Peel back the delicate layers of Memorial’s self-titled debut album and it reveals a record of remarkable vulnerability and honesty. Through songs such as Moth To A Flame’s elegiac sigh or Latchkey’s spell-like interplay of voices and acoustic guitars, it’s an album that speaks of love, longing and loneliness with a whispered intimacy. Like only the very best and most affecting music can, it talks to you like your closest and dearest friend.
If you unpick the story behind the record’s creation, at the heart of it – and at the heart of Memorial – is exactly that kind of close, cherished friendship you feel when you press play at let these songs wash over you.
Ollie Spalding and Jack Watts had been best friends for years before they ever played music seriously together. They’d both been in various other outfits but until one Halloween when all their friends were partying, they thought to book a rehearsal room and give it a go. the magic between the two was instant.
“It was like a cathartic release for us,” remembers Watts. “We booked a rehearsal room just for a laugh. We thought, ‘Let’s just see how it goes…’ It was so much more fun than anything else we’d done. We were both thinking, ‘How the hell have we not done this before?!?’ It just felt like: Wow, this is truly ourselves.”
Like most good mates, the pair had long shared similar tastes and reference points when it came to music. More importantly, that long held friendship and the trust that came with it meant that they could be completely open and honest with one another when it came to writing songs together.
“We have this ability to be completely open with each other,” says Spalding. We never take offence to anything the other has said. We talk about things with each other that are really private because we’re really good friends. Which means that now we can write about them. It’s like therapy in a way.”
“We’re not just good acquaintances, we hang out together all the time so a lot of the experiences we go through, we go through together” adds Watts. “If someone is in turmoil or going through something that was really tough at the time, because we’re writing together, you’ve got two views on it. One person can be in it and having all these emotions and the other person can be seeing it from the outside and can have a bit more clarity or a difference of opinion. When you mix those together it makes a really interesting viewpoint.”
Written prior to the pandemic and released in January 2021, Moth To The Flame, is a prime example of that unique viewpoint at work. Through swells of brass and guitar swells, Watts and Spalding’s voices blend together to take an emotionally raw, but self-aware look at a complicated, confusing long distance relationship Spalding was struggling with. It’s the song that pricked up the ear of Lucy Rose who signed the pair to her own Real Kind Records and revealed the path the pair would take for the rest of the album.
Via the sublime combination of their two voices and the graceful patchwork of sounds they’ve spun around themselves – there are echoes of Sufjan Stevens, Big Thief and Leonard Cohen blowing through some of these arrangements but the sound the pair have minted is entirely their own – the songs that make up the album are a series of confessions and conversations that land with a rare emotional impact.
With Spalding taking the vocal floor himself, Fake Moon is a goodbye to a love that was never meant to be. The slow burn Americana of Midpoint perfectly captures the wrench of being forced away from the person you love. Using snapshots of people at a hotel bar as its backdrop, Love Is A Kind Of Sadness takes a novelist’s eye to the nature of love and heartbreak. The downbeat shuffle of Honest, meanwhile, is addressed to a mutual friend of the band; a heartfelt plea for someone to find the strength to leave an emotionally abusive relationship.
A remarkably mature and honest piece of songwriting, Old Oaks both dissects the recent separation of Watt’s parents while being a thoughtful meditation on parenthood and how the song’s authors can be better men themselves. One of the album’s finest gems sits glistening on side one; the gentle breeze of Dialtone provides a hand reaching out to a heart that’s hurting. The track speaks of being there for someone in their time of need, seeing their pain and letting them know that they’re loved. It’s a song about friendship, essentially.
“That song covers a lot of ground – there’s a bit about medication because a friend of ours was on anti-depressants – but mainly it’s about me and Jack, specifically,” says Spalding. “About how you can have a connection with someone who might be far away but you can pick up the phone and talk to them anytime.”
Though the impetus of many of these songs was one of pain, of love lost and of struggling to find yourself in the world, thanks to the unique emotional and music lexicon the pair have forged together, really, at the end of the day, Memorial’s debut is an album about friendship and the hope it brings.