Interview: Syd Arthur

The Canterbury psych jazz quartet chat about the making of their acclaimed new LP Apricity

Interview: Syd Arthur Syd Arthur have often been pigeonholed as psychedelic jammers – the band do, after all, take their name from Pink Floyd's late lamented Mr. Barrett and the 1969 Kinks album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).

But for their just-released third album Apricity, the four-piece – siblings Liam, Joel and Josh Magill plus Raven Bush (nephew of Kate Bush) – swapped their Kent stomping ground to record in a secluded forested park in the hills above LA. “We’d not imagined making a record so far away from the UK but we decided changing our environment might lend itself to something interesting,” explains Liam.

And there seems a definite sense of West Coast polish to the new album. “Before we even went to America, we worked through 18 or 19 songs over three different stages of demo recording,” says drummer Josh. “We’ve pulled in a lot of ideas and influences, into coherent songs, and we’ve spent a long time crafting things…”

Influences from US-associated genres – funk, soul, R&B - have beefed up the Syd Arthur sound. “Now we’re playing bigger rooms and biggest festivals, having gone from smaller clubs, you’ve got to learn to make bigger, bolder statements,” argues Raven. “You’re trying to communicate an idea in a more powerful way to more people – and have them not being distracted by that band over there or this girl over here! You’ve got to be saying something succinct and direct and powerful.”

For any band with a desire to be genuinely distinctive, however, one of the banes of life is critics comparing their sound to someone else – like Syd Arthur getting lumped in with Tame Impala.

The band themselves acknowledge people include Tinariwen and Bert Jansch – plus a few other grooves... “We’ve been into African music for some time,” says Liam. “I like Franco a lot - he was the one of the first African guitarists I got into. Also, Ebo Taylor’s groove and Bassekou Kouyate's first album we all loved. I really enjoy listening to Brazilian music as well – people like Hermeto Pascoal. Big into Moondog too'.

“We also like modern electronic music,” adds Josh. “Dorian Concept I like a lot and Floating Points. It's all inspiring to us…”

For the new album, the band put Beck's guitarist Jason Falkner in the producer's chair. Did this make a significant difference to how the album turned out?

“There were significant differences with making Apricity,” says Liam. “Working with Jason felt natural from the start and having someone else with a lot of experience in the room got the best out of us. We wrote most of the music back in England but spent a few months experimenting with everything in California.”

The band also have a celebrity fan keen to offer his opinion on their efforts, in the shape of Paul Weller. “Paul Weller took us out on one of our first big tours,” says Josh. “He’s just a legend. His energy is incredible.”

“He’s pretty much the first person we play anything new to, ’cause he’s always hounding us to hear what we’ve done,” adds Raven.

With the frequent links made between Syd Arthur and the old Canterbury psychfolk/prog scene that spawned the likes of Caravan and The Soft Machine, I bring up the name of Steve Hillage - one of the grandees of those old days still making great music today.

“We grew up on all that stuff - and have played on the bill with Caravan and Gong,” says Liam. “But I listened to Gong's Sold To The Highest Buddha last night and it still amazes me those ripping interjections of Hillage's in the verses. So good! It would be cool to make a banging techno tune with him.”

So that's another new direction for the fourth album then.