Guitarist and singer Jessica Davies speaks to Rachael Clegg about Smoke Fairies’ recent ascent to critical acclaim
OCTOBER 18, 2009. The entire audience of the Lyceum Theatre is captivated by two young women on stage.
Barely out of their early twenties, the boho-looking duo woo the crowd with layers of acid-folk guitar, enchanting vocals and fragile, brooding melodies.
Their moniker, the Smoke Fairies, couldn’t be more fitting.
And this moment – supporting Richard Hawley in his home town – marks the start of a one-year ascension to serious recognition and prestigious collaborations with artists such as Jack White.
Last year they sang backing on Hawley’s False Lights From the Land EP, supported Laura Marling on her American tour and recorded their critically-acclaimed debut, Through Low Light and Trees.
Now, a year and a bit after Smoke Fairies’ captivating performance at the Lyceum, the pair are celebrating the release of their debut and preparing for a full UK tour.
“Now the album’s out it suddenly dawns on you that people are actually listening to our stuff. When I listen to it I can almost hear some review in my head but I have to block it out,” says guitarist and singer Jessica Davies.
Smoke Fairies’ music is evocative of the acid-drenched melodies of Crosby Stills Nash and Young and, more subtly, Richard Thompson’s needlework guitar in Fairport Convention: “We’re definitely influenced by Crosby Stills Nash and Young and quite a few people have said we remind them of Fairport Convention but I don’t own all their albums – it’s interesting how bands sound like each other without intending to.
“We’re not influenced by Fairport but perhaps our influences are the same as theirs.”
As for Crosby Still Nash and Young, Davies holds them in special regard: “With Crosby Stills Nash and Young they created a world for me as a kid. I grew up in Chichester and they were a window of what life would be like as an adult.”
Did Davies grow up to be the CSNY-styled adult she imagined: “No, not really,” she laughs.
They have been together since they were 11 years old. “We were classmates at school and have played music together ever since.
“The partnership has not affected our friendship, throughout the years, there’s been more pressure on us musically, but our friendship is based around music anyway. That’s how we know each other.”
Davies started listening to music from the age of seven: “I remember finding a tape of The Carpenters which belonged to my mum, I was obsessed with it. I then discovered Neil Young and CSNY, which I listened to until I could work out how to go and buy my own stuff.”
These influences can be heard on the new album, which was recorded at the prestigious Sawmills studio in Cornwall with PJ Harvey’s producer Head.
“It’s right on the estuary and you can only get there by boat. It’s a great place to go and I think the setting had quite an effect on the atmosphere of the album, it seeped into it.
“There was something about being among the trees and water that was really fitting for the album. I don’t think it would have sounded the same if we had recorded it anywhere else.”
But Through the Low Light and Trees is not the band’s first release.
“We’ve been self-releasing stuff for about three or four years but with this album we decided to put everything we had into and it and really invest in it.
“We only had ten days in the studio, so we planned as much as we could beforehand and knew exactly what we were going to do when we got there. There was quite a lot of background work.”
Smoke Fairies play at Plug later this month. “Playing gigs is really weird because some days you just go up and play but other gigs catch you out, some surprise you and you get really nervous.”
And if they can pull out another performance like that at the Lyceum, they’ll have nothing to be nervous about.
Smoke Fairies play at Plug on January 28.