Ferris & Sylvester, winners of the 2020 AmericanaUK Emerging Artist Award, share the performance video of an anthem meant to awaken "the confident, daring child inside the listener" from their upcoming EP.
We shared news of Ferris & Sylvester's upcoming EP, I Should Be on a Train, in our August 10 music news roundup. Today, the UK duo shares with C&I the live performance video version of the inspiring "Knock You Down" from that EP, due out October 2. The song has a rousing chorus that urges listeners "don't let the system knock you down," and it shows the evolution the band's music has taken from poppy sing-along folk to 1960s-psychedelic-inspired pop. Along with the video premiere, Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester answer a few questions about the new direction they're taking their music, the other guy-girl groups who inspire them, and how to be inspired even if you feel like the system has already knocked you down.
Check out the video, then read their email Q&A, complete with British spellings and punctuation, below.
Cowboys & Indians: The EP sounds to me like an evolution from your folky, Americana material to something more like 1960s pop and psychedelic rock. What influenced this change?
Archie Sylvester: There’s definitely been an evolution with this project and one we’re really excited about. Over the past couple of years, we’ve released singles every few months, mainly driven by audience reactions from taking new songs on the road. We’ve released songs as and when they’ve felt significant, all the while obsessively shaping our sound. This collection was written and recorded at our studio at home and hasn’t been played to a live audience, so we had to just trust our gut and go with what we thought were the best songs. It feels so good to release a body of work that we feel is a real insight into the direction our music is taking. We’ve never tended to stick to any particular genre or mood bracket. We like playing with light and shade and have always been interested with keeping that fluidity, never getting stuck in a corner. This record is no different, yet it feels like we’ve created a cohesive piece of work that fits into its own story and embodies us as a band in this moment.
C&I: Before you went into the studio to record it, what were you hoping for it to sound like? What were you hoping for listeners to take from it?
Issy Ferris: We’ve demoed up pretty much every song we’ve ever written from day one. It started out on a two-channel interface and one microphone in Archie’s bedroom, and slowly over time we’ve expanded into a fully functioning studio. When we decided to work on the EP, we’d already demoed up the songs throughout the spring and knew how we wanted it to sound. We then invited producer and mixer Michael Rendall to come and help us take it to the finish line. We’ve worked with him for years and have formed a real connection with him.
We wanted the record to sound fresh, interesting and confident. We’re always keen to push boundaries with the production without distracting from the heart of the song. Recording it in our home studio did bring about some limitations, but that forced us to be creative and work with what we had. We wanted to honour our F&S sound, bringing blues, Americana and folk together in harmony. But we also wanted to experiment and use new instruments, like the Mellotron flutes and cellos, which take the melody in 'Knock You Down'. We were desperate to try sitar on 'Good Man', which was actually recorded in Seattle with Ryan Hadlock last year, and were thrilled when we got that influence in the song, giving it that Ravi Shankar vibe. Archie also made his drumming debut on ‘Knock You Down', playing an old kit we bought in lockdown. It was a lot of fun to create and we hope it’s fun to listen to. We want listeners to feel empowered and understood. It’s a hard time, people are lonely, lost and yearning to connect. If this can bring people joy, then we’d be happy.
C&I: “With a Little Help From My Friends” is a fun cover. It also seems timely, what with people being so isolated because of the pandemic but also just how divisive current events seem to be lately. Were you already playing it before the pandemic and that’s a happy coincidence, or was it a response?
Ferris: We decided to close the EP with the cover in honour of our weekly livestreams that we did across April and May. Every Friday night, we’d play a set and chat to our fans, and every week we’d play a cover. From Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix to Simon & Garfunkel. One particularly difficult week, we were aching to see our friends and family, and felt so far away from everyone. We dedicated the song to anyone who was apart from loved ones, and the response was amazing. It felt like everyone was feeling the same way and that we were able to provide a bit of comfort. It seemed to celebrate the togetherness, bravery and resilience that has come with this year, so it only felt right to include it on the record. Plus, it’s such a brilliant song and was so much fun to record.
C&I: What’s the story behind writing “Knock You Down”?
Sylvester: "Knock You Down" is about wishing you could be younger, braver and more free. The song actually grew from the Mellotron hook. That’s what came first, and it felt different and exciting. It was one of those songs that came very quickly and easily, unlike a lot of the songs we’ve written. Every experience is different. The demo felt really exciting too, in fact we used all our original vocal takes in the final version because we felt we had captured something. For us, it’s the most personal song from the collection, referencing our own childhood nostalgia, like learning about vikings and pink icing on Friday’s. Making this one was a lot of fun and we hope it awakens the confident, daring child inside the listener.
C&I: What should I do if the system has already knocked me down?
Ferris: Good question! The answer is find the child you used to be again, and live your life like they’re in the driver’s seat. There’s such a pressure on people to reach their goals and dreams as quickly as possible. It can be exhausting constantly feeling like you’re failing. Trust us, we’ve been there. But if we all had the confidence to speak our minds, dare to follow our gut and fight like a knight, we’d probably be OK and end up happier for it.
C&I: Who are some other guy-girl pop, rock, or folk groups that are an influence or that you enjoy?
Sylvester: Tedeschi Trucks Band have to take one of the top spots. Their musicianship on stage is incredible. We met them backstage after their show at Wembley Arena earlier this year, and we both got tongue-tied and starstruck. We’ve been inspired by some classics: Fleetwood Mac, the White Stripes, Shovels & Rope, Johnny & June, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. We love the sound of two voices together, telling a story. Not technically guy-girl, but we have to add First Aid Kit and Simon & Garfunkel to the list.
Ferris & Sylvester's EP I Should Be on a Train is available for pre-order now, and the band will tour the United States in spring 2021. Visit their website for more information, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.