Interview: Stray Weather

Words by Daniel Rourke

The UK spoken word scene is slowly growing into something rather special. Fronted by the likes of Kate Tempest, a scene that used to live and die at open mic nights is now rearing its head towards corporate venues and sold out crowds.

Whilst Leeds-based spoken word artist Stray Weather may not quite be at the level of Tempest and co just yet, the release of their upcoming EP 'Tragedy' suggests that they are on to something rather special. We caught up with frontman Mikey Brown to discuss the EP, how the solo project turned into a full band venture, and much more.

Burn After Writing: Your new EP 'Tragedy' comes out on Saturday 21st January, what can you tell us about it?

Mikey Brown: I started writing it in November 2013, which makes me sound like the least productive person I know [laughs]. I don't really know what happened, I just did bits and bobs from time to time, then I started working on it again last year.

I took part in Words First, which was a collaboration between Radio One Xtra and Roundhouse in London. The whole point of the project was to big-up the spoken word scene - that may have been the worst word I could have used there [laughs]. It created a bit of a platform for spoken word artists, and I managed to get through to the final round, and that sort of gave me the kick I needed to realise I'm alright at this.

I finished up the lyrics last year, and we finished recording it last January. We're finally releasing it next week. It's been a bit mad, I've moved house again and various other things. We're at a good point now, we're a full band now and we have the EP. The EP was mainly written by myself, and produced by some of the other guys who are in the band. It's just clicked, it just feels right to be a band.  

Even though it's called 'Tragedy', it's not about stuff that's happened in the past year, even though the past year has been a bit tragic for quite a few of us in the band. I'm glad that we're releasing it now though, it feels like a fresh start. 2017, fresh start and all that sort of thing. Not new year, new me, but you get what I mean [laughs].

BAW: This is your first full band release under the Stray Weather name, what made you decide that full band was the way to go rather than another solo release?

MB: I started writing music when I'd been on tour with my friend The Lion and the Wolf, and we ended up jumping onto a show with Bad Ideas, and obviously it was a punk show, well, apart from me and Tom (TLATW).  I started to think that it was going to be so hard getting gigs on my own, even though I am rooted in the punk scene.

I've been playing in bands since I was fifteen, so I wanted to include music. It was a no-brainer to me. I started to get the guys involved as a live band, so I was called Stray Weather and they were called The Forecast, in a sort of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls or Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes kind of way. It made sense and I started to feel more comfortable doing it.

I wanted that energy, I wanted that live atmosphere. I didn't want it to be myself doing spoken word or rapping over a backing track. I wanted the live element, I wanted the energy of a live performance. We started practising, and we came up with loads of ideas, everyone started throwing stuff down. It was like 'this is a band now', it just sort of clicked. I was like: "So, erm, do you guys want to be a band?" it was like a relationship or something [laughs]. It just made sense, it seemed like a natural progression.

There's people who write it all themselves then get a band in, but we were writing together, so it seemed unfair. 'Tragedy' is all stuff I've written, but what we're writing now is stuff we've written together, and I think it's going to be better.

BAW: Compared to 2014's 'Epiphany' EP, 'Tragedy' seems a lot more serious and personal, was that an intentional move?

MB: The whole idea of 'Tragedy' is that it's a new light for Stray Weather, especially with it now being full band. It's the next step in our evolution. Name-wise it was meant to be the opposite from 'Epiphany'. 'Epiphany' was three tracks that were quite positive and uplifting, but then 'Tragedy' is different songs about failed relationships and things like that. The naming was intentional, I wanted there to be some connection lyrically.

Even though the music is like... we say it's hip-hop, but I think that's a broad term for it. The main point is having spoken word over parts, and there's other parts that are more rap focused. Despite that I still wanted it to have my same lyrical approach, so having the tongue and cheek moments were sort of like a breakaway from what I'm doing. I always imagine it like I'm looking at someone like 'hey psst' and that's what the tongue and cheek moments are this time around. It was intentional, I just wanted to have fun with it, I guess.

BAW: You're playing a release show on 21st January at the Lending Room in Leeds, what can you tell us about the show?

MB: We've had this idea for ages. Gig wise it's always been a bit tricky, people have always given us chances, but we've never really fit. For this we couldn't really find many similar acts to us, so we just decided to get a load of mates down to play. We've billed it as Stray Weather and friends, so the idea is all the other bands who are playing are mates.

We've expanded it as well, so now we've got different friends with different stalls. We've got a friend coming down selling clothes, some who are doing zines and prints. It's quite a community based thing, it's not just music, we want to do a lot of things with it.

So we have halfsleeper on and he's a friend from Leeds called Charlie, he's in Rob Lynch's backing band. He does halfsleeper with Jonny Ward who is the guitarist for Rob Lynch. They started that whilst on tour, and with Charlie being in Leeds, he's going to come and do that as main support.

Then we have FrontWards who are some friends from work, then there's Long Body as well. It's a varied mix of stuff, but we just hope that if the people who are coming like what we do, then they're going to be quite open music-wise. We want to do more things like this throughout the year, maybe for the next EP. We wanted to broaden things out and not only show off what we do, but show what our friends do as well.

BAW: You mentioned it being difficult to get a show as a spoken word artist. Apart from Kate Tempest who is blowing up at the moment, and Rob Auton who is starting to make a name for himself, there's not that many household spoken word names. What's the scene like?

MB: Honestly? I don't know. When I did Words First last year I met a lot of different spoken word artists then, but I was still surprised when I found out it was sold out. We wrote a piece that week based on the theme of future, so we all came up with different things and performed them on the Thursday night. We had a sold out room, and I was so surprised. I had no idea that there was that sort of a scene.

I'm not really aware of the scene. I think coming from a band background meant that I wasn't really sure of the spoken word scene, I don't really listen to much spoken word either. I listen to hip-hop and rap then I analyse it lyrically and how it's structured. The topics are more to do with what I listen to though, so like punk and the alternative scene.

I don't really know. I know spoken word is getting bigger, and I know people in Leeds, but I don't know that many. There's lots of open mic nights in Leeds, like Leeds Young Authors who have been doing some slam stuff. There are things, but outside of Leeds I'm not so sure.
BAW: Finally, what comes next?

MB: Ohh... I could act all suspicious and say we'll wait and see, but we've planned out the year. We have a twelve month plan, and hopefully it means we'll have two more EP's, maybe even another one as well. Our next EP is half written already, that should be out in May or June, then something in the Autumn. I've already been considering the album, I've already got plans for it, it may be a concept album.

Apart from that, it's about playing all the shows we can, getting the EP's out, and lots of music videos as well. There's lots to look forward to, it's going to be a busy year.