A little over 2 years ago, a young man called Squiff was asked to record a ‘cello accompaniment on a solo EP for a talented young performer. According to Squiff, ‘our creative juices matched’ and so the seeds of Josh Flowers and the Wild were sown. ‘When something’s working,’ Josh tells me, ‘you don’t necessarily question it. Sometimes things come together really quickly; others take a long while.’ Since that fateful day, the band has gone through numerous transformations and most importantly ‘they’ve developed and learnt through playing and performing.’
But however it happened, Josh Flowers and the four other members of his band feel happy with the sound they have developed and settled, happy enough to press forward with writing and performing. Performance Reviewed caught up with Josh and Squiff in the Queen of Hoxton’s rooftop garden on a gloriously sunny Monday afternoon to talk all things Wild.
Josh Flowers and the Wild on:
Josh Flowers and the Wild recorded their first EP in an observatory in Oxford, a place they now consider a spiritual home. This recording, Josh explains, was an exploration of ‘what our sound could be.’
Whilst both Josh and Squiff admit that they’d love to go back and perform or record at the observatory, they both have reservations about returning to old haunts. ‘We’re moving in a new direction now’ says Squiff. Josh warns against keeping moments in the past ‘too precious’ as to do so might threaten future development. I can’t help but feel that this is a philosophy by which they live their entire lives, creative or otherwise.
Unlike many bands, their songs do not usually begin with jam sessions but as personal projects. As Josh explains: ‘I start a song and then take it to the rest of the band. When I’m writing, I have to be on my own, undisturbed. Lyrics tend to come when I’m not even thinking about it, sitting on a bus or something. When your conscious mind isn’t working hard, other things come through’.
When Squiff contributes to the writing process, he has his own place for inspiration: the shower! ‘For me, it’s about finding a place of calm and going somewhere intentionally to write. We went to my parents’ house a while back and wrote constantly because it was the right atmosphere. We were still going at 4am!’
Ultimately, song writing is at the core of what this band is all about: ‘I get a massive buzz out of finishing a new song’ admits Josh.
As most of the song-writing stems from Josh, the majority of the band’s influences come from his personal record collection. In his teenage years, the great male solo artists of the 60s and 70s dominated Josh’s musical education. The prevalence of these solo artists has led to a guitar and vocal driven sound, reminiscent of the likes of Cohen, Cash and Simon. But the band, a 5 piece comprising bass, drums, banjo, cello and guitar provide an altogether more complex sound and countless opportunities for exploration.
In recent times, other artists have made an impression on the Wild’s live performances. Their admiration for the likes of Jack White, with his uncompromising stage presences and seemingly endless ability to entertain, is clear.
What stands out about many of these influences is that their careers have been lengthy and featured consistent change and development. The likes of Tom Waits, famed for his extraordinary willingness to experiment, have left a lasting impression on Josh and his band: ‘this is an attitude I try to have to life, not just creatively. Leonard Cohen once said that you’ve always got to be becoming something new. When things get stale, you rest on your laurels; you’ve got to keep growing.’
Of course, the eclecticism of Josh’s influences and their long, complex careers, present another set of problems. Squiff tells me: ‘We have so many different types of song that writing an album’s worth of songs that really fit together in something we’re going to have to focus on.’
Recording is a process that this band appears to have a natural reaction to. Josh tells me that ‘the place to see us at our best is live, and I think it always will be. That’s the only way to capture the band – in the moment they’re in at the time. Recording in a studio is hard because it’s not a natural environment; it’s a contrived setting to play music. One school of thought says that music starts in the studio and then they try to recreate it live. We’re exactly the opposite. The beauty of playing live is the imperfection. The rawness of it brings it to life.’
Squiff is hardly more optimistic: ‘it can be really fun but it’s definitely a struggle to capture how we want a song to sound. To find the balance of perfection and imperfection of sound in a recording setting is virtually impossible.
Josh: ‘There aren’t many people telling stories anymore. We’re so influenced by Dylan, the godfather of story-telling and many of our songs begin as stories. For example, one of my friend’s godmothers was going to America with her friend, whose husband was on a life support machine. They had to go over there to turn the machine off before bringing his ashes back to where he was from. I thought it was such a great story and it became a song called ‘Ash in the Back’, which hopefully we’ll be releasing sometime soon.
As soon as we start talking about live performance, there’s no doubt what excites Josh Flowers and the Wild more than anything else. ‘Since I was little,’ Josh tells me, ‘I’ve always had this dream of starting a song and people singing it back to me. Because of the instruments we have, we can adjust the set depending on the occasion. But our favourite gigs are the ones where it really kicks off and everyone’s just dancing.’
Squiff: ‘We realised we could turn a gig into a party and from that our performances slightly changed. It’s that moment where you’re playing songs that you’ve created and people really actually appreciate them as more than just “oh, it’s a gig, there’s music.” That, for me, is what my whole life’s about. That’s what I want to be doing every day.’
Bernie, the band’s drummer, wasn’t around on Monday but he let us know exactly what performing live means to him: ‘sweat is an essential part of our live sound. A good gig for me is when I’m wet and hoarse for the rest of the night.’
Josh Flowers and the Wild recently embarked on their nationwide ‘Shoes at the Door’ tour. Instead of packing out massive venues, they chose instead to create tiny gigs in people’s living rooms. By prioritising the intimate, they brought the party to their fans in their own homes.
Josh: ‘We’d just get in there and go mad and have a really good time. I think the whole idea of it was that people would hear our music; it’s an easy way to play to new people and make them feel part of it. Instead of them going to a gig, it’s us going to them and engaging in that way. Doing it like this makes it a really memorable experience for everyone. It’s that group consciousness thing. The internet has made music so transient and even in life it’s rare to live in one moment in the present. You’ve got to be in the moment to enjoy it for what it is. It’s escapism essentially.’
The Wild have just finished filming the video for ‘Kings and Queens’, starring Belinda Stewart-Wilson (Will’s mum from the Inbetweeners), and the future is full of exciting projects. The recent acquisition of their first band van will facilitate further touring as they continue to grow their committed fan base.
They recently played in Hyde Park at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time, sharing a crowd with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Bon Jovi.
Most exciting of all, they play secret shows all the time. If you want to know when these are happening, you need to ask them. Send them a Facebook message and they’ll tell you where to flock for an exclusive gig.
Josh and Squiff are pure musicians. They believe absolutely in what they are trying to achieve and have the band around them to do it. Their blend of rock, folk and blues is thoroughly infectious, making them one of the capital’s most exciting up-and-coming acts.
Go to www.joshflowersandthewild.co.uk to see where they’re playing next.