Track By Track: The Epstein’s Olly Wills on new album Burn The Branches

Oxford indie-folk supergroup The Epstein released their third album Burn The Branches through Pindrop/Zawinul Records on Friday.  Led by vocalist Olly Wills, the band also features members of Huck, The August List and Solo Collective.  Burn The Branches, their first album since 2013’s Murmurations is a bright, genre-hopping record that takes in snatches of Americana, off-kilter pop and even the odd smattering of hard rock.  We asked Olly to give us the low-down on the new record track by track.

Olly Wills_The Epstein press pic (Large)

That Voice: This song is really about the basic need to make music and in my case sing… how it can release so much emotion and make me feel so alive. From a band’s point of view it is about doing it for the love of it and how the best moments of playing together can be up there with any of the best moments life can offer. The guitar playing at the end of this song is up there with anything Jon Berry laid down for the band. It makes me emotional listening to it!

It Will Pass: Whilst this was certainly not written as a narrative song I can see how it could be heard as one. From my point of view it was more of an experiment in song writing using imagery. I love the way so many of the single lines in this song can stand alone whilst also enticing the listener to want to hear more. The final section includes some of my favourite lines on the album – ‘That step to your door and the smell of your skin’ ‘trees out back that bend but don’t break, bend but don’t break…’ to me those lines could mean so many different things and take me to so many different places.

With You By My Side: Companionship, love, travel, the passing of the years and wonder are all wrapped up in this song. It’s really wide open and vulnerable. It is also wide open in terms of laying out truths. I love singing this to audiences because of its honesty and simplicity.  This was also one of the songs from the album that we finished writing during the session when we recorded it… this was intentional as we hoped that the process of writing and recording a track on the spot would allow us to capture a certain kind of tension in the performances.

Wandering: Another song that was written with imagery at its heart. This song is meant to take the listener on a journey and I feel it really succeeds in doing this. Close your eyes and enjoy the band working to create imagery with sounds and rhythms.

Grand Canyon: Sebastian Reynolds our keyboard player at the time that we made the record had got the whole band into The Magnetic Fields whilst we had been on the road in Europe and he suggested we try covering this track of theirs from 69 Love Songs. We all love the song and felt excited about making a permanent record of our version!

Finally Forgive: Blow out the cobwebs, leave the past behind and start afresh. This is a song about re-emerging from the shadows! It is no coincidence that lyrics from this song are used as the title for the album. This was also the first track we laid down for the album. ‘Burn the Branches – burn the branches that shade over me’. The video for this was filmed at the studio where we recorded everything and shows a band in a great place really excited about making a new album.

Red Rocks: This song traces a summer when I worked on a ranch in Wyoming back in the early 2000’s. The Red Rocks of the title were a formation that dominated the valley as you headed away from the ranch and I often headed up there to get away from things and reflect. The song traces many moments from that summer and is very close to my heart. In a world of Whats App, Facebook, text messaging and email it is also nice to remember that for a while I did write letters!

Lay Me Down: We had been touring quite a bit as a band back and forth to the continent and had managed to get so many things lined up… agents, labels, tours, networks and fans… that ever illusive momentum had come our way and we had done our best to grab it… then within a few short months so many things changed and it was all but gone. All but gone barring the memories and the friendships made en route. Life was changing for lots of us in the band too and this song tries to capture all this with the most simple of structures, Every time I sing “better write about it, before I forget it all’ I understand the truth and importance of the line. Anyone who has not seen the video for this song needs to… its epic!

Make this Our Home: This is one of our big pop tunes on the album. Exuberant and joyful with a drum beat that is hard not to tap along to.

Funeral: This is the most personal song on the album as it speaks about the passing of my beloved grandmother. Again memory of place and the importance of nature in tracking memory are in this song that I wrote with a lot of help from Robin Bennett from Bennett, Wilson, Poole. This is a song that takes me back to my childhood and the roads I got to know as my grandmother drove me around. Those roads and this song will always hold her memory sacred. This is also a song that we recorded live late at night after a long session and as the minutes ticked away the more the tension grew and grew. The take we used was the penultimate of a long day and it was certainly feeling like now or never… and thankfully we got it!

Burn The Branches is out now on Pindrop/Zawinul Records.  The Epstein play ‘Make This Our Home’ at The Port Mahon in Oxford on 6th March with The Deadbeat Apostles.

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