The term ‘concept album’ tends to set alarm bells ringing, conjuring up visions of gatefold-sleeved prog rock epics, with cover artwork as bizarre as the lyrics.
For Tom Stearn and friends, however, no such hippy nonsense on the quartet’s second long-player ‘Arrows’ – even if the mix of thoughtful lyrics and cinematic instrumentation is held together by a common theme.
“I can’t avoid saying it’s a concept album,” says the band’s singer from his Italian base, “but it’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. It’s mostly a concept album for us, if that makes sense – maybe more an inspiration for writing in a certain way.”
And for Stearn, formerly of acclaimed Glasgow orchestral indie-pop act Admiral Fallow, that inspiration comes largely from sci-fi author Isaac Asimov.
“He was an amazing writer who blended this storytelling with pure science,” Stearn enthuses of the writer perhaps best known for his ‘Three Laws of Robotics’. “But he was also a scientist – really forward thinking on Big Data, robotics, tech in general, and the kind of problems we’ll face in the future.
And Stearn’s Asimov-inspired work isn’t just about science fiction – recent single ‘Orchid’ tackling climate change, as did the American writer in his 1998 work ‘Our Angry Earth’. “His books are so relevant today,” Stearn agrees.
And while the Scots-born singer has no aspirations to the literary greatness of his favourite author, he is responsible for Kettle Of Kites’ lyrics. “That’s how it’s been even when I was playing with a Scottish formation of the group (which released debut album ‘Loan’ in 2015).
“The lyric writing side comes from me and the bare bones of a song, that’s how things worked in Admiral Fallow”.
And English language lyrics seem to be less of a problem on the cosmopolitan continent than the reverse might be. “There are a lot of little bubbles of music lovers of certain genres, from metal, even Irish Trad,” he smiles.
However, despite Stearn’s words carrying a message, he isn’t pitching the quartet as any sort of political act. “We’re not really that kind of band,” he says, “it’s more just working with scenes I find interesting rather than trying to say anything particular politically.”
So, what about Brexit? It’s a very relevant question for a touring act that also includes Brussels-based guitarist Marco Giongrandi, drummer Riccardo Chiaberta, who’s in London, and bassist Pietro Martinelli who, like the vocalist, lives in Genoa.
“You’re the first person to ask,” Stearn replies, “but it’s an important question. I think it’s a shame to be separating ourselves off. "I say that, still feeling that Scotland’s my home even though I’m out in Italy, both places are my home." I think we will probably be massively affected, I maybe am exaggerating but I certainly think it won’t be as easy - I hope not so much, but you don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows!
Stearn is hoping to get Italian citizenship this year – “before the Brexit stuff kicks off” – but still has Scotland in his heart.
“The same old reason,” he says of his move to Italy seven years ago. “I married a girl from Genoa and moved out there to see what it was like in Italy. So it wasn’t possible to keep going (in Admiral Fallow), a shame as it was something that was really enjoyable to be part of and we’re still good friends, but you head off and do your own thing... I always wanted to form my own band so it made sense at the time.”
And Kettle of Kites may also follow a different path in future releases but for now, it is all about the new album, and the science (fiction) behind it. “It’s just a good way of finding a different path to write songs,” Stearn concludes. “A new source of inspiration.”
‘Arrows’ is out on October 11. More at www.kettleofkites.com.