Do you believe in soulmates? Do you ever get lonely? Rhetoric, yes, but poignant nonetheless. Hailing from Bristol, The Desert recently came onto my radar and were described as a duo creating some of the dreamiest indie-pop music.
Comprised of singer/songwriter Gina Leonard, and guitarist-meets-producer Tom Fryer, The Desert have already had comparisons made of them to the likes of London Grammar and Lana Del Rey. New single ‘Soulmates’ is their following to ‘Just Get High’, a song hailed as a strong debut. We have an exclusive first listen.
There is a cinematic undertone to the soundscape that The Desert are creating. Emotional vocals sweep over a detailed production that leaves something which is both intimate and reflective.
Gina Leonard and Tom Fryer first met at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2014; “Gina is a longtime fan of Cambridge Folk Festival”, Tom began. “I met her there with the touring venue I play with, The People’s Front Room Collective”. Gina added that Tom invited her to Bristol and record a few songs of his. She said, “over the years I have worked with other friends and producers, and in various cheap studios, but I was never as happy with the outcome as I was with Tom”. Despite finding it difficult to work other people, Gina told me how Tom helped her gain confidence in her ability to write and sing; “It has always been me and my guitar behind closed doors”, she said. “It was so exciting to find someone I could trust to develop my songs with. We’re pretty different, but we work well together”.
It should come as no surprise then, that The Desert formed naturally. Tom Fryer’s atmospheric production style plays with space and other worldly sounds, while Gina Leonard offers honest and poetic lyrics. “When I’m writing, I’m in a pretty selfish place where I can escape other people and their expectations”, Gina continued when I asked her what made this collaboration different. “I get pissed off when people tell me how to write, or what to write about. It’s my thing and I guess Tom gets that. We have a formula set up where I can write on my own, and then pass the skeleton of the song to Tom to flesh out with guitar and piano, and weird production”. It’s an exciting process she said.
Their relationship started as professionally as any. They both knew what they were signing up for. “We had become good friends [by the time The Desert started]”, Tom said. “I think because of the way it started, I’ve always been able to stand back from her music and hear it objectively in a way I haven’t been able to in other projects”.
“I think our expectations of one and other changed when we decided to move from an artist/producer relationship as Gina Leonard and Tom Fryer, to a full time recording and performing band”, Tom continued. “Our writing process varies too. Gina always writes the songs initially, and then like she said, she brings it to me and I do my part. Sometimes we take the song to the band and the group changes the groove and pace of the song entirely. Other times Gina has recorded a demo in her room, I’ve then messed around with it, and we’ve come out with a finished track before we’ve even taken it to the studio”.
There is an underlying expectation of each other to keep up the expectations they have of the music. “We don’t want to settle for tracks that are just OK”, Gina added. “They need to make you feel something and have that ‘Desert’ sound”. Which is dark and ethereal, but has a certain ‘Bristol sound’. It is a subtle blend of acoustic and electronic instruments, which in turn has a melodic and hypnotic quality. It’s alternative. And it has a definitive focus on lyrics with experimental production.
When you’re on the same page as somebody else, everything around you falls into place. ‘Soulmates’, the new single from The Desert, fills you with a sense of familiarity. It’s an easy listen, but holds a delicate power. The narrative is a contradictory exchange between two people exploring the concept of a ‘soulmate’; Gina said it’s about “the conflicting desires for a close relationship versus the desire to be alone and safe from the potential pain they can cause”.
It’s the story of a relationship breakdown, and the troubles that come with making yourself vulnerable. “To me”, Tom said as a final thought, “there are much wider comments on the human condition within the song too. Like a sense of trying to hold on to an emotion as it evaporates. My favourite lyric is ‘I’m still stood under a spotlight with a mic and a secret I don’t need to tell’. To me, that conveys a feeling of social isolation. But also the difficulty of facing up to the vast, hidden pressures that modern society places on us. I would say that’s a theme that carries itself throughout our work”.