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STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE WORLD PREVIEW ALBUM STREAM – Glasgow band Sister John’s “I Am By Day” (including a track-by-track breakdown from songwriter Amanda McKeown)

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By this point we’ve thrown so many deeply deserving plaudits and accolades at the Last Night From Glasgow label and its artists that we might be forgiven for laying down a marker and allowing ourselves a detour through any of the many other promising new-ish (to us) labels out there, to haunt someone else’s vaults for a while. LNFG will always be there, after all, there’s no reason to fixate really, is there? Well, no, we suppose not, and in truth we’ve kind of tried, we really have. But just when we think we’ve achieved hiatus status from this little label that could, this relatively fledging operation that, despite (or, yes, maybe because of) not having even existed a little over five years ago and operating as a strictly crowdfunded operation has, to many of us, reached something close to ‘venerable’ status virtually overnight, they throw something like this at us, the beguilingly unfussy third album from fellow Glaswegians Sister John, I Am By Day.

A four-piece built around songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist (as all of them are) Amanda McKeown, you can read a quick – but, y’know, comprehensive – thumbnail history of the band from when we premiered the band’s video for I Am By Day‘s mid-album track “How Can I Keep it Alive” this past spring, but know that this modest-seeming quartet anchored in the basic tenets of songcraft and emotion is nothing less than a quietly creative powerhouse, harkening back effortlessly (or so it would seem) to the Laura Nyro’d etc etc heyday of the early-to-mid 70s without missing a modern beat. The truth is that, in our at least slightly more complex times, having a voice that can bestir the calm surety that comes with that level of songwriting and does so with a surpassing ease that inspires both a sense of peace and power, is invaluable, grounding us as it does with nothing but sincerity and talent. There’s a growing confidence in Sister John’s mastery of this form that’s vanishingly rare in an age when every factoid and news story and success story is saddled with some level of existential doubt no matter its provenance. Not only is there no pretense here – such would seem antithetical to their every instinct – this entity known as Sister John, naturally, without preset intention, exudes an almost ridiculous level of sincerity. This is simply what they do, they couldn’t do otherwise if they tried.

So, we could give you snapshot synopses, tell you how opener “I’ll Be Your Life” is a sultry ‘other woman’ love song if ‘sultry’ meant shimmery in an assertive matter-of-fact rock’n’roll kind of way, how that intriguing violin loneliness of “Strange Ideas” ends up stitching the song’s strands of hope into an inviolable knot, how the chunky funky “What I Want” somehow combines a ZZ Topped guitar business with an attitude that bespeaks Sneaks, or how “The Sound of You” will just out and out break your crystalline heart in a way you’ll be grateful for, but seeing as we have Amanda herself here to tell us what’s what, we’ll just cede this space to her. In the meantime, act smart-ish and pick up the just-released album here while you sit back, listen, and let she that wrote them give you skinny about the songs on the new Sister John album.

“I Am By Day”

The album is named after a line in a Rose Fyleman poem published in 1923.

‘The little girl I am by day

Goes very suddenly away…

…I sometimes wonder if I know

When I have gone to sleep’

As a child, I was a little obsessed by this poem, in which a girl slips in and out of her life as a woman – or maybe it’s the other way round.

When it came to naming this album, I thought about it again.  How through life, we can slip in and out of all the emotions we have ever had, as a child, as an adult – or the remnants of them.  How we slip in and out of our emotional history.

So Rose’s thought named this album, ‘I Am By Day’.

“I’ll Be Your Life”

The only place this song really fitted on the album was track one side one.   It sets the tone for the record and is a bridge to our last album, ‘Sister John’, in terms of sound – and in terms of some of the tongue in cheek lyrics.   You’ve heard of ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ –  well in this song someone takes over your whole life.  I have often had a voice in my head that says ‘someone else could do a better job of your life than you can.’  This song is sung by that voice, at first reassuring, until you release that what you’d miss out on is your actual life!  So, as I say in the last line “maybe today I could be someone else, or maybe today I’ll ignore myself.”

“In My Place”

I spent much of my time growing up in Glasgow never really feeling like I belonged enough to feel at home in the world.  This song captures some of that feeling – and the after effects I still feel now.  The first time I played it with the band it just clicked into place straight off.  Jonathan’s guitar line is epic in this and was recorded first time round, in one take – he’s not even sure he could play it again.

“Strange Ideas”

This is the first of a few songs on the record that have a cyclical feeling.  It builds from Sophie’s central viola riff, to increasingly dominant rhythmic drums, played by Heather.  It’s a song about being stuck with yourself and your recurring thoughts, yet at the same time having the funny thought that you are the only person that you are never actually going to be able to see.

“What I Want”

I was playing with my new synth and pulled together the sounds on this.  The simple and direct words slotted right in.  I have the strong feeling that girls and women spend their lives suppressing their needs and wants and trying to figure out if they can ever actually do what they would like.  So it is simply that – something to sing along to while dancing around your bedroom or kitchen and getting to grips with the feeling that you want stuff!   Again – an epic guitar riff from Jonathan, and strings that actually were recorded for another song but I thought worked much better here.

“How Can I Keep It Alive?”  

I was playing a Kate Bush song on my guitar one night and I segued into writing this. Another cyclical and rhythmic song that was intended to feel like being compelled to leave the city and walk into nature.  Some things like that can make you feel better but, the question is, how do you hold onto them in your everyday life?  How do you keep them alive?

“The Bud”

I wrote this a while ago for my daughter.  ‘The Bud’ is her family nick name – I never really use her real name much at home.  It originally had words but I wanted to reimagine it as a predominantly instrumental track with a more direct feeling.   To me it’s the sound of a new life on its journey, of the sun coming up, of pure hope and optimism.

“Died Down”

This song is the sound of those quiet moments you have to yourself when you get some slowed down time.  In these particular moments, I am thinking of the having survived some hard things.  This song has lots of spare verses scribbled in my notebook.  It’s the sort of song that, had it appeared on our first album, ‘Returned From Sea’, might have been wholly acoustic.

“The Sound of You”

This song occupies some kind of twilight, in between place, for me, just beyond my conscious thoughts.  It’s been described as ‘Nico meets Aimee Mann on a dark Scottish night’, which sounds good to me.  It’s about the various voices in your head – some yours, some other people’s – and how compelled we are to listen to them and the messages they convey, whether they are good for us, or not.

“Over Again”

The process of recording this was one of stripping it back to its essentials.  It’s another cyclical track – which, I guess, helps to convey the central point of the song which is about how I repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  Sometimes you can feel that you have conquered something only for it to come back when you are at a low point.  As I say in the last lines ‘the deeper you go, the water gets higher, and the sharks you once slayed swim back when you’re tired’.

“Glasgow Is A Rainbow”

As ‘I’ll Be Your Life’ had to be the opener, ‘Glasgow is a Rainbow’ had to finish the album.  It’s a bittersweet ode to my hometown, Glasgow.  I’ve always loved songs with place names in them.  There is a special romance about them. They do them really well in the USA but for some reason, with a few exceptions, town names only really seem to appear in folks songs in the UK.  Musically on this I tried to capture the feeling I had the first time I heard Dusty Springfield sing ‘Goin’ Back’.  This song felt like a perfect ending