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#sxsw #2:54


For 2:54, everything comes from somewhere deep inside; that shared sisterly bond between Hannah and Colette Thurlow that manifests in their matching, messy hand gestures, the mirroring tattoos down their right arms, and their darkly triumphant, guitar-driven epics. Their relationship and the music they’ve been making together since they were teenagers are so intuitive that they struggle to describe it; but when they do, you know exactly what they mean.

“The songs just feel like something that needs to come out,” explains Hannah, the quieter of the pair. “It’s something I actually feel – I know when it’s coming.”

“It’s like chasing a huge high,” Colette continues, a skull tattoo poking out of her coat sleeve as she repeatedly reties and loosens her messy top-knot.

The musical drug took hold when the Thurlows were teenagers living in Bristol, having moved there from their native Ireland when they were three and one, respectively. Uncharacteristically for siblings, they shared the same music taste and always had a creative relationship. As a teenager, Colette, the oldest by two years, discovered Queens Of The Stone Age’s self-titled debut, an influence the pair still hold dear 13 years later. “Each of their records is a constant innovation, but keeps its heart in the same place,” enthuses Hannah. “From Kyuss onward they’re constantly evolving.” However, it’s Josh Homme’s looser, more feral work for his Desert Sessions project that shows the clearest imprint upon 2:54 – widescreen and landscape-conjuring, their mysterious origins unfettered by needless bluster.

At 16, Hannah taught herself guitar, and then her sister. “A big turning point was discovering punk music in our teens,” recalls Colette. “Seeing bands like The Distillers play – Brody Dalle being such a powerful woman, incredible, scary and brilliant – made it seem accessible. Others had come before, but it was the first time we had seen that in our lifetimes. Then there was Bad Brains’ ‘Banned In DC’, which blew my mind. It’s everything I imagined a solo could be, especially in a two-minute song – it’s so moving, it takes you somewhere and drops you. Those things showed us all that matters is soul.”

After their sole year spent living in different cities, as Colette returned to Bristol for 12 months after studying English Literature at Kings College and Hannah left for the big smoke to study Fine Art Photography, they reunited in London and formed Vulgarians, a bile-laden punk band that ran roughshod over any concept of rules.

“We didn’t have guitar tuners, we didn’t have our own amps, and we definitely had no idea of what to do on stage,” laughs Colette. “It was complete naivety, this idea that we could just turn up and do it. It was brazen in that sense; it just didn’t matter.”

Their emergence in summer 2010 was far more refined, almost bashful, sneaking the Garageband demo of ‘Creeping’ onto a MySpace page with no fanfare. The plaudits, however, were instant. First US blog-bibles like Gorilla vs Bear and Fader caught on, along with the style-conscious NYLON, and before long NME wrote that its “stinging, spite-laden guitar and mesmerisingly chilly tones recall Slint if they’d been signed to Creation and fronted by stony hearted she-demons”. “File between The xx and The Big Pink”, The Independent noted knowingly, with 2:54 clearly forging a unique new transatlantic axis, where the spacial, atmospheric experiments of Now meet the indie drones and brimstone heavy hearts of yore – with their first US dates planned this November. The origin of the band’s name adds further clues as to the root of their sound, a precise moment from a Melvins song.

“I love the Melvins,” states Colette. “They have an incredible canon of work, but the song that inspired the name is from a fairly recent album, ‘(A) Senile Animal’. It’s that point on ‘History Of Bad Men’ where the bass line turns doomy, and dreamy… You can just fade into it.”

Having brought onboard the formidable rhythm section of Joel Porter (bass) and Alex Robins (drums) last September for their first few live stints, after being personally invited on the road with musical siblings, Warpaint and Melissa Auf der Maur before last Christmas. The addition of the boys completed the official line-up. “They’re not brothers, but they have a sibling quality, which feels like the perfect dynamic,” says Colette of the pair who've helped shaped the molten live show that's positioned them as one of the UK's most talked-about breaking names. “We had one rehearsal with them and thought, ‘yep, this is it!’” grins Hannah.

The past twelve months have been spent on tour across Europe, taking in treks with Yuck and Wild Beasts, whose frontman Hayden Thorpe recently gushed in NME, “They're really quite special. They're effortless, and that can't be faked. There’s a grace and elegance alongside their brutality, like striking a knife at something and revealing a flower”. They’ve also astonished in equal measure on their own stages, whether their first sell-out headline show at London’s Lexington, or must-see moments throughout this summer’s debut festival run at Green Man, Field Day or Summer Sundae.

Back in April they released the super limited edition, seven inch-only single ‘On A Wire’ through criminally hip label House Anxiety (The Big Pink, Zoo Kid), which was chosen by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe as his 'Next Hype' record of the week, beloved by indie champion Huw Stephens and even received breakthrough daytime plays by Fearne Cotton, as well as a session with XFM’s John Kennedy. Now signed to Fiction (The Cure, Crystal Castles, TV On The Radio), the band release their debut EP 'Scarlet' on November 14th, with the A-side of the same name making a giant leap forward in both their songwriting and defining their sound; the first taste of the upcoming album, it marries their distinct web of influences in a way that feels as fresh and vital as it does anthemic. The single is joined by three B-sides, recorded in three days -'Wait/Awake', 'Got A Hold' and 'Dawn'- chronicling the highlights of their early pre-album writing.

Having cherry-picked their behind-the-boards album combination from those they worked with on the EP, they're tying up a few loose writing ends before going into the studio with Mercury-winning producer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave) and the mixing force that is Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins etc) to nail their debut long-player. However, the band are firm that they won’t be defined by their collaborators.

Not that there’s much danger of 2:54 sounding like anyone but themselves. Even after just a couple of singles their identity as a band is stronger than most who have years on them. Even if they can’t put it into words themselves. “As much as we can get away with not having to explain the songs,” laughs Hannah, “that’s how it should be. They should speak for themselves.”

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