When your band’s fourth show ever is at Glastonbury, the pressure is on. Luckily, Aquilo — the project from 20-something Brits Ben Fletcher and Tom Higham — are up for the challenge.
The up-and-coming band specializes in making dreamy electronic music that crashes over you like a sonic wave. It’s beautiful and honeyed and full of relentless emotions. While their sound is reminiscent of fellow Lake District denizens Wild Beasts, as well as more well-known exports the xx with tinges of James Blake’s doleful R&B, Aquilo are blazing their own path.
Their first two singles, “Calling Me” and “You There,” were released on SoundCloud, and their airy, melancholic electro-pop slowly caught the attention of the music world, including Zane Lowe who featured them as the “Next Hype.” When the tracks were released on a pair of EPs, the band went from slow burn to full blaze.
Eventually their ambient, emotive sound caught the attention of a forward-thinking music supervisor who slapped it on the first trailer for Camp X-Ray, the Guantanamo Bay drama starring Kristen Stewart that you forgot existed. While the movie didn’t gain much traction, the trailer has been viewed more than six million times, which may have something to do with the heart-wrenching, gorgeous song that accompanies it.
Aquilo are now in the studio working on their first full-length album, which is where we caught up with them to talk about Hall & Oates, the wonders of the internet, and how a guy from a metal band and a guy from a grunge band came up the beautiful lilting sound of Aquilo. We’re also premiering Body Language’s remix of “Better Off Without You,” which you can listen to below.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been making music?
HIGHAM: We’ve been making music since we were 14 — younger than that, really — but this project, Aquilo, started about two years ago.
Before you were making music together, were you each working separately?
FLETCHER: We were both in separate bands. Not professional bands; school bands. I was in a band, and Tom was in sort of a rockish metal band — not like heavy metal. Then, I put a song online, just of my own personal acoustic music, on Soundcloud, and Tom was going through Soundcloud and then found my song … We’re from the same village, basically, so it’s kind of strange that Tom found out about my music —
HIGHAM: On the internet.
FLETCHER: I thought, we have the same post code, we live on the same street, which is really weird, but Tom found that song on Soundcloud and said, “Oh come over, let’s make some music together.” And “Calling Me” was one of the first songs we wrote together.
STEREOGUM: So if there hadn’t been the internet, you never would have met?
HIGHAM: We knew of each other. We’re from a village of about 2,000 people, and it’s just a tiny little village in the north of England. And we did know of each other, we knew of each other through bands that we were in previous to Aquilo.
FLETCHER: We used to play at the same gigs, but in different bands.
HIGHAM: I just heard Ben’s music and I was like, this is awesome, I’m into it. Because we literally live across the road from each other, that’s what made it so easy. It was just a case of Ben walking across the road, coming into my house, into my basement, and just making tunes. And that’s where we wrote all the first EP and the second as well.
STEREOGUM: Since one of you was in a groove band and the other a rock band, how did you come up with the sound that you now have?
HIGHAM: Basically Ben came round and we wrote a lot of music and we did a lot of acoustic music. And then, people like James Blake came round …
FLETCHER: I know it doesn’t sound like it now, but Mount Kimbie were a big influence, and that sort of spun our heads around and made us think differently.
HIGHAM: We sort of incorporated that electronic side of things into this acoustic stuff. It started like that. It was basically acoustic guitar, because we weren’t really like good with a piano at all. And after that we sort of focused primarily on the electronic aspects.
FLETCHER: That was it, but I don’t think it was a conscious decision to go for a sound; we could only make what we had to work with. Because we didn’t have enough money to buy great equipment, so we only had what Tom had at his house.
HIGHAM: Basically a little laptop, some speakers, a keyboard, a microphone or two. For the limitations, it’s good.
STEREOGUM: How did you know that the partnership was going to work?
HIGHAM: We didn’t. We didn’t even have intent of it going live, we didn’t have intent of playing music to other people. We were having fun, we were making music, and we had no idea that other people would like listening to it. We had no intention of the songs going live.
FLETCHER: I think that’s the beauty of it. We were just having fun, and the idea of getting a record deal and the idea of even making it as a profession, or whatever you want to call it, was so distant that we weren’t thinking about what we were doing. I think people started to pick up on that. Just have fun, because you’ll find that it just works easier that way.
HIGHAM: We’re lucky that we get to write music that we like. It’s such a luxury these days.
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by the reaction to your music?
FLETCHER: Yeah, it still doesn’t really make sense, it just seems a bit weird.
HIGHAM: We got a feature on this advert and it’s got, like, five million plays. It was a song we wrote in the basement of Ben’s house. We’re blown away by it. It’s amazing, but we did not expect it.
STEREOGUM: Do you still have day jobs or are you able to do this full-time?
FLETCHER: Finally, it’s full-time. When we first started out, I’d just finished school so I’d gotten a day job in a coffee shop, and Tom was working in a factory at the time. It worked for us, because it meant we’d do music in the evening, and then we’d get away from it. We’d clear our heads. And then we’d just come back to it with ideas, and it was all very fast flowing. But now it is like a full-time job.
STEREOGUM: What are you working on now?
FLETCHER: An album, the almighty album. We’ve signed a record deal now, and we’re working toward a big body of work. It’s been ongoing for the past year or year and a half; it’s just been at the back of our minds, and it’s slowly starting to come together now.
HIGHAM: We’ve been writing this for the past few years, we’ve been doing a couple shows, but we’ve not really been thrown into the live environment yet, haven’t done any big tours or anything like that. We did a small tour, but nothing huge. So we’ve literally spent all our time writing, recording, experimenting with different sounds.
FLETCHER: A big part is producing with a proper band as well, because when we started this project, we didn’t ever imagine going live. We didn’t ever even think about it. And now we’re starting to play shows, we’re starting to get into the swing of festivals, we’re starting to get into all of that now, but all we’re doing now is working on the album, which is almost almost there, and just getting better live.
STEREOGUM: What’s been the biggest challenge from going from the two of you playing in the studio to playing live?
HIGHAM: We had one show, when Ben’s laptop failed. His keyboard was going through it, lots of things are going through that laptop and it cut off completely, and then –
FLETCHER: I think that one moment was a huge part for us in terms of not relying so much on technology, because it’s less natural, it feels less natural, and I think when that mistake happened at the show, it worked absolute wonders. Because we ended up having to play acoustically, and it actually went alright, so basically we do that now but with more people in the back.
HIGHAM: We used to laugh it off in those sorts of situations. It’s sort of like, you can’t do anything about it, and so, you’re stuck there with nothing.
STEREOGUM: When the album’s done, are you going to hit the road?
FLETCHER: Yeah, that’s the dream. We just want to tour, and get around the world with our music. That would just be ideal.
STEREOGUM: So if you had to choose someone to go on tour with, who would it be?
HIGHAM: D’Angelo would be a good one.
FLETCHER: Last year we saw Hall & Oates live, and it was just like, I bet we could learn so much off of those two guys. If those two asked us to go on tour, I’d just be like, absolutely.
FLETCHER: Oh yeah, even Steely Dan. I know Steely Dan might not like us, but that would be like…
HIGHAM: Or Radiohead. That would just be sick.