LOCAL INTERVIEW: Saint Saviour | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“What I wasn’t happy about with Union was the lack of restraint,” Becky Jones, alias Saint Saviour, says of her debut album. Jones isn’t wrong about the full-on nature of Union; it was and still is a slightly genre-bending electro-pop banger that followed swiftly on from her days as a guest vocalist on Groove Armada’s 2010 LP Black Light and working with her old band, The RGBs. It was always the more tender, starker moments of that album that really stood out though, and songs like Fallen Trees and Reasons showed a lighter side to Jones’ music. As such, it’s easy to see why she has abandoned her electronic roots in favour of a more stripped-back approach on her latest LP, In The Seams. Even her physical appearance has changed; gone is the heavy eye make-up and jet-black crop in favour of a more naturalistic look, reflecting her change in musical direction.

In The Seams is mostly inspired by her childhood growing up on Teesside. The album sees Jones embracing her heritage, as well as reflecting on her early life. “Several of the stories on the album are about lessons I learned when I was young, people I went to school with, memories of the cold wind and the hard beauty of Teesside’s landscape,” she comments. Jones’ roots also show in her singing, as she points out: “I made a decision to sing in a much more natural tone and allow my accent to come through.”

Teesside wasn’t the only inspiration behind the new record. “I was listening to a lot of Vashti Bunyan, Sufjan Stevens, Scott Walker, Jacques Brel.” The influence of these artists can clearly be heard on In The Seams; Sufjan Stevens’ ability to weave together eccentric pop with tender lyrics and subtle arrangements in particular seeps through the album’s pores, something that Jones herself picks up on: “There’s this nice balance of gentle folk cut through with a little bit of pop eccentricity.”

Aside from music, Jones also connects more with the natural world. “I was doing a lot of walking,” she comments. “I left London a lot and got out into the country and I spent a lot of time gestating, which I’d never done before.”

The most striking part of Jones’ transformation comes in the musical compositions. While making the LP, she worked extensively with The Coral’s Bill Ryder-Jones, who provided more than just string arrangements for the album. “Bill is really hilarious and made the whole thing very entertaining,” she says. There was also an unpredictable element to working with Ryder-Jones. “On some songs I had no idea what he has written,” she admits, “but it was all completely amazing. On James in particular, there’s a four bar phrase of strings that I have to stop and close my eyes to listen to wherever I am.”

Jones also worked with the Manchester Camerata Orchestra, one of the UK’s leading chamber orchestras. “The Camerata were and are fantastic, world-class musicians. I’ve worked a lot with string session players in the past but I had no idea what it would be like to work with orchestral players. I was blown away by how intuitively they play as one unit. There were no challenges at all working with the Camerata, they were the easiest thing to do!”

the first time we ever rehearsed together, I had to take a break and have a bit of a cry!

The heavy use of strings on the album lends In The Seams its emotional, cathartic edge. Jones admits that “the first time we ever rehearsed together, I had to take a break and have a bit of a cry!” Perhaps this is unsurprising considering where Jones was coming from personally when writing and producing the record; aside from delving into her roots on Teesside, Jones claims that she was coming out of “a couple of years of horrible self-doubt. “It was certainly a cathartic experience. In a way I feel like it’s been a bit of a ‘coming of age’, although I’m pretty ancient in pop terms already.”

In The Seams is certainly proof of Jones’ musical maturation. “My songwriting has come on leaps and bounds,” she states proudly. “I was deliberately trying to create a serene, measured, calm sound throughout. With In The Seams, I made a huge effort to simply allow it to be and not contrive any element of it.”

If Jones has moved on from her earlier days as a musician, at least in terms of her approach to making music, then will she still write pop and electronic music again? The answer, quite definitely, is yes. “I still write a lot of pop/electronic music but I’m not just the singer anymore,” she says. “I love all music and I’m not snobby about mainstream pop but for me as the performer, I’m moving naturally into the area of storytelling and dealing with a wider selection of themes and a subtler way of communicating them, simply because it feels natural for me to do so.”

Despite her frustration at the lack of restraint on Union compared to In The Seams, Jones still feels proud of what she has achieved during her solo career. “I remember reading a St Vincent interview a couple of years ago where she was saying everyone will hate their early work, and it takes a while to get to the point where you can listen and be genuinely proud and at peace with your work. I remember thinking ‘I wish I could get there’. I feel like I’m there now.”

Saint Saviour plays Stockton’s Georgian Theatre with Bill Ryder-Jones on Thursday 4th December.

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