On their debut album Fossils and Other Phantoms, London/Brighton post-folk trio Peggy Sue – Katy Beth Young (guitars, vocals), Rosa Slade (guitars, vocals) and Olly Joyce (drums) – created a dense, literate world of beautiful harmonies, intricate acoustics and purposeful, stuttering drums. It was recorded in Brooklyn, without a record deal, half by accident: “We didn’t even know we were recording an album, we were just getting as many songs down as we could,” explains Rosa. Shortly after returning to the UK, they signed to Wichita, then promptly left the country for a year of intensive touring around America and Europe. Populated by images of clocks and calendars, maps, lists and unpacked boxes, Acrobats explores the beautiful but unsettling experience of the road. The combination of stasis and movement. The arbitrary measurements of time by which we are forced to acknowledge change and failure to change. Numbers take on meanings as words lose theirs. Miles, hours, years. Names and places. “There is a weird stasis in touring,” says Rosa. “You’re almost completely still at the same time as moving and changing. You become a different person. For everyone you love you remain exactly as you were when you left. But everything is so transitory.”
Where Fossils and Other Phantoms was concerned with accepting and even embracing absences, Acrobats – as the title suggests – explores the momentum of human bodies – their forward movement. Bodies dance, hands move, voices are raised. Both musically and lyrically the album attempts a progression while never denying the past. “There is an optimism in it: saying this is what was, it had to be, and now I can be what I am now.” This optimism is in part a rebuttal to the critical reception of Fossils… which, though positive, often cast Peggy Sue’s two front-women as love’s victims. “We were affected by those words. They felt like accusations, and we wanted to say ‘No we aren’t miserable, sometimes we are wrong and sometimes we are mean.’ We became very aware that we are writing our own stories. Our myth is created by our words.” While that myth is not always positive, Acrobats is about embracing it, and the comfort that comes from that acceptance. If being away from home brought them a new lyrical strength and coherence, spending so much time in just each other’s company gave them a strong idea of the new sounds they wanted to find, too.
Acrobats is a louder, bigger album, played with intent and even ferocity. It opens with the six-minute “Cut My Teeth”, an atypical beginning which Katy says they fought hard for, and which firmly marks out the album to come. “I’m really proud of it, I see it as a sort of prologue – it tells the story of the movement from our first to our second album. Rosa’s guitar part is brilliant. We’re proud of the way we put it together as a three-piece; the new songs feel very much like they’re all of ours together. ” Those who know Peggy Sue from their “…and the Pirates” days may be surprised that electric guitars have such a starring role on Acrobats – there’s an acoustic guitar on just one track – but a review of their back catalogue reveals these sounds have always been present if somewhat submerged beneath other musical ideas. There were practical reasons for the shift – two guitar purchases and a new practice space. “Previously vocals have always been so central to what we were making,” says Rosa, but the band holed up in a different rehearsal studio, where “the PA was shit and the amps were amazing, so we’d write guitar parts before vocals, which was backwards for us. ”
Plugging in and turning up gave them chance to revisit their teenage loves, and they spent a lot of time listening to Sonic Youth and the Breeders while writing the record. “We have got better at playing guitar since Fossils…, so we’ve caught up with our influences. Two years ago, I couldn’t understand how Sonic Youth could make those noises, but now I can. The simpler influences are still there but they have taken a back seat,” says Katy. Acrobats was recorded in Bristol in January with producer John Parish, known for his work with PJ Harvey, EELS and Sparklehorse, amongst others. “This was the first time we’ve ever had an extended period of time doing one thing,” says Katy. “We lived in Bristol, we knew where we were sleeping every night, we could take days off if it wasn’t going well. It felt pretty grown-up.” And Parish’s presence was a big part of that. Says Olly, “The best thing about him is that he could bring the voice out of what we wanted. I’d say, ‘I want the drums to sound like this,’ and he’d say, ‘lets just try that microphone here.” He could translate the sound that was in our head.” Rosa adds: “We knew we wanted to make this album, and he helped us to make this album better.”