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Bristol based The Ramona Flowers have toured with Bastille, been remixed by Hot Chip and Ladytron, and are being produced on their forthcoming debut album by Andy Barlow of electronica duo Lamb. As you may have guessed from that mix of names, The Ramona Flowers meld acoustic guitars with keys-flavoured soundscapes they describe as “sexy” and “cinematic.” Want to know more? Us too, so we asked guitarist Sam James and guitarist/keyboardist Dave Betts to talk us through their sound and style.
If someone asked you to sum up the band's sound in five words, what words would you choose?
Sam James: “Beautiful. Sexy. Epic. Dynamic. Dirty.”
Dave Betts: “Beautiful. Cinematic. Electro. Pop. Filth.”
And which of your songs best represents those words?
Betts: “World Wont Wait.”
What's the interplay like between guitars and keys in The Ramona Flowers?
Betts: “If I can't come up with something by playing with different keys, tunings and various effects pedals, I move onto the keys and try out those.”
James: “Keys are something that we're getting more into as time goes on, but we struggle with it a bit as none of us are really keyboard players. As we've developed our sound and are constantly looking to create new soundscapes, we've found synths and computers playing a much larger role in the song-writing. It's great fun getting keys and guitars to blend and work together so that sometimes you can't tell them apart.”
There are some lush, multi-layered soundscapes to your music. How do you create those?
James: “Normally when we write a song it will either start from a guitar line or a synth part and grow from there. Dave [Betts] is an amazing fingerpick player and if he starts with an idea on the acoustic, we'll then get that on the computer and start to build music around it using the computer and synths. Sometimes the roles will reverse, but the general theme is to get the idea first with an instrument and vocals and then pull it away from the original sound as much as possible. It's great fun messing with the sounds of the acoustic or guitars so that you end up with something unique.”
Betts: “When we come up with an idea that we like, [such as] an acoustic guitar riff, we try to reinforce it with other instruments like synth and strings so that the song grows dynamically without sounding cluttered. For instance, in Fiend Of The Madness the components of the song are all relatively simple with each instrument following the next, but when they are all played together a lush cinematic feel is created.”
What are your tips for marrying acoustic guitar with more keys flavoured soundscapes?
James: “It really depends on the song. We have a song called Lust And Lies which is a very delicate, emotional song. Here we kept the acoustic sounding very natural and the soundscapes are used to support the guitar and vocal. In bigger songs we often effect the guitars to sound more like synths, and in our song Tokyo I used a lot of synth sounds that sound like filthy guitars. When you put them together they blend and you get some really unique sounds. You just have to make sure that everything has it's place in the track.”
Betts: “Don't over complicate things – keep it simple. Try to find two sounds that complement each other and take it from there. We've spent entire days before trying to be clever and layer multiple sounds and parts only to discover that what we had at the beginning of the day sounded better. Experimenting is good but sometimes a tea break and a fresh set of ears can do more good than spending hours in a room with no break.”