Newfamiliar’s debut single ‘How Can I?’ paints an evocative picture of a life that will never be the same again. Its lyrical snapshots capture the small details that everyone experiences when they’re feeling fragile, vulnerable or alone.
The song’s opening verse expresses the trio’s innate skill at crafting universal emotion from uniquely personal experiences. “Wide awake and I’m dreaming of the past again,” sings frontman Ryan Johnston, his words striking to the heart of anyone who has been cursed by the thoughts that haunt you in the small hours. “Going back to the places we’ve already been / They’re black-and-white when they used to be all coloured in / I’m terrified of your memory wearing paper thin.”
Those words - genuine, honest and devastatingly unguarded - are indicative of Newfamiliar’s lyrical philosophy. And it’s perfectly matched by the warm embrace of their music, a melancholy melting pot of organic live instrumentation, reverb-heavy atmospherics and pure soul. It’s an instantly affecting introduction to a band whose core strength is placing a subtle modern twist on timeless songwriting and ever relevant themes.
“The songs are very much about our life experiences from sad or darker moments, even if it sounds happy there’s a deeper meaning behind them,” explains Johnston. “The songs are about really expecific moments, but they’re deliberately broad in a way that other people can relate to. While those themes are common, the music always needs to sound fresh. Atmosphere and reverb are really important to us, especially when a sound resonates a certain way, carries more and creates that uplifting feeling that gives you goosebumps.”
Newfamiliar echo some of the key traits of their influences. You can hear traces of Dermot Kennedy’s observational lyricism and his modern approach to the singer-songwriter tradition alongside some of Paolo Nutini’s characteristic soul Their poignancy is a hallmark that they share with Fleet Foxes, while their rich live band sound also possesses the intimacy of early Bon Iver. Johnston compares their style to his favourite songwriter, Bill Withers: it’s about bravery rather than bravado, depth of feeling rather than dramatic theatrics.
If you think it’s a sound that feels lived in, the product of slow-burning experience, you’d be right. Originally from Belfast, Johnston met his bandmates Will Booth and Danny Hepworth through Wakefield’s creative scene. They’ve performed in various projects together in recent years, and as time passes they come ever closer to honing in on their sound. And with Newfamiliar, they’ve hit the sweet spot where their organic, storytelling approach is realising its full potential.
Johnston and Hepworth wrote the first sketch of ‘How Can I?’ while at Booth’s house. They subsequently headed to a lakeside retreat in rural Scotland, where they spent a week finessing a new collection of songs. It was there that they discovered that their lo-fi set-up (consisting of little more than a laptop and a mic) really suited the ambience of music. It was a vibe that they continued to reference when they recorded ‘How Can I?’ and their debut EP with producer Rich Cooper (Billie Marten, Tom Odell).
“My ambition has always been to make music that stands the test of time and that provides something for generations to come,” says Johnston. It’s a lofty goal, but one that Newfamiliar are already showing that they can readily achieve. Music is more than a vehicle for self-fulfillment, he concludes, it’s a calling. “I might be stuck not really writing anything for days, but then I’ll wake up with something in my head. When I was young I’d use it as an escape from things that might be upsetting me. That’s never changed. It’s a way to navigate and understand my own emotions.”
- How Can I?
- Here For You
- Natural Disaster