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Gloomy UK Sister Act 2:54 Talks Gear, Goals, and Sleater-Kinney

Sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow explain the process behind recording their last record, 'The Other I.'

Photos courtesy of Joseph Piper

The UK band 2:54, dedicated to a moodily understated approach to rock, has already become a bit of a veteran act in its own right even with just two albums under its belt. Not only did founding members and sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow already have experience in their earlier band The Vulgarians to draw on, the group moved from Fiction Records to Bella Union for the second effort, last year's The Other I. In contrast to bands like former tourmates the xx, where space and silence helps shape a song and performance, 2:54 on The Other I feel like they create a low murmuring aural fog throughout, steering clear of shoegaze's wash of sound in turn. The result is a fascinating tension, one that creates moments of high drama on songs like "Sleepwalker" or "Crest" when a burst of jagged guitar or a change in rhythm cuts through the mix, while Colette's vocals aim for a controlled intensity that almost invite a listener to lean in further.


Noisey interviewed the band before they embarked in late February on their American tour for The Other I, and between an enjoyable extended chat with Colette and a quick exchange of questions by email with Hannah, who unfortunately couldn't be patched in to the earlier call, one gets the sense of a strong, driven feeling from them both about their art and creative work together, an intertwining of passions that translates into music that's both melancholic and steel-spined.

Noisey: Do you find that coming up as a newer band during a time of record industry troubles has presented problems, or have there been more opportunities than you expected?
Colette: Ever since The Vulgarians ended, we just do what we can as things happen, even if the business may have collapsed or changed. It's definitely part of our DIY background. We left Fiction Records and found a chance to be on Bella Union, which has a lot of wonderful acts on it, and it simply felt right. When we met Rob Ellis and then Alan Moulder for work on our first album, that was another example—we always try and live in the present, to see what we can do. For this album, working on it ourselves and recording with James Rutledge, who co-produced and engineered, that felt right as well.

Could you talk a bit more about how you conceived the album's overall sound, what you were aiming for, in contrast to past work?
Colette: We were aiming for an emotive sound on this album, something where you could feel that connection throughout every song. We wanted to go beyond what we'd done before, to explore the possibilities more, especially on songs like "Raptor" and "Crest," a deeper feeling.
Hannah: With music for me it feels like something that needs to get out of my head. I very much follow its lead. I am so fascinated by guitars and pedals, I spend so much of my time experimenting with sounds.


Do you write your songs together?
Colette: Hannah and I work together, but she might come in with a bit of music or I'll come in a bit of a lyric, and it'll develop from there.
Hannah: There is usually a spark. It can happen to either of us.

Colette, as the lyricist, do you find your work easy to explain and communicate or is it more private?Colette: It's something that can be private but I hope it can be understood by others. For me a lot of the feeling of the lyrics on this record grew out of how we felt at the end of the touring for the last one, exploring those emotions.

Is the overall band lineup still the same?
Colette: Alex Robins is still our drummer, but Rich Fry is our new bassist. We're very lucky to have him, he brings a new passion to the performances. He didn't contribute to the album directly; Hannah does all the music in studio.

When it comes to live performances, is the goal precise reproduction of the studio work or something else?
Colette: We aim to get close to the sound of the songs on the record, definitely. But we don't simply want to stay there, we do find a different energy that we can bring. There have been moments on the recent UK tour where we surprised ourselves, and it's always gratifying to feel that.

A quick question about gear: is there anything particular you rely on or use live?
Colette: For singing, normally I just use your basic 58 microphone on the road. But we've recorded with all sorts of microphones in random studios all over the place. There was one studio session I was really worried because it was a £10,000 microphone, I was terrified I might damage it!

You've done enough touring by now to have some general routines -- how do you kill time on the road?Colette: We look forward to soundchecks because that really lets us jam as a band, gives us some more time. But when it comes to the road, that's when you can really get into an album, or do some reading. For me I've been listening to the new Bjork and the new Sleater-Kinney, while I've been reading Christopher Hitchens' biography.

Finally, do you have any particular thoughts for what's next to come?
Colette: We've never had a particular plan or goal -- music is simply something that we do, something that we'll always do. We'll be working together on songs for years and years to come.
Hannah: We will always make music together. It's something we couldn't stop if we wanted to.

Ned Raggett is jamming on Twitter - @nedraggett.