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Getting To Know: Tender Heights

The Tender Heights, an indie rock trio based in Cambridge, are turning heads with their unique sound. Drawing inspiration from PJ Harvey, Warpaint, and Sonic Youth, the band's frontwoman Georgina Cannon captivates with her ethereal vocals, while Brendan McGurk's dynamic drumming and James Wood's effects-heavy guitar work create a compelling mix of haunting melodies and gritty riffs.

Since their formation, The Tender Heights have quickly built a loyal following with their chilled grooves and raw, textured sound. Their debut single, 'New Boy' (2024), dives into the intricacies of modern relationships, exploring themes of desire, anticipation, and vulnerability with unfiltered honesty.

'New Boy' serves as a preview of their forthcoming EP, set to drop later this year, with a series of live shows to promote the release. Keep an eye out for more from The Tender Heights—they're just getting started.

1. Could you talk about how you first met and decided to start a band? Given your varied musical influences, from PJ Harvey to Sonic Youth, how did you shape your distinct sound as a band? 

We met through differing connections to Cambridge University (where both Georgie and James work and where Brendan himself studied). Georgie and Brendan were introduced by a mutual friend and University colleague who asked us to perform live for a big party he was planning. It was clear early on that we gelled and wanted to produce more new music. A Few months later, Georgie met James at the college at which he is a Fellow (Trinity Hall). After just one jam as a three, we were excited about the instant chemistry and quickly started rehearsing and writing on an almost weekly basis. 

Our sound evolved very organically – James and Georgie are the main songwriters but Brendan’s creative input is crucial and often takes things in a new direction.  The sound and vibe built on James’s distinctive effects laden guitar style and Georgie’s melodies and lyrics which have a pop as well as indie sensibility. Brendan’s creative drumming brings it all together and drives a lot of the final sound of each track. While we were all familiar with PJ Harvey’s work, James introduced Warpaint’s sound to the band, while Brendan’s love of Sonic Youth has rubbed off on James and informed some of the new songs we have written. We feel lucky that there as been, quite by coincidence, a strong overlap in our musical tastes and influences, all of which themselves have overlaps. It has meant that more often than not, we like and progress the new musical ideas of each of the others.

2. What is your typical songwriting process? How do you collaborate and incorporate each member's unique style, especially with the mix of haunting melodies, gritty guitar riffs, and chilled grooves?

It varies: Sometimes James will have an initial guitar idea or a whole song laid out to which Georgie will add melody and lyrics separately. Occasionally when the mood strikes Georgie she’ll write a whole song on the guitar that then James and Brendan put their stamp on it. More recently we have started to jam together more as a trio and songs are coming together directly in the rehearsal space, producing some really exciting results. 

We are all very open minded but we have an unspoken (til now) rule that we all have to love something for it to be developed. We test ideas out on each other at an early stage to gauge interest and if it’s not a winner we quickly move on. No one person dictates the whole sound and no one harbours hurt feelings if something is ditched. We all feel we can speak candidly about new ideas. This results in a lot of rough voice memos being exchanged on WhatsApp, sometimes from unlikely places – Georgie has been known to sing in to her phone when walking down the street or pull in to the side of the road to quickly record an idea before it evaporates. 

3. Your debut single, "New Boy," explores complex themes related to modern relationships. How do you approach writing lyrics, and what are some of the recurring themes you find yourselves drawn to in your music?

Sometimes a song will start with a word or a phrase and then the feeling and theme of the song emerges. I rarely sit down to write with a theme in mind though occasionally do use songwriting as therapy to work through something that’s going on in my life. For example, my Mum has had some really bad life-threatening health issues in the last few years and I could definitely release at least a short EP called ‘Songs About Mum’ if I chose to record them all! 

More usually, the initial words and the melody I come up with trigger something and the story of the song emerges. Not all songs are directly biographical but there has to be some kernel of truth in there, whether a feeling, a memory or sometimes a direct, relayed experience which is extrapolated into a song. Whenever I have written songs that are truly made up and have no notes of truth in them that relate to my own life or experiences, they are usually really bad. 

Beyond experiences in my own life, other themes that have cropped up include general raging against misogyny and violence towards women. I am lucky to be in a band with two uber feminist guys who were absolutely delighted when I told them a song I had just written was an angry feminist rant…

4. Since your first jam sessions, how do you feel you've grown as a band? What has changed in your music or your approach to creating it since those initial sessions?

I think we have a grown a huge amount – although the songwriting chemistry came quickly we are definitely more relaxed and less inhibited about sharing ideas and being vulnerable. We have definitely developed a ‘sound’ but even that seems to be constantly evolving and I think we are all really excited about where that sound is going. We have progressed many more songs to a stage where we could record them, yet the emergence of new songs which we become more excited about tend to take over. We don’t think it is a bad thing to be in a place where we have more that is ‘ready to go’ than we can physically / logistically lay down in the studio.

We have created a relaxed and collaborative dynamic where we can all give and receive feedback without drama and actually that feedback is usually what makes us think differently and able to really hone in on an idea. The fact that we are now writing all together in the moment is testament to how comfortable we are as a band now. 

5.  With the release of your new EP and upcoming live dates, what can fans expect from The Tender Heights in the near future? How do you plan to bring your unique sound to the stage and engage with your growing fan base?

We are keen to do more live gigs but really need a bass player now so James doesn’t have to be all things to all people, so this is a shoutout to any keen bassists in Cambridge to get in touch! We are keen to perform at showcase events – do support slots or new band stages at festivals so planning to do more of that.  

Beyond that we are writing furiously. We have two tracks done for our EP but 2-3 to record and many more to choose from so we are keen to get those down in the studio. In the meantime, expect more rehearsal content online and we’d love people to engage with us on Instagram and let us know what they think of the songs as they hear them. Our existing singles are gaining traction on Spotify and we’d love to see them played more widely on curated playlists and local radio. 


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