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Sister Wives Fuzz bass and witch marks

The Sheffield-Welsh quartet tell us about their work and what inspires their sound – songcraft hewn from the land and offered up in ritualistic respect for creative forces of women and nature.

DSC 8047 credit Laura Merrill

Sister Wives.

To mark the release of double A-side Crags / I Fyny Af / Rise on the Delicious Clam label, Sheffield’s Sister Wives talk to us about music as an evocation of sentient landscapes, the ritualistic power of collaboration and creating a sound that inspires deep emotions while resisting categorisation.

What does the ritualistic power of music mean to you?

[Donna] I’m from Wales, and both music and landscape are a part of my very being and are central to the lyrics I write. Much of my influence comes from animism, and the ancient consciousness of landscape from the mountains of Snowdonia to the stormy seas of Anglesey. I wanted the songs to sound like they were echoes that rumble through the millennia, of a past people who also found great importance in the same landscape.

[Rose] Focusing on the power of nature and following our own instincts, instead of looking to other bands, is important for us. This adds to the ritualistic act of being in a band and performing together, because we sometimes feel like we’re channelling something bigger than us.

The vinyl release looks incredible. How did the design come together?

[Lisa] I designed the artwork, and old folk illustrations and botanical science books were the inspiration. For ‘Crags’, we worked with local photographer Laura Merrill. We love Laura’s photography. Her work was an integral catalyst to the coming together of ideas and visuals. We were able to visit a sunny Creswell Crags together, which she captured beautifully.

Where does the Sister Wives sound come from?

[Donna] The creation of a unique sound was really important to us. We had a vague idea of the kind of sound we wanted to create – fuzzy bass, analogue synths, post-punk guitars and big harmonies – but we didn’t have specific bands or genres in mind. I think we managed to create something which people couldn’t quite put their finger on genre-wise and it’s always interesting to see what influences people can hear in our music.

[Liv] We all bring different influences to the band, though there are also a lot of artists that we all share a love of. I think when we started it wasn’t so much about a sound that we were after, but a shared sense of what we all wanted in a band. We wanted to create music with other women that felt powerful and freeing, and where we could try out ideas and muck around with pedals and sounds without following a strict blueprint.

‘Crags’ is inspired by the witch marks at Cresswell Crags and explores the fear of witches. Do you think people still fear skilled and purposeful women?

[Donna] 'Crags' is sung from the witch’s perspective: “Paid ac ofni / Do not fear,” she says in a cacophonous bellow. She was probably a skilled and purposeful woman who was feared by the locals! I think it’s exactly the same now - we need to see more of them taking up space onstage.

DSC 7965 credit Laura Merrill

Sister Wives.

[Liv] Unfortunately, yes. I know a lot of men who are praised for being straightforward and passionate, but when a woman acts in the same way, she’s confrontational or emotional. The pandemic has really shone a light on our expected roles in society too, and how little women are valued as anything other than caregivers.

What do you imagine people doing when they are listening to your music?

[Donna] Adam Walton on BBC Radio Wales described ‘I Fyny Af / Rise’ as instigating a sense of feral freedom, roaming hillsides naked, burning stuff, ritualistic and likely to incite you to get into mild trouble with the law.

[Rose] I hope people are having intense, powerful walks through the woods too.

Where are you drawing your musical inspiration from at the moment?

[Donna] I’m mostly finding rare and interesting Welsh records to find inspiration from. These range from psychedelic pop to traditional folk, or even from girl groups to post-punk.

[Liv] I had my first baby last year just before the first lockdown and I found myself navigating this whole new identity. I was drawn to musicians that vocalise their experiences of motherhood, especially the very hard, emotional, unglamorous reality of it; Sleater-Kinney, Patti Smith and Hole lyrics I’d listen to as a teenager that now held a new meaning, and looking to musicians like Gwenno, who’d toured when pregnant or with babies in tow. Our song, ‘I Fyny Af/ Rise’, was described as holding a “matriarchal power”, which I think captures it really well.

What are your plans for the near future as we emerge from lockdown?

[Donna] We have just signed with Welsh indie label Libertino which is very exciting. We plan on playing lots of festivals, touring and definitely getting an album out.

[Rose] We’re also going to be doing some DJing hopefully and want to get some bands we love over to Sheffield to play gigs with us.

[Lisa] We’re also really looking forward to the basics; all being in the practice space together, at the same time, properly hang out instead of having an agenda to work through, making space for musical things to happen organically.

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