A Conversation with Sunflower Thieves

Sixteen years of friendship can go a long way. Not only will it strengthen the bond between two people, but for Lily and Amy, it strengthens their creativity, their artistry, and their music.

From their hometown of Derbyshire, the duo began writing, singing, and performing together. Naming themselves, Sunflower Thieves, the two singer-songwriters draw inspiration from the things happening around them and things happening in their minds. From personal experiences to the way the sky looks on a rainy English day, Sunflower Thieves prove their songwriting abilities are more than capable of taking moments that often pass by too quickly and freezing them into melancholy melodic yet optimistic echoes of hope.

Written pre-lockdown, “Don’t Mind The Weather,” now takes on more meaning than it originally had, as it serves as a reminder now that there’s a comforting calm that follows every storm. “The tide will carry us through the water,” the duo sings in perfect harmony, “Through the thunder.” Its hypnotizing and transcendent synth-echo sound serves as the backdrop for the artists to showcase their songwriting intelligence for both lyricism and melody.

Leaning on their friendship for creative connection, Lily produces the group’s music while Amy manages their gigs and marketing all without thinking twice. Their efforts and passion for making their artistry as true to themselves as they can becomes evident through the perfection in their sound. With all logistics aside, however, the two are a match made in heaven for anyone in search of an honest, acoustic folk sound that keeps you hoping when you feel like you no longer can.

Sunflower Thieves opened up to The See Through about the story behind their latest single, their influences, and what it was like moving cross-country to Leeds to begin making music of their own.

You have both been friends for so long, and now you’re making music together. Is there anything empowering or encouraging about leaning on each other as a duo creatively, artistically, or emotionally?
Absolutely! We probably take for granted how our friendship allows us to create and work together so openly. We’re a team and we try to support, learn from, and celebrate each other in everything we do. We go through experiences together that we can write about, we share music we love, and we help each other feel confident in our project. Lily produces all of our music, and Amy manages all of our releases, gigs and social media – combining our strengths is empowering, and we are proud to have achieved all that we have together as an independent artist project, particularly as women in an industry that can often feel like a boys’ club.  

What inspired you to write “Don’t Mind The Weather”?
We wrote the song with our friend Rachel (artist project Mehalah Ray) and it was one of our first co-writes. We wanted to depict the comfort of having someone in your life, be that a partner, a friend, or family member, who makes you feel at home throughout everything life throws at you. Knowing someone, caring for them, and being cared for and loved in return means that even though it’s easy to get swept up in everything that’s going on, there’s beauty in that, and you overcome it together anyway. This song was written pre-lockdown, but has been released at a fitting time for a lot of people who have had a tough year this year, and are feeling grateful for and/or are missing the people close to them.

Are there things that you both personally find yourselves reminding each other not to worry about?
We both worry about the future a lot. It’s very easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and feel like you aren’t where you’re supposed to be. “Don’t Mind The Weather” is definitely about cherishing the moment and taking it all in while you are where you are. You have to stop and notice the goodness, achievements and the people around you. 

We remind each other not to let the lows overcome the highs in our journey as Sunflower Thieves. It’s easy to let them take over when you’re so emotionally invested in something, and we both deal with personal anxieties that we can talk through with one another (and write about!) “Heavy Weight” is about a party we both attended and struggled with social anxiety at.

What are your earliest musical memories? Was there a musical presence in your childhood or upbringing that inspires what you do today?
We both experienced live music from a young age. We both particularly remember the folk influences our parents introduced us to. Lily’s dad is a musician – bassist for prog-rock band, Gong. Amy’s parents are huge music lovers, and her dad played in a 50’s rock and roll band when she was younger. We have always been encouraged to play music and be creative, taking piano lessons as well as learning the flute (Amy) and trumpet (Lily), and our hometown in Derbyshire holds a unique, vibrant and creative arts community that we were lucky enough to grow up in. 

Sonically, harmonies are a huge part of your songs, and they are always beautiful. Do you find that vocal arrangements or melodies come easier to you than lyrics? What is your songwriting process like?
Our songwriting process has developed significantly, particularly over the past year as we’ve been cowriting a lot. Writing with others has taught us about our process, how we work best, and what we want to say. We love lyric writing and we write to express ourselves – it’s cathartic for us. We tend to write little thoughts, lyric ideas or concepts down and take them to sessions, talking them through before starting to write. Melodies generally come based on the mood of the song and harmonies/arrangements during the demo process – this is where the songs really begin to take shape and get that sprinkle of Sunflower Thieves-ness on them!

Sunflower Thieves – Photography by Alice Ashley

Who are some musical acts that influence your sound that we might hear on upcoming Sunflower Thieves music?
Our biggest influence, and one of our all time favourite artists, is Phoebe Bridgers. We’d never heard anyone say things the way she does in her music before and it’s influenced the way we approach our narrative a lot. Also in terms of production – Scott Street in particular had a huge impact on production, instrumentation and structure for Hide and Seek. An artist who has influenced us from the get go is Lucy Rose – we’ve always loved her lyrics and it’s been really inspiring seeing her sonic journey develop. We also LOVE Maggie Rogers – for a while (and still, to some extent) we didn’t know where we fitted in the industry, blending folk, pop and indie, and Maggie is an absolute powerhouse who does that so well. 

Moving across the country is often a huge change! What about pursuing music convinced you to relocate to Leeds, and has it been a difficult move or an inspiring one?
We both studied at Leeds Conservatoire (formerly Leeds College of Music) – Lily studied Music Production and Amy studied Songwriting. It’s benefited us hugely – there’s such a creative, welcoming community around LCoM and beyond. We’ve discovered and played at some of our favourite venues (Oporto, Hyde Park Book Club), got involved with Sofar Sounds in Leeds, and worked with some wonderful organisations (Come Play With Me, Music: Leeds). We definitely feel at home in our project in Leeds. 

Can you explain the story behind your song, “Hide and Seek”?
“Hide and Seek” was written in January 2020, on a long weekend away we took writing in Norfolk. We’d never written in this way before, and it was super nice to just get away and spend time together. As well as writing, we played card games, cooked deliiiiicious meals and walked on the beach. “Hide and Seek” captures the feeling of nostalgia for childhood innocence, and wanting to be taken care of, with no worries in the world. We talked about childhood memories – songs we associate with being in the car with our parents on a long drive, pretending to be asleep to get carried up to bed etc. Sometimes we all feel like we could do with a break from our responsibilities and worries, and this is definitely what we got out of this writing trip. We’ll definitely be going away again as soon as we can!

Why is it important for you to make music for your audience that soothes the mind?
It isn’t necessarily a conscious aim. Songwriting is hugely cathartic for us and in depicting our personal experiences and emotions in writing, our listeners interpret the songs in whatever way they need. One of the things that gets the best songs out of us is talking through the subject, making notes and picking out potential lyrical ideas. When the songs mean something to us personally, we naturally put more care into them and are more invested in the outcome, because we feel we need to say what we’re writing. This is also super therapeutic for us, so it’s great to hear people are getting a similar feeling or experience from listening to the songs we write.

My favorite thing about Sunflower Thieves is that your friendship and connection often comes through in your music. Can you summarize what the best part of experiencing a musical journey with your close friend is like?
Sharing every bit of our journey together – we always have someone to share our favourite live performances, those little moments of excitement in writing and releasing, and to help pull us through when we’re not feeling so confident or happy about something. Being so invested in a music project can be emotionally exhausting and we always have the other to go through that with. Our friendship means we’re able to be open with each other, in writing, and in decisions we make for Sunflower Thieves and (in normal times) and we get to travel to new places together for gigs – all over the country, and so far, to the Netherlands and Germany. It’s hard for each of us to imagine doing all of this without the other. 

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Photography by Alice Ashley