There are many reasons for which we should be grateful to Chesney Hawkes. The primary one being that he didn’t hang around long. The second that he perhaps played a small part in inspiring Sky Larkin’s guitarist and singer Katie Harkin in choosing a career in music. ”I begged my parents to buy a copy of ‘The One & Only’ for me when I was 5,” she bravely admits. “I was an early starter!”
The inspiration behind the cursed misnaming of countless now-18 year old boys is an auspicious place to begin the musical education of any infant, although you’d be hard pressed to find any noticeable Hawkes influence in Sky Larkin’s music. Unfortunately I didn’t clarify whether, when the movie of Katie’s rise to global success is eventually made, Roger Daltrey would be well cast as her father / hapless promoter-impressario.
As one third of the latest group of young (adopted) Leodensians to be tipped for stellar things, Katie’s musical development took in a few more definite influences in creating the future Sky Larkin sound before Yorkshire became home: “I loved living in London because of the gigs I could go to. I remember seeing Final Fantasy supported by Grizzly Bear, which was dreamy.”
Now signed to cooler-than-most Wichita Recordings – labelmates include Bloc Party, Conor Oberst and Peter, Bjorn & John – the band are creating the kind of buzz that often pre-empts a major happening. Leeds might be the ultimate northern city du jour, but Sky Larkin’s influences stretch much further than the length of the River Aire. With more than just a nod to the American indie rock canon of the past 20 years, their debut album The Golden Spike [review] was recorded in Seattle, the northwestern industrial town considered the spiritual home of the US alternative rock scene.
Excluding The Backstreet Boys, who Katie saw while still at primary school, her first gig also had a Seattle provenance. “When I was 14 I went to see The Smashing Pumpkins on their first farewell tour. They played for 3 hours. I then thought that was normal, and after the next gig I went to ended after an hour I wondered why it was so short.”
With The Golden Spike‘s production honours going to John Goodmanson, who has previously worked with Death Cab For Cutie and Sleater-Kinney, and a European tour with Conor Oberst under their belt, Sky Larkin are becoming a thoroughly transatlantic affair. Their roots, though, are much closer to home. Frontwoman Katie grew up in the capital with childhood friend turned über-drummer Nestor Matthews, while bassist Doug Adams joined the group after chatting with the pair on MSN Messenger and offering his services. So as much as their sound makes all kinds of nods to Stateside stuff that has gone before, inspiration remains a homespun affair. ”I’m probably inspired most by my friends, and musicians we have been able to meet and tour with,” says Katie, “although you can be inspired from afar. It’s really powerful to feel part of a creative community.”
That sense of community and refreshing lack of attitude is apparent in pretty much everything they do. Possessed of a strong DIY ethic, Sky Larkin have been a fixture of the Leeds scene for a few years, ploughing a distinct furrow in a city that has been under the music media spotlight. While the Kaiser Chiefs and Pigeon Detectives have taken radio-friendly boisterous lad-rock into the living rooms of millions of people who wouldn’t know their Belly from their Elbow, the Larkins were busy issuing their own singles and refusing to get blown off course.
“The spotlight those bands helped to place on Leeds in the last few years has been beneficial in that there has been a focus on Leeds music that might otherwise never have seen the light of day,” says Nestor. “However, a lot of the noise coming from the Leeds melting pot that is Hyde Park is wildly different to the ‘chart success’ of the Chiefs, the Detectives and their contemporaries.”
Katie gives the example of the distinctly idiosyncratic Wild Beasts as a sign of how the city can incubate and nurture original talent, whilst Nestor roots the band’s development firmly within their local environment. “Leeds has always had a great music community, which has definitely helped us in so many ways. If it weren’t for this community there would be no ‘Leeds scene’ to speak of, and we probably wouldn’t be doing this interview.”
You get the impression that the band are not about to jettison old friends or the way they’ve always worked at the point success seems to beckon. The transition from independent force to established act often robs bands of their raison d’être and blunts their creativity. Katie is quick to reaffirm that the attitude that got them this far is still firmly in place. “We still have that DIY approach but work with Wichita to use the resources they have…it’s been a great collaboration so far.” Nestor agrees. “It’s great to be able to talk about ideas in a can-do kind of way. They are very realistic and very practical in that plans that would have taken days or weeks before can now take just hours.”
As statements of intent go, The Golden Spike is as good as any you are likely to hear this year. Taut, clever, gloriously shouty and tender by turns, it’s the sound of a band that seems to knows what it’s about. Katie’s lyrics with their earthy references and continual use of metaphors taken from the natural world often have a wide-eyed quality that is endearing as it is intelligent. There isn’t much space for the facile in the world of Sky Larkin. Their debut Wichita single, ‘Fossil, I’, is full of pleas for rain and fertile days from two fossilised lovers trapped under the layers of earth, and current release ‘Beeline’ muses on the protagonist’s insignificance, their imprint being little more than that of “two small flies in a cathedral”. It’s a world away from the booze-fuelled party sound of some of their better known city peers, but no less joyful and probably a lot more real and lasting as a result.
“The world’s a terrifying and awesome place. I find it pretty interesting,” says Katie in summation, and with a bit of luck it will only get more awesome and more interesting for the band from hereon in.
The Golden Spike is released on 09/02; www.myspace.com/skylarkinskylarkin
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