“I dreamt I was sitting by a fire on the beach in Santa Cruz at night” says Ross Godfrey, one third of Little Mountain, of the surreal way in which his band was born while he was staying in Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood, California, in 2012. “I was surrounded by 1950’s doo wop singers in velvet suits, and we were all singing an original country soul song. It had a great feel to it, and when I woke up I grabbed my guitar and tried to record as much of it as I could remember. Since I wasn’t really up to much, I then jumped in my beaten up old Mustang and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz. I kinda figured I might find the rest of the song if I went to the place in the dream.”
In the end, having made it to Santa Cruz, Ross bumped into Will Sprott from The Mumlers. Over a bottle of tequila, they wrote the rest of ‘Catch Me’. “I knew I had a great song,” Ross continues, “and I wanted to start a band to write a whole album of similar cosmic music.”
Ross had recently started a relationship with Amanda Zamolo: the two had met while making an album, Dive Deep, with Morcheeba. With Ross playing bass and Wurlitzer electric piano, and Amanda - a self-taught singer from Paris, France who was raised on a diet of Edith Piaf and Kate Bush - singing lead vocals, they soon recorded ‘Catch Me’ together in California. They were joined by Will Sprott, who guested on backing vocals and played guitar, and Dan Joeright (Jim White, David Byrne), who added drums in his desert studio.
Soon afterwards, Ross moved back to London, England, accompanied by Amanda. She’d worked there previously with electronic duo Yimino on their Breaker album, and the couple decided to pursue both a band and a family. “We knew we needed a male singer to complete things, somebody to sing and play guitar like Will did on ‘Catch Me’,” says Amanda. “I became pregnant with our daughter, and things slowed down a bit, but we were still on the look out for a guy with a great voice.”
Their prayers were answered one day in April 2013, when the couple was strolling along London’s South Bank and happened across Ste Forshaw. “I saw them standing there for quite a while,” says Ste, who was busking a Van Morrison song on a steel guitar. “I thought they were gonna give me a fiver or something. But they just wandered off.”
“We were on our way to have lunch with some relatives of Amanda,” Ross explains, “and we didn’t want to be late. Amanda was pregnant, so we went to the restaurant to sit down and order quesadillas. But I was blown away by Ste’s voice and guitar playing, and I couldn’t stop thinking that I should have spoken to him. So halfway through the meal, I asked to be excused and walked briskly back to the spot we’d seen him playing. When I got there, I saw him being moved on by the police. I interrupted them and offered Ste my phone number and proposed a jam.”
Ste, who’s from Southport near Liverpool, northwest England, had pursued a career in music since leaving college, and had played in several punk rock bands, including The Old Silent. Having recently relocated to London, the music he was making had started to mellow, and he, Ross and Amanda discovered a shared love of late 60’s English folk – such as Pentangle and Fairport Convention – as well as West Coast singer songwriters like Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell, and more modern influences including Bonnie Prince Billy, Brightblack Morning Light and Dan Auerbach.
The trio got together to play and write at Ross and Amanda’s house in Forest Hill. “It was new to me at first,” says Ste. “I had never written with other people like that, but a lot of the first things we did ended up on the album”. As they recorded, it soon became apparent that this album they were making was very intimate and organic. Ste and Amanda’s voices fitted together perfectly, and their close harmonies evoked their favourite records from the late 60’s and early 70’s. By this time, Ross and Amanda’s daughter Nina had arrived on the scene, and she would sit and listen to the band play. “Maybe that’s why the album is so tranquil,” the couple joke. “She was our first audience, and we dedicated the album to her.”
Some tracks, like Ste’s heart-wrenching ‘Even More’ and ‘Almighty Love’, have a bare bones production that showcases the quality of his voice and guitar playing, while opener (and first single) ‘Giving It Up’ - a tale of finding joy and overcoming hardship and loneliness - has a more upbeat feel, underlined by Ross’ steel guitar playing and Fender Six bass. Ross admits that playing most of the instruments and producing the album was fun: “It’s great doing something so natural,” he grins. “We didn’t rely on technology. We just played and sang till it felt right, and tried to stick to the Neil Young approach of following the music and not steering it consciously. We just recorded and mixed all of it at the little studio in our house”
Amanda sings lead on two further tracks as well as ‘Catch Me’: ‘What We Gonna Do’ is a Fleetwood Mac influenced song, her beautiful voice drawing you into its idyllic mood. ‘Tractor Beam’ is meanwhile inspired by vintage sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick and J. G. Ballard. There’s also an instrumental called ‘Sound Mirror’, named after the big concrete dishes in Ross’ home county of Kent that were used to detect enemy aircraft during WWII, and featuring a guitar jam between a regular Martin acoustic and a National Steel. “That track was heavily influenced by Leo Kottke and Gordon Giltrap” says Ross. “We just started jamming it one day and followed it down the rabbit hole”.
Altogether the album has a gentle beauty. Its simplicity belies its diversity. The band have started performing live and are touring Europe towards the end of 2014, with festival appearances planned for Summer, 2015. Their eponymous debut album was released by Fly Agaric Records in March 2015.
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