Tony Cummings and Chris Mountford quizzed the folk-tinged new-kids-on-the-block, SPEAK, BROTHER
King Solomon observed that there's nothing new under the sun and certainly the rise in popularity of acoustic, folk-tinged music in British Christian music proves the point. Northern Ireland's Rend Collective have today established themselves as UK Christendom's most popular band but this isn't the first time folk-tinged pop rock has been in the ascendancy. In the '60s Jesus music pioneers Parchment were Britain's most popular Christian band while in 1992 it was the mandolin-driven rock'n'reel of Eden Burning which made them church-goers' favourites. Now the British scene is abuzz with talk about a new band, the Coventry-based trio Speak, Brother. The fact that the group are relatively still in their infancy with 60 or so gigs and one EP under their creative belts they've already got a fanbase growing daily. These are no mere Mumford & Sons copyists but three young men determined to take folk-tinged music into some exciting new directions. Speak, Brother - James Herring (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin), Nathan Morris (bass, percussion) and Matthew Cotterill (keys) - visited the Cross Rhythms HQ to tell their story-so-far to Chris Mountford and Tony Cummings.
The origins of Speak, Brother go back to a James Herring single called "A Place To Call Home". It was released in 2011 and the Cross Rhythms reviewer was impressed, writing, "His voice encapsulates the tender vulnerability of Athlete's Joel Pott meeting the rugged soulfulness of Marcus Mumford." Explained James, "You could say that as an official Speak, Brother outfit we've been playing since January, when we officially formed. But we'd been playing together before that under my name. As a solo artist, I collared the guys in to play a few gigs with me and decided we wanted a more equal ownership over it. We had defined in our heads the sound that we wanted to make. We realised what we were doing together was stronger than what we could do separately. That was our motivation for doing it. So when we became Speak, Brother, the songs and arrangements were already there. It wasn't a musical transition, but it was more of a branding."
The three members of Speak, Brother have known each other for a long while. Explained Matt, "We were at college together, more or less. There's a good scene of bands in Rugby, which we were a part of - gone through different musical journeys. For the last 10 years I've done nothing but music. I've studied music, and I work as a producer: music is a full-time affair for me. I love all kinds of music. Nathan and I work together at a studio called Flipside Studios."
James explained the songwriting process behind Speak, Brother's material. "A lot of them are story-based songs. Some of them are about my own personal things, and some are about people in my life; they're real life stories that other people can relate to. Everyone has relationships and I think it's getting people to think about the closeness of relationships and the importance of people around us. These days, it's so easy to become isolated. You might have lots of people around you, but they're not really around you: they're physically there, but not really there. This is about deeper stuff - the real stuff."
The first track on the group's EP is "Dry Bones". Said James, "For me it's a song of release. There's a point in time in my life where I was pretty much going down the road of isolating myself - wanting to go for something, trying very hard to get at it - and relationships suffered. That's where 'Dry Bones' was written, realising this is not a wholesome life. It's a release of frustration, anger - arms open out wide and letting go of my goals. When I wrote 'Dry Bones' I showed it to Matt and he said, 'So that's based on that Scripture in Ezekiel'. I was like, 'What Scripture?' I can honestly say I didn't know it existed - unless it was subconscious. I was actually writing from a different Scripture in Isaiah 43:19, which says, 'I'll be the way through the wilderness, and the rivers in the desert'."
James was asked whether his faith influenced all his lyric writing. "Yes. Interesting you're using the word 'faith', because everyone struggles with the idea of what faith is - in terms of believing in God, relying on him. I think a lot of songs can probably be from the idea that it's struggling with having faith. Always God is in the forefront of what I'm writing about, but I want the songs to be as real as possible; so they're not all 'my life is amazing - I'm happy'. They're just songs that I've gone through, people around me have gone through; if you've heard the CD a few times, you know what they're about. The last one, 'Two Bands Of Gold', is about my grandparents - a simple song about love and marriage. When I was thinking about proposing to my wife, I was thinking about my grandparents that had not long died - how the positives in their marriage impacted me. It's not directly a song about how God loves us, but God is in that, because God is in love and God is in marriage. There's a lot of a negative stuff that takes God out of marriage; it's something I'm passionate about. All of our songs have something that I'm passionate about - stuff that's real, stuff that moves me. When something moves me, I want to write about. There's this one example where we're playing a gig in Banbury; there was this blind lady there. A lot of people would pity her for not being able to see, but she was probably the happiest person there; and there was a simplicity in being able to enjoy her passion for music. When people played, she was smiling, she was loving it - when there were probably people sitting there, all sorts of cares and concerns in their heads."
Matt had the final word in Speak, Brother's two interviews. "I think that the most important message any band can give to people is that through songs people know that they're loved. Whether they know God and can identify us as people who know God, we want to communicate that there is unconditional love to be found; and as we gig and meet people, we want to communicate stories, our experiences and build relationships with people that just ooze the love of God that has been given to us. That might be in a direct Christian way; most of the time it probably won't be. All we know is that there's love inside of us that needs to be given, and that's what we intend to do through our songs."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.