BN1 Talks To… Sivu

Imagination, that’s what drives great music and makes interesting artists. Take twenty-something James Page for example. As sub-operatic, multi-layered pop act Sivu he’s been dispensing brief sojourns from an unspiritual reality, and literally shown us what happens inside his head whilst he does this.

Momentum is gathering for him now, but the growing attention and critical acclaim for his tender baroque atmospherics hasn’t prompted total comfort. “I guess it’s a really weird feeling,” he tells me. “When you’ve been working on something for ages and putting it out there, it’s always really terrifying, because you never know what’s going to happen.” Textural and melodic, his music is underpinned by transcendent and occasionally forlorn lyrics. It all betrays a sensitive individual behind those epic gliding strings.

It is rather apt that ‘Something on High’, his autumnal sounding first album, saw its release last October. He modestly claims he’s been lucky, but it’s clear the media praise is daunting. Two years in the making, Page had trouble adjusting after the release of this debut. Living with it for so long, there’s a distinct loss of control once your art hits the market. But the hurt can be softened by positive critique. “Yeah, the responses seemed good. I don’t want to speak too soon but so far everyone’s been very nice, which is great.” There’s a true demonstration of restraint across his debut, even when covering difficult ground. At times you could even be blamed for thinking the songs sound oddly optimistic. At its best ‘Something on High’ is an exigent and gorgeous slab of left-field pop.

There’s been a large surge in clever music, especially in the last year. Perhaps people are becoming more open-minded. Simultaneously technology has offered the opportunity to do so much more on your own. “People are pushing themselves more. It feels like there’s more alternative music coming to the forefront which is amazing.” For a long time a gap between rock and pop existed, leaving nowhere for quirky bands to thrive. Now scores of exciting records are coming out. Good news for any music fan looking for something different.

His debut single ‘Better Man Than He’ bore an appropriately startling video, which clocked up over 600k YouTube views. Filmed with an MRI machine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, it offered a peek inside Page’s head as he sang. “I don’t know what we were thinking, at the time it seemed like such a good idea. It was nuts. So we thought we’d do it.” Understandably it’s a song he enjoys returning to, its latest video incarnation seeing him atop a cliff backed up by a brass band.

New song ‘The Nile’, a double A-side companion to last month’s ‘Sleep’, shows the praise for the first Sivu album has not rendered him complacent. With tender instrumentation and lyrics tracking the prolonged demise of a loved one, it is all topped off by phenomenal vocals from Rae Morris. Produced by regular collaborator Charlie Andrew (Alt-J) it suggests there are plenty of great things still to come from Sivu. In a perfect world it would kick-start Morris and Page’s ascension to becoming the Richard and Judy of leftfield pop.

Although lyrically honest, he has strived not to make every song revolve around his catharsis. He even took the interesting step of introducing several small stories in the album, attempting to move its focus from himself, with varying success. “It’s strange actually, because listening from start to finish you can see it as a clear picture of what I was saying.” These vocals sweep through scales, occasionally reach up to a bewitching falsetto. Even at his most sombre moments, there’s something uplifting and urgent within a Sivu song.

Transferring the album tracks to a live setting presented a small challenge. Many of them were composed using an acoustic guitar, with a myriad of layers added in the studio. “When I play with my band we try and keep it true to the record. But a lot of the stuff at the moment I’ve just been touring acoustically. Sometimes when I’m playing, I can hear bits that are missing, which is a bit strange. But it can work really well.” There’s absolutely nowhere to hide when performing an acoustic show. It offers song writing in its rawest form. In front of the right audience it can be enormously rewarding. “When you’ve won them over with just a guitar… That’s sometimes the best feeling. But again when you come to those gigs where you’re doing support and people just talk the whole way through and you’re like: ‘Aww no!’ But it has to happen; it’s just one of those things.”

The summer saw Sivu play a generous number of festivals slots, Page joking that he was almost glad to entertain a roofed venue. “I’d never been to Bestival. I wasn’t expecting how mental it was. The people were crazy. It was fun though.” Last year also saw a brief jaunt around esoteric venues in the Scottish Highlands with Paul Thomas Saunders. “We both had a week free and both had tours coming up, so we said: ‘Let’s do something’. We literally just got in a car and drove up there. The shows were so amazing, I think no-one knew who we were, but everyone still came anyway!”

Sivu plays The Hope and Ruin in Brighton on Sat 28 Mar

Words by Stuart Rolt

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