Ferris & Sylvester: Better Together

The story of the British husband and wife duo Ferris & Sylvester makes me believe in destiny, faith, whatever you call it. Two souls were brought together via their common love for music and performing. Their shared dream for being musicians lured them into Spiritual Bar, a blues bar in Camden, and after accidentally (on purpose) bumping into each other, Archie and Issy met.

Since that moment, destiny let go, and Archie and Issy head on a path of adventure, musical discovery, and subsequent realisation – ‘writing and life, in general, is better together.’ As they were aware of the finish line, which was being a touring act, Archie and Issy worked tirelessly to find a sound that blended Archie’s blues/rock and Issy’s magic touch with old folk songs.

With the Ferris & Sylvester debut album ‘Superhuman,‘ the duo was only trying to figure it out, but the record debuted at #1 on the Official Jazz & Blues Albums Chart. Considering this impressive achievement, the world is their oyster as they head to the top, charged with immaculate harmonies and truly captivating stage presence.

Teasing their second project ‘Otherness,’ due to be released in March next year, Archie and Issy unveil a new heartfelt single ‘Mother,’ alongside ‘Otherness – Side A (Storm),‘ which includes the post-apocalyptic ethereal ‘End Of The World.’

For any Daisy Jones And The Six fans out there, Ferris & Sylvester is your real-life dream come true without the drugs and toxicity of the Amazon Prime hit TV series. Ferris & Sylvester is pure, talented, and absolutely enchanting.

Thank you very much for answering our questions. How are you both doing today? Where did we catch you?

Thanks so much for having us. Life is good! We’re releasing our second studio album ‘Otherness’ which is out in full March ‘24. It comes out on our label, Archtop Records so we are firmly in the driver’s seat with everything that goes on. We’ve got a song and a video out on Friday so we’re busy with that. We’re also releasing Jack Francis’ new album through Archtop, also out next spring, plus we’ve got a production project starting next week. So our hands are well and truly full. Also hands are literally full as our one year old son, Lucky is sat on my lap. 

Could we go back in time and talk about how you first met?

We met through Spiritual Bar, a blues bar in Camden. They put on amazing musicians every night of the week and most nights are free entry, so anyone reading this who’s looking to watch some good music or even get up on that stage, Spiritual Bar is the place to go. Archie used to play the headline weekend slots whilst I (Issy) would be first up on a Wednesday or Thursday night, so it took a while for us to meet. We actually spoke properly for the first time at a gig in West London. I (Issy) sat down after my set and pretended I had no idea who Archie was, when in reality I knew exactly who he was and had bought his CD. 

How long into your relationship did you know you wanted make music together?

Pretty much right from the beginning. After the show that night, we started accidentally on purpose bumping into each other at gigs and started talking about writing together as a side project. Issy joined my (Archie’s) blues band as a backing singer. It all happened quite organically. Once we started writing and spending time together, we quickly realised that our writing (and indeed life in general…) was better together. But then it was time for the hard work to begin. We were in the early days of a brand new project that everyone else thought was a crazy idea. Our solo music was so different – I (Archie) was blues/rock and Issy was singing old folk songs. We both saw how those two things could work together, and for that first year we just got our heads down and wrote as much as we could.  

How do your writing sessions look like? Who is better at doing what part of the recording process?

Every writing session is different. Most artists would probably agree, there isn’t really a formula. What works one day almost certainly won’t work the next, so you’ve got to keep an open mind and heart. After writing together for years and years, some common themes of our writing sessions are figuring out a chorus or a hook early on, listening to a lot of different styles of music, having about 3 arguments over where the song should go, followed by a cup of tea, and recording everything on our phones. We’re both involved in all aspects of the writing – lyrics, melody, music – but then Archie brings it to life through the recording and production process. We often play around with a demo to start with, but as time goes on and we become more settled into our sound, there’s actually quite a lot from those first demos that end up in the final recordings. Take our song ‘Mother,’ for instance. The lead vocal on the track is the recording from the day the song was written. We recognised that there was a vulnerability and intimacy in there that could not be repeated, so it stayed put. That’s the joy of writing and recording: there are endless possibilities and if something feels right, you go with it and see where you end up. 

Your first album ‘Superhuman’ debuted #1 on the Official Jazz & Blues Albums Chart. That’s an impressive achievement for a debut album, how was your reaction when you found out?

We were staying in a house in South Austin whilst playing SXSW. We were getting ready for a show and I think my phone buzzed and it popped up on our Twitter. We were all in shock, over the moon and had to check it a couple of times to believe it. We were releasing our first album in the spring of 2022, where the shadow of covid was still around and vinyl production was severely delayed – ours wasn’t to be released until August. So we had no proper expectations to make the charts. Still to this day we’re just so grateful to our amazing fans who kept us going and embraced our music during such a hard time. It meant the world. 

How does ‘Superhuman’ compare to your forthcoming album ‘Otherness’?

‘Superhuman’ feels like a tapestry of years and years of writing, recording, playing to empty rooms and packed concert halls. It was about our life, figuring out who we were together. There was so much we wanted to say through our music and so many different sides of us that we wanted to show. We’re really proud of that album, and where it took us. If ‘Superhuman’ was us figuring out who we were, ‘Otherness’ feels like who we really are. We wrote and recorded the album in our studio to a 1960’s tape machine, and committed to a saturated, bold sound where we mixed old with new. Like ‘Superhuman’ we explore a range of genres, from folk to blues to indie to soul. The songs on ‘Otherness’ are about feeling like an outsider, whether that’s in relationships, with the outer world or within yourself. We really wanted to tell this story through the album, with each side of the vinyl representing a beginning, middle and an end. And we did that by quite literally not leaving the studio for weeks at a time, and hanging artwork and words all over the walls so we were completely immersed in the world we were making. 

Could you take us through the atmosphere when ‘Side A (Storm)’ was being made?

The songs on Side A (Storm) came thick and fast, as the name suggests. It is the beginning of the journey and introduces the theme of feeling ‘othered’. It was a really exciting time making it. Michael Rendall, our long time collaborator who co-produced the album fell in love with the project, and we all became very invested in making the songs as good as they could possibly be. Those days in the studio were so fun. Long days and long nights in a tiny studio. We laughed a lot and enjoyed every part of it. 

Your new focus track ‘End Of The World’ dives into the topic of love in the apocalypse. What were some of the things you would want to do in a world-ending scenario?

If the world was about to end, you’d want to make sure you had told that person, or those people how much you loved them. I think a universal fear is reaching the end and having regrets. Wishing that you’d have made more of your time on this earth. So if that day were to ever come, I think most of us would be spilling secrets and saying exactly how we feel, finally. 

You recorded direct to a vintage 1960s tape machine, what was the inspiration behind this decision?

Today, if you have a laptop and a simple recording set up, you can make quite literally any sound you want. There are no limits. Yes, this is very exciting. But it’s also incredibly confusing, daunting and can stop you from landing on a sound. We’ve had some experience with this. So for this recording, we decided to put some rules and limits in place that would lead us to a defined sound across the album. We used the same drum kit, the same piano and Rhodes, the same acoustic guitar. We ran every stem through an old Nagra tape machine, which was originally used for journalistic reporting, and that gave everything the same warm, saturated feel. We hung up the album artwork, made for us by the brilliant Leaf and Petal Design, and made sure everything we did fitted within that world. These limitations made it possible for us to find a sound within the different genres and moods, and it meant that we didn’t get lost along the way. Sure, we were adventurous and tried a bunch of different ideas, but we always had this framework to explore within. 

You’ve been open about your traumatic experience during a festival trip in Nashville. On your upcoming album, you hope to offer a sense of belonging to those who might be going through a similar experience. Why did you learn from this horrific chapter of your lives?

Absolutely, our main aim with this album is to make anyone who feels like an outsider less alone. Our lives completely changed when our son, Lucky, was born six and a half weeks early, and on the wrong continent in America. I (Issy) was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia, after a perfectly healthy, happy pregnancy. We had been touring our debut album all summer, and this 3 day festival trip was the last in our schedule. It was a huge shock and the events that followed were unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. Lucky spent 3 weeks in intensive care and we spent another month out in Nashville before flying home, with Lucky weighing 6lbs. The days were full of scary lows and also incredible highs. We got married in the park by the hospital when Lucky was just 10 days old. We met the kindest people in the doctors and nurses that cared for us, and the strangers who befriended us. When we were home and the dust had settled, there was a huge sense of feeling entirely alone. Like no one else could understand what we had been through. We really wanted our album to speak to that – the understanding that lots of us feel very lonely in our grief, like we’re on the outside looking in. But there is always a way to find your way back to the light. For me, it was through music. Music was my healer. We hope this album can be of comfort. 

What was your favourite show you played and why?

Favourite ever show would have to be Glastonbury 2022. It’s probably the case for most artists, but playing that in field was our career highlight, and the reality totally lived up to the dream. We were so scared the tent wouldn’t fill up. But it did and it was brilliant. We sang with the Citizens Of The World Choir, and I (Archie) announced that Issy was in fact carrying the newest member of the band behind her bass guitar. From start to finish, it was fireworks and we’ll remember it forever. 

What can your fans expect from your upcoming live dates early next year?

We couldn’t be more excited for our tour next year. We’re going all across the UK, plus some EU shows too. We cannot wait to bring this record to life, and of course to sing some crowd favourites. Every show is different because every crowd is different. We have no clicks and no tracks, just the two of us and our drummer and keys player. It’s the way we’ve always done it, and it leaves room for the show to go where we want to take it. We still can’t believe that we get to play our songs on stages around the world, and people turn up to watch. It’s truly an honour. We’re throwing the kitchen sink at it. We promise if you buy a ticket, you’ll be in for a good night.

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Words: Karolina Kramplova