We interview Netherbury’s The Gravity Drive plus an exclusive performance
PUBLISHED: 13:19 29 July 2020
Somewhere in deepest West Dorset STU LAMBERT discovers The Gravity Drive preparing their second album The Wildlight for lift off
“We play epic music that is highly emotive and sweeps you up,” declares Ava Wolf, co-lead singer in The Gravity Drive with her mythically-named husband Elijah Wolf. The act won acclaim for their first album Testament, released in 2014, from music luminaries including Tom Robinson and Bob Harris. Chris Hawkins of BBC 6 Music described their music as: “Inspired and inspiring, positive and uplifting, with passionate harmonies.”
The follow-up album, The Wildlight, is released on August 21. It’s opener, Hits Like a Fix, certainly ticks the ‘epic’ box, with a cinerama soundscape reminiscent of finest Goldfrapp, melodies worthy of a James Bond theme and a silky, wistful vocal from Ava. Second track Shooting Star features Elijah’s vocal over West-Coast guitars and lush backing vocals, confirming the references that have been made to Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac. The remainder of the 10-track album deftly combines a distinctive approach with moments that call to mind the best tunes on your favourite adult rock albums and the lavish sound that is such a surprise coming straight outta … West Dorset.
For The Gravity Drive have also gained respect by achieving recognition without the near-obligatory move to London, preferring to nest in Netherbury, just outside Bridport, where they live with their young daughter in a rustic cottage with a wild bluebell wood at the bottom of the garden.
The strong roots they have put down in in this pretty Dorset village may arise from the fact that they met, married and made the music there almost from the outset. Elijah began making music in a band at school in Winchester with his brother and best mates. In 2003, they made a CD and drove to Netherbury where music manager Paul Berrow, had a house and a music management company. Elijah recalls: “We pitched up on at my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s house - though I didn’t know this at the time - he listened to our CD and asked us to move to Dorset and be managed by him. A few months later Ava turned up, we got on very well and married in June 2004 and had a child. Our first house was a tent on a hill on Paul’s land.”
Ava had performing experience as an actor, but none in music. Once she and Elijah had met, she contributed backing vocals from time to time and then ideas for the songs. When Elijah’s original band fell apart, the couple decided to do their own thing. “I awakened my musical talent through being married to Elijah,” says Ava. “It was a huge surprise to me because I’d never considered it before and I love it! I feel very blessed to have this brought into my life.”
Another important part of The Gravity Drive soundscape is their drummer Ryan Halsey, who lives in Bridport. “Ryan is like a brother,” Elijah enthuses “He’s a massive part of our sound, particularly live. The first album was much more electronic with synthesised drums, but after we toured the album with Ryan, he became a big part of our sound. He was very much part of the creative process for the second album.”
Ryan’s drums and other musical elements, that are best recorded in a professional studio, were laid down at the idyllic Middle Farm studio’s beautifully converted barns, set in the lush countryside of the South Hams in Devon. These were then taken back to the home studio in Netherbury where the vocal and guitar parts could be refined with no time restriction.
It’s common practice now for an album’s suite of digital audio recordings to be sent away to a producer rather than producers overseeing the whole process as they once did. Paul Knight-Malciak, who has worked with acts such as Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and who produced Testament, twiddled and tweaked The Wildlight until he and the band were satisfied. It was then mixed by Chris Potter, whose credits include The Rolling Stones, The Verve and Michael Kiwanuka. Now that epic sound makes more sense!
The six-year gap between the albums is not due to the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome but a combination of the privileges and problems of independence. The band went on tour to promote Testament, “and then we started work on the new album and some of the songs went by the wayside in favour of new songs,” Elijah admits. They then needed to raise funds for the project and mounted a crowdfunding campaign. Returning to the creative process, Elijah says: “we didn’t have any paymaster to please so we could take our time and make sure that we did the best job we could.”
There will be very different versions of the album available as time goes on. “We are planning to do the whole album in acoustic unplugged versions, just Ava and I with a piano or acoustic guitar,” Elijah reveals. At the opposite pole, much of the album has already been remixed with electronic dance influences. Ava cites influences of disco and the ‘90s Ibiza club scene: “Leftfield, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Underworld…” Coming from a music biz family, Ava grew up in a world of nightclubs, and Elijah experienced plenty of parties and raves when he was a student at art college in Winchester. “A lot of the songs on the album have a small number of repeating chords with the vocal lines changing over the top,” Elijah observes, “which is something we draw from dance music. The influence is in structure rather than in the soundscape.”
For today’s DIY musicians, completing the artistic work is only part of the job. There follows the careful process of preparing for releasing on their own label: the now-obligatory video-making, the crafting of the publicity campaign including plenty of social media shout outs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and much tedious work preparing for digital delivery.
Nowadays, artists need to plan for continuity of their presence in the audience’s minds after their work is released. This is all the more important in 2020 because the pandemic has closed all music venues and cancelled this year’s music festivals, which would have been massive opportunities to play The Wildlight to audiences around its August release date.
“Covid-19 has stopped any touring or festival plans, but our main aim is to reach as many people as possible by sharing our music on many different online platforms,” says Ava. The Gravity Drive decided not to follow the recent trend of playing live shows online. “Our band sound is quite big, so we would either have to strip it right back,” Elijah explains.
Dates for the full show are already being proposed for 2021, with provisional bookings at Boomtown Fair near Elijah’s old stomping ground in Winchester and Camp Bestival, half an hour’s drive away at Lulworth Castle. Both are comfortably within the orbit of Planet Netherbury, but no doubt The Gravity Drive will boldly go further into the gig galaxy in the future.
The Wildlight by The Gravity Drive is out on 21 August and will be available on all digital
platforms or on CD from their website thegravitydrive.com