Written by Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Port Isla.
There’s something about acoustic music. You could say that this indie-folk trend has squandered some of the charm of a simple acoustic guitar. That kind of jaded attitude only makes it more powerful when a band comes along that is true in what they are creating. It also helps when the band is from England. People dig those accents. It helps even more when the entire band is below the age of 21, young enough for their music to be simple but old enough that the simplicity isn’t lost on the listener.
Port Isla from Norwich is all of those things. If you’re wondering where the name comes from, the lead singer/guitarist William Bloomfield explained to BTR that Port Isla is a fictional place. There is, however, a place called Isla in Spain but the band liked the sound of Port Isla.
“It was sort of based upon, like, way back when I first started playing music with Stanley who plays keys, we each had a bunch of photographs and we wanted to find some artwork and I had been to this place called Isla in Spain. So, it just naturally progressed towards coming up with this whole image and aesthetic really quickly, like really, really early on. It just pretty much stuck since the whole sort of nautical island theme has been quite good, really.”
To give a sense of how young the band actually is, all of the members are still in school (Or, uni, as they say) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. This is where the band formed a few years ago in a music composition class. William divulged the details of their first gig. It was at a “pub” in Colchester where they were stuck on the bill with a metal band and a punk band that played ukulele. The people in the audience were dumbfounded as Port Isla, comprised of three eighteen-year-old boys (with no bass player at the time), began belting out angelic harmonies.
Not to drill it into your heads, but this band is young. They are not just young in terms of age though, their sound is fresh and has a youthful vitality to it. The most gleaming example of this is their single “Adventurers,” a short and simple plea to the gods of summer to arrive already. Bloomfield explained that summer is lovely in Norwich, but since they are situated in England, summer in the traditional sense only lasts for a short, sustained period of time.
“What it represents is that brief glimpse of sunlight we see for about a week. It’s actually snowing at the moment so the fact that we put this single out just makes it even more poignant. I think that’s why people are so happy with it.”
He painted a picture of England by describing a barbeque grill that is rusted and out of use for ten months out of the year because of rain but for one month (or maybe less) English people get to use it outside. It make one a bit sad that a lot of English people can’t have fresh homemade burgers when they want them, but just put on “Adventurers” and feel better again.
They made a music video for the song and the whole video is the boys doing fun things on a beach. It’s all rather charming and looks like they took a few stylistic hints from Wes Anderson (more specifically, Moonrise Kingdom).
“Well, the music itself is pretty honest and we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously so when it comes to us making the videos, we try to keep things simple, make it relatable to the song and make sure we have fun doing it.”
A lot of people say that they sound like the Fleet Foxes, the highly-acclaimed indie folk band from Seattle, and Isla has no problem with this. Fleet Foxes are listed as Port Isla’s primary influence on their Facebook page. The band was pressed to see if they were tired of this comparison, but they merely see it as a great compliment.
“One of the key things we also bonded over was the Fleet Foxes’ first record and the second record actually; that whole sort of really lush and harmony thing and then we tried to adapt it ourselves and tried to do our own thing a bit more.”
This is not a band that has any qualms sounding like anyone else. In fact, they’ll probably thank you if you make the comparison. That’s probably the most refreshing thing about Port Isla, they are completely content with their place in the indie-folk spectrum and are not suffering with any major ego problems. It seems like every other day that a potentially great band is splitting up due to “creative differences.”
Port Isla is also really proud of being English. The UK has a rich history of folk music and it seems like the modern bands playing that style (Mumford and Sons and Frightened Rabbit for example) are well aware of it but also creating this entirely new niche that is getting a lot of media attention.
“I think its a great genre to be a part of and shows that despite changing trends in pop music, there will always be plenty of interest in self written, honest music where the key focus is on the songwriting. I think the obvious influence is UK’s heritage of great music, whether it be traditional folk music or The Beatles.”
Identity is important to a lot of bands, and for good reason. It can determine a lot of things about you (what you sing about, the styles you cultivate, the food you eat on tour). The best way to describe Port Isla’s identity is an understated English-ness. They’re not Cockney and they don’t sing about the Queen, but you know where they’re from.
William put this notion very succinctly, “Well I think we retain our English accents when we sing but I think the biggest giveaway is that we all suffer from the English-ism that is being overly apologetic.”
Along with the release of the single “Adventurers” on their Soundcloud page, the group have dropped another track entitled, “Sinking Ship.” This number is more raucous and fast, with 4/4 bass drum beats that modern folk is known for, and some soft, well-placed backing vocals.
William told BTR that they are in the process of recording their first EP. The reason they’re not doing a full-length? They’ve got class, dude! And not just the English tea kind (which they do have a bit of) but you know… the school kind.
Not to worry though, they’ll be done this semester and then it’s the road to rock n’ roll paradise, except they’ll be driving it on the left side and they won’t trash the hotel rooms either. They’ll probably leave a thank you note for the hospitality and make the beds themselves. Could you expect any less from English boys?