Peggy Sue: Mining The Dark And The Discordant

Nov 18, 2011
Originally published on November 24, 2011 1:42 pm

There's no Peggy Sue — or even a Margaret or a Susan, for that matter — in the British folk-rock band Peggy Sue. There is, however, a hard-driving group that has just released its second album, Acrobats. Peggy Sue is the trio of singers and guitarists Rosa Slade and Katy Young, and drummer Olly Joyce.

Compared to the band's first record, Acrobats leans less toward folk and heavier toward rock. It plays with darker textures, like discordant vocal harmonies, and relies more on electric guitar. As Young says, "[The word] 'foreboding' is in every review, I think."

"I don't think we necessarily set about to make moody music, but I personally definitely use songwriting as quite a cathartic process," Young says. "So often I'll be writing because I'm having a bit of a dark day. And we're not miserable people all the time, but I think that's — I don't know, it's a way of exploring those ideas and those emotions without having to walk around being miserable all the time."

Slade and Young recently spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Linda Wertheimer while on tour in Copenhagen, Denmark. The singers talked about creating macabre moods, and the influences behind Acrobats.

"Any time that anyone mentions a PJ Harvey influence, we're massively happy about it," Young says. "It's a nice comment to get from anyone."

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There is no Peggy Sue or even a Margaret or a Susan for that matter in the British folk rock band Peggy Sue. What there is, though, is a hard-driving trio that's just released its second album. The album is called "Acrobats."


PEGGY SUE: (Singing) Boy, I held the sweetest heart, I cut my teeth upon his love. All I know now, I learned back when, his mouth would start where mine would end.

WERTHEIMER: That's the opening track, "Cut My Teeth," off of Peggy Sue's new CD. Peggy Sue is singers and guitarists Rosa Slade and Katy Young, and drummer Olly Joyce. Ms. Slade and Ms. Young join us now from the JAM studios in Copenhagen, where they're on tour. Welcome to our program.



WERTHEIMER: You know, years ago, I interviewed a British rocker, P.J. Harvey, in our studios and as soon as we heard the opening of "Cut My Teeth," I thought there's a P.J. Harvey influence in there somewhere. And then we noticed it's your producer, John Parish.

SLADE: Well, hopefully it's not only our producer, I think it's also mine and Katy's kind of longstanding love of P.J. Harvey as well.

YOUNG: Anytime that anyone mentions a P.J. Harvey influence, we're massively happy about it. It's a nice comment to get from anyone.

WERTHEIMER: Now, your first recording was acoustic, but you've plugged in for this one, obviously, heading into kind of the rock end of folk rock. What possibilities do you think that creates for you?

SLADE: I think it's just experimenting with new things, which is something we've always been very keen to do, like we've never been entirely satisfied with just sticking to one instrument. We've always tried to pick up new things and I think that, like, trying out and experimenting, it means that you write differently. And we kind of explored acoustic guitars a lot on the first album, although there was always an electric element in there alongside it. And for this album, we just really decided that we wanted to explore that side of it more and kind of see what kind of sound we can get out from an electric guitar.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen to a song that really kind of jumps out on this CD, "Song and Dance."


SUE: (Singing) Why (Unintelligible), gonna cry and again. He's making his bed, only him (unintelligible) he looks on his chest. For he knows my mess, in my (unintelligible), so until I (unintelligible), he will sing to his (unintelligible) under his breath...

WERTHEIMER: These are very tight harmonies. How do you build that into a song?

YOUNG: Well, harmonies have always been one of the co-elements of the band when we first started.

WERTHEIMER: But you were much sweeter in the earlier songs.

YOUNG: We were sweeter? Possibly. I think there was always a discordant element because neither of us are classically trained. We don't necessarily understand the harmonies that we're writing. We just make up things that we think sound good. And in sometimes it is quite a good way to make a song intricate to have these harmonies. But it's always been very much about our two voices working together. And often people struggle to sort of work out whose voice is whose. And I think we use the harmonies in that way quite a lot.

WERTHEIMER: You obviously like this discordant harmony because it's all over this CD.

YOUNG: I'm not sure whether - I didn't even really realize it was discordant until people said it was discordant. I think it just creates a mood. I'm never quite sure what it is that we're doing that creates that mood but I really like that kind of macabre moods that we've been creating recently. And, yeah, maybe it's the harmonies that do that.

WERTHEIMER: Now, as you say, you sort of set a creepy mood in this CD. There are words in the reviews that I read that are like: dark, foreboding, gloomy.

YOUNG: Foreboding is in every review.

SLADE: It's a good one, I'd say.

WERTHEIMER: Also, one reviewer says: Be warned, this is not the soundtrack to a honeymoon. What do you think? I mean, where are you drawing your inspiration?

YOUNG: Well, I think all of the singers and bands and songwriters that we love are a bit more on the dark side, like, the thing that's amazing about P.J. Harvey is that it's so kind of quiet and angry and that's something we really draw on. And I don't think we necessarily set about to make moody music, but I personally definitely use our songwriting as quite a cathartic process. So, often I'll be writing because I'm having a bit of a dark day. And we're not miserable people all the time, but I think that that's, I don't know, it's like a way of exploring those ideas and those emotions without having to walk around being miserable all the time.

WERTHEIMER: Well, one of the things I read suggested that you might be watching too much vampire television.

YOUNG: I think not enough. I think you can never watch too much.

WERTHEIMER: What about "Shadows?" The sort of the story of the song is kind of mysterious and spooky.


SUE: (Singing) The gray makes you sick, the color of all things gone, stretched out like a shadow, stretched out like a shadow. The bed hold your shape, (unintelligible), stretched out like your shadow, stretched out like your shadow. Come away from the window, I'm afraid of what you're seeing...

SLADE: It's a debated song because I think even amongst bands it can be seen as being quite negative. But for me, it was written to mean, like, live in the moment, if you can, and don't look forwards and try not to look backwards, and just sort of exist.

WERTHEIMER: The beat picks up by the mood is very similar in the song, "All We'll Keep."


SUE: (Singing) (unintelligible)...

WERTHEIMER: There's a certain kind of relentless quality to this music. Like come away from the window, come away from the window on "Shadows" and then here again, repeating a lyric and repeating and just driving it home.


SUE: (Singing) Your body count, your body count, nothing, nothing, nothing (unintelligible)...

WERTHEIMER: What were you going for?

YOUNG: I think we just haven't quite understood have you write choruses yet maybe. I think we thought if you repeat yourself then it becomes catchy. But, no, I don't know. It's quite often they're kind of mantra-like, and I think the songs will revolve around, like, an idea, which I suppose what choruses always are, but as we kind of use that more - especially on "Acrobats," we've used it quite a lot. So, come away from the window becomes a kind of mantra and then the verse is kind of splay off from that. I suppose it is quite relentless but to sing those mantras is quite liberating.


WERTHEIMER: Rosa, Katy, thank you very much for talking to us.

YOUNG: Thank you for having us.

SLADE: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: Rosa Slade and Katy Young of the band Peggy Sue. Their new CD is called "Acrobats."


WERTHEIMER: You can hear more tunes from "Acrobats" at This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon will be back next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.