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Artist Spotlight: Another Sky

Like many of Emily Dickinson’s poems, part of what makes ‘There is another sky’ so strikingly resonant is that its ambiguity never overshadows the message of hope that lies at its center. People might offer different interpretations as to what its titular promise alludes to – spiritual paradise, home, poetry itself – but what ultimately renders her words so affecting is the sense of warmth and comradery with which Dickinson addresses her brother, assuring him that not only is there a way out of the darkness, but that she will also happily be a part of it. It’s only fitting, then, that Another Sky – the London-based indie rock quartet consisting of vocalist Catrin Vincent, bassist Naomi Le Dune, guitarist Jack Gilbert, and drummer Max Doohan – decided to name their band after this particular poem; despite performing their first shows in total darkness, their music seems to illuminate the path ahead through sheer force of will, weathering life’s storms simply by creating their own.

Following their ambitious and intense debut LP I Slept on the Floor in August of last year, their new EP Music For Winter Vol. 1, as its Brian Eno-inspired title suggests, is more somber and minimal in its composition, but no less evocative as it recalls some of the band’s earlier efforts. While it may not always reach the soaring heights of their debut, the stirring atmosphere of ‘Sun Seeker’ or the heart-rending earnestness of ‘Was I Unkind?’ hint at the different ways in which the group may combine their strengths to create something even more honest and potent in the future. Like Dickinson’s poem, these songs don’t ignore one’s pain as much as they attempt to build something brighter out of it. By the time Catrin proclaims that “I will make my own/ paradise of peace” on the closing track, the how is pretty much right there in front of you.

We caught up with Catrin and Naomi for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the process behind their new EP, their upcoming sophomore album, and more.

One of the things that caught my attention in the press release for your new EP was a reference to the Roger Robinson poem, ‘A Portable Paradise’. First of all – and I apologize if this is already a loaded question – but what is your definition of paradise? And more specifically, what does the idea of a “portable paradise” mean to you?

Catrin: I saw that poem on the Underground. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was working a bit of a crappy job. And I saw it, and it just it was one of those poems that just imprinted on my mind. And I reckon – I thought about it a lot for you, Naomi, I thought, if you can’t change the world around you to accept you, how do you find inner peace? [chuckles] Sounds so philosophical. But it was a shift in my thinking from the debut album where I was like, it was so politically charged, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna change the world!” And it was a shift to, well, the world is out of my control. Personally, I’m still figuring that out. I don’t think I’ve found a personal paradise yet, but I’m getting closer. And I wonder what your answer to this question would be, Nay.

Naomi: [Laughs] I think the reason that everything around me is hell, without sounding cheesy, is because I’ve already found my personal paradise. So even if it doesn’t, like, I don’t know – even if it doesn’t end the hell around me, I’m still happy with who I am. I don’t know, it’s a tough question.

It’s interesting, because I immediately thought of the Emily Dickinson poem the band takes its name from. A lot of people interpret ‘There is another sky’ as being about a religious notion of paradise, something that almost exists outside of yourself. Whereas ‘portable paradise’ feels more like something you can create, something more human, and it’s a constant process. Is that something that resonates with you?

Naomi: The two things, I guess, coexist in music for me. Because I feel both – like, it’s a portable thing that you can use, music is everywhere. But also, it takes you out of real life, the present. So it’s kind of both for me. I think the two things can be together. But yeah, music is the only thing that I found that can do that for me.

Catrin: Yeah, anything creative, where you can almost remove your identity from it.

Is that something that’s kind of separate from any idea of religion for you, that definition of paradise?

Naomi: For me? Well, it’s different for me, just because I grew up – I learned music in a church. So that’s how I first experienced music, in a kind of otherworldly – like, performing for something other than yourself, not just for like a show. That’s how I was brought up. So I’ve taken that religion to the side, but that experience of it being something kind of creative, and it’s not about the performance, but it’s more – like I love small gigs, because they just feel so intimate, and it’s not about showing off. It’s just kind of an ethos I think we’ve integrated into a lot of stuff in the band. It’s about creating for something other than yourself, and that’s how I’ve taken that from religion, originally, to how I perform music now.

Catrin: Yeah, like, music as a service to the audience, which we do try and do in the band, I think. That’s really interesting. Me and Naomi have never spoken about the religious side of music.

Naomi: No, we haven’t, actually. But I’ve been in a lot of bands since leaving church, which is a long time ago now, where I never felt that spiritual kind of connection until I joined Another Sky. Which is weird to say, because it’s quite a personal thing. Like, I don’t know how anybody else feels in the band. Something to talk about next time, Catrin!

Catrin: That’s so interesting!

Naomi: But yeah, I think that’s why I know it’s an easy project to be in because it just flows. So yeah, it’s the closest thing I’ve gotten to as church since I left church.

Catrin: It’s the only project where ego doesn’t serve it. So we’ve all had to sort of get rid of our egos over the years.

I feel that relates to the first track on your new EP [‘Pieces’], which I read was an old song originally sung by Naomi. You wrote that together, and it’s about confronting the fear of going to hell for being in a same-sex relationship. Why did you feel the need to revisit that track at this point in time, and what was it like writing the lyrics for it together?

Catrin: We didn’t plan for it to be written this year, but it did feel kind of like fate. Because I think if we had revisited the song last year, I think I probably would have just been like, “Oh, I can’t speak for Naomi, I’ll just change lyrics into something else.” But there was this moment when we picked ‘Pieces’ to go on this EP, and me and Nay just looked at each other, and I knew – I knew in my heart that you can’t change the content of that song, or you’ll lose it. And part of me did want you to sing, Nay.

Naomi: [laughs] It would’ve been a shocker. But yeah, I think it was timely; I had like, my first total mental breakdown because of lockdown, when it first happened in March. And a lot of the stuff that I’d pushed to the side crept up and I had just gone mental, basically. But a lot of it had to do with, you know, my sexuality and stuff that I hadn’t spoken to my parents about. It was just kind of the elephant in the room for at least four years. And it was just slowly destroying me. So it made a lot of sense, although we didn’t actually plan it. When it arose, like the idea of doing ‘Pieces’, it was kind of like, yeah, I’m happy to speak about this now. Because the year that I had had led me to a good enough place to express how I felt to my parents. So yeah, I think it was just good timing.

And the lyrics are different. Because I wrote it at a time –  I was doing my final performance at uni and the band was basically just Another Sky with a few added extras. And my parents had come to the evening to watch me play, and I was talking about stuff, a lot of the topics in the songs that it was kind of a nudge to them. It was vague, but I didn’t exactly want to come out on stage because that would have been really awful for them.

So we changed – this is going on, sorry – but I started therapy last year. And one of the things that helped me was to kind of fantasize or think about what conversations I would have before I reacted to something. A friend of mine had said to me that, you know, you’re gonna go to hell if blah, blah, blah. And so I just imagined that conversation, what I would say to that person if I was in front of them. That’s how me and Catrin approached the song.

Catrin: One thing that really stood out was when Naomi kind of said, “Homophobia is the illness that’s in everyone else, not being queer.” I hadn’t thought of that before, and that just struck me. That has to be in the song, “the illnesses is in you.” It was a really interesting way of writing lyrics, I’d love to do it more with the whole band.

Could you talk more about that process? What sort of conversations did you have while you were writing the lyrics?

Catrin: We just sort of sat there. And we’d slowly started talking about it over the year, because obviously, you were going through it, Nay. We sat there and for the first time, we just had this really open conversation about it. I was really – obviously, as the vocalist, I’ve had to channel someone else’s story. It’s not mine. So I was just trying to be open to whatever lyrics came out.

Naomi: I can’t actually remember specifically what it was, but it was just kind of, “What would you change to make it more current?” Because the original lyrics were set in the past, so I wanted it to be more focused. It was a very cathartic process. It felt like she was my therapist.

Catrin: I kept telling myself, “Catrin, you’re not a therapist, don’t – write lyrics!” But it was really – usually when you write lyrics, you can get really stuck in a hole. So actually, writing lyrics from a conversation is an amazing way to get the truth out. Conversations are kind of the most kind of authentic form of speech.

Was that something that happened when you were making the debut album as well, where you kind of talked through the lyrics and discussed them with the band?

Catrin: No, I’ve never done that before. I was always kind of left to go away and write the lyrics, which is the way I prefer to do it, just because it can be so personal. But for the first time, I was like, well, this isn’t my song. This isn’t my story. This is Naomi. She has to be involved, she has to be there. And it’s something I’d like to do for album two. I’ve opened up a little bit. I’m trying to say, “Hey, everyone,” [chuckles awkwardly], “what do you think of these lyrics?” Everyone’s so great, everyone usually just says, “Oh, no, yeah, amazing.” But I’d love for us to sit down and have therapy sessions through lyric writing.

Naomi: The thing with Catrin is that we all know how good she is. So we never have to worry. And that sounds kind of like we’re not bothered, but she really is just that good. I think all of us have written songs before in the past, but none of us would ever even dream that we were better than Catrin. [laughs] Just because she is amazing, and there’s just, like, a confidence in her.

Catrin: I think as well, I view it as we’re all cogs in the machine. We all have the things we’re best at. So it’s never – I understand why you’d all feel that way, but for me we need each other. Sometimes you’ll write a song, and it’s amazing, but you’ll go “Oh, it’s just a song” and I know that some good lyrics can be put on top of it. And some amazing songs have come out of you all, and I guess it is just a confidence thing, isn’t it?

Naomi: Yeah, Catrin’s poetry – I mean, we will be more collaborative and things but Catrin will always have that, like, top spot in my opinion.

I know you’ve already been working on your second album for a while, and you’ve said that it’s quite different from your debut. And part of that shift is because you weren’t thinking so much about how the songs would sound in a live environment. Could you talk more about how that affected your approach to songwriting and the sound of the album as a whole?

Catrin: It’s completely opened up new horizons, I’d say. I think a large problem with songwriting is making sure it works live because you don’t want people to get bored and you’ve got to rework some songs, especially if you’ve written them in an electronic way, which for some of our songs we have. But for me, I’d be happy just endlessly writing songs and [hesitantly] never have to perform. I don’t know about everyone else.

So the lyrics are a lot more personal, because there’s been nothing – all I can see is myself every day. I never wanted the lyrics to be about myself, but there’s kind of no escape now. So that’s changed lyrically. And then I guess, for you, Nay, you could just have a moment to think, because you could just write a song from start to finish and kind of go to this otherworldly place. And I feel like it’s the same for the boys as well.

Naomi: Yeah, it definitely gave me a lot more time just to focus on not just playing bass, but actually starting to learn more stuff about production. And I just feel a bit more confident in my approach to writing now. But we did a lot of the new songs on the album just kind of passing around ideas, which was a nice experience.

So you have your second album, you have a tour planned. Is there anything else in the coming months that you’re looking forward to or that’s keeping you motivated? 

Catrin: I’m looking forward to seeing how our music is received and the way it’s found. Because everybody’s at a level playing field, really. We’re not at the mercy of festivals anymore; we can release those slow songs and people are going to listen to them without being bored at a festival. So I’m interested to see how that works, and to see the growth when we then return to a gig.

Catrin: I always thought, what a dream it would be to just have nothing but songwriting. And actually, now I’m finding that quite difficult. I think, in some ways, how we are approaching the band is evolving and changing. We’re getting older. We want it to be fun again. There was a point in all of our careers where it was very pressured. And it feels like we’re coming back into our old selves again and revisiting why we even started a band in the first place. But I’ve taken myself off social media, I just can’t look at how well things are doing or who likes it. I just can’t, because you get stuck, you become the band. There’s a James Blake song where he sings, “Music can’t be everything.” And it is so true, you have to have a life outside of it. And then that life informs the songwriting.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

Another Sky’s I Slept on the Floor and Music for Winter Vol. I are out now via Fiction Records.

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