BDY_PRTS on their debut album
With their debut album, Fly Invisible Hero, set for release this month, we speak to BDY_PRTS about their writing process, pop sensibilities, friendship and, surprisingly, llamas...
"Me and Jenny both used to have fringes, and llamas kinda have those wee fringes?" Jill O'Sullivan cackles. "Llamas – they seem social yet dignified, compassionate yet, y’know, they won’t take shit from anybody."
"They’ll spit on you," Jenny Reeve interjects. "They have, over the years that we’ve been writing, developed into our spirit animal. They’ve worked their way into our consciousness. They chose us. We didn’t choose them." This llama chat isn’t out of the blue – Reeve is currently on the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia visiting family. The large farmland she’s staying on has alpacas, who the band would throw into that same 'spirit animal' category.
"The alpacas are at the bottom waiting for their breakfast. There’s a collie dog called Sally and she’s at the door right now whining. Sally’s my new pal," Reeve says. "And there’s chickens as well! Every so often the chickens will run past the window."
"That’s amazing!" O'Sullivan responds. The two have some light catching up to do given the time difference (O'Sullivan is currently in Glasgow), but travelling is nothing new for the duo. Both have family abroad – O'Sullivan's are in Chicago – and the relentless life of a touring musician is initially what drew them together. "You see a van and your bandmates," O'Sullivan starts. "We tour with guys so – I’m just going to go ahead and say it – you see your bandmates' hairy butt cracks. That’s not a complaint, I just think that we bonded in that way."
Conversation is shockingly fluid for a three-way Skype, which is in part down to the pair's professionalism. Both have lived much of their lives in bands – Reeve, as well as having performed with the likes of The Reindeer Section and Arab Strap, is perhaps best known for Strike the Colours, and O'Sullivan’s work with Sparrow and the Workshop is just as celebrated. After working in an indie-rock background, BDY_PRTS are one of many acts exploring the thrill of contorting pop music's usual shapes.
"We met the day that we wrote our first song, which is probably quite unusual..." Reeve tells us of their involvement in the Fruit Tree Foundation musician's workshop in 2010. "We could have been put together with any combination of writers in that house." O'Sullivan adds, "We were put in a room that was quite cold. At some point, James Yorkston wandered in and sort of boasted about how him and Scott from Frightened Rabbit were playing in a room that had a fireplace, so me and Jenny were like, 'Our goal now is to oust them', and we somehow managed to convince them that the room we were in was better than theirs."
"I think that was about six hours in and they were finished anyway…" Reeve recalls; O'Sullivan adding: "Aah those bastards!" It was two years after writing those initial songs that BDY_PRTS became fully-formed. "We were just too busy having a nice time," Reeve laughs. "It would be 'let’s just go out for one pint', and somehow, it [would be] five in the morning in front of a casino."
As frequent travellers, we ask why Glasgow makes for a good base? "People will help one another out," says Reeve. "Everybody’s skint as well, and that comes into it too. You do it because you love it... We received funding from Creative Scotland and PRS Women Make Music. We’ve been able to pay people that we love and respect the money that they deserve for doing the work, but I think even if we didn’t have that, they’d do it anyway." O'Sullivan agrees, "Nobody is up their own arse."
The openness of the Glasgow scene has given the band a greater pool of sounds to play with, but their connection is key: "What the song is exists between me and Jill in the room while we’re writing," Reeve says. "We’re not really sure where the original idea comes from," O'Sullivan adds. "It sort of feels like an organic creature that’s growing and getting new limbs as it grows..." Reeve continues: "This is the thing! You could never say 'Oh I wrote that melody.' The lyrics tend to happen at the same time.
"Then we go to Jonny [Scott] who’s working with us on the production, who's also our drummer. Jonny’s take on things then informs how that song takes shape." Tyler, The Creator, Kendrick Lamar and 90s R'n'B are just some of the surprising influences that appear on Fly Invisible Hero, while much of its humble swagger evokes Fleetwood Mac. "There are influences coming from all over the shop," says Reeve, "but I’m taking cues from what Jill is doing, and vice versa."
Self-releasing means the pair have total control and every element can be their own vision, heard in the raw vocal presentation. "It is those things that make albums or songs human," O'Sullivan says. "If you rule all that stuff out and you Auto-Tune everything, you end up with a really sanitised sound, and I don’t think that’s us at all."
BDY_PRTS have had success already, but streaming has made it more challenging to survive. Reeve is audibly frustrated. "We had almost a quarter-mill plays of Cold Shoulder. While that’s good, the amount of money that we had for those plays was not good..." Suddenly, our connection collapses. Eerily, Reeve’s voice breaks up the moment we mention Spotify. We suspect subterfuge. But the duo know each other well enough to translate thoughts, it seems. After a moment of silence, O'Sullivan concludes: "I think you can get to a point where you think, you know what, there’s sometimes more power in doing things yourself."