The quartet that make up Sweet Billy Pilgrim; Anthony Bishop, Jana Carpenter, Tim Elsenburg and Alistair Hamer, have been part of the music industry for over a decade, delivering song after song of what they describe as “Thrash Pastel” sound to ears everywhere. As they prepare to embark on an eleven date UK tour which begins in Manchester on September 2nd, together they agreed to chat with me and talk longevity, influences and future plans.

You’ve outlasted a number of bands and artists during your time together, what do you think is the key/secret to your longevity?

That’s easy. We get to do something we love with people we love, whether they be our fellow band members or the people who come to see us. Don’t get me wrong; it is hard work, and sometimes the rewards for that hard work seem all out of whack, but whenever it all gets a bit overwhelming we just remind ourselves how lucky we are. Our shows tend to be a conversation – both literal and metaphorical – between members of the band, and between the band and the audience. I guess the aim is to achieve something approaching a feeling of celebration in the end, so a shorter answer would be that we basically became hippies.

How do you think you’ve evolved and grown as a band since you started out?

We’ve learned to communicate better, and the songs have opened up sonically and lyrically as a result. We love the first two records, but they were the sound of a band always looking inwards, and shows were difficult because we just wanted to get the notes and the sounds right. It was only when Jana joined that, through her background in acting and improvising, we really discovered how to tell stories; how look outwards and invite people in. Yes, the notes and words are important, but now we share them, where – in the early days at least – we might have just performed them.

Have there been any difficult lessons you’ve had to learn along the way?

Just that, really. That most people are less interested in hearing an album played accurately live, and more interested in being connected with. That, and the more obvious how-to-keep-our-heads-above-water thing that most of the musicians we know are grappling with from day to day. Oh, and making sure that when we’re touring Jana gets caffeine and breakfast within 15 minutes of requesting them. Missing that deadline was a difficult lesson to learn!

Do you have any favourite memories so far?

Walking onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a banjo and harmonium in front of a sea of very impatient people with feather cuts and fishtail parkas waiting for The Who to play ‘Quadrophenia’. That felt strangely liberating. We also did a house concert recently for a family where one of the parents was fighting cancer. It was humbling and joyous and emotional and drunken, eventually all at the same time.

You’re soon to embark on a UK tour in support of your latest album ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’. Is there any venue or city you’re most looking forward to playing?

All of them. We genuinely can’t wait to get out there and play the new songs to people. Our only regret is that – without an agent – we weren’t able to persuade some venues to have us, so there are certain parts of the country we’re not going to make it to.

If you could play any venue, anywhere in the world, that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why?

Anywhere intimate, beautiful and with great acoustics. Preferably in a city we’ve never been to before, with a day either side so that there’s time to explore.

Which four bands or artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with?

Sonic Youth circa ’Sister’, making an unholy racket… maybe we’d do some three-four part harmony singing with Gillian Welch, The Band backing Jana and I singing something and Robert Fripp in the midst of his Bowie / Scary Monsters screamy-guitar phase, soloing over one of our songs.

What do you think sets ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’ apart from your other, earlier material?

It was written to be played live. None of the previous records grew from that specific intention.

Has the song-writing process gotten easier or harder for you, or does it still depend on the subject matter you’re writing about?

It’s the same really. Drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting. Endless musical and lyrical possibilities whittled down, usually with some idea of a unifying theme at the backs of our minds as we move from album to album. We work really hard at trying to make albums that are a bit of a journey; that give you something back if you commit to them for 45 minutes. It’s a pretty old-fashioned idea, but we want to at least give people the option of listening to the music like that so that they get that sense of the sum being greater than the parts.

What, to you makes a good song, and which, in your opinion, is the greatest song ever written and why?

It’s got to have the hairs-standing-up-on-the-back of the neck moment.‘River Song’ by the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson is probably top because it seems to be entirely built out of those moments.

How necessary do you think it is for bands and artists today to be involved with social media? Have you found that it’s helped you?

It’s now an integral part of the relationship between the artist and the audience; another way to connect. We write songs; people weave them into their busy lives; people are curious about us; we’re curious about people… it’s a vital and almost always fun part of the to-and-fro.

You’re a Mercury Music Prize nominated band – how important is recognition like that to you?

Well, it doesn’t sell more records for a band like us, but it does open doors. It’s a great calling card.

Aside from your UK tour, what else do you have in store for the rest of the year?

Hopefully some European touring! We’re also working out how possible a series of deluxe reissues of the previous albums with bonus materials might be. That’s something we’d love to do because the label we’re with – Kscope – are so great at curating beautifully assembled and presented back catalogue stuff.

What’s your ultimate goal as a band? At what point would you be happy to say ‘yeah, that’s it, we’ve done all we wanted to. Let’s call it a day’?

Just to be able to keep doing this. Some of us aren’t great being ‘in the moment’ and so being on stage is probably the closest we ever get to that, so projecting forward sort of defeats the object! Just before work on this album began, there was at least one occasion where we almost gave in to cynicism and called it quits because the effort-reward ‘system’ seemed so out of balance. Then we soon realised that we weren’t going to stop writing songs, or recording them, or wanting to share them. That feeling never really goes away, so while we can still stand and carry our own amps we’ll be out there somewhere making music.

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Having just released his first album in 10 years titled ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, it’s safe to say the last few months of 2018 in particular have been pretty big for Chris Stills. With the collection already championed by the likes of Mojo among others, while playing a few shows here in the UK, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Chris to find out more about his artistic influences, the one venue he’d most like to play and how it felt to have his work featured in two Oscar winning films.

TITL: For those unfamiliar with you and your music, how would you sum yourself and your sound up in a few words?

Chris Stills: I grew up with the fundamentals. A folk, blues and rock foundation. Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, CSN, Neil Young, The Police, U2, AC/DC, Motown… all of it. Depending on my mood and what I’m trying to achieve with a song, I reach to the music I love for inspiration. That also includes my contemporaries like Rufus Wainwright, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley etc…What you get is a nice mixed bag of songs… kind of like a mixed tape you’d make a friend.

TITL: With so many other bands and artists around, what makes you stand out? If you had to sell yourself to a music fan, what would you tell them? 

CS: I write songs, then I work hard to record, mix and master them. I play them in various venues large and small with different formations. I’ll sell you at the show. And maybe over dinner.

TITL: To what extent have your musical influences changed over the course of your life and how do and have those influences impact the music you’ve made and make now?

CS: Music has a funny way of influencing you at different times for different reasons. I hate to admit it, but I’ve only recently discovered the Harry Nilsson record Pussy Cats which is at this very moment affecting me profoundly.

TITL: Which one band or artist might you say you sound most similar to? 

CS: Only the best ones.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing? 

CS: It’s a funny thing that one… you don’t wanna look too high otherwise you get cold feet and wanna give up because your heroes can make you feel like you just pale in comparison. I think my biggest inspiration is making the time, then actually taking it, and not taking myself too seriously. Things tend to get better and better as you go.

TITL: Your new album has been praised by the likes of Mojo and Classic Rock among others, but do you actually care much about what critics think or are you more concerned with the thoughts of your fans? 

CS: It’s always nice to get a nod here and there but if I was here for it I might as well be selling yogurt. My favorite place to know whether people are into what I’m doing is on stage. It’s immediate and clear. No filters.

TITL: The album features co-writes/collaborations with Ryan Adams and Zac Rae of Death Cab For Cutie. How did those collaborations come about and what did each bring to the writing/creative process for the album?

CS: I met Ryan when we were just kids. We were guys in the 3rd room at the time of The Rolling Stones who were working on Bridges to Babylon. We were just a couple of kids back then but really became close when he and Ethan Johns asked me to come play on Gold. At some point later Ryan had built his studio, PaxAm and invited me to come be creative there. With him… without him. He was ever so supportive. He ended up helping me finish Criminal Mind.

Zac Rea is force of nature in his own right. If you want that X-Factor in your music he will deliver every time. He’s one of my favorite people to work with and like Ryan and really everyone else really helped me make this record.

TITL: If you had to pick your favourite song on the album, which would it be and why? 

CS: They all hold a very special place. I guess some of the more fun sessions were the ones that were recorded with the most folks playing at the same time. “Lonely Nights”, “Don’t be Afraid”… those were some exciting times in the studio.

TITL: Your music has been included in several films, including I, Tonya and American Hustle as well as in the US version of the hit show Shameless, in which you also appeared. What impact did having that happen have on your career in terms of audience/fan base interaction and interest? 

CS: Well, it doesn’t hurt to be a part of Academy Award winning film. Or working with David O’Russell, Mark Batson, John Wells or Sue Jacobs. I mean, they’re the best in their fields. If anything it’s a good confidence booster, isn’t it?

TITL: As a modern day artist, and given how long you’ve been in and around the industry, how are you finding social media’s impact on your career? Would you agree it’s a vital tool in today’s world or do you think we as a general society have become far too reliant on it?

CS: I think social media has leveled the playing field. Sadly it also seems to have sucked all the life out of any mystery in this world. But you really have to have lived when that still existed to know what I’m talking about. Is social media vital? Yes. It’s running everything and everyone into a big opaque blobby data mine.

TITL: You’ve got a final number of 2018 shows coming up. For anyone who hasn’t seen you before, what can people expect from your performances?

CS: For me, my shows are like a release… all the energy that goes into it… the work, the travel, the road, the life… it all culminates on stage.

TITL: If you could play one venue that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why? 

CS: I have always dreamed of playing the Royal Albert Hall. Do I really need to ex.plain that one?

TITL: Finally then, now that 2018 is almost over, have you started planning for 2019 yet? What can fans expect to see and hear from you in the near future? 

CS: Plan nothing. Be careless. Enjoy yourselves. And somewhere in 2019, another Chris Stills record will come rumbling in.

To keep up to date with Chris Stills, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Instagram. His album ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ is available now. Photo credit: Dove Shore.


Described by the duo themselves in their Twitter bio as “The Bonnie and Clyde of folk pop”, Fox and Bones, AKA Sarah and Scott, have had a busy time of things lately, culminating in the release of their album Better Land. But, with still a month to go before we all bid the year goodbye, the pair aren’t resting on their laurels and spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about their favourite tracks on their album, how they’re rounding out the year and what 2019 has in store.

TITL: Exactly who are Fox and Bones?

Fox and Bones: Fox and Bones are fictional characters we created so that we could be more imaginative with our songwriting. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to only writing about our own experiences, instead, we wanted some breathing room and the option to use our imaginations a little bit. That said, the adventures of the characters Fox and Bones closely mirror our own lives, and we use their story as a canvas on which to paint the picture of the life we want to live.

TITL: Given the success of duos such as The Civil Wars over the years, what makes Fox and Bones different? What’s your unique selling point?

F&B: I think we are a lot more lighthearted than many of the indie folk bands like the Civil Wars. Someone once told us at a show, “You guys sound just like The Civil Wars, except that listening to you doesn’t make me depressed.” We don’t write about love and heartbreak in the traditional sense, we write stories about traveling, unconventional modern love and what that really looks like, rather than just the intense puppy love of pop music or the depressing breakup vibes of indie folk. And we write about the world as we see it, and what we want to see come into the world. Our songwriting feels a lot more versatile, and the music is generally heartwarming and uplifting. If The Civil Wars represented the brokenness of a human being, Fox and Bones represents the cure.

TITL: Which bands and artists are you most inspired or influenced by, and how do those influences impact the music you make?

F&B: Lately we’ve been influenced by the new retro and neo-soul movements, like Nathaniel Rateliff, Lake Street Dive, the California Honeydrops, Mingo Fishtrap, and Paolo Nutini as well as artists who are true storytellers and have compelling lyrics like Brett Dennen and John Craigie. We also love older stuff, Scott was very influenced by the Beatles, The Band, and Dylan, and I’ve always loved Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Janis Joplin and CCR.

TITL: Which band or artist might you say you sound most similar, or are you most compared to? Do you mind such comparisons or do you take them as compliments?

F&B: We hear The Civil Wars a lot, I think mainly because they are one of the most famous male/female duos out there. But we also get Johnnyswim, Of Monsters and Men, and Johnny and June, which we definitely consider a compliment. And of course, everyone thinks Scott sounds just like Cat Stevens.

TITL: You released your album Better Land recently. How have you found the reaction to it to be so far?

F&B: I think we both feel it’s the best musical work either of us have ever put out and the sentiment from fans definitely reflects that. We’ve had a solid reaction from press as well. We knew when we were making it that we had something special, and it’s so nice to discover that we aren’t the only ones who feel that way.

TITL: Is there a song on the album you’re most proud of and if so, which is it and why?

F&B: I think we’d have different answers.

Sarah: Mine is “Roots.” I’d been on a songwriting dry spell for a while, and that song came to me just before we went into the studio to record. We put a gospel choir on that one and something about that song still gives me the shivers even though I’ve heard it and played it a million times by now.

Scott: Mine is “Better Land.” It is the song that I’ve been trying to shake out of me for a few years and finally, after staying up all night, it tumbled out in one sitting. We tried to keep the recording as true to the original demo as possible and I just love how it all came together.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing and with that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?

Sarah: For me, it’s a hard choice, because I have so many. But I’m going to have to go with “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. The first time I ever heard that song I had all over goosebumps – the songwriting is so deep and so interesting, I don’t know what some of it even means but the way Joni puts words together is genius, and the melody of that song gets me too. She has these amazing high notes that she hits, and it’s just so real and vulnerable. Brett Dennen’s “Sydney” is also a brilliant song, and it always puts a smile on my face.

TITL: You’ve been championed by and featured in/on the likes of Glide Magazine and Pop Matters. How big of an impact are you finding coverage like that has on your career?

F&B: It seems vital these days to have major outlets backing up your music, it kind of legitimizes you in a way. Someone at that level telling people your music is good goes a lot further than the artist themselves going on about how their music is good. It’s just an extra layer of legitimacy.

TITL: As a modern day duo, to what extent are you finding social media to be a vital tool in getting your name and music out to people? Is it fair to say you might not have the fan base and support you do without it?

F&B: Social media is such an amazing tool if you learn how to use it! We’ve been growing our socials quite a bit over the last year and I don’t know how musicians ever promoted themselves without it. It’s amazing to have direct contact with our fans and I think they enjoy seeing what we are up to, especially when we are on tour. Plus, as a creative, I love coming up with fun content to post.

TITL: With the year coming to a close, do you have any performances coming up people can look forward to?

F&B: We have a bunch! We are spending the few days left in November and half of December on tour all over California – we’ve got 25 dates on that tour. Then we come home to Portland and have a number of shows in the area to close out the year. We like to stay busy.

TITL: Aside from your album release, what’s been your highlight of the year?

F&B: We just finished an incredibly successful, two month long European tour booked by ROLA music. We’ve been there three times now but this time blew the others out of the water. We are seeing a real following developing over there, and it’s really exciting.

Finally then, what does 2019 have in store for you? What can fans expect from the two of you in the coming year?

F&B: We plan on spending the majority of the year on the road. We embark on a US tour in February that will last through June, stay in Portland in July, then head back to Europe mid-August for festival season. We also hope to get back to songwriting and crafting our next record, although it’ll be a nice to ride the tails of Better Land for a while before we start that process again.

We are also hosting the 2019 Portland’s Folk Festival on Feb. 1st and 2nd, an event that Scott and I created and curate each year. We have 20 acts over two evenings at McMinamen’s Mission theater and are partnered with Breedlove Guitars, Iheart Radio, Jim Beam, Vortex Music Magazine, ROLA music and Royale Brewing.

For more information on Fox & Bones, visit their website, give their page a like on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Their album ‘Better Land’ is available now. Header photo: Amandala Photography.