June Damp is the third and final track to be released by Manchester four-piece Diving Station in the last couple of months, and – alongside the equally magnificent Joanna and Fruit Flies – it completes one of the most exciting releases I’ve heard this year. As with the two previous singles, it’s another rich offering that stands head and shoulders above pretty much all of their peers, with a lethargic groove that builds to a beautiful, understated crescendo.
As the EP’s closing track, it kind of feels like the tail end of a hot, late-summer evening where the air is thick with moisture and time seems to move ten-times slower. Unfolding over a gently warped synth drone, Anna McLuckie’s weightless vocal sings evocatively of “moisture on soft skin” and “heatwaves and long days” as George Burrage’s skeletal, slinky bass, Sean Rogan’s guitar, and Barnabas Kimberley’s drums keep you moving ever-so-slightly closer to the end.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my previous pieces on the band talking about their meticulous arrangements and the kind of intangible, otherworldly thing that they have going on. I said to myself I wouldn’t do it again, but it’s difficult to ignore it. One of their major strengths is the somewhat unusual presence of the clàrsach as a lead instrument (yes, I had to Google it at first too) and it’s very much the centrepiece around which everything else orbits on June Damp.
As ever, each element feels like a carefully placed part of a jigsaw puzzle – albeit one with as few pieces as possible. The thing I love most about Diving Station is the sense of space in their music. Taken as a whole, it sounds complex – because it is – but if you listen closely you can make out each member’s contributions in crystal clarity. Nothing is hidden and nothing is an afterthought. Much like Amrit Randhawa’s bold, economic artwork that adorns the band’s sleeves, everything you hear and see is absolutely essential.
A conversation with Diving Station
I’ve made little secret of the fact I think these guys are great, and because of this I was keen to dig a little into their creative process and plans for the future. As the June Damp EP has finally seen release, it felt like now would be a great time to send a few questions over, and I’m pleased to say that Anna and Sean from the band took time out to answer my ramblings. As ever, my questions are in bold and their responses in plain text.
• Hi guys. I’m sure you know from my previous coverage that I love what you’re doing. From the first time I heard Joanna it was like ‘woah, this is different‘, and the same goes for the other two tracks on the new EP. It’s such a distinctive sound you’ve got. I’m curious as to how the band came together, and how long it took you to arrive at the point you’re at now?
Anna: Thanks! Well we met 6 years ago now, as fresh faced freshers, so I think our sound has changed a lot due to time playing together more than anything.
Sean: Yeah, for sure it’s changed a lot over the last 6 years, and even now I feel like we’re still finding our feet. A huge part of it all has been the collaboration with our producer, Hugo M. Hardy, too, as he’s pushed us further sonically.
• I’m interested in the clàrsach as a huge part of the sound. Obviously, the harp in general is quite an unusual instrument in the context of a band setup – at least not in the standard sense – and it got me thinking about how it became something you used in this way, as opposed to being, say, classical?
Anna: I think it’s less unusual than people think – there’s so many incredible popular music harpists out there. I love playing classical music but I have always listened to more jazz, folk and pop music, so I guess I just started to play what I listened to.
• How do you tend to write as a band?
Sean: We are extremely collaborative, as a group of 4 musicians. I feel like usually in these situations there’s a lead songwriter and a bunch of musicians to help out, but the writing in this group is constructed almost exclusively in the room together. The process changes regularly, due to both circumstance, and intention to keep things fresh. I think one of the recurring things we spend a lot of time on is careful arrangement between the instruments and creating sounds that are new and exciting to us. With a harp and guitar in the band, there’s a lot of scope for experimentation sonically, as we desperately try to blend whilst staying out of each other’s way.
• Why do you make music?
Sean: I wish I had something poetic to say. All I know is that no matter how I spend my days, writing music is what I always fall upon eventually, some way or another. The best thing about doing it with a band is you get to hang out with your friends all the time, too, so maybe it’s just that, really.
• I’m interested to find out what other musicians you listen to. Are there any artists who you could specifically point to as being influences on the June Damp material?
Anna: Directly, Joanna has a namesake in Newsom (but that’s a secret), indirectly American indie folk singers like Julia Jacklin and Adrianne Lenker were a big melodic influence. We like a whole load of stuff to be honest but who doesn’t.
• How have you found the last eight months or so in terms of being creative. Have you written more, for example?
Anna: Some days have been better for others. Some days there’s not much to write about other than your 3 square meals and your same 4 walls. “Endless trips to the fridge”. But other days are better, it can be helpful to have free time.
Sean: Agreed. We tried the whole Zoom writing thing a fair bit, too. We got some stuff out of it, though it was a struggle at times, and we usually ended up just catching up instead, but maybe we needed that more. We certainly don’t have a huge catalogue of lockdown recordings to release now, but equally we’re more pumped than ever to write together again when we can.
• I also wanted to say that I really love your artwork. The reason I first listened to your music was because of the Joanna art, and then the Fruit Flies cover blew me away too. Can you talk a little about who does it, and perhaps what the process is? (I’m going to grab one of the prints at some point in future!)
Anna: We are lucky to have the incredible Amrit Randhawa of Taxi Cab Industries as our artist. Growing up with Sean in Stockport it’s been really nice to continually collaborate and influence each other. For these three artworks Amrit had to work with limited supplies due to C-19 and such so the outcome was different from what he would have normally created. Influenced by the stills of Wim Wenders and artwork of David Hockney but with Manchester underneath it all. Grab a print!!
• Do you have any plans in place for what comes after June Damp?
Sean: Having plans right now feels like such a distant dream that I can’t say we’ve put a lot of time into thinking past this release. Provided we can get in a room together comfortably in the near future we’ll get back to writing and recording. There’s lots of exciting things popping up as the industry is adapting and coming up with new ways to present music, and I’d love for us to get more involved in those developments. I spent most of the year clinging on to gigs that inevitably got rescheduled, and perhaps we can adapt and try something new rather than hold on to the past.