“I did loads of pub work, then worked for a while as a builder, and then I got into landscape gardening,” Ric Phethean begins. “In between those, I dug graves for a little bit,” he adds without pause for thought. “You’d dig the initial grave with a digger, then I’d get into the 6ft hole and smarten it up with a spade.”
It’s been five years since Tall Ships released debut album ‘Everything Touching’, and it’s fair to say quite a lot has changed in that time for the Brighton-via-London four-piece. “We’ve all started doing other things,” the frontman explains, with various complications with work on album two leading the band to take some time away from ‘being Tall Ships’. “We’re not just working in pubs anymore. We’re actually pursuing careers, and getting on with our lives, and we’ve got this band that is a wonderful outlet, and it’s taken the pressure away so we could just enjoy it. It meant that the songs that we wrote after the initial ideas fell away weren’t as forced, and better as a result.”
Starting as a staple of the UK math-rock community helmed by former label Big Scary Monsters, Ric probably didn’t imagine himself ending up arranging flowers on a Vogue photoshoot in Paris, the latest in his series of professions. Nor would he, and many others, have expected Tall Ships to return with a grand, free-flowing rock record.
"You’d dig the initial grave with a digger, then I’d get into the 6ft hole and smarten it up with a spade.”
— Ric Phethean
It’s a transformation that started when the band supported The National at a show in Cork, Ireland, back in 2013. “I’d just started to get into them, and that show changed a lot. My new-found obsession with them did feed into the way that I was thinking about singing and writing,” and it’s an influence that can be felt throughout ‘Impressions’. Album opener ‘Road Not Taken’ and latest single ‘Petrichor’ both kick into earth-shattering outros that feel more than a little bit indebted to the Dessners.
It was only after a series of binned sessions and false starts, though, that the songs that make up ‘Impressions’ started to flow without hitch. It shows in the finished product - it’s an album that feels like an exhale, a release of tension from a band in a calmer and less pressurised situation. It might have come via digging a few graves (his bandmates are now illustrators, instrument makers and care home managers), but the freedom this space has afforded Tall Ships has meant they’ve ended up with a glorious second album, free of inhibition.
Tall Ships’ new album ‘Impressions’ is out on 31st March via FatCat Records.