If you ask We Were Evergreen what's gone into the making of their rich and brilliant debut album, Towards, you had best be sitting comfortably. It's a mark of the ambition and vision they've crammed into 42 minutes of glorious and faintly strange songs that their answers take in colours, textures, animation and literature, a plethora of instruments, and a thousand swirling ideas. It's a mark of their talent that all this has been finessed into one of the year's most cohesive, fascinating and exciting records.
For five years, they've been building up to this. Five years of experiments and jams; breezing through pop, folk and world music; exciting thousands in beloved live shows; trying, loving and discarding more ideas in a session than most bands manage in a career - all of it a process that has led them here. Towards here. For them, everything has been about keeping moving.
"It's the idea that, whatever you're doing, you are moving," Michael says, of the name Towards and the driving theme behind the record. "Whether or not it is your own choice. 'Towards' is the idea that the album is the result of this evolution that we've had over five years."
The trio of Fabienne, William and Michael are originally French, settling in London to pursue their music four years ago, a literal movement that's been hugely influential on their fusion of the French lyrical tradition sung in English, married to a very anglo-pop sensibility. Their world is a celebration of life's messy magic, universal tales drawing on the power of images and mythology, entwined with richly textured songs that Fabienne explains best: "We have a visual edge," she says. "We make music that you want to be in and has images coming at you, colours and sensations."
Having developed a fierce live reputation over the years, they went into the studio in 2013 knowing they wanted to push themselves musically. "We wanted to go somewhere. For five years we were trying different stuff. Now, we know where we are and what music we make."Working with Alt-J producer Charlie Andrew, they knew that now was the time to make tough choices: streamline and refine. Take all those ideas and instruments they'd experimented with and use only the ones that work for the vision. Moving forward.
Hugely important in doing this was breaking what had been a very democratic structure, where everyone shared in vocal duties, harmonies abounded and decision making was equal. Doing away with the reliance on vocal harmonies and switch to having a lead vocalist on songs meant the sudden deployment of them, like in lead single 'Daughters', is a more effective tool; and when Fabienne's vocals lead 'Dormant' you get an exciting shiver from her distant Nico-like coo.
Across the whole album, you're never able to rest. Changing textures - between songs and within songs - create a sense of journey. Its surface is like water running over stones (an image that graces the album's cover, deliberately); shrill and electronic tones mix with warmer live sounds. A tropical sounding middle 8 breaks up a gritty, staccato riff in the next single 'False Start'. "It has nothing to do with the rest of the song!" William says, a little gleefully."It's the most powerful, heavy, strong song on the album. We have never gone so loud."
Towards begins in struggle, the battle against stasis and the need to progress, reflected in darker, harder tones, such as Quicksand's brooding groove; but over the course of its length it suggests that reconciliation and resolution are possible. After album high point, the weary emotive plea Dormant, it takes a turn for the upbeat: the feeling, after being buffeted through rapids and tumbling down waterfalls, the river is suddenly calm with lighting pricking its surface. The journey has been worth it, and wherever we are, we know we've moved.
The place We Were Evergreen have found themselves after the journey of making this album has surprised even them. "Once we had the album, and had to choose the art work and our tracklisting, we surprised ourselves in the difference in our synaesthesia," William says. "We had all different colours. Orange! Blue! That was the surprise - that there is so much here." But it's not so much journey's end, he says, as "we started as a live band, built the album from that, and we're going to go back to being live hard." For Michael, and for them all, it remains important that they keep moving. "The songs all evolve in our heads even now. Elements you weren't sure about become the thing you most love about the song. We're moving with them."