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Interview: Ferris & Sylvester’s Songwriting Process and “Flying Visit”

Featured Image Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

Living in South London for quite a while, a duo called Ferris & Sylvester plays a motley of genres in music, such as folk, blues, and rock ’n’ roll with a bit of soul. The band, also known as Issy and Archie, started creating music after they met three years ago in a music venue called Spiritual Bar. Other than being Italian food lovers and binge-watchers of Breaking Bad, Ferris & Sylvester started their music career at a very young age, initially playing solo around London before they crossed paths.

Having a rhythm with their songwriting, in terms of where and when they’d compose music, they would always write at their home in South London in-between touring. Since they had been touring so much recently, they’ve learned how to write on the road, which was very scary at first, according to the duo. Nevertheless, the process became an amusing and learning experience. Ferris & Sylvester gradually adapted to their songwriting procedure and recorded vocals in hotel rooms, mixed demos in the car, and learned how to work quickly. Due to their extreme passion for music, the band set up their own label “Archtop Records” a few years ago.

Photo Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

How did your passion for music begin?

Both our dads are into a very wide range of music, and we grew up on our parents’ record collections. In Archie’s case, it was Hendrix, Little Feat and Simon & Garfunkel. In Issy’s case, it was Queen, folk-singer Christy Moore, and Simon & Garfunkel as well. There are a lot of crossovers in our musical upbringing, yet we also come at music and songwriting in particular from different angles. That makes it all the more interesting. We both played in pubs and clubs throughout our teens and both moved to London to pursue it further.


Who are your biggest influences in music?

We think it’s really important to listen to lots of different styles and genres. It keeps us on our toes with our writing, and it’s a brilliant feeling when you listen to something that really inspires you and teaches you something different. Our all-time heroes are Hendrix, Dylan, Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Cohen, Tom Waits, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Little Feat, Laura Marling, Alabama Shakes, Fleetwood Mac…… Are we allowed that many?

Do you follow a formula when you write a song?

We have no formula and have never written one song the same. That probably comes from the amount of different music we listen to. Often though, it’s the song that comes out easy that becomes something. When we can both see the magic, then we roll with it. The key thing is to not be afraid of getting it wrong! It’s a scary thing to write, especially when it’s coming from a personal place. We find it useful to not limit the writing to a formula. If it’s a good song, then it’s a good song. Often that’s regardless of conventional structures or melodies. Dare to be different!

Photo Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

How did the idea of writing “Flying Visit” emerge?

We wrote “Flying Visit” from a child’s perspective. We liked the idea of writing something straightforward and unashamed, as children are when it comes to loving other people. There are no social politics and no armour to carry around when you’re young, which means you just say how you feel without being embarrassed, whether that’s simply saying “I love you” or “Don’t leave me.”


What do you want others to feel after hearing this single for the first time?

We don’t expect people to hear the song and realize the “child” idea behind it. That isn’t important to us. We just hope that the narrative speaks to everyone whether they relate it to their family, a partner or a friend. The fear of being abandoned is something we can all relate to, it doesn’t matter how old you are. So hopefully that’s something people can connect with.


Were you affected emotionally by the music after hearing the final version of it? Can you identify particular moments when this happened in the writing process? Did these moments reflect or coincide with intensity in the lyrics?

By the time we got the final version of the song, we had demoed it a lot and also played it live for months. It was an incredible feeling to finish the song because we were so proud of it, but the whole process leading up to that was also very special. Singing those lyrics every night was intense and often emotional. What makes us most proud though is to see how it can affect others when we sing it to them. It’s the same with every song, but this one is by far our most intimate and stark record so there’s nowhere to hide!

Photo Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

What does a typical day look like for the band?

It does change a lot. Everyday is different which is both amazing and terrifying! We’ve been on the road for three months since the start of the year, so a touring day would look like this: wake up, breakfast, in the car, emails/phone calls/mixing/editing, load in, soundcheck, dinner, perform, meet everyone, pack down, in the car, hotel, watch something funny, sleep. If we’re not touring, we often spend the days writing, recording or rehearsing. It really is a rollercoaster and some days can feel frustrating. But more often than not, the days are spent making music and that is an amazing thing.


How do you feel this song connects with our generation?  

To be honest, we think it can probably connect with a range of people of all ages. That is not to be boastful! We certainly don’t think we’ve cracked the code as to how to write a song for everyone in the world, but as we said, fear of being abandoned is something everyone can relate to and also something you don’t grow out of.


How does the music fit the lyrics to the song?

We started writing it as a bit of a nursery rhyme. The melody is simple and the hook line of “don’t say it’s a Flying Visit” is repetitive. When we recorded it, we wanted it to sound unpolished. You can hear people playing the instruments; the cellos squeaking, fingers on the strings, people breathing. That’s very much intentional. We wanted it to be stripped back and raw, just like the lyrics. We also felt like we needed to be brave with the vocals. We had the gain up high so you can hear every break or crack.


What is the message of the song you want to relay to your fans?

With any song, we want to convey a truth to people that can make them feel less alone with what they’re feeling or going through the power of music and art! Flying Visit is no exception. It’s ok to love people, it’s ok to feel the fear and it’s ok to say all the things you’re feeling but are afraid to say out loud. Of course, easier said than done if only we all had the emotional intelligence of five-year-olds.

Photo Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Right now, we are obsessed with writing our first album and our next tour in Sept/Oct. It’s funny, we are always thinking ahead but it seems to be scary to look so far into the future! However, we would love to be writing album number 4 in 5 years. We’d love to be touring and playing to lots more of you. We want to go to more cities and countries. We want to meet more of you. We want to expand our sound and work with more amazing people. And we want to go to Iceland again…


What was the most unforgettable gig you guys did and why?

There have been some very special shows that we hold close to us. We played over 150 shows in the past year. Playing some of our dream stages last summer with our heroes, like Robert Plant and Eric Clapton was incredible. Often, the best shows are the ones we least expect. We’ve done some brilliant shows in tiny pubs and clubs where the energy is so strong and the fun goes on and on and on. Other times, it can feel like nothing is going right, and then you get on stage and everything falls into place. Last year, we played The Union Chapel with the amazing blues artist Jerron Paxton. Just before we went on stage, Archie’s guitar broke and we had to think on our feet and come up with something. We ended up doing an acoustic set and having to improvise certain songs in front of hundreds of people. It was a very intense experience and we’ll remember it forever. It was magic.


What is your advice to other aspiring singers?

No one can tell you what is right for you as a person and as an artist, but we’d say the most important thing is to trust your instincts in your writing, performance and in yourself. It’s a real rollercoaster and can feel overwhelming. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is it’s ok to make mistakes and to do things differently. When we started, we didn’t have any contacts to follow a traditional route of getting a manager, agent and record label. Those things seemed impossible to reach, so we just did it ourselves. We put on our own shows; we started a record label so we could get our ideas out there and we recorded/produced an EP in our kitchen called ‘Made In Streatham’. Having done it in such an organic way makes where we’ve got to now even more fulfilling. All we can do is write the best songs we can, give it everything on stage and respect and value everyone we’re lucky enough to work with.


Featured Image Courtesy of Ferris & Sylvester

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Editor of The Scoop at The Guam Daily Post | Staff Writer at Affinity Magazine | Writer at Reclamation Magazine

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