Ferris & Sylvester
Better in Yellow
Better in Yellow is available via:
Folk; Singer-Songwriter; Blues
17th November, 2017
I shall not obsess too much about…
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel A Harris Photography
the fact Ferris & Sylvester are a duo. I have spoken a lot about two-piece acts – so I shall not go back to that well too much. What I do want to look at is the bond between Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester. I will also talk about sounds that reflect New York’s Greenwich Village/the 1960s; pairing two distinct personalities into a cohesive whole; how a consistent act can ensure they are kept in the mind; why the likes of Ferris & Sylvester should feature on the big ‘ones to watch’ lists; how the London-based duo will progress from here – and how their visual aspects aid and heighten their music. You only need listen to the music of Ferris & Sylvester to know they have a deep friendship and understanding. I am not going to speculate whether the connection runs into a romantic territory – I am not a tabloid journalist – but you can see a real affection and love between them. You know they are committed to one another – but that respect and bond are all to do with making the music as good as it can be. Every new act I look at; I explore the sound on offer and how it came to be. The duo met as solo musicians and, over time, established this ingrained partnership. Since early-2016; the stunning duo has made big steps and changed their sound. They have a solid foundation but it has taken in new shades and influences over time. Every song of theirs I hear; I can hear that kinetic energy and the close ties Ferris & Sylvester share. They are always on the same page and have a democratic working process. If it was a duo where a passion/sexual relationship was involved; perhaps there would be fewer compromises or fewer risks would be taken. The fact the London duo produce music that flies and flows leads me to believe they place the songs themselves above everything else. Sure, they are close-knit and together but the deepest connection they have is the need to get their music out to the people.
What amazes me is how complicated and simple the relationship, at all once. The duo produces music that sounds easy and accessible but, when you listen hard, you can hear the work and effort that goes into it. There are layers and different angles; it is a heady brew that throws so many colours into the pot. It is an intoxicating and arresting spread that, I imagine, is the result of a lot of conversation and experimentation. I might be wrong but I feel there are a lot of extensive rehearsal sessions and that pursuit of excellence. That is the hard part of the bond: the easy part is how the music flows and sounds effortless. You know the duo has that trust and comfort at the heart of their bond. The music runs free and both players have the chance to express their identities and truths. Both, as I shall explain, come from different musical backgrounds; they are motivated by separate genres so, when coming together, lesser duos might lazily and sloppily combine those sounds. Ferris & Sylvester have those discussions and ensure there is an even balance. When in the writing/recording stage; the two converse and make sure there is no imbalance. There is equal weight and a sense of fairness so both performers are happy and able to express themselves. When you hear the songs come out of the speakers; you get the view there are never any cross words or frustrated debates – although they may flare from time to time – and nothing gets in the way of the pursuit of excellence. I hear a lot of duos and the two are either in a relationship or friends. The former, usually, means a lot of familiar, samey music – they do not make huge sonic leaps early – whereas the friends are more wide-ranging but less intense. Ferris & Sylvester manage to achieve both sides: they can produce heartfelt and deep music but it has a sense of emancipation and playfulness. It is a hard balance to get right – one the duo manage to nail and own.
I want to talk about the Greenwich Village-inspired sound a number of artists are utilising today. There are a few acts, like First Aid Kit, who put together some of Bob Dylan’s Folk sound and infuse their own beauty and direction into the music. There are few who overtly employ the sort of sounds one would experience in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s. There are Blues and Folk licks; a passionate wave and exceptional guitar-work. The songs have melody and bright choruses but there are intelligent verses and richness. It is interesting to hear a contemporary British twosome tackle a distinctly American sound. They deftly take from the classic-era of New York Folk and bring in the colour and rare energy you get from modern-day London. One hears their music and their hearts and bodies stay in the U.K. – the effervescent and colourful buzzes, rushes and shades. New York’s Greenwich Village, to me, is symbolised by something more passionate, intellectual and pastoral. You get the history and heady sensation of older-days Folk; the modernity and urgency of the current times. It is hard listening to modern music and casting your mind back to the past: summoning scenes and visions that are eye-catching, filmic and romantic. You get that with Ferris & Sylvester: they have that affection for classic sounds and a time that kick-started a revolution. It is not only, with them, about 1960s Folk and revisiting that era. The guys, on Better in Yellow, show they are willing to keep that classical sound but put in a lot of modern colours and ideas. It is hard to achieve that balance of old-and-new but, throughout their career, I have seen them evolve and blossom. I will move onto other subjects but, before then, a look at why the New York/Greenwich Village dynamic is one more acts should be exploring. I have been listening back to bands/artists who are either inspired by that time or were part of it in the first place. Dylan is the one that springs to mind; Jeff Buckley, in the 1990s, updated Dylan’s sounds and, in New York’s East Village, seduced crowds with his stunning covers and modern Folk/Rock brew.
Movies have looked at musicians like Judy Collins, Peter Yarrow and Tom Paxton: idols who ruled Greenwich Village and changed music forever. They were seen as ‘protest’ artists but that is a lazy label for acts who were doing something meaningful and showing a conscience. The need to transcend celebrity status and project ego was a result of the shared community and respect that scene had – artists who were affectionately driven to do something new and brave. The gigs were human and open; they were about bringing people together and articulating something deep within everyone who attended. We do not really have a scene like that anymore: many argue we should do something to revisit a time when there was a bond between musician and a sense of rebellion. We have artists who protest now - but there isn’t really a solid and distinct movement like the one in the 1960s. Ferris & Sylvester are not politicised, as such, but they are inspired by the sort of love and harmony that was being created back then, there. They have the desire to produce music that casts one’s mind to the N.Y.C. harmony; the spirited gigs and the sort of possibility that hung in the air. I want to see more modern acts assume this mantle. Times are tough so we need attempt to forge a movement that can address what is happening around us in a very honest and productive way. I feel, through time, artists like Ferris & Sylvester will be able to do that. They clearly know their music history and why movements like that – the 1960s Greenwich Village scene – made such a difference.
I have mentioned how Ferris and Sylvester (very formal with my naming!) have distinct personalities. Issy has softer tones and takes more from Folk. She puts me in mind of modern artists like Laura Marling and legends like Joan Baez. There are bits of Joni Mitchell and Carole King – some of the greatest artists who have ever walked into music. Archie’s Blues background provides a more spirited and electric edge. The mix of acoustic and electric was daring when Bob Dylan took to the stage in the 1960s and faced a divisive and unsure crowd. It is not quite that risky now but, in terms of quality, there are few acts around who can mix soft and energised and keep the music fresh, developing and original. I am interested looking out at the world of music and how it is developing. We look back as much as we do forward: artists are splicing together embers of past decades and allowing their own music to parabond with their influences. That is how much has been since the start but, the more artists that come into the community, the harder it can be deciphering which are worth sticking with – and those who are merely promising. Ferris & Sylvester get into my ears because, when listening to their music, I am transported back to the 1960s and '70s. I am planted in the modern time but get all those classic sounds racing into the brain. There are a lot of duos were the two players are very similar and samey. I hate to go back to Royal Blood but I think, when considering how little they evolved between their two albums, it is their like-mindedness that is responsible. They are unwilling to break from the meaty riffs and stadium-sized sounds that put them into the public forum. Others, away from the mainstream, are similarly stilted and limited. The best duos – and bands – are those who can bind two distinct personalities and channel that into a cohesive unit. I have mentioned, musically, how Ferris & Sylvester’s members differ. In terms of personalities and ambitions; they are on the same page.
I am interesting thinking about their childhoods and which artists were played on their parents’ stereos. I can imagine Ferris was subjected to a mixture of 1960s Folk and some of the idols of the 1970s. There would have the classic, everyone-heard-them artists – The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – but the progression of Folk (from Bob Dylan and James Taylor through to the examples that came through in the late-1970s) and changing face of Pop would have inspired the young hopeful. She would have felt a connection with those artists and felt a simpatico. We often fall for certain artists because they speak for us; their mind and hearts align with ours and there is something about their sounds that runs deeper than any personal/human connections. Sylvester would have engaged with the more vibrant and raw artists of the Blues. Maybe the 1940s examples – more acoustic in nature – would have played a minor role. I feel artists like Eric Clapton and people like Jack White would have made their mark. The way the duo come together and unites their influences is the stunning part. You would feel distinct players would struggle to find an understanding and sense of cohesiveness. Because of their sense of respect and affection; you get music that seamlessly tangles and conspires. I am fascinated seeing where they go from here: Better in Yellow is the sound of now and one of the strongest songs the two have ever created. Since their early work, The Yellow Line EP, they have made big steps and assumed greater confidence. They were working with producer Youth in those days – a pretty big name to have on your side! – and were recording in Spain. Now, their Made in Streatham E.P., shows a geographical and sonic change. Its title is very much of London; the sounds and more developed and eclectic – the result of increased performances and greater creative imagination.
That E.P. departs from the glamour and sunshine of Spain. It was laid down in their South London flat and shows new influences and direction. They are taking a lot from the people and city around them. Every change and rumble gets into their head and inspires their drive. I can imagine the two – whether connecting as lovers or friends – listening to a lot of old music and discussing their tastes. They would put that together with current sounds but you get a sense the pair have that deep love of what came before. I can hear that come through in the E.P. and, as singles get closer together – they are recording more and putting out material much more readily – it seems they are becoming more determined. I have seen a lot of ‘ones to watch’ polls come out the last few weeks. There are predictions arriving that tell us what we should be listening to this year. NME is the latest to release their one-hundred chosen acts for the year. Their cover features the likes of Shame, Banks and Pale Waves. There are a lot of cool and vibrant acts out there but one feels there should be more artists like Ferris & Sylvester on the list. Maybe their rundown is based more on fashion and chart potential – although each act mentioned is very good and has their own sound – but I feel there is too much emphasis on profitability and commercialism. I am excited by the likes of Shame and feel they are one of the few acts – like Pale Waves – who cab genuinely put something unique into music. I hope they do not chase the Spotify dollar: artists often obsessing more over streams and figures than making inspiring and progressive music. I see something in Ferris & Sylvester that leads me to believe they can be staples years from now. I feel the London-based duo will make big steps and, in years to come, become headline favourites.
They have already achieved much but, as 2018 unfolds, that will only get better and strengthen. Their music is getting into some important ears and, with each single; they are bringing something new to the plate. I was going to review London Blues but, seeing as I asked them a few weeks back, they have a newer single out. There are differences between the songs but both have a real sense of potential and unity. They can bring festival crowds together and inspire new musicians. Each track (Better in Yellow) has its own direction and shows how far the songwriters have come since their debut. The Made in Streatham E.P., to me, will be about the realities of South London and hopeful musicians making it in the modern world. One of the reasons I feel the duo will be among the best artists to watch is the fact they take care of the visuals. Their music videos are fresh and imaginative; they are scenic and compelling. The same can be said of their photos: they cast the duo in different settings and are always colourful, bright and alluring. There are a few dodgy shots – a few blurry ones that have, somehow, slipped through the net – but most of them are clear and interesting. I feel a lot of the artists being tipped for greatness lack the understanding and appreciation of visuals. If they are being elevated and primed for greatness; one feels they need to consider the necessity of visibility and imagery. That might sound shallow but journalists and fans will connect deeper with a musician that is willing to show their face. Ferris & Sylvester are out in the open and give information away; they put photos out and want their followers to see what is going on. This year is a big and important one for the duo. They have some great gigs coming out and, with that E.P. dusted, they will look to embrace the summer and attack the opportunities up for grabs. I know they will think about more material but, right now, it is about getting their names heard and discovering channels they can exploit. I know they will be championed and heard but, with so much competition out there, it can be hard to stand out and effect. I know their hard work and creative ethics means, before long, the tastemakers and stations will connect and (lovingly) play their music.
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Alexander Harris
The teed-up percussive sticks lead to a countdown – or count-up, more like – that leads to leads to some slightly off-kilter vocals. They are wordless but have a distinct ‘sound’ that means they are urgent and a little off-tune; infused with plenty of emotion and curiosity. The duo comes together to tell a story of someone who looks better with their hair down. The focus – seemingly female, you’d imagine – does not suit that bowed-down, shy look being projected. They are wearing dark and boring clothes and hiding their face away. Our heroes know (they) will look better in yellow: something more engaging, alive and confident. It is the story of someone who, for some reason, has shied away from people and had their confidence knocked. Although you get the sense an individual is being addressed: it is a more general song that compels those who are down-trodden to open their hearts and let the light back in. If greens and blues and calming and nurturing: yellows and more expressive, energised and frenetic. I get the feeling both of our performers have been in the same position. They are not willing to share their pains that personally but, in the form of a central heroine; they seem to vocalise some of their own pains and insecurities. The composition retains their blend of Folk and Blues; it has a peppiness and spirit; it is lifting and melodic. The vocal blends – Ferris had a deeper and sensual voice; Sylvester slightly lighter and softer – give the song so many different strands and complexities. You get loads of emotions and sensations when hearing the duo blended in harmony. The ill-fated and suffocated girl does not suit black and that downturned smile has been there for too long. The London duo is choosing a new wardrobe and suggesting a fresh emotional dynamic.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Rookes
The girl has thrown her clothes away and, rather than it being a teenage tantrum; this is a crisis of confidence and identity. You get a real blast of festivity and energy when the chorus comes in. There are horn blasts and strummed guitar; percussive rhythms and a real groove. The vocals are light and strident; it is a catchy and incredible sound that gets into the head and compels the mind to wander and imagine. That is what all great songs should do: put the listener somewhere else and get them to envisage their own story. I was thinking about the reason why the girl has been feeling down and hiding away. You sense someone who used to have such a flair and hope - but maybe love and a bad time has dented her sense of worth. There are Blues riffs and stunning solos as the duo urge the girl to keep the yellow on – not sure why she dispensed with that colour and followed a darker path. Maybe she feels a lack of self-assurance and is not sure whether she can come back. I said the song has a more general tone: one can implant themselves in the scene and extrapolate something relevant and meaningful. I was caught out by the changing music scene and fabric. We go from horns and Folk to something Blues and sexy. As the video’s heroine – responsible for those opening vocal notes – has yellow paint poured on her head (managing to smile, despite the fact is must have been uncomfortable!); there is that transformation and realisation. She is awakened and knows things have to change. The chorus keeps coming back as the duo are keen to enforce that message and let the truth be known. Nobody will come away from the song without some form of reaction. It is a track that puts a smile on the face and shows what a solid and engaging presence they are. Ferris & Sylvester have come a long way – and will continue to do so – and, as this year goes on, have the chance to play Better in Yellow to a lot of people. It is another terrific song from a duo who are among the very best in the country right now.
Before February; the guys play OMERA (30th January) and will perform at Green Note on 15th (February); hopping to The Magic Garden on 25th. Those are some important London gigs – and it sees them perform alongside some great acts. They sold out Battersea Arts Centre and, by all means, had one of the best gigs of their lives. It is clear there are eyes and hearts being thrown in the direction of Ferris & Sylvester. The likes of The Guardian, Rolling Stone and MOJO have paid tribute to the band – declaring them geniuses and artists who deserve mainstream success. They headline Camden’s Green Note and, from there, will have their sights set on big success. There is momentum behind them and, with every song, they are getting bigger and more noticeable. Better in Yellow is another stunning song from the duo and an indication of where they are headed. I imagine there are going to be a lot of big gigs and good times for them throughout 2018. I wonder whether an L.P. is the next step from them. That might be a good way of ensuring they pick up more reviews – the media is more interested in albums rather than E.P.s – and getting their music featured on radio. They have a couple of E.P.s under their belt and will be thinking about the next phase of their careers. I cannot wait to see where they go because, with every move, they are getting more assured and confident. This year has just begun but there are those racing out to provide their hot-picks and recommendations. There are familiar names coming through – Sigrid, Tom Grennan and Billie Eilish among them – but there are those, like Ferris & Sylvester, that deserve to be among them. They provide a more refreshing take on the sort of acts being proclaimed right now. The biggest music magazines and newspapers can see the potential: let’s hope everyone turns onto their music before long! Better in Yellow is a bright, stylish and incredible song from a duo that is very much…
IN fashion right now.
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