A Silent Film was formed by four like-minded young men from Oxford in 2005.
Fifty songs, two years and an intensive two-month recording session in northern France later, their debut EP, The Projectionist, was released to popular acclaim. The resulting UK tour kicked off with two magical sold-out shows at the much mourned Soho Revue Bar in London and the Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford, an indie cinema.
This ‘cinema gig’ was made all the more special for three reasons. Firstly, BBC Introducing hosted the evening and subsequently asked the band to play their stage at Glastonbury 2007. Secondly, a member of the audience was involved in a film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Butterfly Tattoo and was so impressed that the band ended up playing live in the film. Thirdly – and most importantly – this was the night a relationship was struck between A Silent Film and producer Sam Williams, who has previously worked with Supergrass and Noisettes.
Building on the success of The Projectionist, record label Xtra Mile were keen to do an album and capitalise on the creative spark between band and producer. The result was The City That Sleeps. Produced by Sam Williams, and recorded at the Dungeon Studios just outside Oxford, the album was immediately picked up by Steve Lamacq, who made A Silent Film his Band of the Week on 6music, and John Kennedy at Xfm. The single You Will Leave a Mark was a ‘hot download’ in the Sunday Times, and was featured in a TV ad campaign for the launch of UKTV Watch. The band then went on two UK headline tours, and supported multi-platinum US band One Republic.
Then, A Silent Film began to turn their eyes abroad…to Portugal, where a label called AboutMusic thought they could make The City That Sleeps a hit. The album went to #3 in the album charts, and You Will Leave a Mark made it to the top of the singles charts! The band played their first festival over there, to 5,000 fans, at Optimus Alive, and subsequent appearances on MTV and radio have only increased their profile. Now US label Bieler Bros are repackaging The City That Sleeps with extra songs, new artwork and special DVD content. You Will Leave a Mark is set to be featured on hit TV shows The Hills and House.
Q. How did you meet and where?
A. Robert, Spencer and myself all met at school, while we met Ali whilst at university.
Q. Have you been surprised by your success?
A. I don’t think surprised is the word I would use, we set out to make music as well as we can, with a certain degree of self-confidence. There are so many great bands out there, you have to believe in yourself. I could go on about how competitive the UK music scene is, but that would be dull, so the short answer, surprised, no!
Q. Why “A Silent Film”? What’s your favourite silent film?
A. The name came from a song that Robert had written around the piano theme from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’. It seemed to sum up what we were wanting to do musically. Having a slightly more unusual name was actually a big help when we were trying to figure out what kind of band we were in the early days locked away in a studio for weeks on end.
Q. Who are your most obscure musical influences? And who are your most commonplace?
A. Always a difficult question. We are all big fans of the greats (Pink Floyd, The Beatles etc). People like Scott Walker have been a big influence, particularly lyrically. In general we all love acts that push the boat out artistically and are doing so on their own terms. To be honest the variety of music that is around at the moment is a big source of excitement and inspiration. There are so many interesting new bands and artists around to draw influence from. The new Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Bat for Lashes and XX albums really caught my attention last year.
Q. How do you feel about other Oxford bands that have made their mark on the global stage?
A. They have been a huge influence on us. Being a band from Oxford you can’t really avoid the Radiohead comparison. I suppose at times that is at the back of our minds whilst writing, the ‘oh shit that sounds a bit like Radiohead’ comment has reared its head in the past, and I guess being from Oxford makes us a bit sensitive to it.But the Oxford music scene has only benefited from the success of acts like Supergrass, Radiohead and Ride before them. Now act like Foals and The Young Knives are doing really well and is only proof of how unique the music scene is in oxford. It’s not like scenes in London etc. There is a real sense of community in oxford and such a wealth of experienced heads around to help young bands who helped bands like Radiohead get where they are now.
Q. The City That Sleeps – which city were you singing about?A. There is no city in particular. We tend to write story songs, the album we recorded being where all the characters in our songs co-exist. Hence ‘The City That Sleeps’.
Q. What will be different in the second album? Do you feel that you now have more to sing about?
A. We have more of an understanding of our artform, you learn all the time whatever walk of life your in. This is reflected in the re release of our debut album. We have put two new tracks on there and adjusted the running order and artwork. It feels like a much more cohesive piece of work. On top of this we are now writing some of the best material we ever have. All this progress will be reflected in our second record.
Q. Why are you so popular in Portugal?
A. Commitment, hard work, energy and belief from our label over there..Oh and shit loads of radio play!
Q. Lead singer Robert Stevenson says that one of your songs, ‘Sleeping Pills’, was inspired in part by the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Do poisoned Russian spies make for good rock music?
A. I think the fate of Alexander Litvinenko resonated with many people, better than always singing about girls.
Q. How do you hope to crack North America?
A. Commitment, hard work, energy and belief from our label over there. Oh and shit loads of radio play!
Q. What do you hope to achieve in 2010 and how do you feel Pelimemight help facilitate this?
A. Successful US release of our album, US tour, releases in other major territories around the world and a new record. Hopefully I can meet like-minded people on Pelime to help facilitate these goals.