Ferris & Sylvester are an up and coming Americana band consisting of Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester. They began their first ever headline tour at the beginning of 2019, and I was lucky enough to catch them in Brighton for a quick chat before their gig at The Prince Albert.
Agnete Westphal Johansen: How has it been being on your first tour? It must have been quite exciting.
Archie Sylvester: It’s been quite overwhelming because we’ve done the UK a handful of times as the support. We actually played in Glasgow last year 6 or 7 times, but always as the support. We were slightly nervous to put the tickets on sale as the headliner. It’s just been so overwhelming because this is the 7th show in a row that has been sold out. We’ve been so fortunate to be able to go to Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, and Exeter, and London, and having people singing our songs back to us. That is a feeling that I don’t think we’re ever going to get used to. We’ve only got 3 shows left including tonight and I think when it finishes we’re going to have the tour blues.
Issy Ferris: Absolutely! We’re loving it and we’re having the best time.
AWJ: Do you have a favourite song to play live?
IF: For me, it has definitely changed each night because every audience is so different, that’s what I find so amazing. Each experience has felt very unique. Last night, we were in London, which was obviously a great gig, and playing ‘Sickness’, which was our last song of the set, felt really special last night. We made everyone these fox masks, and we just had this weird and wonderful fox rave – it was amazing!
AWJ: Does it feel different to play a gig in London because that is where you recorded your EP ‘Made in Streatham’? Is it a different feeling in some way?
AS: It really shouldn’t be but somehow it is.
IF: But every show is different. When we went up to Glasgow, we were playing in this tiny room, but everyone was just going mental for it on a Tuesday night. We played a Saturday night in Exeter, which is Archie’s home town and that’s where we’ve got our BBC Introducing platform, and that was wild. That was probably our favourite night. Every night is different depending on the context of it. It’s interesting how you can go around the same country and it can just be literally different.
AS: But the crowd were really warm in London last night. I’m so excited for tonight in Brighton as well because Brighton is such a great spot for live music.
AWJ: Do you have a specific song-writing process?
IF: We don’t really have a process. There isn’t a pattern to the way we write. We both write the music and we both do the lyrics. Sometimes one of us does one thing more than the other or sometimes one of us will bring a developed idea or just a word or a guitar lick. We have always tried to keep it quite fluid and to not get trapped by any rules. You can sometimes potentially limit yourself. We try to keep it as open and free and creative as we possibly can. Even if it turns out to be a bunch of rubbish, that’s always a good place to start from.
AWJ: I feel like you can hear that in your songs as well. They feel quite different. ‘Better in Yellow’ does not sound like ‘Sickness’ for example.
IF: I think we’ve always sort of had it in our heads that it’s all about the song and if you can make that song as good as it can be without the context of the other ones. That can sometimes be quite interesting.
AWJ: How did you know that you wanted to pursue music? Where did that come from?
AS: I guess, it’s actually kind of similar for the both of us. We both have quite musical parents, especially both of our dads are into music. My dad plays guitar as well. He plays better guitar than I do, so I’m still trying to catch up.
IF: It’s amazing going to Archie’s house actually. I’ll be upstairs, and I’ll hear someone play guitar and it’ll take me a while to work out if it’s Archie or his dad. They both play so well and they both play such great blues. and there’ll be lick or something that I’ll either recognise or not recognise, and you can kind of work out which one of them is actually playing. They’re both so good.
AS: My dad had a massive collection of CDs and at one point they were in alphabetical order. Then I started stealing them and listening to them on my HIFI and I would start from the A’s with The Allman Brothers and ACDC, all the way down to ZZ Top. I literally would listen to all of them and never put them back in alphabetical order. They never got put back in alphabetical order because then the iPod came along, and he doesn’t use the CDs anymore. And now there’s Spotify and Apple Music so they’re never going to be put back in order now. I think it’s the same for Issy because your dad was into music as well.
IF: I think it was also, you know, when you’re a child and you find something you love doing, you don’t think; Ok, I’m going to have a career in music, or I’m going to be a pop star. You just do what you like doing. I’ve never been particularly talented in terms of picking up an instrument and just being able to play like Archie can. I have always been fascinated with music and with writing. For me, it was more the writing that really took my fancy from a young age.
“Suddenly we were writing these songs …that felt more important than what we did before”
AWJ: There has never been any plan B for you?
AS: It’s always been what we dreamed of for sure. Up until quite recently, we both had day jobs. I’ve been a delivery driver and Issy used to be a nanny. But we don’t have time for that!
IF: No, we can’t do that anymore. You do find that with music and with writing that it kind of overlaps a lot of stuff. For instance, I love the theatre and I love poetry, and I think it can cross into other different creative things.
AWJ: How did you know that you wanted to do this together? What do you think makes the two of you such a great combination?
AS: We were both solo acts when we met, and I went to see a gig of Issy’s and I was dragged there as a wingman by a friend of mine who fancied Issy. I guess we have him to thank, really. I really liked Issy’s lyrics and Issy’s voice. I thought she had some great songs and we chatted briefly afterwards, and I said: Do you want to do some writing? I didn’t say; let’s start a duo. That was not anywhere near what I was thinking of. I said: I really like your lyrics because you write very honestly, and I’m really into that as well and maybe we should write together.
IF: When we met neither of us were like; right, let’s drop our lives and run off to the distance together and start a duo and quit our jobs. I think it kind of happened very organically, to the point when we were in the depth of it, we hadn’t really realised. In a way, it just felt like it was ‘meant to be’. We had just met and suddenly we were writing these songs and creating this sound that felt more important than what we did before.
AS: It was probably when we went to see Youth as well. He was a producer that I had known for years who ended up doing our first EP. He’s a good friend of ours now. I took Issy to Youth’s house and we played him some songs. We just sat there, and we sang him ‘Save Yourself’ which we’ve ended up releasing and ‘Berlin’ which we also ended up releasing. We sat there and played him both of these songs and he said: I really, really like this, let’s record it. So, we did.
IF: We didn’t have a name. We had to come up with a name, so people could actually call us something.
AS: That probably gave us the confidence to really concentrate on it, I think. We were really excited by it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bothered phoning Youth up and try to get in the same room with him and play him our songs. When he said; Yeah, I love this, we went: OK! Good, let’s go for this!
AWJ: After this tour is done, what comes next? What are your plans?
IF: We are going to lock ourselves away for a couple of weeks and get some recording done and get some writing done. It is the most important bit. Running your own business and touring, sometimes your creativity is a bit deprived, so that’s a really exciting and important thing for us to do. We’re off to the States for the first time next month for South by Southwest (SXSW). We’re going over there with BBC Music and Huw Stephens. That’s a really big milestone for us. Then we’re coming back and will be doing some more touring. It’s a busy, busy time but we’re just so excited about it.
Although their tour has come to a close, you can see them perform again, across the UK, in April.
Photo by Daniel Alexander Harris