words by ross jones
Benji Compston is a man of many lists, currently pulling together everything he can quickly for a short time away with his band, Happyness. In preparing for a flight to LA before travelling east across the US for this year’s SXSW in Texas, Compston had a set of considered post-its, full of methodical notes that will instruct and direct him before the incoming rush for the flight across the Atlantic. “There is a lot to be said for a good list. I never used to do it, I always used to assume that things would just sort of happen and I’d be fine. Now I regiment myself into full packing bureaucracy.”
This sense of regulation and discipline seems almost vital at this time for the band, as on the back of their new album they will no doubt plunge head first into far reaching tours, with UK and US dates already set in stone even before the festivals across the world come calling. When considering and actually taking into account just where the group will reach in the next few months following the records release, it bears sometimes unfathomable thinking even from a viewing standpoint, but opportunities that you can tell the group would be first to jump at the chance to take because of their unending vision. “I think in all honesty it’s something that because we’re constantly thinking about what we are doing and what we are making and how we can create stuff that fits into our little world, that there it’s not very often that we take the time to massively reflect on it all.”
Write In, their aforementioned new album, is a tremendous follow-up to their much favoured debut. To fans of the band, it is unquestionably Happyness – full of their idiosyncratic mellowness, turns of sage wittiness and subtly enveloping melancholy – yet where they have turned another direction is in their new found openness in songwriting. Its a bolder collection of songs – ones that evoke heavy influence from cult songwriters of the early 70s, honing their close harmony projections and channelling them into grander, more evocative composition. Injecting their already glowing chord structures with this sense of resplendent venture has added a new sense of character to the group, one that Compston explains was a particularly strange notion when bearing in mind the way in which they record.
“It’s funny making some of those songs, because we’d be making songs like The Reel Starts Again or something like that and going for this rich, lush, big arrangement, and we’d be sitting there in our dilapidated home studio for want of a better word, thinking this is so comical that we’re here doing these big arrangements but we’re using gear which has the combined value of about £800.” Knowing this piece of treasured trivia almost adds an intimate feel to the music, that the group could retain that sense of closeness while still crafting something as big as they wanted it to be.
When considering on a serious aspect whether this sense of songwriting makes for a more comprehensible record in comparison to their first, Compston helps to show how its a considered progression rather than a purposefully easier record to digest. “There is definitely a mentality behind it that is different, because with the first record we were there being like “we are in our little world and nobody can come and burst our bubble and nobody knows we are doing this and fuck it whatever.” and this one is different and its nice to be open. It’s slightly more positive and it’s difficult to spend your entire lives living in a completely closed place.” Whats for certain is that the record they have produced is not trying to mask anything within its creative subtleties, it simply is what it is, a vibrant pop record.
Write In is something quite undaunted and striking, with time having definitely been taken for their subtle pleasures in melody. Its affectionate, which is fantastic being that they have retained their brilliant sense of wit and understanding. When discussing the aforementioned openness thats on offer this time around, Benji evokes a pleasing sense that a weight has been lifted almost. “I don’t hear the first album being bitchy, but sometimes its quite tiring to view everything through such a positioned analytical lense. Sometimes its nice to just absorb stuff a bit.”
This overcoming feeling of progression comes across the most on the records closer, the moving poignance of ‘Tunnel Vision’, the closer to meet all great closers. It defines the feeling of ceremony, but is equally anxious in its balance, making it feel like a defining point for the band. Upon re-listening for the second and third time around, you realise just how there is a real timelessness and maturity to the whole record – one that simply comes from the way Happyness have approached it. When I ask him how he would like people to feel when listening, Benji has a fitting view – simply considering how he would like to feel when listening to the music that he relies on for contentment. “A settled confidence, particularly now I feel like people are quite weary and the worlds been knocked about a bit. I’m not trying to be like “oh we’re just trying to heal people man” but life is difficult enough as it is. So I think the only thing you can hope for when people listen to your music is that it brings them some kind of sense of self and sense of peace. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be peaceful music but, ease.”
‘Write-In’ has the feel of a treasured record, especially to the people lucky enough to hear it. It captures a time of bloom for a group who are continuing to find their way and presenting really great music in their workings out. I return to a previous notion on the groups forthcoming adventures and travels, and wonder again just where the group might end up. “There was a festival we did once in the south of France, where after the festival we all spontaneously went skinny dipping in the mediterranean. After we were all there going “it is bizarre that we get to do this and it be part of our own vision” which is slightly silly.” It’s here that you realise that wherever Happyness end up, you can tell they are going to enjoy it.
‘Write In’ is out now, via Moshi Moshi
Happyness play The Dome in London on 28th April – details here