The best bands are formed not by people who decide on music as a viable career path, but by people who have no choice.
“When I was ten I got a nylon-stringed guitar and a Beatles songbook and that was it: I was going to be a songwriter,” says Will Taylor of Flyte, who have just made an album of perfectly constructed songs rich with deep harmonies, sunny melodies, and the happy/sad uncertainties of life and love. “I didn’t even do my A levels. I love reading, I’ll continue to educate myself, but I was so sure I wanted to be in a band that staying at school seemed completely pointless. Mum was a bit upset, especially as she’s an English teacher, but I think I made a good case for it.”
Flyte’s debut album shimmers with a very English melancholy. There is ancient, churchlike resonance to the choral harmonies of Annie & Alistair, a tale of the twelve-step programme at Alcoholics Anonymous. There is something of Orange Juice’s sun-dappled innocence to Victoria Falls, and shades of Simon & Garfunkel in the beautiful acoustic ballad Orphans of the Storm, but also the spirit of the English outsider, romantic and hopeful and never entirely satisfied, running throughout the album. You can hear it in Sliding Doors, a Talk Talk-inspired tale of a suicide, and in Cathy Come Home, in which the parents of a girl whose boyfriend has been beating her up beg her to return to the family fold. Not so much drawing on his own life as seeking experiences to then reflect upon, Will’s style of writing has as much in common with George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh as it does with Nick Drake, Ray Davies, or any number of songwriters who have tapped into the English malaise for inspiration.
“Being an English songwriter is tainted ground,” says Will, “but all the poetry I’ve mustered is about the sadness and mournfulness that penetrates English life. Cathy Come Home, for example, is about empty nest syndrome, and the pain of seeing a child moving into adulthood. Orphans of the Storm gets its name from a chapter in Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps it is because I come from Winchester, which I have a massive chip on my shoulder about because it is so incredibly safe and middle class and my dad taught at the college for clever people, while I went to the local comp, but I can’t get away from that kind of sensibility.”
Flyte’s story begins at that comprehensive in Winchester when Will, aged thirteen, formed a band called the Ashbys with drummer Jon Supran. (“We had a tiny bit of hype. Lily Allen said she liked one of our songs.”) Needless to say, there was still much growing up to do, and after leaving school, after spending six months in San Francisco and a year in Paris with his then-girlfriend, Will reconnected with Jon and bassist Nick Hill, another school friend. Then in 2013 Will spotted Sam Berridge, the band’s classically trained keyboardist and guitarist, busking at Tottenham Court Road station. Ten years of waiting for something to happen, forming a band with three other musicians gifted with great singing voices, and a serious case of heartbreak — Will’s girlfriend ended things not long after Flyte came together — gave the band all the ingredients they needed to hit the ground running.
“My soon to be ex-girlfriend made a video on an iPhone of us playing Faithless,” says Will. “It snowballed from there.”
Once the band had a deal in place with Island Records, after releasing their first single on Transgressive, and the time to devote themselves to making a great debut, Flyte released a flurry of alternative-indie anthems including ‘We Are The Rain’, ‘Closer Together,’ and ‘Light Me Up’, amassing millions of streams and a dedicated live following – having started their own sell-out Chasing Heaven club night, where friends are invited to play at intimate London venues, with many artists passing through such as Beatenberg, Toothless, and Grace Lightman. But it was one Christmas night that spelled a Flyte-movement – when Will and Sam uploaded a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ to their Facebook page. The heart-wrenching interpretation racked up over 1M streams, with fans wanting more sessions. The band began carefully curating covers in London landmarks with towering acoustics, including Heaven Talking Heads, and Archie Marry Me by Alvvays, which features on the record.
Earning a reputation for their trademark vocal arrangements, the goal was to come up with a sound that acknowledged the music they loved, from Nick Drake to Mac DeMarco to Vangelis’s soundtrack to Blade Runner, without being derivative or overly reverential. Sam says Flyte found their voice by “forcing restriction on the music, and by making the most of having four singers in the group. When we realised it was a unique thing to have four people who could sing in harmony we emphasised that. We knew it wasn’t going to sound like anything else.”
“We would be in the studio and say to each other: ‘wouldn’t it be great to have some strings here?’, or, ‘Let’s get a wicked synth line on this track,’” adds Will. “And we always conclude, ‘No, let’s do it with the voices because it will always work that way. And it’s our way.’”
No album worth its place in the pantheon is made without the spilling of much blood, sweat and tears. Flyte don’t make life easy for themselves. They never use Pro Tools, instead practising intensely, honing and crafting each song until they know they can do a great live take of it in the studio. Harmonies are captured by having three voices sing into one microphone rather than using the more common modern technique of layering with overdubs.
“None of the albums that inspire us as musicians are heavily edited, polished or overproduced,” says
Sam, “so we didn’t want ours to be either.”
Each member of the band contributed to the music, to which Will then added the words, but that doesn’t mean it was plain sailing. “Our process of making music is democratic but frustrating,” Will explains. “Dreams get crushed on a daily basis because everyone has a say, so you have to let go of something you might be particularly proud of. There is a lot of arguing, crying and hating each other and I want to die most of the time, but the end result makes it worthwhile.”
“We do endless jam sessions and if something sticks, then someone goes home and gets a melody to go on top of it,” says Sam. “But over the past year, we’ve realised the best point in a piece of music is when you’ve just come up with it. From then on until the end of time you’re going to hate it. You want the album to be perfect, which is impossible. The propensity for going totally insane is very high.”
“Even the other day, Jon got obsessed by how there was slightly too much top end on his hi-hat on one track,” says Will. “But we’re all like that. We’re just upset that we can’t have an infinity to turn our album into the most perfect thing ever made by man, woman or child. As a result I think we’ve ruined our career and everything will turn out awfully.”
Now you listen to Flyte’s life-affirming album of tightly constructed songs, which flow by with the ease of a summer breeze while holding stories that go to the heart of what it is to be alive, and decide for yourself if that scenario is likely to happen.