Sarah Howells

Sarah Howells

Musical Discoveries: Can you tell us a bit more about your background leading up to the formation of Jylt?

Sarah Howells: I started music at about seven when I started having piano lessons. I sort of enjoyed it but hated practising inbetween lessons. I only really started to love playing the piano when I discovered I could make my own tunes and compositions. I performed a bit in primary school but got really nervous beforehand. Eventually I got my best friend, Nia, to write little songs with me and sing around the piano.

That progressed to various keyboard-based 'girl' groups, in secondary school. After a few years of school assemblies and the coming and going of various band members, Jylt was born. Two guys, Alex Cooper and Tim Ramsey, joined myself and Nia George to form a rock band, influenced by bands like the Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Sheryl Crow, etc.

And who have been some of your musical influences?

Tori Amos and Radiohead were two of my major obsessions during my teens, I'm still a fan of both but not to the extent I was. More recently I'm loving Gemma Hayes, The Frames, Yeah yeah yeah's, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Coldplay, Foo Fighters and I could go on and on.

What were the Jylt releases?

Jylt released one self-released single called "Retrospect" which we sold at gigs. We almost released a second on Uglyman Records called "Surrender."

So What happened to Jylt?

Jylt was going really well in 2002. We had hooked up with Uglyman Records who were funding our first proper release. We had done a really great Uni tour the year before and were getting quite excited about things. Uglyman saw great potential for us to go onto a major label. Then in August we were in Leeds recording "Surrender" and we had just played some small acoustic gigs at Glastonbury in June.

Sarah Howells

 

During the session Nia was taken ill. She seemed to have pretty bad flu and just wasn't up to singing her parts, so we finished off as much as we could and went home. A few days later Nia was diagnosed with Leukaemia. It was devastating. For us, her family and the whole town and everyone around Nia. Our dream collapsed.

After a month or so we were persuaded to carry on while Nia recovered, but the horrible feelings it caused, having to continue our dream without her and Nia having to sit by and watch, were too much for all of us. Jylt stopped playing in May 2003. Almost a year later on 21st February 2004, Nia passed away, aged 21.

That's a very sad story. How did Halflight form out of that devastation?

Well, the stand-in bass player who played with Jylt during that time was Richard Llewellyn. After the band collapsed I started doing a few open mic nights on my own in Cardiff and then we decided to write some songs together and turn it into a full-on project.

After a couple of duo gigs we started looking for a third instrument to add to the mix and when I saw Emma's ad for cellist on the internet, I gave her a call and a week or so later she was playing her first gig with us. It all came together quite easily, as both Rich and I obviously had quite a bit of band experience behind us.

So how would you characterise the music? Does anyone make similar-to comments to you?

Oh I hate describing our music! My fave comparison was when someone said it's like a pint of Guinness or a Choc Ice--light and dark. People have compared us to acts such as Kirsten Hersh, Bjork, Kate Bush and The Delgados when describing the music.

  Sarah Howells

Tell us all about the making of the "Subside" EP.

We recorded three of the four tracks on the laptop. It was simple and very basic. At one point Emma was recording her cello into a microphone balanced on a CamCorder tripod and I sang most of the vocals into a microphone taped to the banister at the bottom of Rich's stairs. We didnít want to cover it in overdubs. It's pretty much what you would hear live.

The opening track, "Where the Pins Drop" was recorded in a studio in Cardigan, West Wales, called Fflach. A friend of ours, Owen Thomas, kindly spent a few days recording and mixing with us and a friend of Rich's, Owen Hopkin--of the fantastic band The Crimea--worked his magic with the drums.

What do you have in mind for a full length album?

I'd like our debut album to be diverse. I love the music we're playing now but I want our album to demonstrate a wide range of styles without being inconsistent or confusing.

What's it like for you being out in front of the crowd?

I love it. The more people the better, although I get extremely nervous before playing at any gig. I just love singing and performing our stuff to people.

What would people say it's like to see you perform on stage?

I get pretty absorbed in the music. I think stage presence is partly something you work on as a performance but mostly just about feeling and becoming immersed in what you're doing. The skill is to get less and less inhibited over time, and I've been getting on stages for years now so Iím getting there.

How do they react to your onstage persona?

People are sometimes surprised at my stage presence because Iím a fairly queit person off stage. It's not like I become a different person or anything, I just think it's a different side of me.

Sarah Howells

 

Do you think the internet has had any effect on your musical career?

Yeah, the internet has played a huge role in my life for years now. Firstly it opened loads of door with regards to getting gigs and contacts and discovering labels etc and then of course the obligatory website which is admittedly a great marketing tool, especially for an unsigned band with little or no cash.

Do you think it will play a role in the future development, promotion or delivery of your music?

Definitely. In the future it will be impossible to escape. Weíre looking into getting our music on some download shopping sites and Iím sure the "single" is well on its way out. Eventually, I suppose, downloads will replace CDs altogether. It makes me a bit sad cos I like owning something tangible but youíve got to go with it. The music is the important bit so maybe this will help emphasise that.

When you dream about the future, where do you see your music going?

Well, obviously, we want to make a living out of the music and I want it to reach as many people as possible, without comprising the sound. The music itself, I hope will continue to progress and improve with more experimentation with recording.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Musical Discoveries readers?

2005 is packed already. Weíre working with a drummer and recording demos of new material so hope to have another EP out before the summer. Check out www.halflight.info and join the mailing list to keep informed.


More Sarah Howells
Jylt: Surrender (2003)
Halflight: Subside (2004)

interview and reviews © Russell W Elliot 2004
images © Halflight 2004 | used with permission
Last updated 10 January 2005


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