Insight Interview: Narrow Skies

Monday 9th April // Nordic-inspired ambient pop duo Narrow Skies last week released the 13 track LP ‘Seasons‘, a beautifully presented album of atmospheric bliss. For those searching for an album which sounds like the inspiring landscape of kåtotjåkka, Sweden, then look no further, ‘Seasons’ is very much a nature-inspired project. Narrow Skies is comprised of husband-and-wife duo Anita and Ben Tatlow, whose music connects organic soundscapes with electronic elements to evoke images of the natural world. The duo were kind enough to spend some time with Insight and answer a few questions about their recent release and their journey so far.

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Hey Ben and Anita, thanks for agreeing to do an interview with Insight. Where are you currently based? Do you travel a lot, or are you firmly rooted at home?

Thanks for having us!

Well, for the last 4 years we have called Stockholm, Sweden home (although we are both originally from the UK). We definitely love to travel together and are always looking for new places to explore… and our explorations influence our music. Whenever we go to a new place of natural beauty, we come back refreshed and inspired to the point that working (writing, creating – if you can call that work!) and traveling blur into one. In fact, this year, our travels are work-play based as we’re taking field recordings wherever we visit to weave into our music… Our next stop is the Faroe Islands!

Tell us a little about your background. When was your first real exposure to music?

We both come from musical families and we actually met studying music at Nottingham University. Anita has played the piano and sung from a young age, while Ben is a percussionist and has been producing music in different forms for over 15 years! And although our backgrounds were more classical and traditional, we’ve both always been open to experiencing different styles and genres of music, many of which have gradually influenced the music we create.

What’s been your proudest experience to date?

Musically speaking, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing but looking back I think it’s definitely the moment when your music making reaches a tipping point whereby it moves from a hobby into an essential aspect of our lives that sustains us both creatively and financially!

Your debut album release ‘Seasons’ is a beautifully constructed LP, that features inspiration from your Nordic surroundings and elements of ambient pop. Tell us a little more about the making of the album?

Definitely. I mean, I think it’s so easy to be inspired by the Nordics, and we are so thankful to call this place home. One of the things that really speaks to us both is the distinctive changing seasons here – each day feels like it evolves from the last – and it was just over a year ago that we decided to write music inspired by this.

Much of life in Sweden is significantly influenced by the seasons: from the candle-filled, cosy dark winters, the welcoming of spring with maypoles, dancing and bonfires, to the midnight summer sun and the celebration of the ‘midsummer’ holiday. Until you experience such a deep, long and dark winter, year after year, it’s hard to imagine how important the seasons become in shaping habits, dictating movements and inspiring life – and all the while the power of nature becomes ever more prevalent.

We played around with how to release this project, and it quickly felt most natural to create four EPs; one for each of the seasons, and to release the music over 12 months, allowing the changing seasons to shape the project and influence us as we went. The album itself is an amalgamation of all four EPs, in the order that they were created, starting with ‘Midnight Horizons’, our summer-inspired EP, which was released first. It also means that the album as a whole begins and ends in more positive, spring-like tones, while the middle section feels ‘colder’ with a sense of loss and longing while traveling through the ‘autumn’ and ‘winter’ songs.

Narrow Skies is a collaborative project which began in early 2017. How did the project establish?

We’ve actually been writing music together for around five years as Salt Of The Sound, an ambient (and largely instrumental) project, which over time has found its own niche in the Christian music world. Early last year we had the idea for a ‘Seasons’ project, and it didn’t feel right to release it under the same name as we found that these natural and earth-inspired writings were leading us in a different direction… This new music was quickly becoming some of our most creative – lyrically and vocally – while it was simultaneously inspiring us in our Salt Of The Sound music as well as other musical projects. So we knew almost immediately that we had birthed something exciting and beautiful – which needed its own place in this world.

Your music is defined as ‘nature infused ambient pop’. Is this unique genre something you feel is inspired by your surroundings?

Definitely! And one of the interesting and potentially challenging aspects of all our projects is that people seem to have a hard time placing them in ‘traditional’ music genres. But that’s a compliment for us… we want to push the boundaries of music and create something unique… even if it also makes it harder for people to discover our music!

Have you ever presented your music live? How is the music scene in Stockholm for this particular genre of music?

All of our songs can be played acoustically – when Anita plays the piano and Ben a stripped-back percussion set. It’s actually how we write a lot of the songs, so in many ways, it’s just taking it back to the initial ideas and inspiration. It’s a completely different listener experience, but one that we do enjoy playing live here in Sweden, and one that we also plan to record at some point in the near future! Over the years we have however shied away a little bit from the traditional model of touring and regular live performances to promote and sustain our music making – for us we’ve found it most rewarding to prioritise being in ‘creating’ mode, perhaps releasing more music than some bands might, while at the same time playing live a little less.

What’s your present goal for the album release?

Over the past year we’ve found that an increasing number of people have started discovering our music, and so on a practical level, we hope that the launch of the full Seasons album will continue this trend. We also hope that it will be a creative springboard that will inspire our forthcoming projects: it’s always fascinating to hear from people which songs resonate most with them, and this type of feedback tends to find its way into our ongoing music making! Overall, though, our hope is that people who hear the album will enjoy and be inspired by our music and that it would speak to them in whichever season they are in.

Which artists / bands would you love for us to go check out?

Our respective musical interests and influences are pretty wide but together we’ve enjoyed the music of Jon Hopkins, Bonobo, Oh Wonder, Sleeping At Last and Olafur Arnalds for many years. Other perhaps less well-known artists would include Arctic Lake, Ember Island and Alaskan Tapes.

And of course if you want to have a listen to more of our own music making please do search for Salt Of The Sound or Antarctic Wastelands, the latter of which is a new ambient project Ben has recently launched.

What’s your musical goal for the next few years? Is there something you’d love to achieve in your career?

In the immediate future, we plan to continue making field recordings to weave into our music. We have a Nordic-themed project in the pipeline which will follow Seasons, and we’re super excited to see where that takes us locationally and musically! Linked to that we’d also love to venture further afield to include perhaps every continent as well as some of the more extreme places on earth, although I think that’s probably more of a life goal than in our 5-year plan!

We’re also planning to work more with other artists – we actually have some tracks that we’ve collaborated on coming out over the next couple of months, so stay tuned for those…

Overall though, our hope is that we can continue to travel, soak up life and be inspired wherever we find ourselves.

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Be sure to purchase the album ‘Seasons’ on Bandcamp here or stream in full here. Photograph by Anders Jildén.