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Sura Laynes: Navigating Life's Turbulence Through Music



Formed in late 2022, Sura Laynes is a four-piece rock and roll band hailing from Derby, UK. Renowned for their original songs that boast strong melodies and impactful lyrics, the band’s sound is characterized by clean, crisp guitars and powerful vocal harmonies, reminiscent of influential bands like The La’s, The Libertines, and The Beatles. At the core of Sura Laynes are founding members Tommy Walsh and JJ Marriott, who met through a mutual friend and quickly forged a deep musical connection. Despite facing significant personal challenges—Tommy balancing fatherhood and JJ overcoming addiction while managing Autism and ADHD—their undeniable chemistry and passion for music prevailed.


In the early days, Sura Laynes performed mostly as a duo due to the difficulty of finding the right bandmates. However, in late 2023, the lineup was completed with the addition of Paul Harrison on drums and Paul “Pablo” Whittington on bass, solidifying the band’s unique rootsy sound.


Embracing an unconventional approach, Sura Laynes recorded their debut album entirely on 8-track cassette at Groovefarm Analog Recording Co in Chesterfield. This decision to capture an authentic, live sound paid off, resulting in a “Perfectly Imperfect” album filled with heart and soul. Lead singer and songwriter Tommy Walsh, influenced by his love of poetry and human stories, writes lyrically and melodically powerful songs that explore a diverse range of themes—from love and loss to historical and personal narratives. In this interview, we delve into the journey of Sura Laynes, their creative process, and the stories behind their music.


1. Your self-titled debut album was recorded entirely in analog to an 8-track cassette. What motivated you to choose this recording method, and how did it impact the final sound of the album?


We first booked in at Groovefarm towards the end of last summer. It was more of an experiment really - we wanted to see what analog recording was like, especially given that a lot of the bands we love are from the 50s and 60s, the heyday of analog recording. We went down initially for a day and loved it from start to finish. We just played and played the same two songs, and got into a groove while Liam (producer and owner of Groovefarm) got everything sounding better and better. We recorded live as a band in one room, without headphones, just like you would in a rehearsal or gig situation. I think that freed us up to play better. We were all used to recording our parts seperately, usually to a guide track or click, which is more common for recording digitally. So it was a nice change and a surprise to us that we found it easier to record in analog. Bands seem to think that recording in analog in the 21st century is the equivalent to using a mangle to do your washing - but we found it much easier and it brought out the best in us. The technical aspects are obviously complicated, but that's what your producer is there for - and Liam at Groovefarm is the best.


This all coincided with the way I've been feeling for a while about the state of music. It feels like everything is becoming increasingly phony and pre-packaged, at least in the mainstream anyway. It's always been going that way but the introduction of AI in art and music keeps me up at night - I find it horrifying. I felt like making an album which was mainly live to tape was the most honest and truthful thing we could do. It was like an act of rebellion to do something this naked. There are mistakes on the album, but that makes it more human to me, and there are audible mistakes in all of the greatest records - listeners come to love them and see them as part of the package. I'm quite proud to be putting out an album that isn't perfect, because I know that we made the best record that we could with the budget and timeframe we had. We could have made something technically perfect with the same budget in a digital studio, but would it have had the same heart and soul? I don't think so.


When we heard the mixes we were so happy. It's hard to describe it because I really have no idea about the technical aspects of recording, but there's a timelessness and a warm feeling to the sound on this album that I just don't think you could recreate by recording digitially. And Liam also did some tape splicing - cutting bits of tape with a razor blade and taping them back together to make crazy sounds - the soundscape he created sits perfectly on the album and sets the last song up. It was a priveledge to get something like that on the album as I don't imagine many producers still have that skillset in 2024.


2. The formation of Sura Laynes came at a challenging time for both you and JJ Marriott. How did these personal struggles shape the music you create together?


I first met JJ through our mate Andy, who named the band and then left us! JJ was coming out of years of addiction. He got this diagnosis of autism and ADHD, and he realised that he'd been self medicating with booze and drugs for years. So I think this band came along at the right time for him. I was struggling a bit with being a Dad for the first time and being pretty low from various things. We're both pretty hard on ourselves, but I think we believe in each other more than we do ourselves. The best bands are greater than the sum of their parts, and I think that's the case with Sura Laynes. JJ is the most instinctive musician I've ever worked with - I bring him a basic song and in half an hour he's turned a black and white sketch into a colourful piece of art. And we love doing it that much that it soothes our souls during the process!

3. Your music features influences from bands like The La’s, The Libertines, and The Beatles.


How do you blend these inspirations with your own unique sound to create something fresh and original?


I worship The La's, because of the truth and honesty of what they did. I think that ethos is one of the big inspirations for what we're trying to do. The Libertines were the band that meant the most to me when I was 16, so they've inspired me ever since. The biggest thing they did for me was make me feel like being into poetry and literature was cool - I'd always done it as a kid but felt like I had to keep it quiet until then. I think very hard about my lyrics and I think I partly take that from them. And The Beatles - well, they just blow my mind, even now. In history they date things by saying that it was BC or AD. In rock n roll it's BB and AB. There will never be a band with that combination of talent and chemistry again - lots of bands have one or the other, but to have both of those is almost a miracle.


4. The album was recorded at Groovefarm Analog Recording Co, known for its emphasis on live, authentic sound. Can you share any memorable moments or challenges from the recording sessions?


The studio is in an old barn on Liam's farm. It's so atmospheric - it feels like ghosts are watching you from the rafters. It's littered with amazing audio equipment from days gone by which Liam has serviced and brought back to life. The only drawback is in the winter, it's fucking freezing. I remember Liam asking me to take my coat off to record some vocals because it sounded like I was being restricted, then he laughed because he discovered I had another coat on under my coat, and a jumper on under that! The only source of heat was an old range which we kept fed with logs. Liam kept trying to cook sausage rolls in there, but he'd walk off to do something else then come back 2 minutes later to discover they'd been burnt to a crisp. Then there was the powercut - I was tracking some acoustic guitar for the last track on the album, doing quite a nice take if I say so myself, and there was a pop and the whole place went dark! Then Liam had a tinker with some wires and the place came back to life again after a few minutes. Needless to say I had to start my take all over again though.


There were loads of challenges, but I think that adds to the memories and the mythology. Our drummer Paul only joined us about a fortnight before we went in to record the album - Liam played drums on two of the tracks... Our previous bassist Colin didn't really have the time to commit to getting the album done, so we had to change and bring Pablo in after we'd already done two recording sessions. Because of this we ran out of time in the recording sessions that we'd booked in, so Liam very kindly invited us over to do it one evening when he'd put his kids to bed. Then he told us we're not leaving until he got everything he needs from us, which took us to about 3 in the morning I think!


In spite of the challenges it was a brilliant experience from beginning to end. Liam is so passionate about what he does that you can't help being swept up in his enthusiasm, but he's also a pretty laid back cat, so you don't feel under pressure to produce the goods - it just happens naturally.



5. Your songs cover a wide range of themes, from love and personal struggles to historical events. Can you delve into the inspiration behind a couple of your favorite tracks on the album?


I write about anything that interests me really, whether it's personal to me or someone else's story. Some of the songs on the album are straight up love songs. Blade in my Back, our first single, is about a girl that I was seeing when I was in my early 20s. She had a boyfriend who was a scary character and the song is really about my fear about him coming to get me. Alessia and the Sea was written after my wife and I watched a documentary on Netflix about Alessia Zechinni, a freediver who fell in love with someone who gave his last breath to save her from drowning. It was too good a story not to write a aong about. Then the last song on the album, Sweet By and Bye, is written about a soldier from Belper, the town where I live, who died as a prisoner of war in Thailand during World War 2. I read an article about him and I felt like I could see him in his final moments, dreaming about going home. I love the idea of giving the dead, especially the forgotten dead, a kind of immortality by writing a song about them. So many terrible things can happen, but writing a song about them makes it feel better somehow - at least in my eyes.



6. With your album releasing soon, what are your plans for promoting it? Are there any upcoming gigs or tours that your fans can look forward to?


The album goes out on the Friday 5th July, then on the Saturday we're supporting The Bluetones at The Flowerpot in Derby, then the following day we have an album launch event on 7th July at Mr Shaw's House on Sadlergate in Derby. We're going to have a listening party for the recorded album, then play an acoustic set of the album tracks. We have a fair few gigs booked in around Derby but we're a bit limited as to how regular and how far we can go as we all have kids. The hope for the future is that we'll be able to make enough income as a band to dedicate more time to doing the thing we love - that's the dream anyway!


UPCOMING GIGS:

28th June - The Feather Star, Wirksworth supporting Frank

July 6th - supporting The Bluetones at The Flowerpot, Derby

July 7th - album launch party - listening party followed by acoustic performance at Mr Shaw's House, Sadlergate, Derby

13th July - full band set at Tyler's for Nailed It! Belper music festival

August 17th - Acoustic set at Feather Star  Wirksworth

August 31st - charity gig at Electric Daisy, Derby


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