Samson and Delilah is the musical project of Manchester-based husband and wife, Sam Lench and Anna Zweck.

Lench, who had previously played in various local indie bands, and the classically-trained and Australian-born Zweck recorded Samson and Delilah’s 2009 self-titled debut album as a duo.

For their second album, ‘And Straight On Till Morning’, which came out in January, Lench (vocals, guitars, viola, accordion, glockenspiel and percussion) and Zweck (vocals, flute, piano, accordion) have expanded Samson and Delilah into a five piece, which also includes Michael Doward (double bass, electric bass and vocals), Tammy Hermann (flute, piano, accordion, piano, vibraphone, glockenspiel and vocals) and Tom Rydeard (drums, percussion, vocals).

‘And Straight On Till Morning’ was recorded in a Victorian theatre in nearby Salford by Brendan Williams, who also co-produced it with the band. With a startling front cover of a boy stumbling across an immense dragon-like creature, it has an otherworldly late night psychedelic folk sound, and, in part inspired by J.M. Barrie’s novel ‘Peter Pan’, examines escape and flight as one of its main themes.

Like its predecessor, ‘And Straight On Till Morning’ has been released on the remarkable Manchester-based label Little Red Rabbit Records collective, which also includes on its roster Last Harbour, Anna Kashfi, Michael Doward’s solo project Crazy Man Michael and Lazarus Clamp.

In conversation with Pennyblackmusic, Anna Zweck spoke about Samson and Delilah and ‘And Straight on Till Morning’.

PB: You and Sam, as well as being a married couple, also have a songwriting partnership. How does your songwriting work? Do you each start by writing separately and then contribute to each other’s songs, or does it work in a different way?

AZ: It varies from song to song really. We do write separately. What sometimes happens though is that I will write the lyrics and then Sam will contribute the music. As far as arranging goes, it is very much an organic process.

With a song like ‘Gravity is Merciless’, for example, I had an idea for a guitar part and I sung it out to him, and then he created what I considered to be the strongest part of the song with the arrangements (Laughs). It is very much a shared experience.

PB: Have things changed dramatically since the band got involved?

AZ: Absolutely. We are a far more dynamic ensemble these days at gigs. On the second album the band were also involved in writing a lot of the parts. Sam and I would generally bring our songs to the ensemble written, but then we would arrange that together as an ensemble.

PB: When you and Sam write lyrics do you generally sing your own lyrics?

AZ: Yeah, it often pans out that way, but there have been exceptions where Sam has sung my lyrics.

PB: Why have you and Sam decided to name yourself after Samson and Delilah, probably the two most mismatched lovers in Biblical history. Is it because you are classically-trained while Sam is more from an indie background?

AZ: It is a name that we thought people would know and remember. It has a story and a history to it. It has a sense of drama and romanticism, but we thought we could make it our own as well. There is an obvious connection with Sam’s name (Laughs).

PB: Michael Dorward is well known in Manchester music circles, and plays with pretty much every band on the Little Red Rabbit roster as well as having his own project Crazy Man Michael. Who are Tammy Hermann and Tom Rydeard?

AZ: Tammy studied flute with me at the Conservatorium in Adelaide. We both studied classical flute, and then she happened to move over to the UK at about the same time as me.

Sam and Tom both studied music at Salford University. They were also in another band together. Tom has also recently joined pretty much every band on Little Red Rabbit’s roster (Laughs). He and Sam are actually both recording tonight with Last Harbour as we speak.

PB: ‘And Straight On Till Morning’ was recorded in an old Victorian theatre in Salford. How did you discover this theatre and why did you decide to record it there?

AZ: Brendan Williams, our producer, is a lecturer at Salford University where Sam and Tom studied. He told us about it. We had a sample run at the place to see if it would work. It was just such a lovely atmosphere that we decided to pretty much record the whole album there.

PB: Is it still functioning or is it disused?

AZ: Oh, no. It is still very much an active theatre. It is part of Salford University and used by them for their recital programme.

PB: What is Brendan’s musical background? Does he do a lot of production work?

AZ: Increasingly. Yeah. He is working with quite a talented up-and-coming band at the moment called the DutchUncles, and he is doing a lot of producing now. He is a lovely guy, so easy to work with. He as a wealth of recording knowledge and a lot of interesting ideas.

For example with both ‘I Took Your Hand’ and ‘Black Dog’, he did the vocals with Sam standing at the back of the long hallway and then put mics progressively along the hallway in front of him, and then bounced them off a piano. It created a great atmosphere on both those songs. It was fascinating watching him work.

PB: How long did it take you to record the album?

AZ: It took about ten days, including overdubs. It was pretty tight (Laughs). We block booked the theatre for five days, and then for five days we were yo-yoing about at various venues and mixing.

PB: How much of the album came about through improvisation and how much of it was pre-planned?

AZ: It was a little bit of everything. A lot of the songs we had gigged already when we were doing the tour for the first album. They were familiar. We had also rehearsed the songs as thoroughly as we could as we knew we had to be completely on top of them to get that number of songs out in that number of days. Some of the instrumental sessions were, however, improvised.

PB: The title of the album takes its name from a line out of ‘Peter Pan’, which also inspired several of the lyrics on the album. What was the appeal to you of ‘Peter Pan’?

AZ: The title for the album was actually chosen by Kevin Craig who designed the album artwork. He suggested it, having listened to and read some of the lyrics. Part of what ties in so well is the idea of escapism and fantasy and exploration. Part of it is that we are a group of five people who don’t really want to grow up (Laughs).

There have also been periods where I have been in Australia, and Sam has been over here. A lot of the lyrics focus on time and distance, which is another of the themes of ‘Peter Pan’, and where you belong and where do you not belong.

PB: The other main theme of the record seems to be mortality, especially on songs like ‘Gravity is Merciless’ and ‘Rope Has Bound the Shadows Down’. Would you agree?

AZ: Yes, absolutely. It is something that both Sam and I have had to deal with. I think that as you get older you become more aware of these things.

PB: Many of the songs on the album as ‘Brother Jon’ and ‘Gravity is Merciless’ are very restrained. You keep expecting them to let rip, and they never quite do so which creates great tension. You had a repetitive strain injury at the time. How much of that came as a result of that and the fact that you perhaps couldn’t have played the piano as you might have liked?

AZ: If that was the case, it was pretty unconscious. I think that a lot of that creating tension, and never quite letting it happen, was influenced by my background in classical music.

PB: How long did you spend at the Conservatorium?

AZ: Both Tammy and myself did a four year degree back home, and then on top of that I had a couple of years where I was learning intensively with a teacher afterwards. I have gone from practising my flute for four or five hours a day to fitting it in when I am not at work (Laughs). It is a contrast.

PB: ‘The Ground ’just involves drums and the band’s vocals, but it has a lot of echo. Is it true that you put your vocals through a piano to achieve that?

AZ: Yes, Brendan had this old piano which had innards that were fairly accessible. He put mics on the front and back of that. Tom was sitting on one side banging a big drum, and on the other side there was us, the four other members of the group, singing into it and with the strings resonating from the microphones.

PB: ‘Black Dog’ is a term for depression. Is that song about that?

AZ: Yes, Winston Churchill famously described it as that. I periodically suffer from depression and Sam has to live with it (Laughs), so that was what brought it on. There is the mythical English Black Dog as well. Sam was writing both about the projected black dog from English mythology and then the sense that we have of it now.

When we play it, people say that it is such a happy, fun, carefree tune. It is probably the most upbeat sounding song on the album. The contrast between the music and its lyrical content is quite interesting and what holds it up as a good song.

PB: ‘Begone Dull Care’ ia a traditional number. Where did you discover that song and why did you decide to put it on the record?

AZ: We had heard it a few times. Then Sam got James Raynard’s album, ‘Strange Histories’, of a few years ago. His friend Nick had played on that, and there was a version of it on there. We listened to the album and we loved his interpretation of it. Then Sam reworked it to really make it his own as a guitarist. It is something that I really enjoy playing live as an ensemble. We really get a kick out of it and I think audiences do as well. They are always very attentive when we play ‘Begone Dull Care’.

PB: Little Red Rabbit Records is very unusual in the way that it is run as a collective. Obviously Michael and Tom are heavily involved because as you said they play with all the other bands. How did Little Red Rabbit Records contribute to this album in particular?

AZ: David Armes, Last Harbour’s guitarist, does a lot of the press work. He is great with getting words right, and so when it comes to the press releases he really contributes. He also does an amazing amount with our smaller scale single releases. Kevin Craig, who sings in Last Harbour, does all the design work. The beautiful front cover that we have got for that album, and both our singles from it are his work. He has been really generous with his time.

Little Red Rabbit are an amazing group of people. The collective works really well. For example, as well as recording Last Harbour’s album, Sam helps to run Little Red Rabbit’s monthly night at Sacred Trinity, Salford. Everyone contributes as best they can. I think that it is a really good way to run a label.

PB: What are your plans next?

AZ: Whatever we can (Laughs). We are at the stage in which we want to take it to the next level. We are looking at agents and managers and touring more. We’d really like to gig more. We will just see what happens with that.

PB: Thank you.

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