Family Values: Stillhound on their new album
As Edinburgh three-piece Stillhound prepare to release their new self-titled album, they tell us their remarkable tales of early fame, musical reincarnation and the lows of dashed dreams
Glasses are filled high with red wine and garlicky potatoes are put in the oven, ready for the mid-interview dinner that we’re so kindly being treated to this evening. Stillhound (plus puppy Olive) eventually settle around the kitchen table for a chat in band member Fergus Cook’s cosy Great Junction Street flat.
There's a calm confidence in the three Edinburgh friends' relaxed storytelling. Stillhound – Dave Lloyd, Laurie Corlett-Donald and our host (and chef) for the evening, Fergus Cook – are on the cusp of an album release: this record is the one they know they’ve finally nailed. Their excitement is infectious.
"We started as a group called Discopolis, fresh out of school," explains Lloyd. "Laurie and Fergus were in a school rock band, and I was making terrible electronic music. For some reason we thought that would be a good combination.”
Through the BBC Introducing radio set-up at the time (a system which has sadly become diluted since), the group’s first internet release was promoted to national airtime. "We had quite a bit of bizarre success really quickly. We made the tune Lofty Ambitions in Laurie's bedroom. We were 19 and we were played multiple times, every day, for at least a week on BBC Radio One."
The next few months were a blur of live shows mixed with an array of festival slots; Discopolis ended 2011 supporting Wild Beasts and Friendly Fires at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party and were included in the NME’s 20 Most Exciting New Bands of 2012 list alongside the likes of Frank Ocean and Grimes. It’s almost impossible to imagine what such rapid success might have felt like for the, then, very young musicians. "I think after the Street Party we thought that we had kind of made it," says Corlett-Donald. "But we just weren’t really ready. We didn’t have enough music written. That was the biggest thing… We needed to grow as songwriters."
That wasn't the only issue, however. At this point, the group were predominantly producing anthem-esque, electronic dance music, which – while being picked up by international DJs and gathering the group an impressive fanbase – wasn't what they’d ever set out to do. "We could have very much done the EDM stuff if we’d wanted to. But we just didn’t. Imagine wanting something your whole life, and then you see that the way it’s going is everything that you’ve been trying to avoid?" says Corlett-Donald. "It was like, 'you can have everything you dreamed of, but you have to shoot yourself in the knee first'," agrees Lloyd.
The decision was taken to rename the group and generally transform the overall sound, a decision partly catalysed by the amicable exodus of fourth band member, drummer Cat Myers, who also played in Honeyblood at the time and has more recently been spotted behind the kit for KT Tunstall and Mogwai. "We realised we could keep all these fans, which would look great to a certain section of the industry. But they were going to expect more of the same: electronic dance music. It just wasn't a wave that we wanted to ride," says Cook.
So Stillhound were born, with all three members acting as multi-instrumentalists and writing tracks collaboratively. The group speak beyond fondly about their songwriting, where taking semi-regular trips to the north of Scotland – sometimes for weeks at a time – has become a necessary part of their creative process. Going away together, Stillhound would cut off from city life and immerse themselves in the outdoors, with the space to write and develop the often electronic, melancholic, indie-pop sound they’ve fine-tuned today. "We tried a couple of times in Edinburgh – locking ourselves in a studio and turning our phones off or whatever," says Corlett-Donald. "It categorically wasn't the same."
With a winter trip to Gairloch and a sunshine-filled April in Ardnamurchan as just a couple of examples of their Highland excursions, all three musicians are clear about the relationship between their setting and their songwriting. "I think a big element of what drew the tracks together on this album as one cohesive piece was the way in which we wrote them – choosing two of our trips to write the whole body of work," says Lloyd.
So, how does the writing process work between the three of them? "How a tune starts is different every single time. Someone comes up with some sort of riff and then sees what the other guys think of it. We've gotten to know each other better in writing through these trips, and that sounds kind of crazy because we've been friends for a very long time, but it took a lot longer for us to figure each other out in terms of what works creatively," says Lloyd. "Fergus writes nearly all of the lyrics though," adds Corlett-Donald.
Throughout the evening, Stillhound’s relentless interruptions, insults and jokes with each other reveal a familiarity and intimacy which is borderline envy-inducing to an outsider. "We all see each other more than our siblings," says Cook. "Definitely more than any girlfriend I’ve had, 100 percent," insists Corlett-Donald. "The whole reason for being in a band was about forming a really fucking tight-knit group, or family. It is how intense I wanted it to be."
This upcoming, eponymous second LP is once again released on the band's own Lost Oscillation label. As well as Stillhound, all three bandmates are immersed in a range of other creative, musical projects which include running Leith’s Lost Oscillation music studio and producing solo music, as well as music for other artists. Why have they found themselves making music for a living? What is it about the process that drives them? "I find myself wondering all the time," says Lloyd, "like what the fuck we're doing here – deep kind of life questions – and writing music is one of the clearest ways I've found to rest those concerns."
"When you're writing, even when it's bad it's really good," adds Corlett-Donald. "All the problems you take on a writing trip, or how you feel, even when it's bad as fuck – it’s almost okay because you're there doing something important. The three of us, I know we do it because we have to. For myself, I couldn't imagine life without it. The idea of not creating music, or not creating something, would mean my life would fundamentally not be as good."
"I didn't realise that until maybe even last year, I was still really wrestling with that question," says Cook. "I was like, 'Why did I fall into this, why am I doing it now?' and it's kind of just something that doesn't bear any thinking about. Concentrate on the enjoyment you’re getting out of it."
There is something that does bear thinking about however, and it’s an area Stillhound speak honestly about. How do they reconcile their self-acknowledged privilege with their artistic voice? "There is a problem there, absolutely. Why do I get to do this? Someone else is missing out. But, is that worse? To just not do it all?" asks Cook. "You deal with it by doing as much art as you possibly can because you know that you are in such a privileged position," adds Corlett-David, "and so it would be a travesty if you were wasting that opportunity." Cook concludes: "Even when I have felt miserable, I get to a point where I am like, 'you’re so extremely lucky to have all this.' I just think you’ve got to be as decent a person as possible to as many people as you can be."
Throughout our conversation it’s evident that the trio now have a record they’re beyond proud to release into the world; something that encapsulates their musical infatuations, songwriting abilities and cherished friendship. Post-release, the band are open to what might happen next and it’s pretty hard to imagine that it could be anything other than continuing down this path of creative progression together. "The drive comes from inside," Corlett-Donald says. "People who create something… It ultimately comes from within, and you do it for yourself. If people take it well, that’s fantastic. If they don’t, we still have to do it anyway."
Stillhound is out now via Lost Oscillation
Stillhound play The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 29 Mar; The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 30 Mar