Within their music, Stanlæy crafts resplendent, transcendental soundscapes that offer an infinitely textured, vivid, and vibrant sonic fauna to immerse yourself in. Having released The Human Project earlier this year, the Bristol-based band is now releasing a live version of the record, which they recorded at the album’s launch at The Wardrobe Theatre back in May.
Helmed by Bethany Stenning, her spellbinding, unique vocals hold a world of their own, calling to mind the likes of Joanna Newson and Björk in the way she uses her voice with such exceptional dexterity and distinct intonation. The band’s current line-up also includes Ben Holyoake, Oliver Cocup, and Naomi Hill and live they’re a truly captivating pleasure to witness. Which makes this new live album all the more enticing a gift to nestle up with as autumn fast envelopes us.
Just ahead of releasing the live album, I caught up with Bethany to find out a little more about the band, the record, and what they’re working on next.
Can you tell me a bit about how Stanlæy came to be the project that it is?
The current line-up of Stanlæy is only really a year old but the concept of Stanlæy was born about three years ago, it will be three years ago this Christmas. I decided to create a musical identity to lump all of my art out there under, by that I mean anything I do, music, painting, film stuff. I then started the band under that name and it’s kind of gone through a big evolution since then with lots of different band line-ups.
It all started in Southampton at the end of 2016, but I moved to Bristol last year and dragged everything with me. I have recently also been getting a lot more obsessed with the visual aspects of music. I love bringing all the art forms together.
When you initially made The Human Project did you already have the intention or idea to do this live album as well?
No, I can’t say it crossed my mind too potently at the start. I wanted it to be an audiovisual album, which it is and I have recorded all the songs as. It’s very orchestral and quite strange instrumentations, each song has its own character. It kind of just popped into my head that you have to do an album launch and I just knew I would have to rearrange everything to launch it because there’s just no way I’m going to get all of those instruments, and players, and versions of the instrumentations in one gig! I worked with the line-up that the band currently is…and arranged it for that, with a few additions. As soon as I make a decision, and sometimes the decisions are very irrational, it’s like the idea is already in the works and everything spirals out of control. But I love that. I wanted to make it a special evening because I had spent so long on the album, and I just knew this phase of my life needed to end with a bang to pave new paths for new projects.
You’ve mentioned that live you perform the songs quite differently to the album versions, can you tell me a bit more about this?
Yes…so the studio album was arranged for a huge mix of instruments including double bass, drums, horns, strings, vibraphone, harp, a little choir I arranged for, random samples of things. Oh and also Irish tin whistle, and baron. The songs draw on a massive pool of instruments because the album is about different elements and I wanted each track to kind of embody that element musically. For example, ‘D-Ice’ has harp and strings, ‘Ode To Ovid’ has Irish tin whistle and baron and double bass and things, very woody sounds. I kind of didn’t really have too much of a choice about the fact I’d have to rearrange everything, because I was funding this entire thing all myself, and there’s no way I’d have been able to get all those instruments in one gig. Maybe in a few years! So ontop of the current band, I scored for string quartet, because I’ve played with strings many times before and I arrange for strings as part of my work outside of Stanlæy, plus I play the violin and viola so for me it is just very natural to write for strings and weave that into the music.
And I think it worked really nicely having the bands tight and jagged personality mixed with the delicate addition of the strings. It meant that the players that I play with now, we all had to work together to make the songs sound a bit more cinematic….‘cause the album’s a lot more cinematic than how we typically play live. I’d say we can play quite energetic and playful live but the album is more pensive and…meditative. And also we had a harpist join us for the launch, as I truly love the sound of strings and harp together.
And, you’ve mentioned a bit about how you arrange slightly differently for the live performances, when you decided you were going to do this live recording were there any things you did specifically for it?
Yeah, so there were some parts where I simplified what Ben (bassist) and Ollie (drummer) were doing just to make space for string players or just emphasise what I’m singing lyrically that would maybe get lost a bit more if we were all playing our little hearts out. I guess it’s been a big adventure and journey to rearrange the whole album for a live band anyway. It’s been really great to work with a drummer, violinist, and a bassist. I find it super fun to rearrange songs that already exist for a different line-up. You can take a song that exists as a skeletal form or some kind of scaffolding and just completely flesh it out with hugely contrasting sounds. It just changes its personality so much but it’s still got that thing that makes it recognisable.
I mean, you could take these songs and completely arrange them again and there would be a completely different show again. It keeps the songs fresh and interesting, I definitely like lots of changing things happening always to keep me creatively satisfied. It keeps it exciting. I really enjoyed re-working the songs for the live performances.
Once you’d decided you were doing this live album, how did you find the process of recording it live?
We recorded the live album during the album launch gig which was at The Wardrobe Theatre on 22nd May. Med Rann was doing sound for us so I got in touch with him a few months ahead of the show and talked about how we could record it as a live album just because it would be a bit of a waste if all those arrangements I spent months and months on would disappear into the ether. And for those of my friends and people who want to hear it but don’t live in the country, it’s nice to be able to share it with them. So we just multi-tracked everything out and it turned out really really good. Med did an amazing job and worked with Harry Stoneham (of Waldo’s Gift) who’s a friend of mine, so we were working on the mixing together, and he mastered it as well. I didn’t really think about the fact that it was being recorded as on the day I was super headless chicken running around all over the place sorting everyone, and myself, out. So Med Just took control of the recording side of things and did a super job. After the gig he was like ‘here’s the memory stick with the recordings on’ and I thought to myself ‘oh awesome, I had completely forgotten this was being recorded’.
What’s next for Stanlæy?
Mm. I wrote an EP last Christmas when I was living in a renovated fish factory, quite isolated, in the North of Iceland which happened to have a studio in it and a cinema so I recorded an EP which I think, I don’t know what I’m going to call it yet, will be out later this year just as a Christmas present for the world! So I’m working on the mixes for that at the moment and also writing a new album which, hopefully all going to plan, we’ll record next year which I won’t say too much about but is much more technologically orientated…reading lots into cyborgs, avatars, things like this. Very different to the human project which is very elemental and organic!
Keep up to date with Stanlæy here.