“When Adrian asked me if I would work on the video for Northbound Stowaway the first thing we had to figure out was how we make it while not being able to leave the house. Restrictions are often a good thing when making something like this. Our ability to shoot footage or meet up was obviously curtailed, but constraints can be your friend. Adrian would shoot different takes of him singing the song and would send it over to me to work on. The video is kind of like how you might feel after 24 Zoom calls in a row, a pot of coffee and a smidgen of LSD. Like us all, I’ve had a lot of Zoom/ Webex calls this past year and it introduces a new type of anxiety into your day, it’s not enough to be heard, you have to be seen too. The video is a reaction to that anxiety, the sense of displacement and fragmenting that it brings, to be constantly looked at. Endlessly looking at yourself, looking at others, looking at yourself. The song itself builds and becomes more and more dense as it moves along and I wanted the video to reflect that also, to give a visual representation of this cacophony of instruments and voices.” Niall Mc Cann
“Sometimes simple is just the way. I had thought about how to go about capturing the right imagery for this song. I spent time shooting the ocean waves, ships and seabirds, crashing waves, lighting, the whole she-bang…but then realised after sending the images to Niall that this approach had left little to the imagination. Also, Niall pointed out that he couldn’t see my eyes. And I reflected on this and thought about how sometimes the eyes of the storyteller can be the thing that invites the listener on a journey. Or voyage. I set up my camera and tripod directed at a wall opposite a south facing window in my house. And waited for the sun to travel to that right spot over the rooftops. I busied myself with other things and then just before sunset I pressed record. I did another take and then the sun set.” Adrian Crowley
One stormy night in Ireland, Adrian Crowley’s brother brought home a wounded crow. After taking care of it for a time, the crow flew away on its own, leaving an impression behind: Crowley wrote a story, which would later become the aptly titled “Crow Song” on this, his brand new record & ninth studio album The Watchful Eye of the Stars. He sings, “And I was joyous for you, but shattered none-the-less.”
Suffused with a hazy and surreal quality, Crowley describes Watchful Eye’s poignant narratives as those which insisted themselves upon him. After the fact, it seemed these songs came to him more or less fully formed. “It’s a beautiful and mysterious thing,” he says. Perhaps it is a tendency to hold onto memories (“It’s taken me so long to write to you / Well I just couldn’t find a pen,” he laments in “Bread and Wine”), that allows him to unleash them lyrically in completion. For Crowley, the creative process is an organic event rather than a practice he feels compelled to regulate or control. He approaches lyrics much like he does short story writing. “The songs straddle the conscious and subconscious world and some are even psychedelic in my mind, but to me they are all at once true stories and born of another place,” he shares.
In making the album, Crowley moved between studio and at home recording, while John Parish (Aldous Harding, PJ Harvey) produced. The pair worked from tracks made initially by Crowley on a charity shop ¾ size nylon string guitar or Mellotron: “In this way, John wanted to keep some of the magic of that first take”, says Crowley. Contradictions and complexities are left intact, initial recordings were limited to one or two takes, and the songs feel more like a dream recounted upon waking.
These raw beginnings were then fleshed out more in the studio with Parish and additional musicians. Jim Barr of Portishead contributed double bass and was brought in to engineer parts of Watchful Eye in Bristol. Nadine Khouri and Katell Keineg were invited in as guest backing singers, taking a day trip from London and Cardiff respectively. Parish himself contributed instrumentation as well, his signature sense of drama lending Crowley’s work a new edge overall without disrupting its minimalism. Having members of Crash Ensemble in Dublin to record for only a few days’ time, Crowley recalls staying up all night to write string parts for “Northbound Stowaway,” which was recorded the following morning. While an ominous and steady drumbeat carries the track, Crowley laments, “And it’s drowsy work / When you’re staying invisible.”
An ethereal escapism shines through Crowley’s lyrical imagery (“Underwater Song”), detailing his tortured return to a flooded, old neighbourhood where an unnamed acquaintance resides: “Last night in the throes of a fever / I went floating over your house.” Crowley’s voice serves as the central instrument, his deep and conversational baritone anchoring the tone on the album’s more effervescent tracks “Ships on the Water” and “The Colours of the Night”. His presence permeates the sonic and lyrical content of Watchful Eye, carrying the sorrow of the string instruments (violin, viola, viola d’amore and cello) and adding dimension to the clarinet and keyboard.
Final track “Take Me Driving” opens with an arpeggiation, then unfolds into a swaying, melancholy outro. It highlights Crowley’s skill at transforming a quiet, repeated phrase into something magnificent, mysterious, and wholly captivating – a story. Crowley leaves us here in his world, driving in a car with a flighty companion, unsure of where we’re going, but continuing nonetheless as he steps out the passenger side.