Folk implosion: Peggy Sue plays Davis this Friday
Brighton band moves past its early folk sound to craft music that's creepy beautiful
New folk. Post folk. Anti-folk.
Peggy Sue singer-guitarist Katy Young has heard the descriptions endlessly. They fit, she said, talking on the phone from Bristol, England, a few hours before the band was set to launch its latest tour.
Then again, they’re not quite right either.
“There are elements of folk in our music, but where they were maybe more at the forefront in the past, they’re really buried now,” Young said. “But that’s the … English press—they have to tell a narrative: ’This is what [the band] is doing now; this is what we did then.’”
It’s not just the British critics, however. Stateside, The New York Times praised the band’s “folky modal tunes” as “bristling” and “insistent.”
“We have loads of folk inspiration,” Young conceded. “But none of those labels really mean anything—there’s more to us than that.”
Truth is, it’s difficult to label Peggy Sue, which performs on Friday, February 7, at Third Space in Davis. While the band’s early music followed a folkier path, its fourth and latest album Choir of Echoes defies simple categorization. Brooding and ethereal with tinges of gospel, twee ’90s indie rock, droning ’80s goth, and dreamy ’50s pop, the songs here sound as though they were unearthed from a long-lost Blue Velvet soundtrack—the aural equivalent of finding a disembodied ear in a field.
The album’s first single, “Idle” embodies a beautifully creepy David Lynch vibe as lyrics such as “let the devil find a place for these restless bones” float upon a swell of ghostly vocals from Young and bandmate Rosa Slade.
Ultimately, Young said, Choir of Echoes is about voice, both literally and figuratively.
“We [explored] different ways of singing harmonies and backing vocals and using our voices as central instruments,” she said. “We’ve always done that, but on [recent records], we’d really been getting more into the guitar playing, and we felt as though the vocals had taken a backseat.”
And thematically, she explained, Choir of Echoes explores self-expression.
“It’s been a cathartic experience,” Young said of making the record. “It’s about the way you assert yourself—or a certain version of yourself.”
The album also builds on the sweeping arrangements from the band’s 2012 album Peggy Sue Plays the Songs of Scorpio Rising, a song-by-song remake of the soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s cult 1964 film about gay Nazi bikers. With covers of pop classics such as “Fools Rush In” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” the album highlights Peggy Sue’s haunting appeal. The band initially performed the soundtrack as part of a friend’s live cinema project, and Young said she’d picked the soundtrack because she’d long been inspired by the way its music drove the film’s narrative.
“I remember thinking it was so incredible the way [Anger] did the soundtrack,” she said. “There is no dialogue in the film, and a lot of the story, the way you take meaning from it, is through the music.”
Both Choir of Echoes and Scorpio Rising were made with the Wales-based producer Jimmy Robertson, whom Young credits for helping shape Peggy Sue’s evolving sound.
“He has really good ideas, but the most important thing is to have that guiding voice to tell if you’re on the right track, to [say things like], ’You’ve maybe taken a slightly weird turn. Carry on, but then let’s come back.’”
The band, which formed in Brighton, England, when Young met Slade at university, has long played as a three-piece with drummer Olly Joyce. Recently, the duo expanded with the addition of bassist Ben Rubinstein. The new lineup has already shifted the band’s dynamic, onstage and off, Young said.
“[Previously], Rosa and I used our guitars in a bass sort of way,” she explained. “This just gives us freedom for the guitar parts to be more experimental and to explore a different musical direction.”
Perhaps even one that will force the press to abandon that folk narrative for good.