Paul Thomas Saunders

It began in a basement in Leeds. Four demo tracks were recorded by Paul Thomas Saunders and released as Four Songs in Twilight EP, but it was clear there was much to be improved upon.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 10 Apr 2012
  • min read
It began in a basement in Leeds. Four demo tracks were recorded by Paul Thomas Saunders and released as Four Songs in Twilight EP, but it was clear there was much to be improved upon. A follow up EP was written and recorded over the summer of 2010, but still, the spring reverb didn't rattle for long enough, and the chords wouldn't rotate with enough purpose. So on a back up disc it remained.

With no direction, other than knowing that any project worth its salt requires tenacious direction, the project was blessed when it stumbled across the prospect of three successive vinyl releases from local independent labels Dance to the Radio and Dead Young Records. The need to promote these releases lead to the formation of a live accompanying band 'The Fever Dreams'. With this formation came successful live happenings (and subsequent blog attention): support slots with the likes of Villagers, Low, Blue Roses, Patrick Watson and Forest Fire, plus an opening slot at Leeds Live festival. The latter event sparked off Paul Thomas Saunders ever-increasing reputation for spellbinding live performances. A monopoly on the crowd and the subsequent music coverage of the festival  -  'Soaring Fleet Foxes meets Bon Iver stylings, Paul Thomas Saunders is tipped for big things' - Clash Music…'His whisky-soaked vocals belie his years, and the understated delicacy of his songs is a lovely treat' - The Fly - led Paul Thomas Saunders and The Fever Dreams to be invited back in 2011, this time for a headlining evening slot.

The formation of the live band also slowly lead to the conception of what Paul considers his first real release,  Lilac and Wisteria EP. The process The Fever Dreams used to prepare the songs greatly inspired Paul's approach to songwriting, as the individual members didn't know the songs, he would play them and slowly indicate where developments needed to occur. It was this technique that he felt helped each song to develop naturally, beginning bleak and stark, slowly developing with each line of lyric.

Lilac and Wisteria was produced and recorded by Paul and his live guitarist Max Prior at their house on the outskirts of Leeds. The songs were never demoed, which allowed them to replicate the constructive approach undertaken to prepare for his live set. This, what some might call foolhardy, approach contributed greatly to the arrangements of each song which is where Paul's music found its discerning character. As a result of building the song from its bare bones, they grew slowly, patiently developing as if the parts were being thought of and introduced one by one, eventually blooming into a fully realised sound just in time for each track to come to its close.

The response to the Lilac and Wisteria EP was testament to the approaches success. So clear was it that Paul Thomas Saunders – with just two small bodies of work under his belt- was an exceptional talent that The Guardian (New Band of the Day) made comparisons to icons Jeff Buckley and early Radiohead. Others couldn’t make comparisons but, like The Metro’s One To Watch piece, described him in terms of atmosphere and emotional resonance: 'his music exudes a gentle simplicity at first but is also richly evocative and deceptively steely' while others such as Sunday Times Culture (Breaking Act) simply heralded the arrival of a very special artist: 'shimmering, finely wrought and lyrically dark-as-the-night songs,  Lilac and Wisteria is one of those new-artist releases that make you go: 'Wow'.  The EP’s haunting lead track Appointment in Samarra picked up plays and fans across 6Music including Lauren Laverne, with Paul Thomas Saunders and The Fever Dreams being invited in for sessions at XFM (where the track was playlisted) with both John Kennedy and Clint Boon.

Live Paul Thomas Saunders and The Fever Dreams cemented their early reputation as nothing short of reverential; silencing the rowdiest crowds and charming the most cynical of critics at their 2011 performances at The Applecart Festival and as support on The Staves and The Head and the Heart tours (their performance at Bush Hall on the latter tour is still whispered about today).

Relieved by the pleasant reception of Lilac and Wisteria but unsatisfied by the progression of his output, Paul decided once again to reconsider his approach. On his new EP Descartes Highlands, four carefully chosen tracks demonstrate a substantially heartier style of songwriting. The four songs depict the fading glamour of an ageing bachelorette, from the vivid memories of her youth in Let the Carousel Display You And I to the night scares of guilt and shame in A Lunar Veteran’s Guide to Re-entry.  Continuing a style, present in the first two EPs, for darkly whimsical, introspective and often evocative lyricism. The narratives in the Descartes Highlands EP are augmented by a cross breed of intricate orchestral arrangements and electronic manipulation, these haunting soundscapes feed the story as a soundtrack would a motion picture to take the listener to a place that is both intimate and cinematic.

The Descartes Highlands EP is released on Monday 30 April on RT60 and Paul Thomas Saunders & The Fever Dreams will follow the release with live shows across the UK and Europe in the Spring/Summer of 2012.