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Sunflower Thieves – Lichtenberg Figures

You were struck by lightning, walking in the rain to your car / and when you awoke, the lightning left a beautiful scar

So begins the immaculate Lichtenberg Figures: Sunflower Thieves’ second single of 2022, arriving hot on the heels of January’s I Don’t Know Why, and November’s Sirens. As well as being a great opening couplet, it also neatly summarises what may just be the duo’s finest song to date: no matter what you go through, and however damaging it may be, there’s beauty at the end of it. Of course, in my words I’ve no doubt the sentiment looks trite, but when wrapped up in a melody and soaring harmonies as gorgeous as these it’s anything but. Just wait until the first chorus rushes in and you’ll know what I mean.

The track opens with the rumble of thunder and some hushed, crystalline fingerpicked arpeggios, which soon give way to the warm vocals and a subtle, almost ethereal electronic drum track. As with all of their work, it’s a delicately poised yet confident affair, and keeps on stealthily adding clever little production touches as its four minutes unfold. In particular, the drums gradually evolve from something hovering just out of sight in the background into a big, sparse pattern that imbues the song with a sense of power. Alongside this, delicate acoustic guitar and distant strings bubble up and break through the surface. It’s almost overwhelming in its beauty, but then again that’s just what anybody familiar with Sunflower Thieves’ music has come to expect. Much like the strange phenomena that gives the song its title, Lichtenberg Figures is likely to stick with you for a while.

A conversation with Amy from Sunflower Thieves

As is standard for me now, it’s taken a hell of a lot longer than I’d originally hoped to cover Sunflower Thieves on here, so I was really pleased that Amy took the time to answer a few questions on their latest work, songwriting and recording in general, as well as their plans for the future.

Photo: Sophie Jouvenaar

Firstly, I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you! I’m wary of asking you the same things you’ve probably been asked about loads of times before too, so I wanted to focus more specifically on your writing and how your creative process works. I’d seen your name pop up quite a bit when I was writing with a bit more regularity a couple of years back, but it was only when Sirens came out a few months back when I finally heard what you were doing. Needless to say that I loved it, and I was blown away by the harmonies and how the two of you compliment each other so well. How does a song develop for you? Do you write in a room together in bursts of energy, or are you back and forth over a longer period of time?

Glad you love Sirens! This EP, for which Sirens was the first single, is the product of the last year of co-writing, and most of the songs had complete lyrics, melody and guitar within a session. All but one were written over Zoom, which feels weird to think about now! Lily produces all of our music, so once we have the bare bones in a post-session demo, she works her magic.

What brought you both to songwriting and performing?

We grew up in a very creative, artsy community in Derbyshire, and were encouraged to attend and get involved in live music from a young age. We both went to a local choir, had music tuition, and were taken to lots of folk gigs, day festivals etc – there was always music.

We began performing cover versions of songs we loved, at a local monthly open mic, but never really considered writing our own songs to perform until we started being booked for local charity events and festivals. We wrote a couple songs each, added harmonies, and performed as ‘Amy&Lily’. We’re actually super grateful for all of this performance experience, no matter how small or early on, because it’s definitely made us more confident, competent and creative with our performance and overall project now. The encouragement was invaluable in getting us to where we are now.

Lichtenberg Figures is great, and I really like the production too. Those lovely spindly string lines and the big, sparse drums. It’s a nice contrast to the feel of I Don’t Know Why too. An interesting title, and some interesting lyrics too… I was wondering where the song came from?

We wrote the song in our first session with our pal Sam Griffiths [The Howl & The Hum]. His band have a lovely studio space near York, and we drove over and spent a couple of days writing as a three. The session was super fun and Lichtenberg Figures was the second song we wrote during that time. Sam just had ‘Lichtenberg Figures’ written in his phone notes, and we got chatting about it, as we didn’t know what this was. We started writing, and didn’t really think too much about the concept until we’d written two verses. I think it probably began in quite a literal lyrical direction; ‘you were struck by lightning, walking in the rain to your car’, wasn’t intended to be a metaphor. We tend to exist in the sad realm of songwriting, so Lichtenberg Figures felt good to include in the EP – it feels hopeful and powerful.

On the subject of lyrics, I like that you have them on your website. Also, with the sparse nature of your music, there’s nowhere to hide them. I’m guessing that lyrics are super-important to you, and it got me wondering whether you start with them or if they tend to evolve with the music?

Lyrics are definitely the part of a song we notice first in most cases. When we hear a song we like, it’s most likely because we get something from the lyrics, the story. That’s what it’s all about right, connection? The artists we’ve loved throughout our lifetimes have been artists we’ve felt represented us, related to us, spoken for us. Mostly – at the moment anyway – we begin songs separately, because one of us needs to say something. This will evolve into a verse idea, maybe two, and then we’ll come together and kind of break down what the narrative is. This often manifests in a sort of therapy session. The songs we love the most – and the ones that made it onto the Someone To Be There For record – are the songs we needed the most, the songs that mean the most to us. Often just talking through the feeling or story we’re telling, throws up a lyric idea in conversation, and away we go.

How do you tend to record? Your music sounds so pristine in how it’s put together and, to be honest, I’m quite in awe of it… do you self-record or do you have some trusted collaborators?

Lily produces our music. We’ve always stuck with the classic bedroom recording, and for the EP songs, this meant we were in separate houses, sending bits over to each other. All the cello, bass, drums and guitars in these songs were recorded remotely by some of our wonderful friends. We generally start with whatever instrument the song was written on – most likely guitar – and add main vocals, extra vocals, and then Lily plays around with the song from there. There’s a lot of back and forth, which gives the song room to develop over time, and you can hear it in different contexts, moods, spaces etc during this. It would definitely be cool to do a period of time in a studio and see how this alters our process at some point.

I’m sure I mentioned your artwork in an earlier email. Just thought it would be good to throw it out there again that it’s really great, and I think that it really fits the feel and sound of your recent stuff. Who’s responsible for that, and are you big believers in the music and visuals being as important as eachother?

Our artwork is all created by Amy’s brother, Adam. His Instagram handle is @ajc_wip. He’s obviously close to the project, and to ourselves, and he’s been there from the start, so it’s a natural collaboration. The visuals are hugely important, from press shots, to video, to cover art, and we’re so so pleased with each of the single artworks and the EP artwork. It was so fun having a full project to conceptualise artworks for. We generally give Adam an idea of what we want the visuals to reflect, and he listens to the songs, and then we trust him.

What’s next for you? Do you have any concrete plans or aspirations for the next year or two?

We’ve got some shows in April that we’re mega excited about – watch this space! Definitely looking forward to getting back out and playing new places. The full EP is out in a few weeks and then we’ll be working on following that up. We’ve written some songs that we love over the past six months that no one has heard yet, and are already quietly working on them. 

We’ve loved releasing so much over the past few months, so after we’ve taken a little time to soak this project in and to feel proud of ‘Someone To Be There For’, we’ll be back with new music. 

You can find Sunflower Thieves on Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and Youtube.

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