‘Little Letters’, released on May 13th, is the third album by Paper Aeroplanes. The Welsh duo – Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn – have been making serious waves around the UK, touring constantly since getting together in 2009.
Last year alone they played over one hundred dates, selling out venues across the UK and performing at a host of prominent music festivals. The long-awaited new album is their first release on the Navigator label.
Their emotionally charged music and heartbreaking vocals have already gained Paper Aeroplanes some impressive fans in the media world. “Intimate, jaunty and confident low-key pop with great melody” is how The Guardian describes their music, while radio support has come from 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, Cerys Matthews, Chris Hawkins and Lauren Laverne and Radio 2’s Bob Harris. Radio Wales are also big supporters of the duo, helping cement their burgeoning reputation in the principality.
Musically, Sarah and Richard are inspired by the likes of Laura Veirs, Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Gillian Welch, Everything but the Girl and Lucinda Williams. ‘Little Letters’ is a step away from their previous two albums, with more of a full band feel that nevertheless maintains the duo’s talent for catchy, atmospheric, folk-tinged songs. Their compositions are picturesque stories, inspired by their rural upbringing and the emotional extremes of past loves and friendships.
“We’re constantly inspired by our home towns and the stark, coastal imagery of the wild west” says Howells. “This album is about personal experiences in relationships and the inner, mostly hidden lives of people, as opposed to what you see on the surface. My main aim when writing is to express something that I would normally find hard to put into words. It’s definitely a cathartic process.”
“Whether it’s a good or bad memory, I think it’s an important process to capture those thoughts and keep them in a song-like bubble, making room for new experiences,” she remarks. “The title ‘Little Letters’ has a few different meanings for us, but I think it generally reflects the way we communicate these days – life and love in 140 characters: Texts, status updates, tweets, post-it notes, I love yous…”
The beautiful song ‘Sleeper Train’ for instance, was written while Sarah was travelling from Xi’an to Bejiing in China. “It’s about falling for a friend in the UK via text message while travelling around China” she says. “It didn’t work out once back home, but it was a very intense and memorable time”.
‘Multiple Love’ and ‘Circus’ are the most honest songs on the album, according to Howells. ‘Circus’ is about playing and making music for a living and the frustration that comes with it. ‘Multiple Love’ is about waiting for the right person and not just ‘making do’. It’s supposed to be an anthem for single people but”, she confesses, “I think it’s maybe tinged with a little too much sadness.”
‘When The Windows Shook’ is a song that was stirred by the tragedies experienced in and around Sarah’s industrial hometown of Milford Haven, the kind of small community where everyone knows each other’s names and business. In 1994 there was an explosion at one of the local oil refineries, which caused the windows in Sarah’s family home to crack, a terrifying experience for a young child. In 1996 there was the Sea Empress oil spill disaster, which made national news, killing much of the local wildlife and ruining many local beaches. Lastly, in 2011, four people died, including a neighbor, in another explosion at the Chevron Refinery in Pembroke, across the estuary from Sarah’s family home.
Aside from the musical talents of Sarah and Richard, ‘Little Letters’ features a host of top players, such as John Parker on double bass (from Nizlopi who had a UK No.1 with “The JCB Song”) and percussionist Martin Ditcham (Everything But The Girl, Talk Talk, Sade). The album was partly produced by Phill Brown (Bob Marley, Bombay Bicycle Club, Talk Talk) at Yellow Fish studio in Lewes, with much of the additional tracking taking place at Richard’s flat in Cardiff. Brown’s ‘old school’ influence is there for all to hear – the warmth of the analogue tape and the relaxed, atmospheric rhythm section recordings giving a great backbone to these 11 stunning songs.
Paper Aeroplanes’ brilliant album provides an intimate yet far reaching soundtrack to the duo’s lives; each song a ‘little letter’ full of meaningful recollections and poignant personal moments. The result is a set of songs that are honest and raw, yet crammed with melodies that resonate in your head long after the record’s finished.
“Little Letters” is released on May 13 on Navigator Records.
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Artist’s website: https://paperaeroplanes.bandcamp.com/