Completing her debut EP with the release of her latest single, Excuse Me – Glasgow-born but London-based singer-songwriter Neev captivates across four entrancing slices of melancholic folk pop.
Opening the set with an ominous, almost tribal sounding verse is Tunnel Vision. It’s a strong introduction, very much on the front foot, and one that quickly surprises by opening out into a propulsive folk rhythm. Musically it’s lovely – with some gorgeous strings, acoustic guitar, swinging percussion, and some slinky bass guitar that really pops in the mix. Sitting confidently in the middle of it all is Neev’s voice – which her Spotify bio accurately describes as “warm and husky, whilst also curious and delicate”. There’s also (to my ears) a slight quiver in her delivery that adds to the beauty. In terms of the lyrics, well, I don’t like to presume to know definitively what a piece of music is about (that’s the beauty of subjectivity after all) but it’s a song called Tunnel Vision that opens with the lines “Remember when a promise meant fuck all ’til I got your call / Remember when I made my mum cry ’cause you said stay at mine” and then moves into a chorus of “So forgive me for the sins of my obsession / There’s nothing more self absorbed than this“. Like the three songs that follow, the complexities of relationships – the ups, the downs, the hopes, fears, and the losing of one’s self – are very much front and centre.
In stark contrast to the opener, Black Over Grey is a more minimal affair that largely revolves around a soft electric guitar and vocal. Again, the personal, tender lyrics are up front – “Sharpening the knife here babe / You’re taking your time / Lying darkened on the couch there babe / Spill your guts, monologue every line“. There’s a mixture of anger and resignation bubbling throughout, perhaps most noticeably in the use of repitition in the chorus to add emphasis. Towards the end of the track, grounding piano chords shore up the second chorus, and there are some great backing vocals bringing the song to a close.
Perhaps the most joyous track on the EP, Forgiving Light rides along on fingerpicked acoustic guitar, piano, handclaps and a beautiful bed of vocal harmonies. When the chorus hits, everything seems to gain momentum – and much like the title itself, every element seems to bathe in warmth. Neev’s vocal is again strong and full of character, and the stop/start nature of the arrangement adds a sense of confidence that’s difficult to resist. Of the four songs, it’s certainly the one most likely to come back and haunt you in earworm form too, as well as the one with the lightest feel. It also does a great job of resetting the stage for the closer.
Saving the best until last, the final track on the EP is Excuse Me. Like the three tracks that have come before, it’s an organic sounding affair built upon an acoustic guitar and a soft, nuanced vocal. The guitar itself is fantastic – gently picked and unraveling in waves. Once again, it’s not for me to explain what the song is about, but lyrics like “Don’t call me what I’m not / Don’t tell me what it ain’t / Maybe I’m a sinner but you’re not a saint” should give you a good idea. There’s an ethereal, haunting quality to the track that doesn’t really manifest anywhere else on the EP, and it stays with you.
Overall, Forgiving Light is a really strong body of work. Neev is one of those artists that feels kind of like a well kept secret – albeit one that more and more people seem to be clocking onto by the day. With her strong voice, excellent lyrics, and a gift for writing memorable folk pop tunes that head straight for the heart, hopefully this EP is just the beginning.
A conversation with Neev
Having been so taken with the EP, I emailed a few questions over to Neev – touching on a range of topics; from her writing and recording process through to her influences, what success looks like, and the future.
(Note: as ever with these things, my questions are in bold and Neev’s responses in plain text).
• Your Spotify says that you’re originally from Glasgow but now based in London. How come you ended up south of the border?
Yes! Grew up in Glasgow and was there until I was 18, then moved to Edinburgh for uni, then London. I originally moved for a masters and it wasn’t really to do with being somewhere amazing for music like London is. Whilst I was down here was when I started writing loads and wanting to perform and just ended up staying here because it’s such an amazing place for gigs and collaboration, I also just have so many wonderful musician friends based here now that I’d hate to leave that.
• I really like the kind of organic sound of the EP. I think that using largely acoustic instrumentation always tends to give a timeless feel – which is definitely the case with Forgiving Light. Aside from yourself, who else plays on the record?
Thank you – timeless is a really good word. Acousticy sounds… I also love the sheer simplicity of it; vocals and guitar together, it leaves so much space for the melody and lyrics which is probably why I used that form so much and Forgiving Light was definitely one of the tracks that I really grew into it.
The track that was the biggest collaboration for me was Tunnel Vision, I wanted it to sound really big and so I really wanted to draw on my friends’ talents. On beautiful harmonies are my musical partner in crime Maria McMillan (stage name: Frankie Morrow) – she is my main collaborator and an unbelievable artist. Also on harmonies was Samuel Nicholson, singer-songwriter currently releasing a new album that is so brilliant, please check him out, both Scottish musicians! The drums were performed by the vigorously talented Greg Sheffield. Louis Philips (great friend and brilliant songwriter) and Matt Newell (legendary guitarist for the brilliant band The Bugles) helped engineer on this too.
The rest of the tracks were pretty much solo affairs but I want to shout out to Imad Sahli who is my mixing guru – pitched in to help and advise on almost every track and continues to teach me so much!
• Your songs sound very much like they come from personal experience, and I like that they kind of feel like snippets from real life – with the good and the bad parts thrown in. The words kind of play off against the (for want of a better word) ‘cosiness’ of the music in places… thinking of the opening line of Tunnel Vision as an example. Do you start with lyrics? Also, are the words something you really work at, or are they more intuitive?
I feel very flattered by that analysis because it’s what I’d love the listener to take away from the tracks! In terms of writing, it’s actually a hard one to deconstruct to be honest. I think I generally write lyrics and guitar together, they inform each other for me in terms of mood and tempo. I tend to find out how I write/ arrange etc after the fact. I only found out recently (whilst recording) that the ways in which I time new elements coming to my new songs is totally weird and syncopated but that’s not been remotely intentional, I’ve just developed this new habit!
I think the one thing I try to aim for with my lyrics at least, is to be conversational. I often think about how a song will be performed as I write it and I like to be as engaged with the audience as possible so I think my writing tries to be talkative. Something I’m really interested in is the way people communicate with one another in relationships with different dynamics so I think that’s a strong theme in the stuff I’m releasing now and the newer things I’m writing too.
• What’s the recording process like for you? Are all of the songs recorded in the same way, or do you mix it up a bit? I ask as there’s something about Excuse Me in particular that feels a little more intimate than the first three tracks…
Very big question and you’ve hit the nail on the head with Excuse Me. So Tunnel Vision, Forgiving Light and Black Over Grey all have elements recorded in the studio, TV and BoG were recorded in the studio in their entirety. The percussive elements in Forgiving Light as well as some backing were added at home.
Excuse Me is a funny one because it wasn’t meant to originally be on this EP, another song was meant to take its place but the drums for that couldn’t be recorded because of lockdown and so Excuse Me was recorded all at home. I absolutely aimed for this one to feel more intimate because of this change so I’m so glad that’s something you heard. I really, really love recording and mixing at home and am growing my set up and learning every day with it. It’s so much more sustainable for me and has meant I can just keep cracking on with new projects.
• What kind of stuff do you find yourself listening to the most, and can you see a link between those artists and the music on this EP in particular?
My biggest inspirations are Nathanial Rateliff and Rachel Sermanni probably, what they both can do with just their voice and a guitar is gut-wrenching and impressive and I think I aim to do as much with those two things as I can because of it. Although, the bigger arrangements both artists have on some songs is really gorgeous and I suppose how they pick those songs to be bigger and others smaller is an inspiration for me.
I do listen to everything to be honest and hope to get bits of inspiration from other genres where I can really, I’m listening to a lot of Sylvan Esso, Greentea Peng, Joy Crookes and Mindchatter at the moment. In terms of song structure and melody, I think I get a lot from these artists.
• Are there any other artists that you know personally who you think are doing great stuff at the moment?
All of the artists I mentioned above who helped me on Tunnel Vision are doing fabulous things. I’m helping the brilliant Frankie Morrow/ Maria McMillan record some stuff at the moment which we’ll be shouting about shortly so watch out for that. My good friend Sarah (stage name: MEIYI) has been writing with a great producer and some of their stuff is out and they’re bops! Louis Philips is always recording and releasing and I really, really love his stuff – give that a listen. Me and Maria also filmed our fabulous friend Divianne in my garden recently for our youtube channel ‘bramblebury sessions’ where she sings two of my favourite songs of mine and talks about writing them so watch out for that!
• How have you found the last six months, artistically speaking. Has it made you more productive, or has it been a case of just getting on? Also, what are your thoughts on playing live in future etc.
Like everyone, quite mixed! I’m used to working all hours on music so definitely went into overdrive at the beginning of lockdown in terms of writing, recording, demoing etc. And now I have a fab pile of stuff to work through and develop so I’m really happy about that but I definitely slowed down around August predictably. I’m working at a healthier pace now, there’s a lot of projects in the diary for myself and friends to crack on with so just ploughing on with that at the moment!
Playing live is my favourite thing about what I do and I’ve missed it loads. I suppose I’m hopeful, I’ve attended and am playing some socially distanced/ curfewed stuff in London and I’m just grateful it’s happening at all to be honest. I’m sure it’s going to be a very slow return to normality but I hope we get there because there’s just nothing better to me really!
• What does ‘success’ look like to you?
I’m not sure to be honest, I think my definition of this constantly changes. Sometimes it’s in line with other people’s expectations and sometimes it’s in line with my expectations of myself. I also think with the pandemic the prospect of this has really turned on its head. I think the ability to get this stuff out and work on projects I’m proud of with my friends is just the goal for now really.
I suppose one goal is a tour just because I love playing so much, but that depends on things much bigger than me for now!
• Do you have any plans for what comes after the EP?
Right now I’m working on recording for my friends project and that’s taking up the bulk of my time which is a relief to be honest and is teaching me a lot! I’m quietly working on my projects on the side and have a lot of plans for future material but that’s all TBC! There will be new music and hopefully new video material as that’s something I want to be working harder to produce well.