The return of The Zephyrs
The Zephyrs mave made some of the best music to emerge from Scotland. Now, after a 5-year haitus, and with fatherhood now amongst their achievements, they’re back and ready for anything, finds Rachel Devine
Starting a family tends to get in the way of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. For Edinburgh five-piece, The Zephyrs, whose last album Bright Yellow Flowers on a Dark Double Bed was released in 2005, it was a couple of kids and a desire to take a break from the rigours of life on the road that prompted a half-decade hiatus. Stuart Nicol and his brother David, the mainstays of the group, have since had two children each, but with dad duty relaxed as their progeny approach school age, it’s time to return to the business of making folk-infused, blissfully mournful pop. They put the Disney DVDs to one side to release a new album, Fool of Regrets, out in September.
‘It’s not really possible to have kids, do a job and be in a band at the same time,’ says Stuart Nicol, on his way back up the M6 to Edinburgh from a gig in London. ‘It was a very lovely break, of course, becoming a dad, but it’s also nice to get back to playing music. It’s feels a little odd, like we’re back at square one. And I haven’t really played live for five years, so it’s quite a buzz.’
If anything, the time away provided the Nicol brothers with the opportunity to create their perfect record, adding singer and guitarist Emily Bell and keyboard player Will Bates to the line-up along the way. A variety of friends and musical acquaintances were drafted in to add something a little different: Fife R&B band Baby Isaac performed as backing band on ‘Wet Outside Dry in Here’ (the Zephyrs have always been partial to a descriptive song title); Mogwai’s Barry Burns contributed piano; Lisa Jen Brown, in the middle of a Gruff Rhys tour, added backing vocals on several tracks; and Mary MacMaster (contributor to Sting’s recent early music project) played harp on ‘She Walked Me Home’.
‘I’m extremely pleased with album,’ says Nicol. ‘To me it sounds like an album, not just a collection of songs. With some of the later albums we did, the songs were … not forced, but we were definitely aware of having to write a certain number of songs to make an album. With Fool of Regrets we didn’t just go into a studio and record a whole album in five days – we had the time to really stand back and think about it.’
Often mistakenly labelled under ‘shoegazers’ – on account, says Nicol, of a song they did with Rachel Goswell from Slowdive on 2001’s When the Sky Comes Down It Comes Down on Your Head album – Fool of Regrets is a delightful reintroduction to the Nicol brothers’ keen sense of measured melancholy and hopeless romanticism. A band who really should have gone on to bigger things at several points in their career, they released their debut record It’s OK Not to Say Anything on the tiny Edinburgh indie label Evol in 1999. Mogwai signed them to Rock Action shortly after (which was then owned by SouthPaw Records) where they released When the Sky... to a raft of rave reviews. As luck would have it, SouthPaw folded the same week, and though they released two albums after that, the early momentum was lost. You get the feeling that whatever happens now, they’re just happy to be back.
The Zephyrs play Stereo, Glasgow, Fri 20 Aug. Fool of Regrets is released on Club AC30, Mon 6 Sep.