After making a high profile debut at Radio 1’s Big Weekend last year, newfamiliar today release their debut track ‘How Can I?’ via Atlas Artists / Parlophone. Originally from Belfast, Ryan Johnston (vocals) met his bandmates Will Booth (guitar) and Danny Hepworth (guitar) through Wakefield’s creative scene. They have collaborated together in various projects, with newfamiliar representing the realisation of their collective potential.
‘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 was sketched at Booth’s home and was later completed at a lakeside retreat in rural Scotland, before being recorded with producer Rich Cooper (Billie Marten, Tom Odell).
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 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.
newfamiliar’s songwriting echoes 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.
‘How Can I?’ is released alongside a video that was directed by the award-winning illustrator and animator BloodBros. Its elegant animation reflects the song’s storytelling style, with beautifully depicted images of an ordinary home in a sense of transition. Its striking aesthetic, spacious and full of muted but still vivid colours. Watch BELOW:
The single provides a taste of what to expect from newfamiliar’s catalogue of songs, more of which will be unveiled in the near future.
“My ambition has always been to make music that stands the test of time, that provides something for generations to come, like the music that has stuck with me“ 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 part of me. Sometimes I tell myself I’m having a break for a while 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.”