Hush the Many (Heed the Few) have one of the most incredibly apt band names I think I’ve ever come across. Watching them play at the Windmill in Brixton, the rowdy noise and pub atmosphere is put to sleep by the band’s haunting songs. At times, guitarist Nima’s voice is barely above a whisper - and bassist Alexandra (Alex)Brown gets just as quiet - but I can clearly hear every single word they sing.
Not that Hush the Many can’t put a bit of umph! into it when necessary. I can imagine, for example, that ‘Song of a Page’ could slip quite easily into full on rocking out towards the end, if only this were not an acoustic set.

Along with Nima and Alex, the core members of Hush the Many are guitarist Ruban Byrne and cellist Joanna Quail, but the band have been joined on stage by a multitude of different musicians, including members of the Memory Band and Sweetbriar. This year, they have recorded a session for Huw Stephens’ 'OneMusic' radio show and will be going on tour with Ed Harcourt in May.

I met up with Nima, Jo and Alex at the end of their set at the Windmill.

PB : How did you get together as a band?

N : Alex and I met through a friend that Alex was going out with at the time.

AB : I went to see Nima play at The Purple Turtle, doing some solo stuff, and I was like “wow, you’re pretty good! I do a bit of singing, you know” and he said “oh, that’s nice” and invited me to his house the week after.

N : We just recorded straight away on that night, and some of that stuff was just perfect. Having only met the week before and got together and recorded, some of that stuff ended up on the EP. It was just right. And then Ruban, I’d been in a band with before. I had a gig booked and Alex came and started singing, and then Ruban said he’d come and play with us. And then six months later we were at a gig in a venue in Nottingham – it was really weird, because we got offered a gig and it was quite a way for us to travel and we weren’t actually quite sure why we were going up there, but it felt right. And then at that gig, we all met Jo. It was just totally why we were there. I just remember looking over and seeing Jo laughing to herself. Smiling, in a good way!

JQ : I just wanted to join in!

N : Jo was playing cello with the band we were supporting. She was a session cellist.

PB : So did you come straight up to the others and say “I want to be in your band”, Jo?

JQ : Pretty much, yeah.

AB : It was more we went up to you, or Nima went up to you.

N : Basically, I saw Jo smiling to herself, and I really felt a huge vibe while we were on stage. And then it reversed and we watched Jo playing, and I remember thinking that there was so much more to what you were doing. It felt like there was so much behind the parts you were asked to play. Two weeks later we ended up playing a gig in the Borderline in London. That was the first full band gig, it was just like “let’s just do it”. I think we had one rehearsal and then we just did it.

PB : How did you come up with your name; it’s quite unusual, with brackets in it and everything.

N : It was one of those flash moments.

AB : He phoned me when I was at the station and said “what about Hush the Many, how does that sound?” And I said it to myself a few times, like “hmm, Hush the Many…Hush…the Many…yeah, good!”

N : It felt really relevant, on a few different levels. To be honest, I could babble about this name for ages, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily what you want from the interview.

PB : Feel free, I don’t mind!

N : I almost don’t want to go into it…

JQ : Just say what it means

N : When we met, it was at a time when there was lots of mad shit going on in the world, and it just felt like there were lots of clambering voices of madness everywhere, so the name’s kind of about voices of reason…

AB : That’d be a good name.

PB : That’s a bit emo.

N : Yeah, it is a bit.

AB : Yeah, it’s very emo.

N : It’s about how you get the mob, clambering voices and usually the voices of reason are the quiet, unheard ones that are below the main shout. And that kind of applies to inside our heads sometimes too; sometimes it’s really hard to listen to the voices of reason, do you know what I mean? So it’s about quietening things down. And in a way, with all the stuff that’s going on all over the place, it’s kind of a tribute to all of those quiet, unheard voices. That’s what the name is to me.

PB : That wasn’t babbling at all. That was good.

AB : Very eloquent.

PB : Do you have a song writing process; for example, does one person come to rehearsals with most of a song written, or do you all come up with different parts, etc.?

N : Songs and music, for us, could come from any moment or source. There isn’t any set process. I personally don’t care where the music comes from.

JQ : We all have quite different influences, as well, which comes to bear on how we write. I mean, I wouldn’t dream of writing a bass part or something like that…

N : But if it happens, then why not?

AB : I wrote a cello part on the bass. I went “I wrote this on the bass, but I think it would sound better on the cello”

JQ : It’s really…I hate the word “organic” in this context, but it is.

N : I think it’s important to stay open. I think songs and music just come if you let them. I don’t feel like a writer of music. When the best things come, it feels like they write themselves. The best songs just seem to write themselves.

PB : What inspires you, musically or lyrically?

N : My English teachers.

AB : The thing is we have such different influences.

JQ : I love British heavy metal; Priest, Maiden.

AB : I love Paul Simon’s lyrics. He’s a great lyricist. And Love. Did you hear the song in there they were playing? I’ve never heard it before. There was a cover of a song by Love that they were playing just after we were on, and it’s got this lyric: “You are just a thought that someone somewhere somehow feels you should be here”. I just love Love, but this was a really heavy cover, and it didn’t sound quite right. There was no emotion!

N : One of the things about listing influences is that you can kind of end up sounding like an advert for a drummer on a music notice board, like “Influences: Pixies, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley…” whatever it is. And if that list starts, I’m sure I could sit here until 3 in the morning listing things that have influenced me along the way. Jo influences me occasionally.

AB : I don’t. But I try.

N : Another thing, that naturally influences us, is the bands that we see playing around. I don’t know if we’re influenced by them, but…

JQ : You can’t help but be, really.

N : It’s definitely exciting, playing with all the bands that we’ve been playing with. I’ve been quite amazed by loads of music in the last couple of years, just in the live setting. And there’re loads of really good things ahead.

PB : What bands have you been playing with?

N : It’s really random. I think with our sound, we’re put together with lots of different bands of different styles. There was a band we became really good friends with from playing a couple of really small festivals around England with them. They were called Semble. They sadly recently split up, but there were so many times when we’d end up playing together, and so many happy moments. I remember Ruban and I one time just sitting and giggling away because the music was so good. And that’s just one style of music, and then there’s been other times when we’ve been with bands that will really rock out.

JQ : We’re playing here with Ed Harcourt soon.

N : Ed came and made a guest appearance at one of the shows we played recently. It was literally awesome. I could feel my face just sinking into my hands watching him. That sounds wrong, I mean I was like dripping through my fingers. That probably won’t come across, but you know what I mean; just drifting off.

AB : For me, for Ed to play before us – because usually before a gig, you’re kind of anticipating playing and your nerves are…

JQ : Up there.

AB : Up there, yeah, and just to sit and completely relax because someone’s playing something that you can just really enjoy and be engaged by, was a pretty special thing. And then you crap yourself because you’ve got to play after.

PB : You recently played a session for Huw Stephens 'OneMusic' program on Radio 1. What was that experience like?

N : It was great. Well, initially, it was a really amazing thing to be asked to come and play. There was immediate excitement, but then we realised that Jo couldn’t play, because she was away in Spain.

JQ : Can I just say I was on my honeymoon ? I wasn’t abandoning them for a holiday.

N : So, we had a stop and double take moment, but then Semble, the band that I mentioned before, joined us. Realising we didn’t have Jo with us, we realised we’d need about 3 people to take her place. Thankfully, we were joined by some amazing musicians, one played violin and one played cello, both from Semble, and then Howard Monk from Billy Mahoney joined us on the drums. Between the six of us it was really nice, because we like varying things anyway, just having different combinations. Like tonight, we played acoustic, and then next week we’re going to play with a drummer. So that session became a real one off combination of sounds and music, and the versions were real one offs, so in that sense it was perfect.

AB : It’s good to feel professional, when everything’s catered for, and you’ve got people at your beck and call. Just having your own mix in front of you was a really novel thing, to be able to say “I want to hear my guitar. I want more of this”, and just to be able to control your own mixes.

N : One of the things that is worth mentioning is that I like a lot of what Huw does in Radio 1, and actually being asked to come and play that session was just a real honour for all of us. Putting faith in us to come and do that and thinking of us and wanting to come and play was just really great.

AB : He’s the sort of DJ there should be more of. He plays the things he actually likes as opposed to the things he’s told to play.

N : I love listening to that show.

PB : Did you get a lot of attention after the session?

N : A lot of people got in touch. I think word was growing at that time anyway, in different ways, and coupled with the session, there were people who were coming across us and some of them were going “oh, I hear you did a session”. It wasn’t like, you know…

AB : 5000 hits on the website the next day. There were quite a few more.

N : There were actually quite a few visitors to the web.

AB : But it was a gradual thing. You could probably see it if you got a graph over a period of time.

N : We were getting a lot of e-mails on like Myspace and things like that. That was the nicest thing. People just said some amazing things, like one person said that they heard the session on the radio in the car and they just had a moment, just watching the rain hit the windscreen. When people write in with things like that or saying how the music was for them that was the best thing that I can remember from it. That was lovely.

PB : As you said, you have a Myspace site, as everyone seems to these days! What do you think is the appeal of it?

AB : I think it’s a really, really useful thing.

N : I think it’s an interesting thing. It can be really useful. It’s like an alternative form of website. It just has different features to a usual website. The fact that you link with people is good.

AB : Well the fact that you can put music on there and videos for free, and things like that, and you can put your gig dates up and, individually, you can put your own calendar up there and say what gigs you’re going to.

N : You can do that on a normal website.

AB : Yeah, but everyone’s in the same place as well, so you can see your friends myspace and all that things. And recently – because they have blog groups on there, and things like that, and I never really saw the appeal of those sort of things, until I was asked to joint his one recently. There’s about 20 people on this group, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to join a group and I’ve actually thought wow, this is really interesting, because the people on there have used their blogs to say what they think are important things and used them as a stand point to write poetry and stories, and really be creative with it and write things that it’s actually really interesting to read, rather than saying about the argument you had with your boyfriend last night, which should really be in your diary, you know? Why are you publishing for the public? No one wants to read that! Well, I don’t anyway. I think if people see the potential of how they can use their space – I think that’s quite an important thing, because it’s your space. It’s where you can put anything that you think is important or interesting, or art you think is good to look at…

N : That’s still kind of the same as a website for me.

AB : Yeah, but it’s all already formed. Nobody has to know html. They don’t have to build the thing themselves. Everything’s already there. It’s a really good template for doing all those things.

N : Yeah, it is easy to use, and because of that you can just link through quickly and just hear music immediately from different bands. For me, just being able to link with someone who gets in touch with you, just look at their profile and see what bands they like, and then occasionally you see a band profile and you think oh wow, I’ve been meaning to check that band out for years, and within a click you can hear a few songs. I mean, it’s kind of had its weird moments. There’s a lot of people who are just doing a popularity contest, but we just try and avoid that as much as possible.

AB : Try and know all your friends. That’s a good start. Or at least of had some contact with them.

PB : Lots of different people have played with you live. Is that for diversity at your gigs, or just for the pleasure of playing with these people?

N : It’s both. It’s really fresh for us hearing the music in different contexts. We might play a gig as a 6 piece with a particular bassoonist and a particular violinist, and there’s a one off combination that happens there, and then at another gig we might play with a particular drummer or something. So for us, every time different people bring in their energy. It’s like new ideas and fresh sounds can come from that.

AB : It makes you realise the scope for what works soundscape-wise.

N : Yeah, we’ve learnt a lot about our music. In fact, from playing with 3 or 4 different drummers, I’ve learnt a huge amount about our songs and our song writing, and what our songs mean, because of the fact that they were all so different. It’s like ah, ok, so maybe a bit of that there, and a bit of that there, and it becomes the ideal mix. We also have just meant so many incredible musicians that it’s too tempting not to do it.

PB : Have you ever played a gig with someone and then thought they were so good that you’d have to get them to play on your next record or EP?

N : It’s a really organic process. We haven’t really been thinking in terms of records. The EP that we released, I mean we didn’t set out to record an EP. It’s just like we were recording for the love of the music that we were playing at the time and then at one point it naturally realised that it was growing into something that fit together and balanced itself out enough to paint one picture. And if that happens again, it might include anyone. There might be songs that don’t include some of us, that might include other people. There’s no real set plan. We just take the recordings as they come and just record lots rather than having a pre-planned session.

A : We’re not closed to anything, basically. If it feels right to invite someone to do some recording, or if they’d like to and they offer and it feels right at the time, then of course we’d accept it and see what happens.

N : It might be that we recorded loads of bits down for a track and then call a friend to say “do you fancy trying this?” and then we call another friend and they might come and try something out, and maybe one out of three different things will work, so it’s just a case of whatever works.

AB : In terms of playing with other musicians, we never said “oh, a bassoon would work well on this” or anything like that, but it just so happened that there was…

N : Well, actually, on that occasion, we were watching a set where this guy was playing a bassoon and I think Alex turned to me just as I’d had the same thought and just said like “let’s ask him to play!”, because we were playing next, and five minutes later, we met this guy and he joined us for a set.

AB : He’s a really intuitive player as well. Something like the bassoon could be really intrusive, but he was really considerate of the music around him.

N : We just saw him. It felt right. We asked him. We played. It was great. There was a festival where this guy just came on stage halfway through our set and started playing the drums and it was awesome, so then we did a tour together the next year.

AB : He was incredible. The first time we played with him I was completely baffled as to how he knew where the stops and starts were, especially in songs like ‘Song of a Page’ which kind of push and pull at the timing. Our set is not the easiest type of music to drum to. There's not a set beat at any point really, so he really just played really organically and just knew what the vibe was and really nailed it just without ever hearing our music.

N : Yeah it was magical. We didn’t see him for a year, and then we bumped into him at a festival and we did it again and then we went on tour.

PB : I’ll bring things to a close now, as I’ve taken up a lot of your time. I was just wondering what your plans are for the next year, or the future generally.

N : Well at the moment we’ve got an incredible array of gigs ahead. We’re playing with lots of amazing people. Our focus is on the live thing at the moment, but at the same time, we just went to a studio recently and did lots of recording that was sounding great and we’re just going to keep active. I think we’ve got about 30 gigs booked and loads of festivals, and we’re playing with some amazing musicians like Ed Harcourt and Vetiver and tonight Akron/Family. It’s really exciting to think of these marvellous gigs ahead at the moment. I feel like we’ve got quite a path laid out ahead of us.

PB : Thank you.











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