Hailing from the UK, London-based musical project The Shining Tongues weave a glimmering blanket of melancholy, ecstasy, fear and loathing. We speak with Daniel Knowler about their new EP The Prayer, remote collaboration, favourite seasons and future plans.
OSR: How did The Shining Tongues come about?
Knowler: For ten years, up until 2019, I was in a band called The Infinite Three with Sam Mclaughlin and Paul Middleton. We released five albums and toured the UK a few times as well as completing a rather ambitious ten-year song cycle, the Winter Solstice series. Sadly Paul died in October 2019. As you can imagine that was quite a blow emotionally for myself and Sam. For a good few months, I didn’t really feel like making music, but around February of 2020, I could feel new music starting to manifest in my thoughts. Sam and I briefly considered continuing with The Infinite Three name, but without Paul it just didn’t feel right.
We already knew the new songs would sound rather more expansive and orchestrated than the Infinite Three’s recordings and we planned to form The Shining Tongues as a five or six-piece band, record an album and go on tour. But this all coincided with the beginning of the Covid pandemic and with it the inability to actually be in the same room as a whole bunch of musicians!
Instead, we worked remotely, swapping audio files over the internet and sending rough versions to various friends: Andrea Kerr of Living With Eating Disorders, Robin Jax of RobinPlaysChords, Ben Mclees of This Is Radio Silence, Orlando Harrison of Alabama 3, Artur Hajdasz and a few others – all of whom embellished and decorated the songs with some really beautiful and surprising performances.
OSR: What can you tell us about your EP The Prayer?
Knowler: I’m not a particularly religious person, but the idea of prayer is interesting to me -both as a meditative state and as a kind of remote communication which, considering the mechanics of how the songs were recorded, kind of makes sense in retrospect. There are little ideas running through the EP – the dual ideas of impermanence and infinity on ‘On My Way Down’. ‘Belly Of The Town’ is a kind of yearning for closer human contact. The Prayer itself is our attempt to recreate a kind of manic and psychotic religious fervour. A shout out here should go to the supremely talented Ben Mclees for his amazing string arrangement.
Three of the songs were written in 2020 but ‘Shy Contortionist’ actually dates back to a band I used to play in many years ago with Maria Vellanz (currently of Bent Husbands) called Leisur Hive. I found an old tape of it in a box and it just seemed to fit in with the other songs. So Maria and I re-recorded it and it blended in perfectly with what The Shining Tongues are doing now. The EP definitely has a narrative running through it – more like one side of an album I suppose.
OSR: If you could change one thing about the EP what would it be?
Knowler: We’d release it on vinyl! Downloads are fine, but a nice big fat vinyl record would be great. Far too expensive to produce upfront though for most artists. Seriously, I’m 100% happy with how the EP sounds. That said, if I re-recorded it now it would probably come out sounding different. It’s a snapshot of 2020 and very much a product of its immediate environment. I’ve been making music long enough now to comfortably straddle the fence of knowing when something’s complete and knowing when to let go of it. That’s a very long-winded way of saying I wouldn’t change anything about it!
OSR: What is your creative process?
Knowler: My creative process used to be to get together with a band in a rehearsal space and improvise until the music writes itself. But this year, for obvious reasons, my creative process has become somewhat more solitary. It usually involves mumbling something incoherent over a piano or some guitar chords and then repeating that process until the incoherent mumbling starts to make sense or at least give an illusion of sense! I’ve never been a “say what you mean” kind of songwriter, I much prefer the kind of lyrical serendipity that pops up from documenting an improvisatory process or using random or divinatory means to get inside the song. I’ve been playing around with I-Ching, Tarot cards, cut-ups, random text generators – anything that feels like it throws the process off-course but which ultimately leads things to something resembling truth, or at the very least something that rhymes and sounds good. The musicality of lyrics is, in my opinion, as important as meaning.
OSR: What are your thoughts on remote collaboration in the music industry?
Knowler: This year its been pretty much necessary! We did, before the pandemic, occasionally work remotely on recordings but as I mentioned most of The Infinite Three’s material was the result of group improvisation. Anything where individual players are layering sounds or adding things afterwards – the fact that it’s easier than ever to do so remotely is fantastic. The song ‘Belly Of The Town’ on the EP has a choir of backing vocalists from all over the world. Friends from Australia, Italy and Spain all sang their parts at home and sent the recordings over to me. I think my teenage self’s mind would’ve been pretty much blown by that idea years ago!
OSR: What do you hope people take from your music?
Knowler: I hope that people will get at least some of the ecstatic joy that I get from making the music by listening to it. Honestly though, that’s quite a difficult question. Once the music has hatched from its egg and wandered off into the world it’s really not up to me anymore. If someone listens to The Shining Tongues and just thinks we’re “quite good” and finds some small pleasure in our music, that’s wonderful. If another person listens to us and has an instantaneous psychic orgasm, shaves their head and forms a revolutionary anarcho-spiritualist religious cult, that’s also fine by me.
OSR: Where do you want to be this time next year?
Knowler: As long as I’m somewhere with a safe roof over my head and food in the fridge I’ll be happy! As for The Shining Tongues, I’d like our music to reach more people; to have released a debut album and perhaps toured, at least in the UK and France, but live music seems like such a distant dream at the moment. If you want a more exact, specific and personal answer: this time next year I’d like to be sitting on a beach in Portugal with my partner, looking at the sea and planning the next album in my head, possibly while eating sardines.
OSR: What is your favourite season?
Knowler: In general, I love early spring when the trees are getting all excited and it feels like the weight of winter is lifting, but summer in Brixton is hard to beat. Walking around the market on a sunny day, hearing the buskers outside the tube station and hearing live reggae in Brockwell Park at the Lambeth Country Show. Every season has its charms, but the goths reading this will be disappointed to hear me say that winter, generally speaking, gets on my flippin’ nerves after a while. Sorry goths, I love you really.
OSR: What is your favourite review to date?
Knowler: Well, The Shining Tongues is still young (even if I’m not) so there haven’t been many yet. Analogue Trash compared our single ‘Make Us Eat’ to an Ennio Morricone soundtrack which was extremely high praise. My favourite review ever though has to be a drunk guy at an Infinite Three show who told us we sounded like “a jazz version of Killing Joke”
OSR: What do you think is the best way to discover new music nowadays?
Knowler: I’ve enjoyed hopping from recommendation to recommendation on Bandcamp album pages. Bandcamp is one of the few music services that seems to genuinely care about artists these days and there’s a wealth of interesting stuff there. I’d also recommend Loose Canon, a show on 6 Towns Radio in the UK (which of course you can listen to online). The Wire magazine is still a good resource for new music, as are KEXP in Seattle and BBC6 Music here in the UK.
OSR: Do you have any future plans?
Knowler: My extremely long-term plan is to dissolve into a miasmic cloud of elementary particles and be subsumed into a black-hole which will, in turn, eventually dissipate into nothingness in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics. Much shorter-term plans involve finishing the writing and recording for the debut album. We have well over an album’s worth of songs to choose from now, so I just have to knuckle down and finish off some lyrics and start work on the recordings. Depending on what happens with this dreaded virus, there’s still an intention to form a live version of The Shining Tongues and to perform some shows later this year – cross your fingers!