Faye and Josef create moody, atmospheric and sparse soundscapes that allow space for daydreaming, introspection and subtlety and whose rich, deep and abstract lyrics touch on the themes of human struggle, community and hope. They are now in the process of moving to Sweden, where they will continue to make music, both as Winter Villains and in Hlemma.
Tell us about Faye & Josef, the musicians behind Winter Villains. What are your stories?
FG: I’m from Derby originally, and music has been something I’ve always been passionate about and have grown up around. There was a really vibrant music scene in the city when I was a teenager, and my brother played in bands. As a younger person, I never wrote music or played instruments myself, but I would always be at gigs and singing along to music in my bedroom. I was also very much into visual arts and this led on to me studying photographic art at university in Newport, which is sort of the beginning of the Winter Villains journey as it led on to me moving to Cardiff…
JP: I grew up in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. It was a very happy childhood. I followed lots of different interests as a teenager and in my early twenties, as lots of people do. I’d studied in London, lived in Belgium for a while and spent time travelling. Music had always been a big part of my life, and by my mid-twenties it felt like it was the only thing I really wanted to spend my time doing. That was when I moved to Cardiff, formed a new band and became part of the music community here.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
FG: That’s a good question! I’ve got lots of quite vivid memories from my childhood. Some of the best are of being outside in nature and just messing around in woods and parks without any concept of time. And teenage years – what a time! Difficult and exhilarating in equal measure.
JP: I mainly remember playing outside... The village I grew up in had three sports fields and it was flanked by mountains. I remember it feeling like there was endless space to play with my friends. I’ve got great memories of family holidays in caravans too, where we’d spend the days on windswept beaches and in the freezing cold sea in West Wales. I’ve also got a vivid memory from when I was 5 of my Dad telling me and my brothers that my Great Uncle had passed away. I remember crying inconsolably, but not really knowing what it meant.
How did you get into music? What were your journeys like?
JP: From a young age I played around with whatever was at home, particularly when there weren’t many people around. My mother and brothers studied music formally and learnt various instruments, so I had plenty of things to play around with. There was always music on at home. My parents loved The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Motown, Elvis… My eldest brother was into great 80s pop, and my middle brother was into hard rock and metal. My brothers were involved in amateur dramatics too, so I saw lots of musicals as a child. I used to love watching live orchestras. When I was about 12 I started teaching myself guitar. Pretty much straight away, I began to write my own songs, mainly because I wasn’t good enough to play other people’s yet. Then I formed my first band with school friends a few years later in my teens. I’ve been playing in bands and projects pretty much ever since.
FG: I grew up listening to the rock music that my family played in the house, things like Dire Straits, The Doors, Zeppelin, so from a very young age I had a pretty eclectic taste. Like lots of people, as I got older, it grew into a broader more curious appetite for music. I became interested in all sorts of sounds and ideas, from Brit-pop to hip-hop, ska, metal, nu metal, indie... and spent lots of time immersing myself in gigs and the artwork and lyrics in CD booklets. It wasn’t until I moved to Cardiff in my mid-twenties that I felt like I wanted to start making music myself.
How did you two meet?
FG: We met through mutual friends. It was actually at Sweet Baboo’s first album launch in Clwb Ifor Bach. Josef was playing in a band at the time – which I later joined for a while before we decided to start Winter Villains – with my friend from university Rich, who was the drummer (and head honcho at Bubblewrap Records). Their band was supporting Sweet Baboo that night. It’s quite strange, lots of people on that bill became really good friends of ours.
Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other and what are the most striking similarities between your visions?
FG: I think we quite naturally arrived at a shared vision of what Winter Villains would be. It’s quite hard to unpick our collaboration though. We’ve always written music together, so I guess we don’t consciously think about it too much.
JP: Yeah I agree. We do tend to individually arrive at similar places in terms of what we want. We’ve got similar outlooks and values and things like that, so as people we’re quite in sync with each other which I think makes collaborating quite natural and enjoyable.
FG: Yeah, I agree. Thinking back to our first two albums in particular, those songs came quite quickly. It was a case of one of us coming up with an idea and then working through it together. And because the songs were written quite close together, they seemed to naturally work as albums.
JP: Yeah. I think now, we’ve arrived at a point with this project, where we have options of where it could go. And we’re trying to decide on that at the moment.
Winter Villains… How did you come up with the name for your band and why is it meaningful to you?
JP: We were in Dusseldorf. Faye was thinking about studying for a master’s degree there, so we visited for a few days. We were talking about how we both liked music that’s sparse and leaves space for imagery. One of us said they liked music that sounded ‘wintery’. I suggested that the word ‘Winter’ could be good in a band name, then said ‘Winter….?’ and Faye instinctively said ‘Villains’. It just felt right.
How would you describe Winter Villains’ sound to those unfamiliar with your music?
FG: It’s atmospheric, ethereal, glitchy chamber pop.
How did you develop this moody, atmospheric and dreamy style? Are you melancholic people?
JP: Melancholic wouldn’t be the first word I’d use to describe either of us. We’re generally fairly well rounded people I think. But I’d say we are both in touch with our thoughts and feelings. There’s a lot going on in our world that’s difficult to explain or justify. Things that inevitably make us feel melancholic. At times that can be quite overwhelming, and some of that definitely comes out through the music we make in Winter Villains.
When it comes to song writing, what inspires your lyrics?
FG: We both like the idea of there being a sense of place without that place being specific to a space or a time. Just somewhere for the listener to step in to for a while, maybe. So imagery is probably the key thing for us. The lyrics are often quite abstract, but tend to be about universal, human themes like struggle, hope, community, loss – things that have affected people forever, and will continue to. I think there’s something quite humbling yet reassuring in that.
Could you tell us three albums that have shaped and inspired you as a band?
JP: I’ll always remember three gigs we saw together within the space of a few weeks one summer in Cardiff, all pretty much on our doorstep: Múm, Efterklang and Anathallo, and our shared love of those bands were an inspiration for Winter Villains for sure. So because of that I’d personally go for: Múm – ‘Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy’; Efterklang – ‘Parades’ and; Anathallo – ‘Canopy Glow’.
FG: There have been so many albums and artists who have influenced us in some way… but I can’t disagree with those three.
We love the dreamy soundscape of “Slow to tremor”, the first track coming off Hlemma, your collaboration with Owain from Carw. Can you tell us more about how this project is coming together? Do you have a release date for it?
FG: Thank you, we’re glad you like it. Yes, the three of us decided a while ago that we wanted to write some music together. I think after writing and playing two Winter Villains albums for a few years, we were ready to work on something new with a more electronic direction.
JP: Yeah, it’s been really enjoyable. We both love Owain’s solo project ‘Carw’, and it’s been great working with him on Hlemma.
FG: We’ll be finalising our first EP this autumn. We’ve just played at Larmer Tree Festival and we’re playing at Green Man’s Settler’s Pass.
What metaphor would best describe how you feel when you make music?
JP: Happy as a pig in shit.
FG: Contemplative. Not a metaphor, sorry!
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
JP: It’s not advice, but I remember a conversation I had with some friends a few years ago. We were talking about how people are driven by the concept of ‘success’. Or a desire to ‘be successful’. It dawned on me that success and failure are essentially the same thing, just fleeting things that we experience intermittently. Generally, our own ‘success’ or ‘failure’ is decided by other people and these concepts don’t really have that much of an impact on our lives. So why do we place so much importance on them?
FG: To not care too much what others think of you. At times it’s difficult, but ultimately if you can follow this rule I believe you’ll create meaningful work that’s true to you and what you believe in. You’ll also be much more content as a person!
What creatures, voices or sounds appear most often in your dreams?
JP: I dream a lot about friends from my childhood. And houses. I’m sure there’s something in that, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
FG: I have pretty weird dreams. Sometimes I dream about super boring day-to-day events, but I also have surreal and filmic dreams about strange creatures and places that couldn’t possibly exist.
What does Cardiff have to offer you as musicians?
JP: It’s just a great community to be a part of, full of wonderful, lovely, inspiring people with great ideas, who are just creating things because they feel like they need to.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
JP: We both enjoy being outdoors, on mountains, in forests, by the sea.
FG: Nature is the best for clearing your head and putting life into perspective.
If your life would be a song, what would you name it?
JP: I’ve got no idea. That wouldn’t be the name of the song, I just don’t know. Maybe it should be called ‘I’ve got no idea’ actually.
FG: Prelude? Haha.
Where can we see you performing this year?
FG: We’ve spent most of our energy for the past 18 months or so working on material for Hlemma, and we’ll be just playing live with that project this year. We will be recording a Winter Villains EP in late 2018 or early 2019, but we’re not sure when, or what gigging will look like just yet.
JP: Yeah, at the moment, it feels like our heads are in the space for the music we make with Hlemma, but I am looking forward to spending some time in the world of Winter Villains again.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future? How do you see yourself evolving as musicians?
JP: We’re actually moving to Stockholm in Sweden in September. We’ll be making music there for sure, both as Winter Villains and in Hlemma. I think the key to evolving creatively is to keep learning, keep listening and to keep following your intuition and pursuing your interests.
And now a question from Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire: What goes on in tunnels?
FG: Leads to nowhere.
Can you recommend us:
A book: ‘Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami.
A song: ‘Deer Eyes’ by Lowly.
A film: ‘Ida’ by Paweł Pawlikowski (or if you can’t hold of it, anything by Paul Thomas Anderson).
Thank you, both for the warm welcome and lovely conversation. We wish you the best of luck with your move to Sweden.