Imagine. You’ve formed a band with your brother. You split your time between working in a coffee shop and sending hundreds of cold emails a month asking for gigs. Then a reply comes offering you a UK tour with a chart-topping act from Nashville.
That fantasy became reality for British Americana duo Foreign Affairs made up of Bristol-based brothers, apparent hat aficionado Adam (28) and Lawrence (23). The last time I saw them they were rushing off a coach from Ireland gigs straight into their next show, supporting country rocker Frankie Ballard. Now, just two months later, they’re back and warning up the stage for new Warner Nashville signing (and Mr. Kelsea Ballerini) Morgan Evans.
The pair have just played a mesmerising acoustic set at The Louisiana pub, an obscure venue for Morgan to stop off at, but a Bristol music scene stalwart which has been the boys’ regular local venue for their own shows.
We’ve grabbed a window table in the pub downstairs to talk about everything from the secret to getting jeans extra snug (ironing apparently) to opening for a guy who can pull off a leopard print frock coat (only Frankie).
Lawrence – the lead singer and the only one to speak during their 45-minute set – is quick off the mark to sum up their music as country rock. Adam – who lets his classically trained guitar skills do most of his talking – chips in to remind that there’s a bit of blues too. Their dad is to thank for the country sound – they were raised on a diet of traditional Americana with Texan songwriters like Rodney Crowell and soulful artists like Emmylou Harris leaving their mark on the youngsters. But Adam reveals it’s only recently found their musical home;
“We’ve always written towards a country sound but not [played] to a country audience. It’s taken us a while to recognise, country is our sound.”
For a still surprisingly unsigned duo it was the nationwide tour with Frankie Ballard this spring which exposed them to the UK country music fans where before they’d been playing to a mainstream crowd. They’ve noticed the difference; from the stage it seems that country fans respect the music more. It’s true you could’ve heard a pin drop on The Louisiana’s carpeted floor in their show tonight – especially when they bravely covered Tennessee Whiskey.
That acceptance email from Frankie’s agent came through the day before Lawrence’s birthday and as he tells me about the news sinking in – that after sending up to 300 chance emails every month, they’d be going on their first ever national tour – I can see how much the moment meant.
On being “supportive”…
I have no doubt these guys could – and hopefully will – headline a spectacular country gig. But for now, they are the small name after the big letters, without a picture on the poster. They’re using this time as a support act to learn from those with a bit more experience under their belts. From Morgan, they’re learning humility. They swear he’s incredibly down to earth and I can confirm he took time to meet the whole audience after his set.
From Frankie they say they’ve learned about professionalism and real showmanship. Lawrence reckons Frankie is the coolest guys he’s ever met and an inspirational performer (I think I even spotted some Frankie-inspired boot shuffling tonight);
“no matter how many people show up, you still put on a hell of a show. As we played on tour with Frankie we noticed our own set got stronger every night.”
Unfortunately, they’ve not mastered Frankie’s ability to stay up with a band drinking whiskey all night and still look fresh and stage ready the next day.
On keeping it in the family…
Though the band was only officially formed three years ago, the duo have a lifetime of experience singing together. It shows in the perfectly synced chemistry and intimate shorthand on stage. Still it’s taken a while to strike that balance. Though Lawrence seems very much the front man now, Adam admits he pulled big brother rank and took control when they first started. Now that they’ve found their musical rhythm they leave the brotherly bickering for more important issues – like who gets the one bed in the ferry cabin and why can’t Lawrence hurry up and get his driving licence so Adam doesn’t have to chauffeur him to gigs anymore.
On the future…
The Frankie tour seems to have opened doors; the Morgan Evans opportunity came just a week after and Lawrence quit his coffee shop job when he couldn’t get enough time off for the onslaught of gigs. I asked if we’d lose them to Nashville soon and a cheeky look between them said they haven’t ruled out a stateside departure, though they vow to stay true to their own roots. Adam promised;
“we’re not gonna write about trucks and beers any time soon.”
So, while we’ve still got them in the UK you can next see Foreign Affairs play Nibley festival in the Cotswolds (30th June), follow them online and look out for an album (finally!) early 2018.
P.S. for videos of the band in action, please check out our shiny new Facebook page.