As part of a generation dominated by the meteoric advancement of technology, we all occasionally fall victim to the small pleasures it provides. My borderline obsessive Netflix habit is a case in point (I don’t feel fully responsible though; it’s not my fault they put all six seasons of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on there). That said, occasionally I manage to leave my house and venture in the great unknown. And the other week, it was certainly worth it.
Ferris & Sylvester are an incredibly talented duo who are based in Streatham. Their distinct ambiance is reminiscent of the countryside but they’re making records in Britain’s busiest city.
I love a juxtaposition like this too much to not want to investigate. On first hearing some of the music they have released so far, I was instantly taken back to the first time that I stumbled across the American folk duo The Civil Wars. And it wasn’t just the music that sounded somewhat familiar. The mark of a truly skilled musician relies heavily on the ability to stay true to your own musicality. When this idea is spread across two individuals, the notion of making music becomes a hell of a lot harder. However, on occasion, some people possess such a chemistry with each other that it just works perfectly. Needless to say, Ferris & Sylvester are exactly that.
With a blend of folk, blues, country and just a dash of Americana, the pair have managed to reincarnate a sound born out 1960’s American, fiddle about with it a bit and make it their own unique blend in 2018. After first meeting in Camden’s imfamous Spiritual Bar, they embarked on a journey that has seen them play an array of festivals (British Summer Time with Eric Clapton, Bath Fest with Robert Plant, Wilderness Festival for BBC Introducing), whilst releasing a debut EP ‘Made in Streatham’ which reached No.1 on Itunes’ Singer-Songwriter Chart and gathered over 2.5 million streams on Spotify. Knowing all this, it was a pleasure to be able to sit down with them both to discuss their journey up until now.
As I settle into a backstage room at Electric Brixton, the duo are sitting opposite, getting ready to play one of their biggest London gigs. But first they have to answer some of my dumb questions.
It’s nice to finally meet you two. Congratulations on your EP reaching No.1 on the iTunes chart and 2.5 million Spotify streams! How do you feel about what you have achieved so far?
Issy: It’s been an amazing year – it does feel like a year, it feels like longer but that’s just down to what we’ve been able to cram into that time. We’ve done the most performances we’ve ever done, plus we’ve put out this record that we are really proud of. We actually recorded it last summer in our kitchen and didn’t know whether anyone would like it, but we’re so humbled by the response we’ve got.
Recording your first EP within the confides of your own flat is an amazing achievement. Was it hard to separate work from down time?
Archie: It always is. When we were recording ‘Made in Streatham’ it was an easy separation because there was no downtime. It was literally just sleep and go again. We’re not very good at going ‘we’re going to have a few days off now’ because in the end, if we’re not being productive then nothing is going to happen. We’ve got to keep pushing, keep moving, keep writing. Maybe sometimes we’re a little hard on ourselves. It’s an obsession, it’s not really healthy but if you love something it doesn’t feel like work.
You draw on a lot of different influences – what artists are particularly important to you and how do they affect you as musicians?
Archie: Wow, the most important question! Well, I guess when we both started we had it in our heads that we wanted to make bluesy, Simon & Garfunkel kind of music. They were definitely a big inspiration for us and still are, Johnny Cash too. But we didn’t want to be out-and-out country artists.
Issy: I think we like anyone who tells a good story. Any of the music that we really get hooked onto is always when the writing is great, when you can capture a moment in time or an emotion. Anything that’s not watered down as well, anyone who’s been creative enough to be honest and out there with their music. We’ve been listening to Alabama Shakes recently, and she (Brittany Howard) has been a big inspiration for our vocal styles moving forward.
I read that you met at the Spiritual Bar in Camden, where you’d both been playing for a while. When you met, was it a case of ‘I’m finally going to meet this person’, or did you have no idea of each others’ existence as artists?
Issy: I knew Archie existed, I pretended that I didn’t though. The first time I met him I bought his CD and then about six months later I was like ‘who are you?’
Archie: Then I went to Issy’s house to do some writing and she had my CD up on a shelf. Actually, tonight is a really nice night for us because Spiritual Bar, where we met, was where we also met Jade (Bird) who we’re supporting tonight. It was about two or three years ago, when we were playing to about 4 or 5 mates, so it’s a great opportunity to be able to do a bigger show in London together and watch both our careers grow from that place.
Where are you both originally from? Is life different in London?
Issy: I guess it is. I grew up in the Midlands, a place called Banbury. I lived most of childhood in the countryside and then moved to a town when I was a teenager. I think anyone who lives in London would say the same thing because it’s so big, but you do eventually get used to your own little space. The places that you enjoy going to, you make it feel like a village as much as you can.
Archie: I grew up in the South West, it’s very different to London. It’s very beautiful but doesn’t offer the live music venues London does. I miss it, actually.
Issy: We love the seaside too. We never really get to relax while we’re in the city. If we ever get to the English seaside for any reason, that puts us in a different place. Archie can fish and we can have a bit more downtime – like grandparents.
You both started off your journey with regular live performances. What’s the best thing about performing and do you have any funny stories from earlier in your career?
Issy: The best thing about live performance is that idea of connecting with the audience, whether it’s five people (which can actually be more difficult) or a big crowd. Like our set tonight, we’ve sung it hundreds of times, but every night is different because you’re going off the audience and the energy of the room. That’s the best bit – it’s never the same.
The first show we ever did was in a vegan café in Camden. No one was listening and I’m pretty sure we got all of the lyrics wrong.
So many music venues have closed down in the last few years due to lack of funds – what’s your take on this and how important was the live music scene to you as up-and-coming artists?
Archie: It’s really important to us. Integral. I used to play in the 12 Bar on Denmark Street quite a lot when I was a solo act and that closed down probably 4 years ago now. And it’s really sad because without these kinds of venues you don’t have your Glastonbury headliners, because they all come through small venues. For us it was Spiritual Bar and to see that place close would be such a huge shame. I guess it just comes down to it being businesses. These venues are closing down due to not making enough [money]. So I feel as if we just need more people coming out see live music.
Issy: I think also the reason is for instance, in the case of Spiritual Bar, you don’t pay on the door. You’re welcomed in and you meet people, it’s like one big creative family. I don’t think there’s many places similar to that anymore.
- (Quickfire) Favourite activity to do in your downtime?
- (Quickfire) Best musical duo of all time?
Archie: Simon & Garfunkel
Issy: Ferris & Sylvester
- (Quickfire) Best musical film of all time?
Issy: Walk the Line
- (Quickfire) North or South of the river?
Archie: South! Come on, that’s too easy!
Words by Thomas Fleury
Thomas is a recent graduate from South London. His work spans anything from music, to film, to theatre. It has also been said that he has an unhealthy obsession with 90’s alternative R&B. He can be found on Instagram at @fleury.t