The MIC is very excited to have the opportunity to talk to our very first band from the UK! Across The Sea is a “genre-defying progressive duo” that includes the likes of Hannah Katy Lewis and Pete Ferguson. Together the pair released their long-awaited sophomore concept album, The Wayfarer Triptych, today. Talking with Stef from The MIC, Hannah and Pete discuss Across The Sea, their writing process, and influences and inspiration for The Wayfarer Triptych.
SJ: The MIC is very excited to talk to our very first band from overseas, Across The Sea! Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your band; how did it all start? Does either of you have any type of classical training?
AS: What an honour it is; we’re just as excited as you are, so thanks for chatting with us!
We’re total opposites as Hannah has had over ten years of classical training, whereas Pete has never had a music lesson in his life and is totally self-taught.
We met at university while both studying for a BA in Music. After finishing uni, we decided to have a go at writing our own material. As we had no idea what sort of style we wanted to write, we just played what came naturally to us, and the result was our song Wanderlust. This 7.5-minute multi-sectioned tune really set the template for what Across The Sea would become both musically and lyrically.
SJ: If you were to classify your sound in one sentence, how would you describe it?
AS: A genre-bending, progressive and otherworldly blend of a multitude of musical styles and cultures colliding to create a singular, distinctive sound of our own.
SJ: Your debut album was in December of 2018. Would you say your sound has evolved from then, and if so, how?
AS: The essence of our sound will always remain, but it constantly evolves as we push ourselves further as musicians on each release. Our new album still sounds like an Across The Sea album, but it’s just on a much grander and more accomplished scale than ever before.
SJ: You have played over 150 shows live. What is your favorite part of playing live, and what do you miss most since COVID?
AS: As the gig total suggests, we’ve always been a very active, gigging band, so we’ve both really missed the fast-paced nature and excitement of performing constantly all year round. We also love seeing the intrigue and surprise on new audience’s faces when they realize, partway through our first song, that we aren’t your normal acoustic duo and aren’t at all what they expected.
SJ: How do your live shows differ from your recordings?
AS: We’ve always felt there should be a distinction between a studio recording of a song and a live performance, as the music is being experienced in very different contexts. There’s more of an energy and immediacy to our live shows, whereas, in the studio, the arrangements have more finer details and extra vocal and guitar layering. However, as we always* stick to the same instrumental setup, though we can’t always reproduce every minute detail of a song live, we’re always able to give an accurate representation of the recorded version and not lose any of its impact.
*The sole exception is Into Infinity, the closing track on our Infinite Worlds album, where Pete played piano instead of guitar.
SJ: Do you record in a studio, and what is your recording process?
AS: Though we’ve never had the budget to record in a proper recording studio, we both have home recording setups which we’ve used for all of our music. The process has always been that Pete tracks all his guitar parts first, and Hannah records her vocals on top of that. The final piece of the puzzle is for Pete to add any soundscape-y pedal effects needed on any of the songs.
SJ: How would you describe your writing process for your songs? Which member usually gets the ball rolling?
AS: We meet up, and Pete will keep coming up with guitar ideas until Hannah likes one. He’ll then go off and use that as the starting point for the arrangement. Once he has the whole song written, he’ll play it to Hannah again, and she’ll start coming up with lyrical ideas and melodies. We then iron out the song together in rehearsals until we’re happy with it.
SJ: You have a new album coming out, yay! You’ve described The Wayfarer Triptych as “most ambitious creative venture so far.” What is more ambitious on this album than your previous?
AS: As the new album is a concept album, it was a much larger undertaking than anything we’ve done before. We did a lot of research into fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, mythology, philosophy, psychology, and all kinds of other areas we felt would be useful before writing the story ourselves, so there was a considerable amount of prep time that we wouldn’t normally have.
Musically and lyrically, we’ve felt this album was almost like writing a film soundtrack or a musical, as there are lots of interconnecting themes and ideas weaving throughout the album. Though we’ve written single songs that tell a story before (and even had three songs on our last album that were vaguely connected), we’d never done something of this narrative scope before.
SJ: Let’s get into The Wayfarer Triptych. The album comprises nine tracks but is recommended to listen as one continuous track for the first listen. Mentioning that it was similar to writing a film soundtrack and clocking in at 1:08:13, it’s almost like an audio film. Were there any distinct inspirations from composers or albums you were culling from?
AS: We don’t tend to think about other music when we write our own, though listening back to The Wayfarer Triptych, it’s easier to hear how the various music we listen to individually has had some influence on what we’ve done, even if it wasn’t a conscious one.
Hannah has been surrounded by Musical Theatre all of her life, from a childhood love of Disney, several years as part of a theatre group, and listening to various musical soundtracks. This has undoubtedly impacted the focus on lyrical storytelling and emotionally driven vocal performance on this album.
Pete’s degree was in Music Composition and involved a lot of study of the leitmotif technique popularized by Romantic-era composers such as Wagner, Strauss, and Liszt, and used regularly in film music in the last century. Wayfarer… has a lot of musical themes that are developed and manipulated over some or all of the nine tracks, so we can see where that came from.
SJ: Did the renaissance painting The Wayfarer (a Triptych) by Hieronymus Bosch play a role in this album?
AS: We were vaguely aware of The Wayfarer painting, though it certainly wasn’t a reference point when we came up with the title The Wayfarer Triptych. It was only when recording the album that Pete googled The Wayfarer Triptych (to see if it had ever been used before) and discovered that the Hieronymus Bosch painting was believed to be part of a lost triptych called The Wayfarer Triptych. A curious coincidence!
SJ: The motion of the melodies and intervals suggest that you might have been inspired by Gregorian chant or church hymns. Is that another style that influenced The Wayfarer Triptych?
AS: Over the years, Hannah sang as an alto in choirs performing classical pieces and church hymns, which began her love of harmonies. Having this as such an integral part of her formative years and classical training means that most harmony work she does is quite reminiscent of the older church styles.
Some of the larger, more dramatic choral parts on the album were written and arranged by Pete and are much more based in the harmonic principles of western baroque or classical music, which of course, largely stem from the non-secular music which came before it.
SJ: When you first press play, you’re entranced with this eerie and unsettling aura. How did you achieve the unsettling harmonies in the opening prologue?
AS: The first sound you hear is an acoustic guitar (with a lot of reverb) being played with an ebow and guitar slide, which is a very strange sound that we think instantly establishes the unsettling aura you mention. The main guitar part that comes in a moment later uses a lot of unusual arpeggiated chords in quite irregular voicings, mostly over the same root note. If we’re honest, Pete doesn’t know what most of them are, and this part was mostly written using his often-used approach of playing a more regular chord and moving one or two of his fingers to different frets to create something altogether stranger.
SJ: What is The Wayfarer Triptych? Could you tell us that story?
AS: Essentially, the album tells the story of a girl’s journey through a broken world unlike our own, as she searches for hope and a purpose to her life. The Wayfarer Triptych is the painting you see on the album cover art (The Wayfarer is the mysterious figure in this painting - a kind of messiah-like saviour to mankind.) It is the girl’s discovery of this triptych that inspires her to begin her journey. The album title, therefore, has a double meaning, as it is referring not just to the triptych painting itself, but to the concept of the album as a whole: a story, told in 3 parts, detailing a long journey.
SJ: You’ve previously mentioned that Hannah typically comes up with the lyrical ideas. Does that sentiment remain true with this latest venture? Did the entire process vary from your typical setup?
AS: The process was the same to an extent as Hannah wrote most of the lyrics on the album. However, the middle part of Serenity and Chaos is told from a different perspective to the rest of the album, so Hannah had Pete write these lyrics to enhance this effect further.
We did actually collaborate lyrically on Light The World with Wisdom’s Flame as we wrote the entire song together over a five-day period, building it piece by piece, and so both had much more input than usual on what the other one was doing.
SJ: What was the instrumentation comprised of? What kind of guitars did you use, specifically in “Nightfall in the Labyrinth”? Amps?
AS: A 12 string guitar was used for a little bit of layering on Swansong, and a nylon string guitar was used for various bits and pieces on a few tracks, but other than that, every single noise you hear that isn’t Hannah’s voice or a ‘found sound’ (rain, broken glass, birdsong, etc.) was created with Pete’s ESP LTD A300 Electro-acoustic guitar, which he runs through a pedalboard. The pedalboard signal chain is as follows: Guitar > EHX Freeze > Jim Dunlop Cry-baby Wah > EHX Nano Pog (Octave Pedal) > Dr Tone Analogue Chorus > MXR Phase 90 > Dr Tone Analogue Delay > EHX Freeze > EHX Oceans 11 Reverb > Output. The output was a blend of a DI straight into the interface and two mics on a Mackie PA speaker (in a gig setting, the output would just be the PA system). An additional mic was placed on the guitar itself too. It’s a very strange setup but allows for the creation of all the dense soundscape noises you hear on the album, as well as all the parts that are obviously a guitar. This setup was used on all the songs, Nightfall in the Labyrinth included.
SJ: What has been your favorite part of recording this album?
AS: Neither of us particularly enjoy recording, as we’re both perfectionists! However, the sense of achievement felt once you know you’ve really nailed a part makes it all worthwhile. Contradicting what we’ve just said a bit, Pete does love recording his soundscape parts, as they involve sitting on the floor with a pedalboard and improvising strangely meditative ambient music for hours.
SJ: Has COVID affected the recording or creative process of this project?
AS: Yes, it had a huge impact. As we mentioned above, our writing process always begins in person, and we were only part way through writing our new album when the national lockdown in the UK stopped us from being able to see each other. We had to start relying on video calls to replace rehearsals. This was frustrating at first as it drastically slowed down the progress we’d been making on the new material, though in retrospect, it was almost a blessing in disguise. Being forced to slow down and not work to a deadline, we were able to really take our time completing the album. We did full demos of all the songs, which turned out to be a very useful and enjoyable process, ultimately allowing for the proper recording sessions to run a lot smoother.
SJ: What do you think sets you apart from the other bands recording right now?
AS: Our music isn’t forced or contrived or from any conscious attempt to be different. It’s the authentic, organic result of two people who, despite their contrasting musical influences and backgrounds, are instinctively completely aligned creatively and artistically. We genuinely believe what we write doesn’t sound like anybody else. Of course, we’re not the only band or artist to be doing something different from the rest, but having that uniqueness in our music sets us apart specifically.
SJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your music with The MIC and, more specifically, The Wayfarer Triptych. I know this album was a long time coming, which took a lot of time, effort, and talent. We wish you the best with this release! :)
AS: A long time indeed - this entire project has been such a whirlwind, and we’re glad the album’s finally out in the real world. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you Stefani, thank you for your time and for asking such intriguing questions!
LONG STORY SHORT: This is not an album you can listen to in passing. It is an avant-garde, genre-bending audio film that thrives while listening to it in its entirety. The Wayfarer Triptych strays away from the audio confines of a pop music structure, and is truly a breath of fresh air.
Stream The Wayfarer Triptych below! BUY the album, here!