Faith Eliott on their new album and DIY label

We speak to Faith Eliott about the release of their album Impossible Bodies and launching their own label, OK Pal Records

Feature by Kirstyn Smith | 12 Apr 2019
  • Faith Eliott

Faith Eliott digs a book out of their bag, a battered, worn tome brimming with Post-its and folded notebook paper. Its cover is faded gold lettering and medieval marginalia; it looks as though it’s been plucked from a fantasy movie. It’s The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson. "It’s a 21st century bestiary," Eliott says. "He’s written about real animals, but used the structure of a bestiary. A lot of the poetic language writes itself: animals do weird, cool things."

Medieval bestiaries are illustrated compendiums of animals put together to provide a meaning or a lesson that can be taken from each beast slipped between its oft-allegorical pages. In one, Eliott tells us, a section about bears talks about adults giving birth to balls of fluff which are then licked into their bearcub shapes. "My parents are historians, so that figurative, folklore-y aesthetic is embedded into the way I look at things," Eliott says. "There’s all these different symbolic, very surreal animal stories. I just love them. I feel like I naturally write that way."

Eliott’s new album, Impossible Bodies, is a bestiary in its own right: each song stars a living being – fictional or otherwise – with lessons of love and history, heartbreak and geology sprinkled throughout. It’s clear that Henderson’s book has its grip on Eliott. A chapter about sea sponges inspired the song Loomis, as did the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, of which the Loomis Reef was one of the first parts to die.

"I used to have an obsession with the apocalypse and anxiety around the world ending," Eliott explains. "One of the ways I combatted that was to read a lot about the history of the Earth and realise that there have been ice ages and mass extinction events before, in order to objectify the situation and see the bigger picture."

In fact, a lot of Eliott’s songs invoke the concept of externalising and reaffirming a belief or standpoint. Loomis also points to the fact that sea sponges are unknowable beings from which we all descended, an 'asymmetrical lump' with no beauty standards, leading us to consider the ways in which we think about ourselves as humans these days. Carl Sagan Cosmos Song is a grounding mini history lesson about the magnitude of the universe as seen by someone living with and trying to control anxiety. Lilith, which was released as the first single from the album, references the Jewish belief that Lilith was the first wife of Adam, before Eve came along. In it a snake breaks free of its imprisonment, echoing Eliott’s feeling of being confined in a specific identity.

"I think a lot of the running themes are either captivity or trying to get out of the role that something has been given just by being in the bodies that they're in," says Eliott. "Feeling trapped in your own skin; the struggle between acceptance and dysphoria. I’ve definitely just chosen a lot of animals and projected myself into them."

Eliott is a triple threat when it comes to songwriting: heartrending lyrics, gently free flowing vocals and instrumentation that takes on each song’s very individual atmosphere. It makes sense that Impossible Bodies is influenced by Saint-Saëns' The Carnival of the Animals – a suite that focuses on a different animal for each of its 14 movements.

"I was really inspired by that," Eliott says. "My song about the aquarium (Grouper) is very arpeggiating pianos and swirling sounds." Similarly, Carl Sagan Cosmos Song leaves the listener feeling like a time traveller spinning through the universe: their heartbreak, mental illness and worries about the world nothing but a blip on the horizon. Eliott talks about the Paleozoic period, during which times nautiloids roamed free, the moon was ten times closer to the Earth and the planet was mostly sea.

"You can just picture this giant moon and these huge creatures. There’s a peace in seeing the world in this way," says Eliott. "I find it really comforting – it’s a way to zoom out and see us as little swirling, wriggly creatures. It helps you feel blameless."

Eliott credits a lot of Impossible Bodies' production to the musicians they worked with while putting the album together. They spent a year in the States and met some artists while on tour; the majority was recorded in Seattle. Most of the songs were developed there, but Reuben Taylor – whose piano playing Eliott cites as "an inspiration" – was one musician who wired through their work from the UK. "A lot of the songs were developed with people in the UK," says Eliott. "A lot of the people on the record I met as part of Colin Nelson’s [who recorded the album with Eliott] musical community. Some was pre-conceived and some was a collaboration with him."

Collaboration is something that comes naturally to Eliott. Their latest venture – Impossible Bodies aside – is OK Pal Records, a label set up with fellow Scottish musician, and Eliott’s best pal, Hailey Beavis. Upon returning from the States, Eliott proposed the idea, not quite expecting Beavis to be instantly on board. "She said 'Yes' and I said, 'We’re opening a joint bank account immediately,' I’ve got to lock this down before she changes her mind." Their communication, Eliott says, is seamless, the two have been making art and music for years and they’re both on exactly the same wavelength.

"A lot of very well-intentioned men are out there doing stuff, but there’s always a palpable difference when you’re working with other people who’ve been socialised female," says Eliott. "It does feel like a bit of a relief. We want to support a lot of women, queer people and marginalised people. It’s not hard to do that."

The pair are building the label from the ground up, so releasing first Eliott’s record, then Beavis’ is a way of working out any kinks without having to experiment with their process on any other artists. In the meantime, they plan to continue running regular events, release zines and – eventually – support and release music from other acts. For now, Eliott is happy simply to be representing people who may identify with them.

"It’s affirming when I see people that look like me or identify like me playing music and being onstage or having confidence," says Eliott. "By doing my thing I hope that other people like me feel like they have permission to do that too."

Impossible Bodies is released on 19 Apr via OK Pal Records

Faith Eliott plays St Vincent's Chapel, Edinburgh, 16 Apr; The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 5 May; Skylight, Edinburgh, 10 May; Doune the Rabbit Hole, Port of Menteith, 19-21 Jul