“Are you trying to hide an Abstract Heart?” is a line taken from the title track of Welsh duo Paul Zervas & Kathryn Pepper’s third album. It’s the follow-up to their critically acclaimed ‘Lifebringer’, which was given four stars by ‘The Times’ and described by ‘The Sunday Times’ as “One of the most joyful, fresh, melodic experiences of 2013” and ‘The Observer’ as “An album of big skies and canyons”. If ‘Lifebringer’ was an escape from reality then ‘Abstract Heart’ is altogether closer to the personal lives of Zervas & Pepper.
“Our last record was written as an escape from the situations we were dealing with at the time. But there is only so long you can suppress reality,” explains Pepper. And indeed by the time their latest offering ‘Abstract Heart’ was written the material explored such themes as mortality and spirituality, depression and disillusion, even fears for the earth’s future. “The songs just poured out, some songs were slightly dark, others blissed-out, but most of them were very close to home. It was a cathartic process,” Zervas elaborates.
The first song to be written and recorded was the albums closing track ‘Celestial Friend’. Having lost several young friends in recent years, the song’s lyrics explore the notion that after death the spirit lives on and somehow guides those close to it along in life. “There have been many almost inexplicable coincidences for that ideology to not have some degree of truth”, explains Zervas. The duo, having just returned from a short tour of India and enchanted by the country’s blend of deep spiritualty and music, looked to a close friend of the bands; Matt Malley (Counting Crows) to provide some authentic Indian sounds for the track and they began the recording at Matt’s studio in Los Angeles. Pepper explains “Matt has mastered many traditional Indian instruments and was taught by some of the best, so for us it was the obvious choice for that song.”
Much of the albums was written in LA, where Kathryn and Paul spent several weeks before the band’s return to rural mid-Wales to start recording at ‘Giant Wafer’ Studios with producer/engineer Llion Robertson and their now permanent band line up consisting of Jack Egglestone on drums, Andrew Brown on bass, Simon Kingman on guitar and Paul jones on Keys.
The band began by working on the title track ‘Abstract Heart’ and its epic instrumental finale. Zervas explains “The actual song ‘Abstract Heart’ is pretty dark lyrically, it needed a positive resolution. When we penned the instrumental part it just felt right, the listener can breathe out again, there has to be a balance.”
‘These Blurred Lines’ was the first single to be released from ‘Abstract Heart’. “Lyrically India was still fresh in our minds, its people, the extreme rich and poor divide. Yet we noticed the poorest folk seemed the most content and fulfilled. We’re all so materiallistic here in the West, the trip changed our outlook on life”, recalls Pepper. Musically with both Simon Kingman’s slick guitar lines and Paul Zervas’ guitar working in alternate tunings, the era of smooth West Coast 70’s FM is conjured up, while Pepper brings in her mid period Joni Mitchell-esque vocals. ‘These Blurred Lines’ spent four weeks on BBC Radio Wales and RTE 1 Ireland playlist. Picking up spot plays from both 6 Music and BBC Radio 2, including a session on Bob Harris’ Radio 2 show.
The next single release came in the form of the gentle psych pop of ‘We Are One’, with the band sounding like a Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Airplane hybrid. It’s a call to the disillusioned to not forget the idealism of summer days and come together as one. ‘We Are One’ spent four weeks on BBC Radio Wales and RTE 1 playlist and picked up spot plays on 6 Music, with Don Lett’s , Radcliffe and Maconie spinning the song, Ricky Ross on BBC Scotland, BBC Radio 2’s Janice Long and a live session for Radio 2’s Richard Madeley show.
Whilst in LA, Zervas & Pepper were introduced to their long time musical hero David Crosby, who was performing five nights at the legendary ‘Troubadour’ promoting his latest album ‘CROZ’. ”We were introduced to David and his band by some fans that knew of us and our music from the UK and we fast became friends with his guitarist Marcus Eaton, having spent time hanging out together”. A number of transatlantic sessions took place and as a result Marcus plays lead guitar on the opening track ‘Miller’, a highly personal song that explores the sad aftermath of misspent youth and the gift of hindsight.
During a run of shows in Scotland’s well respected Celtic Connections festival the duo met legendary guitarist Robbie McIntosh (Paul McCartney/John Mayer). The musicians immediately connected over a love of drop-tunings, vocal harmonies and similar influences and Zervas and Pepper were delighted when Robbie offered to add his distinctive guitar sound to ‘Reach Out’; a song that explores the duo finding the solitude of the road far more comfortable than the hemmed-in claustrophia of home.
‘Terraform’ gives a snapshot of the future, where the earth has become uninhabitable and an alternative home is needed. The subject of the song was very much inspired by the paintings commissioned by NASA in the 60’s and 70’s, to highlight space exploration. The subject matter reflects their fear for the earth as we continue heading towards environmental uncertainty. The brilliant percussionist featured on the track is Krissy Jenkins (Super Furry Animals) with Zervas providing jarring electric guitar in an atmospheric icy landscape.