22 November 2011
Articles | Interviews

Interview: 2:54

Stoner-influenced siblings Hannah and Colette Thurlow on their 'dark, predatory' sound

Words Christian Cottingham

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There are few reliable ways of breaking into the music industry. For most, it’s the slow-death of trawling the nation’s toilet clubs, final desperate hopes crumbling in the face of empty rooms and terrible sound. Some opt to prostitute themselves on TV shows, others to major labels. Many sell themselves to advertising, trading with Satan in return for exposure.

A few, a very few, get lucky, recording — say — a Garageband track with your sister for fun and posting it online just to see what happens. A couple of months later and you’re touring with Warpaint.

This is 2:54’s story, and it’s brought The Stool Pigeon on a crowded bus next to a woman who smells of rotting dog to Stoke Newington, where the band are in rehearsals. We meet in a pub garden where, staving off hypothermia with beer and chain-smoking, our conversation is driven by a metronome of lighter strikes and uncertain pauses. It quickly becomes clear that the duo don’t really like talking about their music.

“I find it very hard to describe our sound,” says Hannah Thurlow, the band’s guitarist. “We don’t really think about having to describe it, I suppose,” echoes singer and sister Colette. “Which is unhelpful…”

Well, yes, but particularly because so many others seem to be struggling to do the same. With characteristic desperation, the music press has ventured a slew of labels within which to package the band’s music, from grunge to shoegaze, stoner-rock to indie-drone. But none quite seem to fit: breakthrough track ‘Creeping’ wears the rough edges of early Pixies, new EP track ‘Got A Hold’ the barbed abrasion of Sonic Youth. Lead single ‘Scarlet’ welds a steely minimalism with a bleak, lonely intimacy, replete with a video shot in a Danish forest.

‘Scarlet’

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“There is a certain mood and atmosphere,” acknowledges Colette. “It’s dark and predatory, our sound, and melancholy, but in that ’80s way of being melancholic but also quite uplifting. But there’s no plan, no real ‘what type of song do we want it to be’ kind of forethought.

Girls with guitars and a nocturnal, slightly windswept sound: 2:54 have, inevitably, drawn comparisons with their aforementioned tour-mates, their name a part of the rising thrum keen to proclaim a renaissance for female-led music. This gender obsession, though, is a sideshow, an irrelevance: “It’s only about good songs, and good music,” says Colette, “and the rest of it, well – it doesn’t matter who’s playing it…”

And besides, they have guys: two of them, Joel Porter on bass and Alex Robins on drums, drafted in when 2:54 were looking to move out of the bedroom and onto the stage just over a year ago. They aren’t a part of the writing process, but are integral to the band’s brooding live menace. “We’re still learning to be a band, but are very much a four piece when we play,” says Hannah. “We’re never going to be a duo with a backing track: we feel like a gang.”

Even talking to just the two of them, it’s clear that this is the case. Hannah and Colette finish each other’s sentences, study each other’s mannerisms and responses and, frequently, trail off their words into laughter together. Is it strange, I ask, touring with family? Again, the sisters glance at one another, their faces ready to crease into smiles. “Not at all,” replies Hannah. “I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.”

The sisters were born in Ireland but grew up in Bristol, sharing a love for Queens Of The Stone Age, The Distillers and The Melvins (2:54’s name references the point where the latter’s ‘A History Of Bad Men’ “turns doomy and dreamy”). Current obsessions included St Vincent, Mastodon and Wild Beasts, with whom they have upcoming shows, as well as dates with The Big Pink early next year. But whilst they feel a certain kinship with all their touring partners so far, Colette says that it’s the riskier shows that have been 2:54’s highlights. “I think it’s far  more interesting playing with bands where their audiences might not get it, like the Maccabees — that tour was an incredible experience. Just seeing that kind of energy every night, kids being dragged out of the pit, just sweating…”

At some point, if they can find the time, they’re recording an album: slightly more meditative than their present tracks, Colette says, but still tough, still slightly — that word again — predatory. ‘Scarlet’ will be on it, but probably won’t define the sound generally.

But first there’s the band’s EP, recorded with Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey) and Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails). Both seem appropriate as reference points, their production tough and slightly insular, poised with threat. “We’d been put in touch with them and they’d heard the music ,” Colette says, “and that — well, it blew our minds. But their heritage and their sound is completely fitting for what we do: it seemed like a perfect pairing.”

‘Scarlet’ was written last Christmas, along with the main body of tracks they play live now. It was, they say, the turning point, when they started to find their sound and realise that they actually had something worth pursuing. The track was an obvious single, a clear embodiment of what they’re about. Did they anticipate the attention it would bring them? Again, the pause, the glances and the laughter, until finally Colette replies. “Erm…, I don’t know! Sorry – we’re new to this!”

Not for long, we’re sure.

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