Though 2020 laid waste to the well-made plans of many an artist, COVID-induced solitude often served to foster rather than stifle creativity. Dream-pop duo Still Corners were no exception. With the production of their fifth studio album The Last Exit put on hold by coronavirus last year, Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes used the time and space created by the pandemic to take a step back. The result was a total overhaul of the record, and the creation of a sweeping, vibrant album evocative of the old West and lonesome journeys under a beating sun.
“It is kind of a desert concept album,” says Greg, “For Tess it’s like a European dream of America, and for me it’s like an American dream of America.”
Tessa explains how the extra breathing room induced by COVID-19 allowed the space for a very different album to grow. “I think it was actually really good for us from an album perspective,” she says. “We’d kind of been rushing the creation process and we actually had a whole album that was made and mastered around the time that everything kicked off.”
“We had some time to listen and we were like ‘actually, this isn’t quite right.’ We went back to the drawing board on a lot of stuff: took out five songs, added five new ones, re-recorded loads of stuff, re-mixed it all. So it’s basically a completely different album making its way out into the world.”
Greg says, “I think that that release from the cycle that we were on was good, and it did give us some room… There’s more of a focus on voice and guitar so I think stylistically that’s been brought out.”
The Last Exit has a clear, bright strain of American country sewn into the band’s traditional psychedelic pop thread. The pair say that although they’ve maintained their signature sound, the move to the US has undoubtedly had an influence. “I grew up in Arizona and Texas before I moved to England,” says Greg. “So I think that vibe that’s on the album sort of always been in there. But as we’ve gone on tour so much and driven across The States quite a bit, [when] you’re on these huge long drives it’s quite inspiring.”
Speaking to me from Woodstock, New York, the pair observe the USA in one of the most tumultuous periods of its history. “I guess it’s hard not to feel the presence of political unease,” Tessa says, “Obviously recent events have been really crazy.”
Greg describes his home country as being strained by “a general psychic stress.” Though they acknowledge the recent contextual influences to their music, the band view their sound as the product of an ongoing process after working together for over a decade. A clear vision of what each track and album should evoke and express has always been front and central to the band’s work, though this desire is expressed differently on each of their albums.
“I think it’s kind of a natural evolution really,” says Tessa, “Through the years we’re always striving to create something that we respond to. That’s about having good songs with a strong visual imagery alongside it, and that if there’s a transition over time then it definitely doesn’t seem like a huge change to us. This is where we are now, this is the type of music that we’re creating.”
Still Corners was formed in 2007 after a chance encounter at a London train station. “We both got on a train that said it was gonna stop at London Bridge,” Tessa recalls, “But it didn’t stop, and we ended up in Kidbrooke in South East London.”
“We were the only two people on the platform,” adds Greg.
“Yeah, and I said ‘oh you got on the wrong train too.’ We talked about music and art I guess.”
This moment marked the beginning of the band’s journey, with the pair writing and recording music together soon after. Their self-released debut EP Remember Pepper? was pressed on 500 CDs and is now a valued collector’s item; Amazon lists one available copy of the six-song disc for £85.
The band later moved across the Atlantic prior to the release of their fourth album Slow Air, spending time in Texas. They say the coronavirus pandemic has allowed time for absorbing old and new music. “I’ve got a new Chet Baker box set on vinyl which is amazing,” Greg says. “It’s got a selection of his recordings mostly from these sessions that he did in New York, it’s really good.”
“We’ve been listening to the new Waxahatchee record St Cloud which is really good,” says Tessa. “A lot of old stuff too—old country music like Marty Robbins.”
Each of the Last Exit’s eleven tracks reflect the album’s desert theme with a distinctive approach. ‘White Sands,’ is an energetic, expressive story of a phantom witch wandering the highways, while the album’s titular song is a tranquil, shimmering refrain of escapism. When I ask which of the record’s tracks Tessa and Greg would pick, though, the pair have differing answers.
“I really like ‘A Kiss before Dying,’” says Greg. “I just think it sums up in my mind’s eye what I wanted things to sound like and it has a sort of gothic tone to it that I really like.”
“I would probably choose ‘Crying,’” Tessa says. “Just cause there’s something about that one I feel like I can listen to it quite a lot and enjoy it every time.”
“That makes it seem like I’ve just been looping it on my own in a room,” she laughs, “But I guess we have been confined to home a lot so maybe it’s more justifiable.”
While their new album has inadvertently benefited from the fallout of coronavirus, live performances have been cancelled en masse for nearly a year. Gigs are now such a thing of the past, in fact, that takes Greg a moment to recall the last the band played. “I think our last show was in Moscow,” he says.
“Oh yeah, it was!” says Tessa. We played this festival in Moscow in the summer of 2019… it was like 14 degrees [Fahrenheit] and raining and kind of miserable.”
“But it was great,” adds Greg.
“But it was a great show,” laughs Tessa, “Aside from the weather.”
With the arrival of the New Year and the launch of their new album, the band hope to be back on the road as soon as they can, COVID-19 permitting. “We do have a tour booked for October so we’re hoping that will go ahead,” Greg says.
“Yeah keeping our fingers crossed for that,” says Tessa. “In the meantime just you know kind of working on new music really and just keeping at it.”
Before saying goodbye, I ask each of them what they’re most looking forward to in 2021. “For me I think it’s just turning the page and being able to get back into places with people and socialise,” Greg says. “Just go to have a drink at a bar with a bunch of people. And play shows.”
“And speak to strangers and just have random conversations,” says Tessa. “You know cause it’s at that stage where you’re speaking to the same people and no one’s doing anything, and there’s only so many TV series and films you can talk about. So yeah, opening up will be really nice.”
Still Corners’ album The Last Exit was released on Friday 22 January and is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music, and to order on CD and vinyl. The band can be found on Twitter and Instagram @StillCorners.
Interview conducted by Alastair Lockhart
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