boone, NC-based studio project, Skydivers. The tenderly melodic kaleidoscope of 60s hues embody the colour and soul of the Beatles and the Kinks, filtered through a nuancedly modernised indie pop lens.

Hit play and cruise with the shimmering guitars, groove with the intuitively clever percussion, and find nirvana with the ascending keys which defy gravity as they sway through the production beneath the honey-timbered vocal lines as they exude a blissful state of care-free indecision.

In the frantic pace of our era, singles in the vein of Maybe I Can, which give permission to get in harmony with your own soul and slow down should be on everyone’s playlists. The sublime ease of the progressions is an efficacious sonic visualisation of the emotional themes which underpin this superlative release.

Maybe I Can was officially released on March 29; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Indie sleaze voraciously came back around with Sweet Houdini’s antagonised earworm, Metaphorical Red

Sweet Houdini

Essex’s Sweet Houdini’s latest single, ‘Metaphorical Red‘, opens a temporal gateway back to the anthemics of 90s alt-rock with the swagger and grit that infectiously shakes, rattles, and rolls with a palpable sense of antagonism and volition.

The supersonic and vortexical electronic cuts weave seamlessly around thunderous drums and effect-laden guitars, reminiscent of the Black Keys’ bluesy grooves; this sonic backdrop sets the stage for a snarling confrontation that captivates from the first verse, making ‘Metaphorical Red’ a sludgy earworm that rivals the likes of Mansun.

Sweet Houdini doesn’t just pay homage to the alt-rock era; they reinvent it. Their sound crosses the Atlantic, delivering harsher sonic palettes reminiscent of US Alt Indie. The track is a testament to the band’s ability to channel the spirit of 90s icons like Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, while injecting their unique personality and magnetism.

With ‘Metaphorical Red’, Sweet Houdini has done more than kick up a storm; they’ve choked the atmosphere with a resurgence of indie sleaze. Their energetic live performances, known for authenticity and genuine crowd interaction, mirror the raw emotion and energy of this track. It’s a bold statement in the alt-rock scene, proving that Sweet Houdini is not just a band to watch, but a force to be reckoned with.

Check out Metaphorical Red when it drops on April 5th on Sweet Houdini’s official website.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Lucy Wroe delivered cultivated consolation in her allegory of heartbreak, Heartbeat Wipers

The Last Dinner Party may have faced a massive backlash after declaring that people want artful escapism instead of post-punk expositions on the cost-of-living crisis, but with her latest single, Heartbeat Wipers, the London-based singer-songwriter, Lucy Wroe, who describes herself as a lovechild of Jessie Ware and the Weeknd, made a compelling case for the catharsis of artfully composed productions.

Every element, from the ornate piano keys to the brooding basslines and the increasing intensity of the synths, in Heartbeat Wipers amplifies the emotional theme of finding strength in independence after losing the person you lent on the most. From the ethereal grace of the intro to the disquietness when the instrumental arrangement amasses intricate all-consuming complexities, each progression is a new chapter in the redemption story that everyone, on some level, can relate to.

The haunting reprise of ‘The same goodbye a million times and I…’ underpins the aura of mourning within the release without overbearing it, ensuring that Heartbeat Wipers, which started with a sample of the mechanical swipes of windscreen wipers batting away torrential rain, is as consoling as it is cultivated.

Heartbeat Wipers was officially released on April 5th; stream the single on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Luke Meyn delivered an indie psych dream you’ll never want to wake up from with ‘When It’s Over’

Embark on an indie synth odyssey with the Brisbane, Australia-hailing artist Luke Meyn’s debut single, When It’s Over; finality has never sounded so sweet. Meyn covered the entire spectrum of emotion in this seminally blissful release which proves that endings don’t always need to necessitate bitterness.

The soundscape became the perfect vessel to carry the tenderly expressed emotional themes. The way the psychedelic layers rove through the scintillating cosmos of the production that bleeds all the intimacy of Grandaddy and Yo La Tengo while delivering the same transcendently kaleidoscopic colour of The Beatles and all of the arcane air of Mercury Rev ensures that When It’s Over sonically swallows you whole and transports you to another dimension.

With the promise that no two songs from Luke Meyn are the same, we’re equal parts gutted we can’t anticipate another single in the same vein as When It’s Over and stoked to hear what is to come from the artist who takes a spontaneous approach to song crafting by following his muse, wherever they may roam.

When It’s Over was officially released on March 16th; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Messy Mike – Things Are Crazy: An Alt-Indie Remedy to the Malady of Modernity.

Messy Mike used the cinematic sheen of neo-doo-wop to add transcendent melodic ascendence to his vintage-toned alt-indie rock allegory of how darkness permeates the psyches of us all – regardless of how hard we endeavour to push away the shadows of ennui.

Things Are Crazy goes beyond unravelling as a sonic sign of the times, the kaleidoscopically colourful release that will be a hit with any fans of The Strokes goes one strident step further to deliver vindication and salvation in the same rhythmic breath.

Regardless of how much we know that this dystopia dogs us all, that doesn’t get in the way of bringing our sanity into question; if you can relate, Things Are Crazy will give you all the answers you’re looking for; sift through the layered instrumentals, gentle acoustics and sweeping organs and hone in on the soulfully caressing vocal lines for a remedy to the malady of modernity.

Stream Things Are Crazy on Spotify now.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

The Elegant Chasers explored the trappings and torment of addiction with their maniacal alt-rock hit, The Hungry Ghost

The Elegant Chasers

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Mike Patton had formed a new side project after being exposed to the vocal dynamism and tightly controlled instrumental chaos in the latest single, The Hungry Ghost, from the London-based alt-rock originators, The Elegant Chasers.

The franticly alchemic production which echoes 90s Britpop and grunge entices you in through the urgency as the James Dean Bradfield-esque guitars shimmer and act as an anchor in the tumultuous storm brewed by the rhythm section. The lack of restraint is a conceptual sonic visualisation of the nefariousness of addiction, which the volatile lyrics explore influenced by the work of Gabor Mate.

There was no forgetting The Elegant Chasers after getting acquainted through their previous release, Running Around the Sun, but The Hungry Ghost is a million maniacal miles away from the mash-up of indie, Britpop and Psych Rock. It’s safe to say The Elegant Chasers can stop running because they’ve arrived at exactly where they need to be with The Hungry Ghost.

The Hungry Ghost will be officially released on March 15; stream and purchase the single on Bandcamp.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

The Stanford Family Band – On My Holiday: A Riotously Sunlit Escapade Through the Intersections of Indie, Garage Rock, and Motown

The Stanford Family Band, following their debut ‘Love Me A Bit‘, have returned with ‘On My Holiday‘, a single that radiates with the warmth of a supernova. This track, a part of their upcoming 6-track EP ‘For Your Listening Pleasure’, is a vibrant testament to the Brighton-based band’s endlessly euphoric sonic identity.

From the first note, ‘On My Holiday’ is an immersion in a riotously colourful explosion of kaleidoscopic fervency. The vintage production, reminiscent of Ray Charles’ ‘Mess Around’, is a masterful blend of bluesy piano grooves and Beach Boys-esque harmonies. The trailblazers could never be as pedestrian as solely nodding to the past; with this release, they reimagined the aural ecstasy of a bygone era, tailored for today’s indie and garage rock enthusiasts.

Frontman Elliot Stanford’s captivating lead vocals, coupled with the band’s commitment to complex four-part harmonies and memorable melodic hooks resulted in a quirky upbeat odyssey through a bittersweet vignette, which affirmed that in the death of winter, the sun is just around the corner.

Elliot’s approach to songwriting, as he describes, is an exercise in balancing musical joy with lyrical melancholy, a juxtaposition reminiscent of the Beach Boys circa 1965. ‘On My Holiday’ is the embodiment of this philosophy, musically exuberant yet lyrically introspective.

On My Holiday was released via Goo Records on February 27th and is now available to stream on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Leyton Thomas treaded water in the pool of pathology with the indie dream-pop etherealism in his latest single, ‘Screwcap Diet’

Leyton Thomas, with his latest single ‘Screwcap Diet‘, transcended the typical boundaries of indie dream pop. The Manchester-based solo artist skilfully merged influences from Mazzy Star to Sigur Ros, Radiohead to the Verve around his own authentically cultivated sonic signature.

The journey through the complex interplay of health, mindfulness, and the human condition stands out for its hauntingly beautiful guitar work, which weaves an ethereally melancholic narrative. The soft falsetto vocals add a layer of intimacy, making the exploration of our often-neglected appreciation for health all the more poignant. This song wrestles with the shadows of sickness, yet it’s not just about the struggle; it’s a revelation of the enlightenment found in moments of vulnerability.

Thomas’ artistic journey is marked by a fearless blending of genres, a testament to his courage and distinction as an artist. His previous work, including the hip-hop instrumental ‘I Forgot You At The Bottom of the Fridge‘, has already showcased his ability to resonate with a wide audience, amassing significant streams on Spotify. ‘Screwcap Diet’ is a continuation of this sonic exploration.

Thomas’ musical evolution is a narrative of constant reinvention. From his early days in London to his current place in the Manchester scene, his exposure to a diverse range of music has profoundly influenced his sound.

Leyton Thomas Said

“This release is – after a period of digital experimentation – a return to the melodic guitar music that I grew up with. Lyrically, it reflects a feeling that arguably every single human being experiences – that when you are ill, be it seriously ill or plagued with a common cold, everything superficial seems insignificant, and all you wish for is your health. It poses the question, who are we when we are left with just our mind and tired body?”

After being recorded in Leyton Thomas’ home studio and mixed by Will Levison, Screwcap Diet hit all major streaming platforms on February 27th.

Stream Screwcap Diet on Spotify.

Follow Leyton Thomas on Instagram.

Review by Amelia Vandergast