Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn, formerly part of Cardiff-based band Halflight formed Paper Aeroplanes in 2009. Their music has been compared to Fleetwood Mac, Suzanne Vega, The Sundays, The Civil Wars and Laura Marling.
The duo have released three albums, “The Day We Ran Into The Sea”, “We Are Ghosts” and 'Little Letters", as well as three EPs. In the process, they’ve gained considerable recognition amongst some prominent champions of new music, such as 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, Cerys Matthews, Chris Hawkins and Lauren Laverne and Radio 2’s Bob Harris.
They are set to play the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre on Wednesday 19th November and to wet your appetites, we caught up with Sarah Howells and chatted about musical influences, earplugs and why their next album WON'T be available on audio cassette, here's how we got on....
Your latest album ‘Little Letters’ was released last year, did you approach the writing of this any differently than you did for ‘The Day We Ran Into The Sea’ and ‘We Are Ghosts’?
I wanted Little Letters to be more honest and real than anything we’d done before. It was important that the feelings were expressed in their truest form. Anger and sadness and weak moments like those in Circus, Little Letters and Fable that aren’t always are proudest emotional moments but I wanted them recorded and laid bare. Same with the more intimate expressions of love like in Singing to Elvis and Sleeper Train.
You play as a duo, solo or as a full band, how do you decide what will work best at each venue that you play?
Some venues just don’t sound good with drums in it. But there are other reasons that go into our decison. We can’t afford to take our band abroad yet so we generally play our songs as a duo and strip them back to their original form which is raw and intimate and preferred by some people. But when we can play around with full band line-up and really play the full spectrum of dynamics and moods that we’ve recorded on the albums it’s very exciting.
What are your views on the use of smartphones/tablet devices at concerts (Kate Bush doesn’t like them)?
I kind of agree with her. I used to love having our shows filmed but now that every single show is recorded by so many different people it’s taken the beauty out of it. Also it absolutely never captures the real atmosphere or quality of sound of a show filming it. Photos I like but taking them does distract you as an audience member and other people from enjoying the music and the moment. Like all things, these are both ok in small measures.
What made you want to start writing songs?
I learnt to play piano but i got board of learning to play sheet music and having to read other people’s compositions (Although I loved being able to play that too..Debussy is amazing) and wanted to make up my own little pieces. I always wanted to sing so writing songs meant I could do both. When I learnt guitar it freed me up to focus on singing and writing songs as I found it harder on piano for some reason. I’m getting back to writing on piano these days many years after I started as a child.
Who are your musical influences?
Radiohead, Tori Amos, Jeff Buckley, Fiona Apple, Fleetwood Mac.
You have received some great support from the likes of Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne and Bob Harris, how does it make you feel when people of this calibre notice your music?
Brilliant! They’re people I’ve listened to for years when I could only dream of getting played on the radio. I often forget to take it in and really savour how lovely that is to be honest.
What is your favourite Saturday Night and Sunday Morning record?
Saturday night: Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting
Sunday Morning: Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers
In the past, bands used to have to work a lot harder to gain popularity, do you think that social media has somewhat reduced the effort that bands have had to put into growing their fanbase?
Not really because now there are more bands than ever so you have to be inventive and genuine when talking to your fans. I do think that we all tend to forget about the music a little bit now that updating all the social networks is on a musicians To-do list.
I see that you are playing in Ireland prior to jetting off to Germany, what do you enjoy most about touring?
Meeting new people, playing live in general and seeing towns and cities I may never have gone to otherwise.
Please tell me 3 items that you always take with you on tour?
Earplugs for dealing with snorers, coconut water for my throat and hair spray.
Which guitar riff was the first to send shivers down your spine?
'Talk Show Host' by Radiohead
We’ve seen a resurgence of vinyl records in the past 5-10 years, with the launch of Cassette Store Day (www.cassettestoreday.com) recently, do you ever think we will see recorded cassettes available to purchase in the quantities that we did years ago?
No definitely not, they’re cute and I love nostalgia and remembering times past but cassettes were pretty low in the quality of music they provided and do not age well.
There are many great acts out there today, which would you recommend musicmuso fans to go check out?
Sivu, Rae Morris, Jess Morgan, Jenny Lewis and Lewis & Leigh
Prior to releasing Sarah back into the world, we thought it only fair that we pose a few quick fire questions to her....
Coffee or Tea? Either if it’s decaf
Coke or Pepsi? Coke but only if it’s with Sailor Jerry’s
Tattoos or Piercings? Tattoos
Bath or Shower? Shower
De Niro or Pacino? De Niro
Mac or PC? Mac
CD or Vinyl? Vinyl
Brad or George? George
Car or Motorbike? Car
Acoustic or Electric? oooh… acoustic
Angelina or Jennifer? Angelina
Fry up or Sunday roast? Fry up
Drum machine or the real deal? Real deal
Ozzy or Lemmy? Lemmy
Kermit or Miss Piggy? Kermit
Hot & Sunny or Cold & Snowy? Cold and Snowy
God or Google? Too deep for me!
We'd like to thank Sarah for taking time out to answer our questions and are really looking forward to them playing live in Exeter, we'll be there to capture the mood on the evening and to take some photographs, a full write up will be available as soon as they leave the stage (well, give it a few minutes!)
Interview by Steve Muscutt