WHILE most unsigned bands vie for attention on the local pub scene, post-rock trio Stems have branched out much further afield.
The Huddersfield group have just returned from a busy three weeks playing 14 dates across Western Europe.
The reason for their exciting tour to Belgium, Holland, France and Germany, perhaps lies in the kind of music they play.
The three members are all classically trained Huddersfield University music graduates and the band features a violinist and a viola player.
But if you had to put Stems’ CD on a shelf at HMV you might struggle which one to choose.
Group founder and guitarist John Dorr, said his mission was to bring strings to the fore.
He said: “I wanted to break away from drums, bass, guitar and vocals and the frustrating thing of when you see a band play with strings all you ever get is the nice chords.
“I wanted to have the strings as proper full on members of the band, really carrying the weight.
“Not just the mellow bits but also the louder bits and exploring what you can do with a bowed instrument.”
John recruited Tom Owen on violin and Megan Swinchin on viola and has spent the last few years experimenting with a sound that has been in his head since he was a child.
He said: “From being very little I’ve always known that strings would work.
“From the age of about 12 I had it in my mind that strings would sound good with this.
“Even guitar playing the exact same thing as violin, there’s something about it that sounds really really nice, more than just a violin and more than just a guitar.
“There’s something about taking away the bass guitar and the lead guitar and the having the lead instruments being the strings.
“Velvet Underground showed me that strings were more than just nice lullaby stuff and they can bite as well.
“I like the guitar to be the bit that gives it width and the prominence comes from the strings.
“Also if you get rid of the human voice, the instrument that can go from weeping to absolute joy and can glisten to notes, is the violin.”
While the band may be something different to the usual rock and indie, they’re not keen on my suggestion that they’re ‘revolutionising classical music for the mainstream’.
“Mozart’s a bit more mainstream than us at the moment,” quipped John.
“It’s one of those things where I think I can’t believe no one’s thought of this before, it’s really obvious.
“But then it’s hard to really be revolutionary in this day and age.
“Our influences are things like Sigur Ros and Mogwai but I’d like to think we’re doing something a little bit different.”
Tom said if they had to pick a genre they’d plump for ‘post-rock’.
“It’s an interesting term to use,” he said, “as the bands it describes are so varied.
“But I think if we had to choose, we’d use that one.”
The band’s debut album Polemics comes wrapped in tracing paper which John said was indicative of their sound.
“We’ve done it so you can see the layers.
“It represents the layers in the music as often I use a loop pedal to loop up beats and swells and then we play live over the top of that, which can be tricky.”
Stems’ music is purely instrumental at the moment but the group is considering introducing a vocal element and has recruited a drummer – albeit one who is banned from using the snare drum or the cymbals.
“I did sing for a bit,” said John, “but there’s nothing I want to say; but we are looking at guest vocalists.”
Tom said: “I like the idea of a vocalist maybe not even having lyrics, I like the idea of being influenced by Arabic or having some chanting.”
It’s the second time Stems have left these shores to perform and John said the multi-country tour helped lift them to a higher level.
He said: “I think you carry yourself differently when you’re abroad as it’s all a quite exciting, whereas playing down your local pub in Huddersfield, as great as it is, it’s still not got that ‘je ne sais quoi?’
“Last time was just a couple of gigs, Paris and Stuttgart, but this time there’s been some beautiful venues, an old church, an old winery in Bordeaux, and then there was a couple of house shows, which is literally what it says on the tin, in someone’s house.
“Without the venue to pay you only need 20 people to come for it to be a nice little earner.”
And how have they built up this foreign network so quickly?
“It’s something to do with audience reception and the kind of music we play, but also it’s a bit of luck,” said John.
“I’ve asked for help from a couple of people in the Netherlands and some have been built up over a couple of years.
“The world’s quite a small place really and you get recommended and then it just snowballs out of that.
“The gigs we’ve played in the UK everyone’s been receptive and the audiences are getting larger but there seems to be more of a willingness to pay bands abroad and there’s a better network, especially in places like Germany.”
Stems arrived back in the UK this week and play Brighton tonight.
They have a hometown show at Huddersfield University on June 20 and are hoping to perform outside the LBT in early August.
To find out more about ’Stems’ please visit their website: www.stemsmusic.com or find them on Facebook.