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Introducing... Proserpine


Proserpine are a two piece whom create very spaced, eerily noisy music that is incredibly atmospheric. What I enjoy most about the band is Paul Balcombe very soft and melodic vocals over David Johnson's very incredible use of drum machines and loop pedals. Their debut EP Proserpine expressed these talents ten fold and produced an EP that was thoroughly intriguing from start to finish. I was lucky enough to have a chat with them about their EP, their creative process and much more...

Question. Hey guys, firstly, where did the name Proserpine come from?
The name actually came from the song called Proserpine, which is on the EP… We always struggle with naming our bands. The song Proserpine is named after a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and we liked it so took it for the band… although now we hate it a bit. Exceptionally easy to mispronounce.

Q. How did you two come about working together?
We’ve been playing together for a long time. I met David in Manchester in 2002 and he used to put on Jam nights in the basement of Retro bar. Sometimes they were amazing! Sometimes terrible. I brought my guitar and my saxophone a few times and Dave would play drum kit. Since then I think we have played in 5 different groups together… Some amazing! Some truly terrible. But we’ve changed a lot together and refined what we want and grown musically and I love the creative spark we feel when we play together.
Q. Who's your biggest musical influences?
We both have quite different taste but not all the time. I know Paul listens to a lot of Jazz and classical music. But we've both been really impressed by records that somehow manage to sound heavy but spacious at the same time. The production on Overgrown by James Blake is a really good example of that. In terms of drums, learning how to make electronic beats is a relatively new process for both of us. I think the drums on FKA Twigs' stuff is really clever - again because there is so much space and it's complex without being at all inaccessible. There are a few records we have both listened to obsessively - the last D'Angelo album Black Messiah. I still listen to it all the time. I think we listened really closely to the vocal arrangements on that, which made us really determined to think carefully about the vocals on our records. We want them to cut through everything else. We try to listen to new music all the time, feel free to send us suggestions.

Q. The EP's been out for a while now, what was the response to that like?
It’s been great, we’re really pleased overall… It has been a slow burner as it’s our first release and we’re kind of not known at all. But a few people have picked it up and it has been given a fair bit of radio play. BBC introducing liked it and then Huw Stevens played it on Radio 1 which was very kind of him. Plus we’ve played a few gigs since then, which have been genuinely great, probably my favourite gigs I’ve ever played actually, with such a lovely response from people.

Q. How did it feel to finally put the body of work out?
It felt really good. I can honestly say we have never obsessed over something so much before. We spent a long time thinking about very small details. I think it's really important to finish something, even if it takes a while. Everything, from sourcing the artwork (from painter Jonathan Riggall), to getting the final masters, was loads of fun and I can't wait to put some more music out.

Q. It's your brilliantly crafted beats that make you so unique, do they or the lyrics come first
That's a very nice thing to say! We honestly don't have a prescribed process for putting songs together. I think for a few of these songs we had the lyrics first. We quite often both write lyrics but separately. At the beginning of this I sent Paul some lyrics I'd been working on and he cut them with his own. With the beats we've tried really hard to keep things simple, when often it's very tempting to fill in the space. But we wanted strong, clear beats to support the vocals. But everything changes quite regularly so it's hard to know what normally comes first. Now that I think about it, everything might be much easier if we had a beat first. Thanks.

Q. How important is uniqueness to you guys?
I’m not sure how honest this response is, but I hope not important at all. It would obviously be nice if it was considered unique, but it’s not an objective… I think we have had a pretty clear focus with this music, which was to make something simple that has impact, beat and vocal-driven, and to be as stress-free as possible, to just enjoy the process. Because the music is quite held back most of the time, we had a few panics and thought ‘are we just making an incredibly boring EP?!’… but overall we just want to love it and test ourselves and make something we haven’t made before.

Q. How long does it take you guys from idea to completed track?
I think it’s really variable, but generally speaking absolutely ages! We first started making some of these songs in 2013 (I think) and they started off as just really distorted guitar, vocals and drum machine and we played a few times with different accompaniments in Manchester and in Barcelona. We just kept on tweaking them loads until we couldn’t tweak anymore… but then recently we just made a new track which has come together in just a few practices, so who knows! We just like to take a lot of time to think about it.

Q. How long did the EP take to create?
Absolutely ages! We already had the core of the songs and it still took almost a year to do the EP. We’ve recorded various versions of these songs, and this was the first time that we have really used the recording and production processes as part of the creative input… in the past we just practiced together and then just recorded what we would play live. Now it’s about creating the tracks as their own thing and then transposing them for our live setup. I think the next EP will be quicker though. Fingers crossed

Q. I think Circle That Burns is my favourite song on the EP, what's yours?
We've had this discussion between ourselves and I just change my mind all the time. I personally love Paul's vocals on the title track 'Proserpine' and we got to make a video with a filmmaker called Catherine Gomez for it - so it stands out in my mind. It also gives people two chances to get the name right.

Q. When can we expect new music and what's next for the band?
You can expect new music later this year if all goes to plan. We are in the process of recording four tracks, which will either come as another EP or two singles. We love working with other people; we've found an artist we love for our next artwork, I'd love to work with another filmmaker. For our live shows we are joined by a cellist (Liz Muir) and a double bassist (Caitlin Alais Callahan). We definitely want to keep working with them, the ideas they bring definitely make us think about things in a different way. I think we'd both like to bring another vocalist in for some live shows. We don't live in the same city; I'm in Bristol and Paul is in London so we'll come together for some gigs. Pretty excited about it to be honest


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