AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to Heledd Watkins from HMS Morris – one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists – about the band’s Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.
Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly Welsh psych-indie trio HMS Morris – comprised of Heledd Watkins (vocals/guitar/synths), Sam Roberts (bass/synths/loops/backing vocals) and Wil Roberts (drums) – sound like or what similar artists they remind you of, there is something darkly hypnotic about their music that pulls in from the first listen.
Murky guitar riffs and sentimental lyrics are filtered through a prism of technicolor electro-pop soundscapes and Heledd’s divine vocal. What can be agreed on is that the resulting sound is pure melodious bliss.
The band recently performed a handful of cuts at the iconic BBC Maida Vale studio as part of the Horizons 2015 scheme. Heledd Watkins spoke to AfterDark’s Dean Hodge about performing at Maida Vale, the band’s year with Horizons and their advice to the soon-to-be-announced Horizons 2016 acts.
DEAN: First of all, can you explain the three tracks you recorded at Maida Vale and why you chose them?
HELEDD: The first track was Aur/Gold (Want It) which we recorded in both Welsh and English. Then we did O Dan yr Un Lloer and we finished off with Interior Design which will hopefully be one of the next singles before the new album. We wrote those three tracks for our new album and we chose them just because they’re our favourites really.
DEAN: Is there a specific date planned for the upcoming single and album?
HELEDD: There’s no exact dates yet, but we’re hoping to get the single out by the end of March or early April. Then hopefully that will be followed by an album, just before the festival season kicks off too.
DEAN: Are their any gigs or festival slots in the pipeline so far?
HELEDD: We’re doing a few gigs in February in Cardiff. One of the shows we’re doing in Cardiff is in Clwb Ifor Bach as a support act for the band The Elwins from Canada, who are touring the UK this year.
We’ve not set much up in terms of festival appearances, but we do have a slot at FOCUS Wales in Wrexham lined up in April. We did Swn Festival last year so we’ll likely do the next one in November this year as well.
DEAN: What was the experience of performing in Maida Vale like?
HELEDD: I had played at Maida Vale once before doing session work. Just being in the building itself is amazing, but being able to perform there with your own band is something truly special. It’s such an iconic place. You walk through the building and all the corridor walls are adorned with pictures of all the artists that have previously recorded there, which does make you feel slightly overwhelmed.
DEAN: Even though you’ve been in Maida Vale before, was it another level for you performing centre stage with your own band there?
HELEDD: When you go in with your own band and perform your own songs, which you’re put all your heart into for the past few months, it’s an incredible if slightly overwhelming feeling. The opportunity to record there is something that doesn’t come around often, so we wanted to make sure we got everything right on the day.
It was great how smooth everything went. The first two tracks were done in almost instant fashion. By the third one, we were all a bit tired as a result of the past week, so it took a little longer!
DEAN: Because this was the last day many of the Horizons crew were together, was there a lot of mixed emotions on the day?
HELEDD: It did feel a bit weird. I was talking to Jayne (Rowlands) and Bethan (Elfyn) from BBC Radio Wales, who look after all the Horizons artists, and they got a little emotional about the day which in turn set me off a little bit. Even though we are on the current Horizons scheme until February, this was the last day where many of us were all together, so Maida Vale was a final farewell in some ways.
There was a lot of mixed emotions, because as awesome as the day was, it was tinged with some sadness. But we know we’ll see many of the Horizons team again in the future, and we’ll definitely be attending some of the other artists’ gigs.
“You walk through the building and all the corridor walls are adorned with pictures of all the artists that have previously recorded there, which does make you feel slightly overwhelmed.”
DEAN: Taking from your own experience with Horizons, what advice would you give to the next class of Horizons artists in 2016?
HELEDD: Just be prepared really to gig hard, practice and rehearse a lot. Make sure to rehearse playing acoustically quite early too, because Horizons put on a lot of acoustic performances throughout the year. Playing acoustically was a really new thing to us because we incorporate a lot of electronic elements into our sound, so it was a challenge for us to translate our songs into an acoustic sound.
DEAN: What benefitted the band most from being with Horizons?
HELEDD: More than anything, it just gave us a chance to play more and more live shows, which was great for us because we love playing in a live environment. We feel our live performance has progressed so much throughout the year.
Additionally, it’s opened many doors for us to a lot of new audiences and radio stations that we wouldn’t have been able to reach without the support of Horizons. For instance, a session we did with Horizons at Festival Number 6 was broadcast on BBC 6Music, and we got such a fantastic response from that.
DEAN: As a band, is playing live much more natural to you than recording?
HELEDD: I just love the experience of playing live. I’ve always love performing, which perhaps has stemmed from having a Drama background. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘drama queen’ and love showing off, which channels nicely into being a frontwoman of a band.
We want to keep building on our live performances now and look for ways to add more and more to our shows, so that is our goal for the next year. For instance, we had dancers join us for our performance at Festival Number 6, so we’re playing with the idea of integrating dancers into more of our live shows.
DEAN: Is it a challenge for you to translate the sounds and energy you create on stage into a studio environment?
HELEDD: That’s a really difficult thing for us because we have a lot of live ‘looping’ that makes the live shows much more interesting. To try and get that across when you’re recording is really difficult. So we do have to change things about a lot when we’re recording, and concentrate on parts of the production.
DEAN: To round off the interview, can you sum up your Horizons journey in one line?
HELEDD: An educational and musical rollercoaster, with a lot of wild turns within.
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