Best of What's Next: Stornoway

Music Features Stornoway
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Hometown: Oxford, U.K.
Album: Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Band Members: Brian Briggs (vocals, guitar), Jon Ouin (vocals, guitar, cello,
keyboards), Oliver Steadman (vocals, guitar, bass), Robert Steadman (drums)
For Fans Of: Fanfarlo, Elbow, Belle & Sebastian

When British chamber-pop quartet Stornoway plays “Watching Birds,” from its debut LP Beachcomber’s Windowsill, frontman Brian Briggs is singing about what he knows: He earned his Ph.D in Ornithology at Oxford University with a special focus on ducks. “It’s kind of been a swap of what’s the career and what’s the hobby,” Briggs says. “I definitely still get out as often as I can, but [birdwatching has] had to take a backseat for now.”

His first week at Oxford, Briggs met a multi-instrumentalist named Jon Ouin, discovered they shared musical tastes and soon placed an ad for a rhythm section. The only person to respond was bassist Oliver Steadman, who brought his little brother Robert along to play drums. The band’s big break came at a gig with two people in the audience; one of them was a local DJ, Tim Bearder, who wasn’t put off by the small crowd. “He basically devoted this early breakfast show of his to Stornoway,” Briggs says. “... He basically locked himself in the studio, and got in trouble afterwards. He got suspended, but it’s been worth it. He’s ended up playing a big part in getting us to where we are.”

Beachcomber’s Windowsill debuted at #14 in the U.K. back in May, and the jaunty single “Zorbing” has been in regular rotation on Radio One. The album was released in the U.S. in August, just after the band’s first concerts in New York. Stornoway is taking off, but Briggs still puts his degree to work. “Pretty much all the songs have references to the outdoors, and some have references to birds,” he says, though he admits there’s a limit to combining his interests. “It’s difficult to write songs about ducks and sound romantic, but maybe I should give that a go.”

WHAT’S NEXT: A big fall tour. “It’ll be our first time to tour all over America and travel huge distances,” Briggs says. “We’re going do to quite a few more festivals in the UK and Europe as well. ... We really enjoy the whole outdoors gig when everyone is there to have a good time, and I think our music goes down well in that context. Besides that, finally getting a little bit of time to start working on new songs. That’s one of the big joys.”