It was awesome to get the opportunity to chat to teen stars of tomorrow, 'Refuge', about their recent 'Haven to a Heavy Soul' EP. It's clear from their answers how much they care about music as an art-form, and how passionate they are about restoring authentic music to the charts. Read what they had to say below...!
Could you give me a brief backstory as to how the band came about?
The band started in 2016 when Patrick, Gabe and Silas got together for a random, first-time-ever jam session and realised (to everyone’s surprise) that we weren’t actually terrible; the humble beginnings of any band. So we started to learn some songs, played them for friends, and eventually came to dominate the hardcore international middle school social scene!
Over time, we developed a very clear preference for the Blues, riff-driven rock, improvisation, and lots of jamming. That led to expanding membership in order to bring in all the necessary elements to complete the band, eventually adding bass (Ben), vocals (Teresa) and piano/organ (Ike). All members are multi-instrumentalists, we all write music and lyrics, and we all fell in love with the Blues, jam bands and classic rock together.
Who are the members, and what role does each person have?
(Left to Right in photo)
How did you come to choose the name ‘Refuge’?
The band is named “REFUGE” because it represents what we are all about: somewhere to escape from the superficial, inauthentic music of our times. We are not a throwback band, however; we believe blues and rock n’ roll are timeless and just need a kick from young people to bring some life into it. Our band is determined to promote righteous and soulful music to a new generation.
That said, we weren’t thinking that deeply when we named the band. We were mainly just being critical of our friends’ musical preferences and thought REFUGE sounded cool. As we evolved as a band, so did the significance of our name.
There is a clear theme of journeys and travelling woven through 'Haven', with this being highlighted on tracks such as ‘Gone Astray’ and ‘Run Through’. To what extent would you say your collective identity as ex-pats influences the music you make?
Probably quite a bit. Maybe less so in terms of musical preference; that mainly comes from our parents, especially Patrick and Teresa’s father. But being expats certainly influences our thinking and how we see the world, and that surely gets into our lyrics. We know we are privileged to live overseas in amazing places like Kenya; and we know we have been given a great opportunity to see and learn about the world’s injustices firsthand. Our parents all work in humanitarian aid and development, and they have taught us a lot about what compelled them to do what they do. We will try to honor that in our music.
Continuing on from this, you have a song called 'Tathagata's Stream'. This is a crazy coincidence, because I'm currently studying Buddhism! 'Tathagata' translates as either 'one who has thus gone' or 'one who has thus come', and the Buddha also frequently refers to himself as 'the Tathagata'. How does all this play into the meaning behind the song ‘Tathagata’s Stream’?
You got it! Well the song was written before we had a title for it. After listening to the studio cut, someone mentioned that it sounded very stream-of-consciousness. The irony is that Patrick wrote that entire song out well before recording, and had even performed it at a few gigs. He was going for something drifty though, with emotional ups and downs. Since we already had some knowledge of Buddhism, we imagined this song to be like the internal thinking of someone meditating. Meditation is not all silent and serene; it can make you experience all kinds of emotions, and we thought this song kind of reflected that. So we called it “Tathagata’s Stream” (i.e. Buddha’s thought process). There’s no religious connotation though. “Tathagata” was used to represent the idea that thoughts come and go… even enlightened thoughts!
Despite having no lyrics, ‘The Wordless Ballad of Utharelius Tyne’ is one of my favourite songs right now! It just pulls me along through all kinds of emotions when I listen to it. What’s the story behind it, and who is Utharelius Tyne?
That’s awesome, thanks! The song developed gradually. Its biggest inspirations were probably Jimmy Page’s acoustic stuff (with Zeppelin) as well as John Butler’s solo work. After we made the song, we noted that it had a very trippy Celtic sound to it, which conjured up a bunch of medieval imagery for us. Somehow this got us imagining a wandering storyteller/poet that travels from pub to pub telling stories and making people’s lives just a little more interesting. That guy needed a name… so we took the name Patrick and Teresa’s younger brother came up with for one of his own short stories, Utharelius Tyne. Sounds real… but it totally isn’t.
It’s quite bold, for your first EP, to have numerous tracks that clock in over 7 minutes and that don’t have lyrics, but it’s also a move that I feel pays off. In creating this album, how did you balance the drive to generate popularity and radio plays, with the more artistic desire to make music you genuinely love and are really proud of
Great question. We went with the second option entirely. Since we are young, there is no rush for us to get lots of radio plays or have the popularity of a mainstream band. We want to succeed, but we have plenty of time. For now, our priority is originality and doing what we love. We know that will gradually get the kind of fans we want as well, i.e. people who love jamming. That said, we also have some short, 3-minute songs. Those are actually harder to write because you have to convey everything you want to convey so succinctly. We should also point out that REFUGE doesn’t want to be a “standard” band that hides behind (or plays second fiddle to) the lead singer. Instrumentation is a big part of our identity, and it is so lacking in popular music today. Everything is so computerized now that there is literally no “feel”, at least not beyond the vocalist. And how could there be? Feel comes from imperfect timing, from stretching out a sound that invokes a sentiment. Algorithms can’t do that.
I absolutely love the album cover, it’s such an imposing but uplifting image, and I think that epitomises the mood of the EP as a whole. What does the image represent to you?
We call it “The Heavy”. That’s another aspect of the band that has evolved over time. At this point, it represents that potential fan that we are looking for, and that hopefully is looking for us. The gas mask implies that he’s stuck in the “real” world, where so much music is phony and soulless (i.e. toxic). But it’s optimistic. The reflection of “REFUGE” on his goggles means that he found us. The psychedelic colors around him imply that finding us has created some kind of positive spirit or vibe. And the giant ‘fro… well that just looks cool. It also acknowledges our African origins.
Which artists inspire you the most?
Oh man, where do we start?!
We guess it’s pretty obvious that we are mainly into ‘60/70s blues, psychedelic and southern rock. That said, we have a ton of other interests as well, such as roots reggae, funk, jazz, R&B, bluegrass and Outlaw country.
Our influences are broad but some of the artists we listen to the most (and appreciate) include the Allman Brothers, Ten Years After, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Eric Clapton and Blues greats such as Albert King, Elmore James and Buddy Guy.
Finally, I have a section on my blog called ‘Self-Help Songs’, where I analyse a particular song’s lyrics and see what lessons we can gain from it. Which of your lyrics would you say you would want listeners to pay close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
That’s pretty cool that you give song lyrics proper attention. We won’t pretend to claim philosopher status, but we definitely agree with you that lyricists are poets (or at least they should be) who can have profound impacts on their listeners. We hope to do that someday. For now, we are happy with what we have been able to write and we think it sends a decent message of what REFUGE is all about.
Two songs that probably do this best are “A Brighter Day” and “Saw It Coming”. Generally we like to write in metaphor, and even better if the lyrics have some kind of double meaning. In a literal sense, our song lyrics tend to sound like someone speaking to the person they are (or were) in a relationship with. But they go beyond that. “A Brighter Day” has a feminist message and thumbs its nose at an overly judgmental society. “Saw It Coming” is about climate change, spoken in the first person by Mother Earth herself.
Interview by Maxim Mower
Stream Refuge's Haven to a Heavy Soul EP on all platforms
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?