British synth pop outfit SYKES flew into Austin a few days ago, with ESTA visas in hand. They spend a lot of time in Los Angeles these days, mixing and recording for an upcoming EP, but they’re no strangers to the states: this is their second SXSW, and they spent this summer touring with the Vans Warped Tour while Brexit was happening back home. In town for SXSW, the band is enjoying themselves through the jet-lagged, but they’re keeping the context of the world in mind.
We sat down with them to talk about brisket, their plans for the future, and why playing in the U.S. is so wonderful despite everything that’s going on.
E.R. (HIGHLARK): Is this your first SXSW?
KRIS TAYLOR (GUITAR // SYKES):No, last year. And it’s been great. Quite a few shows, and it’s been fun.
E.R.:What have you done here so far?
JULIA SYKES (VOCALS + SYNTH + GUITAR // SYKES): We’ve played 4, 5 shows? It’s been a bit of a blur because we’re quite jet lagged. But it’s been a lot of fun to see some cool bands and we’ve just been playing lots. [Laugh]
WILL BROWN (DRUMS // SYKES): We played the British Music Embassy on Sunday night!
E.R.:The one BBC was hosting?
KRIS: Yes! We also played our official showcases on Tuesday at the Scratchouse, then we played at The Blackheart yesterday. Free ClifF bars! [Laugh]
JULIA: That’s all he remembers. [Laugh]
KRIS: Yeah, the free food… but yeah the Blackheart was pretty cool. Rainy Street is amazing; all the little houses they’ve turned into bars… you don’t get that anywhere else in the world.
E.R.:You guys are London based?
KRIS: South of the River, south London. And yeah; we’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the States, though. Did all of Warped Tour last summer, which was great, and we’re heading to LA after this for some writing and recording we love it over here.
E.R.:Could you tell me about what you’re working on now?
JULIA:It’s top secret. [Laugh] No, I’m joking: we’re working on some new songs to release an EP, probably. We did a PledgeMusic campaign recently that went surprisingly well. We were very humbled by everyone pre-ordering it, so we were really excited about the new songs and we’ve been playing them here at SXSW. We’re testing the waters, and it seems to be going alright. [Laugh]
KRIS: New songs are going well, and we’re excited to release them.
JULIA: We’ve spent quite a lot of time recently in LA because our producer’s out there, and our management’s out there as well, so we tend to go there. That’s our base when we all come back.
E.R.:So how do you like Austin, since you’ve been here a few times already?
WILL: I mean, you walk around and it’s like “music venue, music venue, cool bar, cool bar,” you know? Cool restaurant. It’s really, really cool. [Laugh]
JULIA: I’ve never been anywhere like it.
KRIS: And everyone loves music. it’s a music town.
WILL: And great barbecue.
KRIS: It’s got it all, really. [Laugh]
E.R.: Have you had the brisket yet?
KRIS: We have! We had it yesterday.
JULIA: So good.
E.R.: You know some places vacuum-seal it so you can take it with you? That’s a thing, guys.
E.R.: I know.
JULIA: We could get another suitcase of brisket…
WILL: So it keeps it moist!? AH, amazing. They know what they’re doing. [Laugh]
E.R.: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s SXSW?
JULIA: I’ll go for the artists. I mean, I’m really excited to see Rag’n’Bone Man. He’s amazing; been around for a while, and now he’s exploding and I can’t wait to see him in a small venue, so that’ll be cool. And a lot of our friends playing… Big Moon, who are awesome as well.
KRIS:Maggie Rogers. She’s doing really well, and I want to see her live.
WILL: I want to see Banks tonight, on Rainey Street, I believe.
E.R.:She’s right before The Drums, who I’m trying to see.
E.R.: I find it interesting that you like playing in the U.S. so much, especially with the situation as it is now. There were a lot of bands from abroad that actually had trouble getting into SXSW, so I’m wondering how you guys view that situation, especially with what happened in the U.K.
JULIA: We have visas this time, which is amazing because you can’t come to SXSW and play an official showcase with an ESTA visa, and that’s where there’s a lot of grey areas. We were very lucky because we did the Vans Warped Tour and had a visa for that, so we were totally fine getting in. There were no problems.
it’s a funny situation, because we’ve been through a similar situation with Brexit, and that happened in the summer when we were on Warped. It’s hard for us to comment on your stuff, but the Brexit thing was a big shock for us because we were here in the States touring, and we had voted back at home. It just happened, so we crack on and see what happens.
KRIS: Ultimately, it would be much better to be able to travel more freely as a musician, and I know if you’re working in another country you have to pay the taxes in that country, but it’s quite a hard process getting through and being a musician abroad.
WILL: Definitely what Chris just said; a lot of bands have had trouble getting in this year.
JULIA: We feel so sorry for them, because you work so hard for it, you know?
WILL: If you stick to just playing the official showcases, it’s your first kind of gig in the U.S. You can’t be expected pay for the expensive visa if you’re just coming over here to make the first initial connections. I don’t know who would do it, but there definitely needs to be better things in place to get musicans into the country for events like this, because if not less and less musicians will be scared to come. They’ll read the horror stories of the bands who didn’t get in…
E.R.:…and they won’t want to come.
WILL: Exactly, and they may not get the big break that they could have from attending. It’s gonna be interesting to see how it plays out next year.
E.R.:Onward and upward?
JULIA:Onward and upward. It’s an exciting time to be a musician.