Woman’s Hour know exactly what they want and where they’re heading. The London four-piece - Fiona and Will Burgess, Josh Hunnisett & Nicolas Graves - exist today as a band whose debut full-length can practically be heard ringing out already. It’s less a distant siren, more a distinct clarion call. Two years of practice, exactitude, perfectionism has paid off. Today they stand as a group ready to take on 2014 with every step mapped out like one of Stalin’s five year plans, only maybe a little less sinister.
Together they exist as four musicians working on exactly the same wavelength. They practically walk every step dressed in the same gear. It’s one entity, few interruptions. That’s the impression, at least. In reality they reveal themselves to be a group thriving on tiny mistakes - sometimes bigger ones, as it happens - and using them to their own advantage.
“Sometimes it’s the beautiful mistakes,” says Will Burgess, speaking ahead of one of the group’s many late-night practices - they even go as far as telling DIY every minute detail of their routine; the 11.11 train from such and such, etc. “It’s the moment when your finger slips on a filter. There is no definite answer - it’s whatever works.”
Compared to the precise detail that carries over on Woman’s Hour’s two singles to date - their softly-softly approach to pop a constant - this kind of statement might seem a little blase. But therein lies the magic of their music. Set aside the perfectionist streak and lying deep within is a vulnerability, an anxiousness that translates quite brilliantly.
“We push things as far as we can and then bring it back,” Fiona says of their approach to songwriting. They compare it to a sculpture, whittling away at the details until sometimes colossal comes into being. They constantly refer to a “body of work” - but it took a while to arrive.
Two years back Woman’s Hour were a different band, thrown into the spotlight with a debut single on Dirty Bingo. They were promising. People were talking about them. But they soon retreated.
“We kind of decided to take a long break and just make songs that felt right and felt like music that we were really proud of,” explains Fiona, speaking on Skype a few months before DIY sits down with the entire four-piece.
“I think as a band you get a lot of pressure and it’s just made us able to say no a little bit more. It’s so empowering to be able to say no to things. We didn’t realise how good it felt. And so we learnt a lot from that. Now we all feel a lot happier with where we are.”
What Woman’s Hour soon realised was that given time, one singular idea could speak volumes and could outlast any scatterbrained approach tempting new bands. Instead of running amok like Fenton the dog in a national park, they discovered the advantages of reining it in. It was about fewer possibilities, rather than everything at once.
“Now, we’re putting stuff out in a much more knowledgeable way,” affirms Hunniset. Will follows it up by stating: “If it’s a narrow focus, it works. You don’t have to be the best at everything.”
“Continuity is important,” says Fiona. “If you can see a development, you can tie things together and see a logical movement rather than something that’s schizophrenic.”
It’s clear they’ve thought a lot about this. Coy about album releases, when asked about a 2014 full-length they offer a shy “we hope so”, followed by nervous laughter. Of course there’s a masterplan. They just haven’t shared it yet.
Because Woman’s Hour are a very rare example, of a band willing to shake off previous false starts, try again and go for the jugular without tripping up on their own two feet. Very few groups have the ability to take a step back and look ahead. It’s something these guys are somewhat blessed with. On the basis of their assured, sensitive pop, there’s every reason to believe what’s been revealed to date is only a small fragment of something way more ambitious.
Beyond the music, Woman’s Hour also sport some vivid, often uncomfortable imagery. Their ‘Darkest Place’ video shows Fiona Burgess’ eyelids being forced open. It’s terrifying, and directly inspired by artist Vito Acconci.
“There’s a video that he made in the 70s called ‘Pryings’, which is about trying to open someone’s eyes. His piece lasts for about 20 minutes and it is absolutely gruelling. It’s kind of unbearable to watch. But it’s mesmerising.”
Early band images also showed the group in very still, stiff positioned portraits. “The influence for that was an August Sander portfolio where in the early 20th century he made all these portrayals of German life, documenting the workers in Germany,” says Fiona.
“ I was fascinated by it because all of these artists were shown on their own. When you looked at them, they weren’t there with their paintbrushes or behind a camera or with their instruments. They were portraits of them as people.”
Taken from the new, free ‘Futurepop’ issue of DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.