Although having spent a few years away from the lens, Mickey Smith's spin on capturing waves has always been mesmerising, a more cosmic approach to documenting surfing and life at sea. So when the prolific snapper transitioned fully to strumming crooner with new band A Blaze of Feather, it felt like a natural fit - more of a progression and a railing of influences from one trade into the other.
A blaze of Feather dropped their first album back in 2017. The creative direction has always been Mickey's but the marketing buzz was a bit of a mystery back then, until it was finally unveiled that chart topping UK singer/surfer/song writer Ben Howard was involved in the project too. Now, the band's just dropped their new album Labyrinth, which is out today. This time around, Mickey and the crew have taken more of an 'homage to home' approach, celebrating the diverse land and seascapes of Mickey's home in the UK's West Cornwall.
When we spoke with Mickey three-years-ago, he said this about his move from surf to song: “A lot has changed in my life, some things are incredibly good, some things have been hard just like for everyone else, it's some rollercoaster we're all on lately. There ain't much time at the minute but I document the ocean whenever I can and if there's someone surfing at that time then great.”
For those who don't know, the far west of the Duchy of Cornwall is filled with quirky locations, stunning beaches and more than a handful of rippable beachies, a fitting muse for a few lads who like to surf. And let's not forget, the music industry is on its knees right now, COVID ripping apart live events and decimating the gig experience. Only recently, a handful of socially distanced events have gone ahead, at much-reduced capacity in line with safety guidance. But this isn't just about the musicians; what of the techs, support staff, crew, venue owners? Many of these have been given little or no support during the pandemic. Any love shown to the craft will go a mile, these days.
Anyway, Mickey's been holed up at home like the rest of us and spared a couplea moments to discuss the industry, life in the far west, the connection of surf and music and much more.
First up, how’s life in West Cornwall treating you? Summer time, it’s busy, but there’s still a few untapped corners to get in the water…
It’s goin' ok thanks pard, all things considered! It’s been a pretty strange ol’ year in terms of summer vibe for everyone, Cornwall’s no exception. Everywhere seems to have had really good banks wave-wise but it just hasn’t felt quite right to me hitting anywhere too busy you know? So I’ve just been keeping it pretty mellow, mostly time with my family.
Yeah, there's a strong crew getting in early doors to avoid the legions. But, new album Labyrinth is out on Friday, how was the recording process this time around?
It was a real cosmic journey to be honest. I recorded the songs at the foot of Karn Du in a wooden shed and just set about the task of pushing myself creatively, I guess. Writing, laying different instruments, exploring sound worlds, that kind of thing. Pretty intense voyages occur when you spend too much time alone in your own head though, I learnt that alright.
And talking of being inside your own head, how have you been keeping sane the past few months? You see a lot of people speculating that musicians are about to put out their best work due to the time under lockdown…
Much of the musical work was done for me by the time the real lockdown began and I’d already survived my own version of it.
So I was getting stuck into mixing remotely with the wizard Chris Elms by then. Also creating films and visuals with brother Allan Wilson in the same way. It helped the wandering mind to have something solid to work towards for sure.
For fans of the original, is this an evolution of the sound or is there a different direction this time?
Always evolving and learning hopefully, pard. Last time around six of us lived in a house recording together for quite some time, but life and geography didn’t allow for a repeat here. So I spent a lot of time working alone and then friends were throwing down ideas from afar whenever they could.
I remember ocean imagery playing a part of the vids back in 2017, does the ocean still have an important part in the creative process?
The Atlantic is a part of me for sure. It’s all linked inextricably to whatever I do, that’s what it feels like personally anyways.
And we personally think that music and surfing go hand in wetsuit glove, do you think that’s true? A connection between sea and self that can translate to music – an intangible thing that is hard to describe to those who haven’t experienced it.
They are definitely both art forms and vehicles of creative expression that are cut from similar cloth. Rhythmical melodic dances in an alternate universe with a strange mystical energy keeping things moving at the heart of it all. That’s how I like to think of it at least!
The progression from prolific surf snapper to crooning strummer always felt like a great fit – how are you feeling about the state of both industries right now?
I have no real handle on the state of the industries pard, not at the best of times! [laughs] I guess nobody does in any walk of life though really.
We’re all in a strange state of flux and change. Everyone’s there together so we need to remember to just be kind, keep one foot in front of the other and the ol’ wolf from the door as best you can.
If people can take one thing away from Labyrinth, what would you hope that is?
Pure West Cornish energy, straight from the heart.
Like the sound? Support the band and get the album, here