Radiant and hopeful, warm and wondrous, ‘A Safe Place to Be’ finds a freshly-independent Aquilo leaning into life’s highs and lows, doing what they do best in an invigorating soundtrack to memory, home, freedom, and possibility.
Stream: “Out in LA” – Aquilo
We’ll probably look back on this album as a moment we freed ourselves of self-judgment. It just feels free to us…
Since their band’s inception, Aquilo’s Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher have proved themselves masters in fusing the intimate with the cinematic.
From reeling through heartbreak and loss, to owning their personal growth and embracing human connection and self-discovery, the UK duo capture meaningful moments through stunning music filled with emotion, depth, and dazzling sound. Their third album is the boldest offering yet: Radiant and hopeful, warm and wondrous, A Safe Place to Be finds a freshly-independent Aquilo leaning into life’s highs and lows, doing what they do best in an invigorating soundtrack to memory, home, freedom, and possibility.
Oh, I waste my time, out in L.A.
Don’t go my way or make sense to me
And I lose my mind, I can’t unwind
I waste my time out in L.A.
It’s not so terrible wakin’ up in the sun
It’s a shame I don’t love it like everyone
What a paradise, livin’ life in the skies
It’s a midnight, wave goodbye kind of high
So, I get so high, out in L.A.
That pretty face, my heart just breaks
Oh, I get tongue-tied, no words to say
I can’t relate, I dislocate
Released October 15, 2021 via AWAL Recordings, A Safe Place to Be arrives fifteen months after Aquilo’s sweetly satisfying Sober EP – their first independent offering since parting ways with major label Island Records. Arriving well over three years since the band’s sophomore LP ii graced us with its presence and light, A Safe Place to Be has some big shoes (and admittedly, some high expectations) to fill; thankfully, the new record transcends anything fans could have wanted from the pair, who have at this point in their career outgrown the “atmospheric pop” and “sad lads” labels they once so readily embraced – or at the very least, accepted.
The Aquilo of 2021 imbue their pop songs with a rich, cinematic orchestral flare. Their music is a balanced dose of buoyant, effervescent revelry and intimately indulgent melancholy: It’s a reflection of the inquisitive, observant, self-aware men they’ve grown into over these past eight years. What remains irrevocably true for the band is the vulnerability they bring to every moment of uninhibited self-expression: Happy or sad, uplifting or bittersweet, A Safe Place to Be is definitively “Aquilo,” and the natural next phase in the duo’s artistic evolution.
Ironically, the album very nearly came out under a different name altogether. The story is poignant, yet it clearly explains why Aquilo are no longer associated with their former label – and why that’s for the best.
“To have A Safe Place To Be finished… feels strange, but in a good way,” Aquilo tell Atwood Magazine. “We’ve been working on this album on and off for two years and have been through so much in that time. Creatively we just needed to step away from making music after being sent to LA to write a ‘hit.’ Cut to a year later, A Safe Place To Be was born.”
When asked to elaborate, Higham explains how “it all started with us being sent on a writing trip to LA to write a ‘hit’ by the label we were signed to at the time. It chewed us up and spat us out. After a few months of traveling between Sweden, LA, and Nashville trying to write a ‘hit,’ we were just fed up. It left us feeling incapable of writing good music and we pretty much decided to put Aquilo on hold and start a new band. We were just so creatively lost. We’ve just never been a band looking for a hit; that’s not our thing. And if we could just ‘write a hit’, we would have by now… right?”
“So we started working on a new album under a different band name. Friends of ours had said, ‘Guys, this just sounds like the new Aquilo,’ and that we were trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. We eventually started to realise it took us not writing music for Aquilo, to free ourselves up. Before we knew it, we found ourselves writing good songs, free how we used to! We showed the music to a friend and creative director we’d worked with in the past (Charlie Drinkwater). We started working together on building a detailed model village based on our memories old and new. It’s set in the village we both grew up in and each song holds a place in that model village for the two of us.”
“That is our Safe Place To Be, our memories, our home town and songs all in one place. It really does feel like a new phase for the two of us. The start of something new. We’re just eager to get it out in the world.”
For people just discovering us, we feel like it’s a good time to do so. We’re in a good creative headspace at the moment and it feels like there’s a lot to come.
The album title takes its name from part of the second lyric in the song “Our Bones Turn to Stone,” which the pair have cited as one of their favorites. “When we made this song it felt like a defining moment for us and the album…. [It was] almost the moment we realised where we wanted to go with the album,” Higham explains. “It was one of the first songs we made where it all clicked into place for the two of us. It sums up the model village that we made. Where we grew up based on all our memories, all in one safe place. We started playing this melody on an old, dusty, out of tune piano. Within a few hours of going with the flow it just poured out! We hope it can do the same thing for people listening that it’s done for us.”
Our bones turn to stone
And our smiles all look the same
What a safe place to be
Look at me in a big bad dream
I have only me to blame
How the hell did it get this way?
And the story starts the same
We’re just teachers in a learning game
So tell me it’s okay to hurt like it hasn’t been said
I’ve been quietly dancing around with the words in my head
It’s a waste of time in this waiting line
But I guess that’s fine
However, if you want to hear Higham and Fletcher’s #1 favorite song off the new album, you’ll have to listen through to the very end.
Following a litany of frustrations (“Out in LA”), reflections, inward journeys, reckonings with doubt and joy and more, album closer “I Wanna See You Smile” is an elegant, beautiful ballad and a cathartic, satisfying finale. “We decided that would be a single so last minute, when we realised it wasn’t just a track on the album: It just turned into something else in our own heads,” the band recall. “This was the last song we wrote on the album… After we’d written it, it just continued to grow on us. Tom had this piano motif he kept playing at the piano but it never really went further than that. It took a long to time to write because we didn’t have a chorus either. We just couldn’t get it right. Ben showed Tom another song he’d written and Tom was like, “THAT’S THE CHORUS TO THIS!” We simply sung it into this song, and he was right (that never normally works, by the way). But we were just so over the moon we’d finally cracked it.”
“It’s a really special song for the two of us, and it leaves the album in a good place that we’re both proud of. We suppose it marks what’s coming after the album.”
I see you’re standing there
In someone else’s room
Ain’t it sad, what we had
Went too fast?
I’ve got a lot to say
Still stuck in yesterday
Wide awake, your mistake
Make or break
I wanna close my eyes again
I wanna see you smile
I wanna close my eyes again
I wanna see you smile, hmm
Meanwhile, as far as lyrics are concerned, Aquilo highlight one of the album’s moodiest tracks. “For some reason ‘Hanging On’ has some good ones. Simple and hardly impressive!” Higham laughs, “but they just make me chuckle from time to time. ‘Like sex on the beach, or a really good sleep, I’ll always want you.’ Not even too sure what we were thinking at the time, but there you go.”
Highlights abound throughout A Safe Place to Be, from its powerful bookends to the groovy, seductive “You Make Me Mad” and “Our Days Are Numbered” and more. The band’s balladry continues to resonate with gutting, heart-wrenching passion; moments like “Our Bones Turn to Stone” and “Stupid Not to Try” are instantly memorable additions to the Aquilo catalog, in that respect. Elsewhere, upbeat tunes like “Silver Spoon” and sweet immersions like “Talking to Yourself” show the pair unafraid to try new things and expand their horizons.
Casual fans and diehard followers alike will find much to love throughout this music journey – and whether you find home in memories, in people, or even in a model village, A Safe Place to Be will leave you better than it found you.
“We just hope people feel something when they listen, to be honest,” the band share. “We’ll probably look back on this album as a moment we freed ourselves of self-judgment. It just feels free to us, but we’re the worst to say how it feels. We’ve been so involved in it!” Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Aquilo’s A Safe Place to Be with Atwood Magazine as Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their third LP!
Stream: ‘A Safe Place to Be’ – Aquilo
:: Inside A Safe Place to Be ::
Out in LA
We wrote this song after we’d have a difficult ‘writing trip’ to LA. We’d been to LA loads before but this time was different. Island Records sent us out there to write ‘a hit’. It made us feel rubbish. We felt like we weren’t capable of writing freely and it just didn’t go down well. We came home after a month of nothingness and decided to put Aquilo on hold and start a new band pretty much. Then we were with a good friend Jon Green and we started writing a song about that experience and how it can be such a love / hate place.
Our Bones Turn to Stone
This was a real turning point for us in terms of the album realisation. We decided to go home for Christmas early and take our instruments/studio with us. We set up in Bens mum and dads basement where there was this old out of tune piano. The first thing Ben played was the melody you hear on the piano. The lyrics just came so naturally and the second lyric is the title of the album. We wrote it in Silverdale and at the time that was our safe place to be.
Talking to Yourself
We’d been listening to lots of Arcade Fire around the time and this song just sort of evolved from that. Originally it was a song about blocking out all the unwanted noise but it evolved into much more than that over time.
You Make Me Mad
The title for this song just speaks for itself really. It’s straight down the line about someone making you mad. We’d been blasting MGMT and Passion Pit a lot during in lock down so we were getting a little synth crazy.
Stupid Not To Try
Originally we wrote this song with Sabrina Carpenter whose an actress and artist from California. She was a fan of the music and came to our show in LA at The Troubadour. A few months later she was in the UK and we wrote this song. It just happened so easily and that’s really not always the case. A few years passed and she still hadn’t used the song so we asked if she wasn’t going to have it could we and she seemed pretty happy about that. After a week or so of tweaking we’d got it right with Toms voice. Theres definately something special on this one. Feels like the sound track to a beautiful ending of an indie film or something like that.
Almost every song on the album holds a place in the model village / A Safe Place To Be. This one in particular lives in the village hall. We both used to play music there as kids and perform in the village plays. It’s about being able to be someone else for a brief moment on stage and feeling comfortable in your new skin for the moment.
Theres no hiding this being like an ode to Beach House. Sonically it just reminds us of our younger days swooning over those synths and drum machines. ‘Like sex on the beach or a really good sleep, rubbing salt in the wound, I’ll always want you’. It’s about no matter what, I’ll always hang on to ‘us’ being something.
Our Days Are Numbered
Throughout working on the album we would hire Airbnbs and disappear to wherever we needed to go and just set up the studio there. Often we’d take friends and this time we took our friend Karma Kid. He brings a much harder hitting sound and that’s what you’re hearing there. We were out in the Cotswolds singing ‘You Say Our Days Are Numbered’ all weekend.
We’ve had this song for ages, so long actually it could have gone on the 2nd album but we just didn’t quite have it right then. A few friends of our friends kept telling us we were mad for not releasing it and after a while we started to grow towards it. So happy we’ve finally found a home for it. Just a little bop really.
Better Off As Strangers
This lyrically is a big one. Referencing songs we’ve written before and jus being brutally honest. Kind of one of those songs you wanna sing in the rain being all dramatic. The strings arrangement is one that really gets us. We had Matt Kelly on strings for most of the album but what he’s done with this is just special. Maybe one day we’ll just release the string version. It’s another song about accepting not being with that person. Bit of a theme there we suppose?
I Wanna See You Smile
This was the last song we wrote on the album. We had no intentions of releasing it as s single until two weeks before we released it. After we’d written it, it just continued to grow on us. Tom had this piano motif he kept playing at the piano but it never really went further than that. It took a long to time to write because we didn’t have a chorus either. We just couldn’t get it right. Ben showed Tom another song he’d written and Tom was like, “THAT’S THE CHORUS TO THIS!” We simply sung it into this song, and he was right (that never normally works, by the way). But we were just so over the moon we’d finally cracked it. A really special song for the two of us and it leaves the album in a good place that we’re both proud of. We suppose it marks what’s coming after the album.
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📸 © Morgan Hill Murphy
:: Stream Aquilo ::