The sound of the Sunflower Thieves is one of longing: guitars feel lost while vocals sing forlorn harmonies. Their songs have a sadness to them that is comforting, a unique and expertly crafted sound. Hailing from Leeds, Lilly and Amy are the duo who make up the Thieves. Calling in over Zoom, I sat down to talk about their writing process, their release and their record collections.
You’re supporting a tour at the moment as you’ve just released an EP, what’s it? What’s that been like releasing whilst you are on the road?
Amy: Really, really nice. Cause it’s been a nice way to celebrate the release. And they’re like some of the biggest venues we’ve played and stuff, so it’s worked out really well, but it’s tiring trying to balance the kind of online bit and the real life bit. It’s cool. This is how it’s meant to be.
The EP is called Someone To Be There For. And just to talk about process, a lot of the songs on it were they written during lockdown? So what was that so do you feel like that affected your writing?
Lily: We were really lucky. We both came back to Derbyshire for lockdown because we wanted more countryside instead of being in Leeds. We were locked down with my boyfriend Tom and our friend Sam, so the four of us wrote quite a lot together over that first lockdown.
Two of the songs on the EP are from doing that. When we started our Patreon, like the start of lockdown as well to keep us like motivated and doing stuff. So we like did loads of co-writes over zoom and stuff with people, with our friends and like put a demo out every week on Patreon and it just kept us working and busy.
Your music video for, I Don’t Know Why follows a canal community. Is that something that you had input in or was that purely through Olivia Ferera?
Amy: Olivia lives next to that canal. I think it just suits the feel of the song really well. We just basically, just gave her free reign just to get some kind of calming nature oriented footage to go along with it. But yeah, it wasn’t like our vision at all.
Lily: She did the lyric video for Don’t Mind The Weather before that. And that was very similar. Like it was the beach in Brighton and stuff. We just liked the calming nature stuff.
Have either of you considered living on a canal boat?
Lily: I’ve always liked the idea, but then I have a lot of stuff, so I wouldn’t know to put it all.
Amy: Yeah. I’ve been on a canal boat a couple times and they always seem like they’re gonna be cold. I hate being cold. I think if I’d like I’d do a holiday, like a week on my own in a canal boat. I’d love that.
What have been some highlights of putting together this project?
Lily: I think it was great that they’re all co-writes and we can really be with people when we did it. So it was all remote working and I produced it all and got all the different musicians to play bits in their own homes and recorded all themselves and stuff.
It felt like we were something bigger even though it was just ourselves in our little rooms, recording our little parts.
Amy: I was just going to say I enjoyed watching the artwork come together. We used our own photos and then my brother did all the artwork and we kind of just let him again, just kind of let him have free reign. We gave him little ideas of the kind of thing we’d like.
But then once he got one of the single artworks, the rest of them kind of just followed on from that and then seeing them all together has been really cool. Because we’ve never released a body of work before they’ve all been singles and they’ve kind of been coherent in artwork, but it’s not all like, it’s just really nice to see them all laid out together as like one big project it’s been really cool.
Yeah. and then kind of once we got the first single or two, he can, he just went off and did the rest. And yeah, look really cool.
The two new songs that are out on the EP 34 days and grown out of you, what are the sort of stories with those? Who where you co-writing with them?
Lily: 34 days was with Sam and Tom. And Amy was going through a breakup, but in the first lockdown. Do you wanna talk about it?
Amy: Well, I probably won’t talk about the breakup.
We don’t need all the details <laugh>
Amy: Yeah, I think I was just having a really rubbish time. I think it was just like extra difficult because of not being able to see anybody and I moved back in with my parents and I love my parents. But that felt weird. I was still finishing my degree.
So obviously I was used to being in my own space doing my thing in Leeds and then I came back. I think just feeling more lonely because of the, the lockdown and everything else and then not being able to see people or like access all the things that you normally do when you’re having your rubbish time, like going out with your mates or whatever.
And I just spent a lot of time in my room. And I also needed to write some songs for my degree.
And I wasn’t really feeling like writing very much, but I just had this one day where I wrote the first verse and was kind of like, oh, I’ll see if what Tom, Lily and Sam think of this.
And it’s always really nice when you write something like a little idea and then share it with people that you want to collaborate with. And they just come back with really big enthusiasm for what you’ve done and ideas already straight off the bat. So yeah, I think that prompted me to carry on couple of verses and then we finished it all together. I think like I definitely, when I listen to it now ,not in a bad way, but I feel the way I feel again, that’s definitely in the song, so I think we got out of that what I needed to get out.
The mark of the great writer is that you’re able to conjure that emotion into the songs I think.
Lily: And then Grown Out Of You was also, so because we came back to our hometowns we were remembering the people we used to be really close with at school and thinking about how we don’t know them anymore. And wondering what they’re up to. The songs kind of saying you, you are doing your life and I’m doing my life and neither is right or wrong, but they’re really different. And that’s okay. And we’re obviously all having a good time doing that. There’s a music video for that one as well where we have a big, a kids party in a village hall.
What are your favorite records that you each have?
Amy: I’ve got a few that I haven’t actually opened and played yet because I’m, I value them too much. My favorite one is, well, it’s probably also my favorite album is Carol King’s Tapestry album. I think the copy that I have was my parents. So I’m just, I just never play it because I don’t want to ruin it. <Laugh>
Lily: I’ve probably reached for Punisher Phoebe Bridges the most or Christian Lee Hudson’s or Big Red Machine actually, that one as well.
What’s your most prized record?
Amy: <Laugh> I don’t know. I also have a Tracy Chapman album which I absolutely love and again just reminds me of listen to music with my parents when I was little and as I’ve grown up and Baby Can I hold You is one of my favorite songs ever. So yeah, probably that one’s my most prized.
Lily: I’ve started listening to a Nat King Cole record a lot. That was my granddad’s and I’ve been listening to that a lot recently and I like, I really love that.
Where does the name Sunflower Thieves come from? And have you stolen any other variety of flower or oil?
Lily: <Laugh> No, we don’t really have a very good story about that. Basically we needed a name and we liked the idea of having two kind of contrasting words in the title. And we got Sunflower Thieves, we’re pretty happy with it.
Amy: People always say it’s a cool name, but we’re always disappointing them a lack of story. One day someone just said it, we were just, we were literally just having a conversation about band names and then we stuck with it. I think for a while I definitely was like, it just feels like that’s what we are, but like band names are weird. I remember like announcing it or like posting about it and just being, ‘Is this us? Is this right?’ Is this reflecting us or whatever. But it definitely feels like us now.
What’s the next stage for the thieves? What are you, are you going to continue touring?
Amy: Later in the year hopefully get back to a full band setup and do a couple headline shows. That’ll be really fun, we’ve been talking about that mid lockdown, cause obviously like all the songs that we’d been writing, we weren’t able to gig them before we recorded them. So we’ve kind of done it backwards to how we usually do.
But yeah, really excited to hear what they’ll sound like live. And then I think we’re just up for releasing more. It’s kind of given us a book for it. I think the first few years that we were doing the project, we released one song a year. But it’s been really great to get this whole like package together and release it over time. So I think more singles and hopefully another EP in the pipeline.
Lily: We’ve gotta learn all the songs that we wrote over lockdown because we don’t know any of them. We’ve never played them. So we’ll have to get learning for a full band.
Sunflower Thieves are currently touring the UK. Their EP is out now on all streaming services, and you can pick up an exclusive vinyl copy through Bandcamp.
Words: Peter Wellman