Bryde grew up in the Welsh seaside town of Milford Haven, and plunged straight into the world of music the moment she hit double-digits. Being from a fairly sleepy town, Bryde – or Sarah Howells, to her friends – made their own musical entertainment growing up, out of necessity. “Musically, my influences were determined by what I could get my hands on CD-wise,” she says. “I was endlessly scanning the racks in shops seeking out pictures of women on the front of CDs, to try and track down female singers I could identify with.”
“In my teenage years I played way more gigs than I went to see,” she adds. “When I was about 16 my dad drove three of us to see Radiohead at Cardiff International Arena. I lost my friends and shoved my way to the front with my sharp boney elbows and stood a few rows back from Johnny, getting thrown about in this weird crowd sway. My pink Adidas gazelles were completely black by the end of it.”
Many of Howells’ earliest gigs were played alongside Nia George, her band-mate in the four-piece JYLT. Early recordings were promising, and the band had signed a record deal when tragically Nia passed away from Leukaemia at the age of 20. Then, in 2008, Howells formed Paper Aeroplanes. The indie outfit quickly built up an ardent live following and released four albums; their final record ‘JOY’ was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize.
When the duo decided on an indefinite hiatus, Howells says, it felt like the perfect time to step out alone under her solo moniker Bryde. “It was more exciting than daunting,” she says, “like being given a pass to run the halls. I had ideas that I wasn’t previously able to fully realise, just because it’s always a slight compromise to be in a group of any kind. And I was able to embrace the electric guitar again too which was the beginning of a bit of a love story between me and my Burns guitar.”
Not long after branching out solo, Sarah started her own record label, Seahorse Music, driven in part by the same need for autonomy that had spawned Bryde but also by the lack of women ‘running things’ in the music industry. “Many people thought that because we initially released only female acts that this was the aim of the label. But to me we just release brilliant music that I want to tell people about. The raison d’etre was more about changing the reaction people have when a woman says they run a record label of touring artists”.
Bryde’s debut album ‘Like An Island’ followed in 2018 – written amid a break-up, it was a record about emancipation and learning to exist alone again. The album was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. The musician is also active on the live circuit, playing alongside the likes of Fatherson, Rufus Wainwright, The Joy Formidable, and joining the bill at Dot to Dot, Green Man, Sen, Live At Leeds, The Great Escape, Latitude, Boardmasters, and 2000 Trees.
In the year after ‘Like An Island’s release, “I learnt a lot more about myself,” Howells explains. “I had my first real experience of emotional burnout and quite a paradigm shift experience in terms of how I treat myself.” All of these paths led her to ‘The Volume of Things’. Written and recorded between London, and various friends’ studios in Berlin, the album is produced by Thomas Mitchener (Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, The Futureheads and BlackWaters). Howells describes the record’s expansive feel as being like “the calm before the storm – before the true calm that I’m working towards.”
As a title, ‘The Volume of Things’ refers to the bombardment of modern life. Each day is a new avalanche – constantly, we’re overloaded with new information, and distracted by constant notifications pinging on phone screens. Everywhere we turn, there are millions of choices to be made: what to do, what to buy, where to go. Despite being hyper-connected through the tiny portals in our pockets, finding raw, interrupted connection remains just as difficult, if not more so. These are the challenges that Bryde’s second record grapples with. Ultimately, ‘The Volume of Things’ journeys towards a quieter way of living and tries to sift meaning from the white noise.
“Quantity is not necessarily an advantage,” says Bryde. The Hackney-based musician – who also studies counselling part-time and has long been interested in psychology – is fascinated by choice. “Every time you choose something,” she says, “you have to leave so many other things behind. ‘The Volume of Things’ is about getting free of some of that worry and neurosis.”
Lead single ‘The Trouble Is’ explores the grip of the midnight worries that keep us awake long after dark. “Looking for some way to get it right,” Bryde sings, “the things you think to yourself at night”. Despite the pang of regret that surges through the core of this song, there’s also something strangely comforting about everybody experiencing similar anxieties, no matter how lonely it feels. ”What we have in common can often be what keeps us apart,” Bryde says. “I’m a terrible insomniac and I have various coping methods, mostly involving trying to calm my overactive brain. I hope people can really resonate with that line.”
And ‘Outsiders’ taps into a similar sense of the collective. Bryde began by writing about feeling alone and infatuated in an anonymous crowd, but revisiting the lyrics later on, the track began to take on a second meaning. “I often feel like an outsider and to be honest, who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?” she asks. “Aren’t we all always hoping to find common ground with others. The song on one level is about me and the person I was infatuated with trying to find something amidst a messy emotional situation, and that feeling of the earth moving beneath your feet.”
“Then I got this sense that it was also about bigger topics, like Brexit and the wider right-wing movement. Often people seem to want to be surrounded by carbon copies of themselves in order to validate their existence. For me” adds Bryde, “there is ultimately no solace or glory to be found in separation and division. When we look for superficial similarities and try to bond that way, we miss the deeper things that connect us.”
The propulsive ‘Flies’ touches on the inner noise of insecurity; “body image and self-judgement” are key themes. Of all the tracks, Bryde adds, ‘80 Degrees’ harks back most strongly to the isolation of her the lyrics on her debut. “Your fancy gifts were the first to go, now the charity shops ‘round here know me by name,” quips the first verse, disposing of reminders from the past.“ It’s aimed at a partner I left behind” she explains, “but since leaving that relationship and even since writing that song, there’s an old unwanted part of myself or my thinking that I’ve left behind too.”
‘The Volume of Things’ tackles a universally tricksy struggle: and its resounding message is one of hope. “I have big goals for this album,” Bryde concludes. “I’d like it to scoop people up in a wave of new positive emotions, and to be celebrated for its melodies and accessibility. Ultimately, I’d like it to draw people closer to me, and to each other.”