1710 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA, 94103
Doors 6:00 PM / Show 7:00 PM
It starts with a breathless, brimming affirmation of enduring love and ends with a becalmed reflection on life and loss as dusk draws in. Between these two elemental bookends Stornoway's superb second album pauses to contemplate birth, death, family, sex, nature, joy, pain and the precise location of home. There are Turkish zithers and there are German spoons. It is the sound of one long song of life unfurling.
Singer and principal songwriter Brian Briggs describes Tales From Terra Firma as "an album of stories about rites of passage." If there is one unifying theme it is the troublesome task of leaving behind the easy certainties of youth to wrestle with the complexities of adulthood, all the while trying to retain a sense of wonder at the world. Drawing from influences as varied as Tom Waits, John Adams and David Gilmour, with nods along the way to 19th-century poets John Clare and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it is a multi-textured, hyper-melodic, stirringly emotional piece of work. It is also a fantastic pop record.
We should expect no less. Stornoway lit up 2010 with their thrilling debut Beachcomber's Windowsill, the culmination of a five-year journey which had its starting point in a Freshers week meeting at Oxford University between Briggs and the band's arranger and multi-instrumentalist Jon Ouin. After hooking up with South African born brothers Rob (drums) and Oli Steadman (bass), the band honed their sound and aims, self-releasing a series of EPs before finally signing to 4AD for the release of Beachcomber's Windowsillin May 2010.Hailed from the rooftops for its melodic magnificence and imaginative arrangements, the album reached the Top 15 in the UK and led to tours of Europe, Australia and America, numerous memorable festival appearances and a sold-out show at London's Somerset House. They even found time to collaborate with Kathleen Edwards on a track on her 2012 album Voyageur, produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.
Ouin describes the afterglow of all that activity as "very positive indeed - to a certain extent we still can't really believe that we're in the position we are." When it came to approaching their second record there was an awareness that "we had something to live up to", but their stringent quality control mechanisms proved liberating rather than stifling. On Tales From Terra Firma Stornoway granted themselves permission to cast the net of their imaginations wider than ever. "I think this album is more complicated in some respects, and it feels like it has more substance, more weight," says Ouin. "We've been able to be a little more ambitious, partly because of the nature of the songs, and also we've got more into taking a few more risks in the production side of it. Hopefully there is a slightly better match between the mood of the songs and the production and arrangements."
The band were harvesting ideas for new songs even before the release of Beachcomber's Windowsill. The majority were written by Briggs "in a campervan amongst some garages in just about the most urban part of Oxford. It is my tiny 'adventure capsule' which in the smell of the upholstery alone can transport me to wherever I need to be for the purposes of songwriting."
"Our music is about more than just the songs we play," says frontman Cameron Neal, "It's about losing yourself in the sound and creating an experience that sticks with you long after the show is over." With Cameron on vocals and guitar, Alberto Roubert on drums, Cody Fowler on bass, Zach Zeller on keys, and Alex Coleman on guitar, an experience is what you get when seeing Horse Thief live.
Some songs on the Grow Deep, Grow Wild EP, such as "I Am The Bear," hint at influences like The Smiths, while others like the Oklahoma anthem, "Warrior," draw upon the band's raw, epic psyche-rock tones.
Originally hailing from Denton, Texas, the band decided to attend the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO) which is how they came to share the same management team as label-mates The Flaming Lips.
Before the start of school the band took a trip to Creede, Colorado to write new material before starting their new lives in Oklahoma. They discovered the name Horse Thief while looking at a map of local hiking trails and realized the name chimed with the freewheeling feelings their music conveys.