Islet release their new album, Eyelet, on 20 March. The album was created following the birth of band members Emma and Mark Daman Thomas’ second child and the death of fellow band member Alex Williams’ mother. Alex came to live with Emma and Mark, and the band asked Rob Jones (Pictish Trail, Charles Watson) to produce. The album opens with ‘Caterpillar’ which Emma describes as a “song for my unborn child”.
Emma’s heritage is Indian and Welsh. ‘Radel 10’is named after a tabla drum machine, which combines with relentless snare crack smacking alongside multi-tracked variations of Emma. The defiant lyrics – ‘Go back where? No’ – were inspired in part by The Good Immigrant, the landmark anthology of essays on race and immigration by BAME writers. We talked to Emma about how Islet reached out of their windswept cocoon towards tracks that crackle with playful disturbance.
The Demented Goddess (DG): Otherworldly expansions and mutings of vocals, synths, basslines and drums mark the landscape of your sound. How does your band create songs together?
It’s different for every song but a lot of this record started off as small quiet things made by Mark (my husband and band member) and I in the coldest, darkest, dampest room at the back of the house after the children had gone to bed. Elements get added over time.
Sometimes I will sit with a mic and the computer on my own to come up with the vocal line. This album was the first that we made whilst not being primarily a live band, so it comes from a quieter and calmer starting point.
DG: Your music has been called dreamy and psychedelic – though the complex, jazzy drums can be rock hard. Are you drawn to escaping reality, or finding it?
Escaping reality, for sure. I want music to carry me, to take me somewhere else. I could quite happily live my entire life reading fiction in bed. I have to shoehorn my mind into starting anything creative, the only reason I make anything at all is because once I’ve started I can’t stop.
DG: Your vocals may be enchanting but, as in ‘Good Grief’ and ‘Clouds’ they are also probing and determined. What guides you in deciding how to sing?
Probably a combination of technical limitation and deep love of many different kinds of singers. I want to be all the voices as much as I can. Last year, whilst we were making this record, laryngitis haunted me for months. I kept having to cancel sessions, so by the time I got to sing the high notes I was really having to clutch at them. I do relish the physical act of singing, I enjoy the machinations of my body in that way. I’m not someone who grew up singing or was ever encouraged to sing so it feels like an enormous pleasure to do it at all.
DG: ‘Sgwylfa Rock’ is one of the band’s most psychedelic tracks on this new album, blurry vocals and squidgy synth punctured by the drum attack. The festival experience is expressed in the lyrics: “Why are my eyes wet, why am I crying, 125000 people jumping in unison.”
What’s been your most sublime experience of live performance, either of your own music or another artist?
That “125000 people” line is lifted directly from a vision Alex (band member) had, of 125000 people jumping to one of our songs at Fuji Rock festival. That’s not a vision I have ever shared. I transposed it to ‘Sgwylfa, a hill we live at the foot of. Maybe I’m more grounded than I like to think. There is a murky sublime joy of playing live, though, especially if rocking out. An intoxicating adrenalin high, a quasi sexual release that forms some of my most blissful memories.
DG: Where did you shoot the video for ‘Geese’? Is town or country better for dreaming?
It’s shot a bit further south than where we live, still on the Welsh side of the border near Abergavenny, on account of the windswept hills being slightly more dramatic. The pampas grass is in a urban park, though. It reminds me of surburbia, there is none of that around where I live. Country is definitely better for dreaming. Until I moved to rural Powys, five years ago, I was a complete townie, to me the countryside was exotic and romantic. Now it’s a lot more functional, but quiet and lonely which are imperative conditions for dreaming.
Follow Emma Daman Thomas on Twitter @emma_daman and @islet.