Sophie Ballamy of Sparrowhawks talks “Cool Your Blood” and being out in indie rock



Through a very lucky Twitter exchange I was introduced to the Chester, UK-based Sparrowhawks. A quartet comprised of Sophie Ballamy (vox, guitar), Jay Ronan (guitar, vox), Ben Griffiths (bass, vox) and Ash Turner (drums).

I sat down with their recently released five track EP, Cool Your Blood, and found that it’s surprisingly complete in it’s brevity. There’s a wholeness to the progression that accomplishes a story being told, one that evokes an afternoon sun-soaked spent running through the woods. Warm tracks and soothing harmonies set to bubbling instrumentals make for easy listening, and these self-described flannel-clad alt-rockers are poising themselves to carve out a real place in the both the folk and alternative pop worlds.

Sophie was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of my burning questions so we might all get to know them a bit better. Take us on a little tour of the history of Sparrowhawks, how did the four of you meet and start playing together?

Sophie Ballamy: The four of us met at university in Chester, we all did a degree in Popular Music (aptly enough) and bonded over our mutual love of vocal harmonies and flannel shirts. We ended up jamming through some song ideas, recording them and doing some gigs. The first track we put out, “Living Man’s Disease,” got picked up by our local BBC radio DJ and got some good feedback, so we just decided to carry on and write more tunes. Two years later, we’re still going.

AE: You guys refer to your sound as alt-folk-pop, what does that mean to you exactly?

SB: We’ve always struggled to describe our sound as we don’t really fit in any of the usual genre pigeonholes, and while that is kind of cool it’s also a bit of a nightmare. We usually go with “alt-folk-pop” as that gives people a rough idea and then they can see what they think when they hear us. We’re all fairly obsessed with likes of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Fleet Foxes and their approach to vocal harmonies, along with a real mixture of other influences from rock and pop. I suppose you couldn’t describe us as uniquely “alt” or “folk” or “pop”, but we’ve definitely got elements from each.

AE: Can you describe your creative process as a band and how a song comes into being?

SB: We generally start with an idea from one of us, which can come in various forms, and then we work on it together in a rehearsal. This is where we hammer out the details and turn the ideas into songs. Some don’t take long at all and others take forever, but it’s a process that seems to work for us. We’re good mates and know each other really well as musicians, so we know what we’re capable of and can push the good ideas through. Also, we’re really lucky to have three vocals that work well together and that gives us a lot of scope to do some interesting stuff, specifically loads of harmonies.

AE: With a recently released EP what comes next for the band?

SB: We’ll be doing some gigs to support the release of our new EP, Cool Your Blood Down, and then hopefully start writing again. We’d love to work on an album at some point in the near future, something that we can put out on a handsomely produced vinyl record. We’re hoping to get a bunch of festival dates again this coming summer and maybe some international dates too.


AE: How has Chester influenced your music?

SB: I’m not sure Chester has influenced our music directly in terms of how and what we write, but it’s definitely been an important part of the band’s history. It’s where we met, it’s where we all live, although we’re all originally from elsewhere, and it’s where we played our first few gigs. It’s a really small city but it has a lot going on, so it suits us just fine.

AE: How does queerness and sexuality factor into your music, both individually and in representation in your audience?

SB: I have been out throughout my life as a musician, I’ve never considered hiding it and I never would because I don’t think I should have to. It’s not like our lyrics refer to queerness or sexuality in any explicit way anyway, but I am happy for people to know that I am writing from my own, queer, point of view. I’ve been lucky enough to come from a really supportive family and network of friends, so for me it’s been easy to be who I am and write lyrics I can really mean. Obviously it isn’t as easy for many, but  I’d feel proud if someone was to make a positive connection to our music because they could share my view of the world. That would be sweet.

AE: What other music and art are you currently finding to be inspirational?

SB: Between the four of us we’ve got the hugest, most eclectic taste in music you can imagine. We have some obvious influences like The Beatles, Fleet Foxes, Fleetwood Mac and The Staves that comes across strongly in our sound, but then absolutely everything in between from the Spice Girls to Queens of the Stone Age. Ben is worryingly obsessed with Taylor Swift at the moment, so we’ll keep an eye on him. In terms of personal inspiration, I grew up in rural North Wales surrounded by mountains, rivers and forests, some seriously breathtaking scenery, so it would have been hard not to take some of that away with me into what I write.

AE: What’s one thing that I wouldn’t be able to find out about you through rigorous internet research?

SB: You probably wouldn’t be able to find out that I wrote the lyrics for “All That I Am Holding Is Your Hand” after my friend Sam told me about her weird dream: She was (in the dream) walking down La Ramblas in Barcelona holding someone’s hand but not able to see their face. When she got to the ocean she looked across to try and see who it was, but it was just a dismembered hand. I think she’d been eating cheese before bedtime.

Find out more about Sparrowhawks on Facebook and follow Sophie on Twitter.

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