In Conversation With… Sunflower Thieves

In Conversation With… Sunflower Thieves
Hide And Seek cover

Everyone, meet Lily and Amy, the two leading ladies who together form the northern duo, Sunflower Thieves.

They have known each other for 16 years and their friendship has inspired much of their music. See, who said sisterhood was dead. The ladies originally began making music in Nottingham before moving all the way up north, though they still refer to Notts as home. With their humble beginnings taking part in open-mic nights in their local pub sets were soon set on performing up and down the country, even being asked to appear at fundraiser events. With artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Rose and Maggie Rodgers as musical inspirations and even looked into their own trials, tribulations as well as their life-long friendship when it comes to writing their own material. Keep listening out for these two as we’ll hear more from them soon and for further listening pleasure check out Hide & Seek and Heavy Weight.

“Our writing is very personal and often lies in related themes. Our first two singles, Two Halves and Heavy Weight both touch on mental health and friendship, in different ways”

Sunflower Thieves
Sunflower Thieves

So, what inspired you both to get into music?

We grew up together, attending a local choir, both having music tuition (both piano, Lily trumpet, Amy flute). We have been so lucky growing up in a town with such a vibrant arts community – we’ve always been encouraged to be creative and musical, through the music our parents listened to, and played themselves, and attending gigs, festivals and events. 

We began performing at an open mic at a local pub which is kind of halfway between our houses back home, playing covers of songs we both loved. Building our confidence and repertoire, we were asked to perform at a few local events and fundraisers, which we continued to do for a couple of years. This gigging experience has proved invaluable to us since we started the Sunflower Thieves project, performing our own music. We have our family, friends and local community to thank for all of that.  

Do you find it easier to bounce ideas off other as a duo?

Definitely! Having grown up together, we each understand how the other works pretty well, we share a lot of similar music tastes, and we’re super comfortable sharing our ideas and thoughts with each other – can’t imagine it being any other way! 

Writing-wise, we generally begin ideas individually, perhaps writing a verse or two, maybe more, sharing our progress through voice notes and shared lyric pages. All of our songs are very personal to us, and this way we can both immerse ourselves in the concept, and help each other say what we want to say. We’ve also started doing more collaborative writing, which brings a new dimension to the writing process each time, and it’s always good to have other people to bounce ideas off too, who are experiencing our music from outside of Sunflower Thieves. 

Now you’re both from the north, what’s the music scene like up north as compared to down south or in the midlands?

We’re actually both from Derbyshire, so East Midlands. We gigged a lot in Nottingham before moving to Leeds, so Notts is like a second home for Sunflower Thieves, and we absolutely love the scene there. So many talented friends and so many supportive organisations, businesses, venues and individuals, making up a positive, exciting community which welcomes us back with open arms each time. 

We’ve always had a lovely time performing down south, but definitely haven’t explored this enough yet. We played at The Great Escape last year and spent the day soaking up the atmosphere there, which was crazy! We love playing Sofar Sounds shows, and these have given us a lot of opportunities to play for the first time in places such as London and Bristol, and the audiences have always been lovely and so receptive. We had plans to get gigging down south again this summer, but due to Covid19, we’ll be rescheduling those. Can’t wait.

Leeds is also a great scene to be part of, and particularly as we both studied at Leeds College of Music, we have a very supportive network there. Musicians from all sorts of different projects and practices tend to support each other and the sheer amount of creative stuff going on there has definitely motivated us to keep doing what we’re doing. We love ya Leeds. 

I have to say your chosen name for the duo is interesting, how did it come about?

Unfortunately, there’s no fun story behind the name (we’ll work on one). We performed just as ‘Amy&Lily’ while we were playing covers and then when Lily went off to uni, we decided to give the project a real go. We put a call out for band name suggestions, which seemed a good idea at the time, and we got loads of really enthusiastic responses back. Which we didn’t use. We were sat in a cafe back home and one of us must have suggested it, and it basically just stuck. We love the element of bringing something pure and beautiful, and putting it with something darker and edgier. (On a side note, if you look up #sunflowerthieves on Instagram and filter past all of our posts, there is some interesting content on there!) 

As female musicians from the north would you say that there’s been a gradual change in the gender ratio in regards to female artists in the northern music scene or do you think more can be done?

I think we often feel like we’re in a little bubble – we’ve been fortunate enough not to feel like we’ve experienced a lot of overt gender discrimination whilst gigging. But then you think about it a bit more, and wonder why we’re often put on ‘the acoustic stage’ even when we’re bringing our band, or why ‘female-fronted’ has to sometimes be used as a selling point for our music. Lily is a live sound engineer and has definitely been patronised and ignored a few too many times, and is regularly the only female in the room when working. 

More can always be done. We see so so many positive moves being made by organisations, initiatives and collectives, to support womxn in music, and we’re super passionate about collaborating with as many independent, female-identifying creatives as possible throughout the Sunflower Thieves journey. We also have so many supportive male peers and followers who are invaluable to us. But there is a noticeable male domination, especially within certain genres, and more can always be done to encourage female-identifying creatives to do their thing. 

Now then you’ve both been described as soulful sisterhood with ethereal vocal harmonies, where do your musical influences come from?

We both grew up being played a lot of folk music, and that has definitely influenced both our listening tastes and our writing styles. Lucy Rose inspired us to write early on and continues to do so. Phoebe Bridgers is a huge influence for us, in production, in instrumentation, lyrical themes, etc. Our recent single, ‘Hide and Seek’ is definitely a product of this. She’s the best. And Maggie Rogers – her blend of folk and pop and everything in-between is so exciting, and her energy, passion and fierce honesty is exactly what we aspire for in ourselves. We owe a lot to these superhero women. 

What type of things do you write about when it comes to song-writing?

Our writing is very personal and often lies in related themes. Our first two singles, Two Halves and Heavy Weight both touch on mental health and friendship, in different ways. Hide and Seek is a nostalgic song, yearning for childhood bliss and being taken care of. We’ve been through, and continue to go through so much alongside each other, that our strongest songs are often based on experiences or emotions we both relate to or have felt.  however, we don’t always set out with a set concept in mind – sometimes a lyric just takes you in a direction, and we figure out along the way what we’re trying to say. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and it’s then that we realise how fortunate we are to have each other to help us convey the message we have subconsciously started. 

And you have both known each other for 16 years, does your friendship inspire your music and song-writing?

Absolutely. Hide and Seek came during a trip to Norfolk we took together, where we spent a few days next to a log fire, playing board games, cooking food, drawing, walking on the beach. We talked a lot, and part of that was reminiscing things we used to do when we were younger, like hiding when one of our parents would come and pick us up from the others’ house. Writing Hide and Seek felt quite effortless after that.

We speak every day, and we both use songwriting to vent and understand our feelings, and allows us to talk them through. 

You recently did a couple of new tracks called Hide and Seek and Heavy Weight, tell us more about them.

So Heavy Weight came out in September 2019, and was inspired by a party we both went to earlier that year. I left early, and walking home in the dark, I remember wondering whether I would feel safer walking at night if the lampposts were out, and I didn’t feel so exposed. This made the first line of the song, and we had a long discussion about social anxiety, and how confusing it is that sometimes even being in a room full of people you love, can be really overwhelming and scary. Heavy Weight was definitely the first step into the soundscape we’re working with now, and the sound we want to achieve with Sunflower Thieves. 

Hide and Seek was released in May 2020, and it’s about wanting to escape when life gets a little difficult. When you’re young, you’re taken care of and your worries are few. It’s also about us realising the naivety of this: ‘you sing me the song, the one that I like, how did I miss, it ends in a fight’. 

Also, your music has been played on BBC Introducing, what was the response from that?

Yeah, we’re always really supported by Dean and the team at BBC Intro East Mids, and can’t thank them enough for that! We’re always honoured to be included amongst the talent being played their Saturday night show. Hide and Seek was also premiered by John Kennedy on Radio X as one of his X-Posure Hot Ones, a week before it was released, giving us our first national airplay. And this week Hide and Seek was voted by moderators as one of the Fresh Faves on Fresh On The Net’s The Listening Post. This release has been so so rewarding for us, and is only motivating us to keep going. 

Since March we’ve been in lockdown has this given you more time to work on more fresh material?

Yeah, lockdown has proved really valuable to us – we’re writing more than we ever have. Lily has been isolating with Tom and Sam of Leeds-based band, ‘Heir’, and they’re both wonderful songwriters, so we’ve written, sung and demo-ed a lot with them, as well as individually. We’ve been sharing snippets of these songs on our Instagram (@sunflowerthieves) and the full demos on our Patreon throughout lockdown. We’re both excited to get back into collaborative sessions with a few different musicians after lockdown, which we’d had to cancel. We’re currently working on our next single, which is going to be a really exciting release for us, which we can’t say too much about yet. Keep an eye on our socials for news about that!

Can we expect EP/LP from you two at some point?

We’d love to put out an EP at some point, maybe next year. We’re going to carry on with singles for now, as we’re really enjoying the writing and release process, and want to keep moving forward. 

What can we expect from you both this year?

We have a couple of festivals that have been postponed, including Live at Leeds, which we’re really looking forward to. It’s our first-time playing LAL, and it’s incredible to be included amongst such a great lineup.

A new single and accompanying video later in the year, and we’re very close to releasing our new ethically handmade line of merch, so we’ll be sharing more about that soon. 

And where can people hear your music?