With guests including Willy Mason on Rock Pools, longtime collaborator Bill Ryder-Jones on Home and Badly Drawn Boy on The Place I Want To Be, sometime Groove Armada and The RGBs singer Jones describes her new work as “swimming through cycles of loss, new life, working through pain, anger and joy”.
Here Jones mines her music memory to recall the albums that have influenced her most, for Saint Saviour’s This Music Made Me…
Sly And The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin On
I think I was about 12 or 13 when I borrowed this from my local library. I’d loved Dance To The Music as a little kid and thought it would be a bit like that. Obviously I was mistaken!
I’d been raised on a huge amount of blues and psychedelic rock from my Mum, soul, Motown and girl groups from my Dad, so this album felt like a neat progression from there, melting so much of those ideas together into a mad bad and dangerous brew. I was absolutely transported by its contrast of dark and light.
Sly’s obscured, drawling voice, met with these feather light female vocals, bright funk soul chorus hooks, dissonant psych funk noise, layered up drum machine samples. It set me up nicely for a rather protracted exploration of funk and Hip Hop all through my teens.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
This was an absolute staple of my teen life, my hairbrush-mic-in-the-mirror album.
I’d loved The Fugees a lot but Lauryn was my warrior goddess and this solo album was everything. Her voice is such a fine blend of technique, precision and raw emotion. Her lyricism and flow is brutal. The hooks on this album are plentiful, but it’s definitely an album to listen to as a whole story.
The ’90s was an absolute treasure trove of fierce women I was so inspired by, and they were mostly from the R&B/Hip Hop scene.
Cypress Hill – Black Sunday
To give some context, I didn’t have a great time at school. At. all. I was a lanky, painfully awkward ginger kid and I was bullied pretty badly.
So I spent a lot of time alone listening to music and for me, hip hop and rap was in so many ways a perfect escape, in that the world it spoke of was so utterly detached from mine. While the other girls were watching Dirty Dancing and covering their school books with Take That posters, I was watching Spike Lee films and keeping abreast of East/West beef.
This album was a massive hit around the time I think I was about 14 and it felt like a real adventure to listen to from start to finish. I just loved B-Real’s obnoxiously fun voice to start with but then this album as a whole work really felt like an epic high speed cop chase adventure, the mad sample loops and dark psychedelic aesthetic from the production to the cover art. It’s full of hooks again which I’m a bit of a sucker for. My mum actually bought it for me for Christmas, which she went on to regret in a big way.
Carole King – Tapestry
I think of this album as a sort of book of hymns. Not because of the title, but generally because it feels to me, in songwriting terms, the closest thing I have to a sacred work.
It’s the first album I remember listening to as a whole, as a very young child, and it’s the last one I heard live with my mum before she died. If I remove all my extraneous layers of taste and get down to the purest connection I have to music, it is in that bleached-cotton simplicity of a song that makes you cry bittersweet tears of recognition. It’s the rawness of her voice and its honesty.
There are so many examples of these sorts of songs that move me by so many classic songwriters, but in album terms, this one feels very important to me. Lyrically, it is not complicated or cool, there is no mystery. It’s just a profoundly simple piece of genius.
The Beatles – Revolver
The Beatles took up a very large portion of my musical self-education. I often sing to my daughter from my ‘Beatles Complete’ songbook which features some wildly avant garde illustrations which we try to decipher together.
Revolver I guess is the album which sums up my love of the Beatles, because it’s a perfect mix of bold melodic shapes, amazing storytelling and wild psychedelia.
Tomorrow Never Knows is such an amazing album ending, a mad fairground ride of tape loops, transcending off into a puff of smoke.
Elliott Smith – Either Or
I really don’t remember when I heard him first, but he has been a constant in my life for the last 10 years at least. His music was a big part of my transition stylistically from heavily electronic music to a gentler acoustic sound.
The vocal performance, recording and production techniques he used have been a continued source of inspiration in that sense. This aside, I just find his approach to composition so fascinating. Some of his melodies are just awesome in their construction. He will write something really potentially visceral and dug-in, in a rock style like Speed Trials but sing it in a really breathy, understated voice. The song Angeles is one I could listen to on a loop, forever.
I’m just captivated by his way of making huge melodies feel intimate and secretive. His playing style on guitar is heavenly. Having studied my music degree in a ‘rock conservatoire’, I was certain that I could happily never hear a guitar again, which was the main reason why I turned to Ableton to write my first songs, but I’ve since realised I just needed to hear someone play it with some restraint. That’s usually a bass player ?
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell
I find this album impossibly beautiful. Intricate layers of detail cascading all around the most deftly crafted melodies. Honestly just the opening bars of the first track make my heart leap.
I love how he allows his melodies and lyrics to take breaks, using interludes to let the listener rest or reflect on the words. Should Have Known Better is one of my favourite songs of all time. The story behind the words is complex and he illustrates it in a profoundly simple language. I see that video store so clearly in my mind, that little boy left behind.
As a mother, I often wonder about Carrie and what she went through. And though he is hurting, he presents the story with little emotion, allowing you to paint your own. I think he’s masterful in that sense, he can write about his relationship to God and as an atheist I listen, and I think I understand.
Bill Ryder Jones – If
This is an important one for me as it opened the door to my relationship with Bill which really enriched my experience of being an artist. I absolutely love his traditional songs also, but this instrumental/orchestral concept album was the spark that led me to meeting him.
I will always remember cycling really fast along the Thames, listening to it in floods of tears. I was so inspired by his decision to just make this really unconventional release, particularly given his achievements on guitar and the natural progression many may have assumed for him.
I reckon Intersect is a good example of the work’s ambition and scope. It’s this very visual dance between two cellos which begins so tentatively and then explodes into an almost overwhelming crescendo. Give Me A Name is another favourite, where we hear his singing gradually enveloped by this huge wave of heartbreaking string lines. The drum arrangement is so wonderfully noisy and satisfying. I found a kindred spirit in Bill I think, in that we are not afraid of exploring melancholy, often to the disappointment of the uninitiated!
Portishead – Third
This is by far and away my favourite Portishead album. I love this band because each member is bringing something really powerful to the whole picture.
In this album I love how the tracks create this terrifying darkness and aggression which Beth transcends with this saintly grace and carefully restrained emotional power. She’s like a fragile little canary down a filthy mine shaft.
The Rip is a really special moment in the album. I love its long harmonic cycle, Beth’s torch song on top, this haunting image of the white horses taking her away. The way the song develops over her long protracted note just hypnotises me. Then Deep Water – so gorgeously odd. Machine Gun is so gloriously vicious. I watched them on my own at Glasto 2013 and stood directly in front of Beth, just crying with joy. I find her absolutely mesmerising.
Björk – Post
Very difficult to choose a Björk album but this one pips it with Hyperballad and Isobel. I have always loved Björk and I’ve seen her live more than anything else. There’s is much to admire about her as an artist because she has a unique power in drawing pure energy from around her and pulling it into all she does.
I remember hearing her say that she would compose melodies a cappella and often take inspiration from the landscapes around her in Iceland. That’s such a pure, folk concept, making music from and to her surroundings. This often means the song forms and melodic routes she creates are very linear and unconventional, it makes her unique.
Her boldness in honesty really inspires me, over the years we have seen her deal with so much of her personal processes in life, love, loss in such a wide open, unabashed manner, turning it all into the most incredible work. If I met Björk I would probably combust.
Saint Saviour’s album Tomorrow Again is out now through VLF. Tour dates and further information can be found at saintsaviour.co.uk.