“A lot of these songs are about close friends, partners, and loss”: Aquilo’s New Music Aches From the Inside Out

Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo’s Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher discuss their achingly beautiful new song “Painkiller,” the pair’s first single in three years’ time – and a breathtakingly tender, dreamy dose of well-worn melancholia, love and pain, empathy and care. It’s the first look at their upcoming fourth LP, ‘A Quiet Invitation to a Hard Conversation’ (out August 9).
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Stream: “Painkiller” – Aquilo




There’s a beauty in the pain, an ocean full of rain…

True to form, Aquilo’s first music in three years’ time aches from the inside out.

Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher have always had a knack for tugging at the heartstrings; from 2013’s debut singles “You There” and “Calling Me,” to breakout hits like “Silhouette” and “Sorry” and beyond, the duo – originally from Lancashire, and now based in London – earned the nickname “two sad lads from up north” among their friends thanks to their beautifully brooding, emotional, and gut-wrenching songwriting.

While successive studio albums (2018’s ii and 2021’s A Safe Place to Be) found Higham and Fletcher expanding beyond their early sound and outgrowing that stereotype, Aquilo’s roots lie in heartache and heartbreak, and so it feels only fitting that now, three years on from their last project, they would return with a song full of both love and pain; a soul-stirring piano ballad that opens with the (rhetorical) question, “How long’s too long to wait for someone?

Painkiller - Aquilo
“Painkiller” is Aquilo’s first single in three years’ time.

A breathtakingly tender and dreamy dose of well-worn melancholia, “Painkiller” dwells in a space of hurt and hope as Aquilo offer an outstretched hand to a friend in need. It’s a song of understanding and intimate connection; a song that embodies empathy and care, reminding us how important it is to show up for our loved ones in their darkest moments; to be the light in their lives when their sun and stars go dim.

Head up, stay strong, your curtains still drawn,” Tom Higham sings, heart in hand. “Do what you need to be human.” It’s a message we could all grow from, and one we’ve all needed to hear at some point along our journeys. Like the friend who knows us better than we know ourselves, Aquilo’s music wraps itself around us – a comforting blanket for the ears and balm the soul. This song is, at its core, a painkiller.

Aquilo achieve all this by doing what they do best – evoking the rawest moments of our human experience with love, grace, fragility, passion, and a gentle, knowing touch.

How long’s too long?
To wait for someone?
Say what you want about it,
if it helps you, it’s supposed to.
Go out, get drunk,
Go out, feel numb,
Stay out all night if you need to,
Sometimes we all do.
Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo ‘Painkiller’ © Harvey Pearson

Now firmly in their second decade as a band, Aquilo have never sounded better – or more sure of who they are in this lifetime. Released in late May via AWAL, “Painkiller” and its B-side, “Keep Moving,” are Aquilo’s first bits of music since their third album, the radiant and wondrous A Safe Place to Be. They also serve as the first looks at the band’s upcoming fourth studio album, A Quiet Invitation To A Hard Conversation, out August 9.

“The Aquilo of 2021 imbue their pop songs with a rich, cinematic orchestral flare,” Atwood Magazine wrote in our last Aquilo artist feature. “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.”

“Painkiller” and “Keep Moving” find Higham and Fletcher continuing to hone their songwriting craft while staying true to themselves and their evolving artistry. Both songs offer insight into what they’ve been up to over the past three years, and what their upcoming fourth LP might look like. Whereas they made “Keep Moving” in Nashville with their good friend and long-term collaborator Jon Green, “Painkiller” was written with Brit Award winner (and longtime Atwood favorite) Holly Humberstone.

The song hits its musical and emotional peak in a cathartic, charged climax:

I think you need a painkiller,
Cos you’ve been sleeping with the lights on,
Take away the pain quicker,
And all that shit you’re tryna run from,
I don’t really know about you,
I hate to see you black and blue,
I could be your painkiller.

The words really do speak for themselves, yet as Aquilo explain, it took a few tries for them to realize how to let this track – and its poignant, heartwarming message – breathe to that fullest potential.

“This song probably had 6, 7, or 8 versions,” the band explain. “Sonically as artists for the last three years we’d been on that journey of trying to find what we wanted to do, production-wise. Often you don’t know until you hear it. After about the 7th version, we’d started working with a friend, Eliot James. Eliot has produced some of our favourite indie records growing up as kids, [and] he just simplified the production to its bare bones.”

Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo ‘Painkiller’ © Harvey Pearson
Head up, stay strong,
Your curtains still drawn,
Do what you need, to be human,
You do you man.
I think you need a painkiller,
Cos you been sleeping with the lights on,
Takeaway the pain quicker,
And all that shit you’re tryna run from,
I don’t really know about you,
I hate to see you black and blue,
I could be your painkiller.

And thus, the “Painkiller” we hear today finally saw the light of day. Aquilo have more songs coming over the summer and fall – their next single, “Want You to Want It” (set to release June 19), is an softly stirring, atmospheric acoustic ballad full of confessional warmth and that same seductive vulnerability that resonates throughout “Painkiller” and “Keep Moving.”

Atwood Magazine recently caught up with Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher to chat about their new music and all those raw, visceral emotions they pack into their songs.

“A lot of these songs are about close friends, partners, and loss,” the pair explain.

Read our full catch up with Aquilo below, and stay tuned for more to come from the perennial “sad lads,” who have once again shown us how they will always find beauty in even the hardest-to-reach places.

Aquilo’s fourth LP, A Quiet Invitation to a Hard Conversation, is out August 9 via AWAL.

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:: stream/purchase Painkiller here ::
:: connect with Aquilo here ::
Stream: “Painkiller” – Aquilo



CATCHING UP WITH AQUILO

Painkiller - Aquilo

Atwood Magazine: Great to catch up, Aquilo! What's the story behind “Painkiller,” and why did you choose to release this as your first song in three years?

Aquilo: Yes you too! “Painkiller” is a song we wrote with Holly Humberstone a few years ago. Over the last few years we’ve been writing lots of songs for and with other artists. This was one of them.

This is by no means your first song to come out of a collaborative session, but it's definitely cool that you wrote this one with Holly Humberstone. What was working with her like? Can you take us back to that day(s) in the studio?

Aquilo: Holly is crazy talented. She was super young at the time and I’m pretty sure it was one of her first ‘sessions.’ In fact, I’m pretty sure she hadn’t actually even released a song as Holly Humberstone at this point. She came in with some chords and an idea and it just happened. A few hours later we realised we had something great. We wrote a few songs over two days, but this one stood out.

You've talked about writing this for a friend who really needed someone to lean on. Without betraying anyone's trust, can you share more about where those emotions you've brought to life stem from, and what this song means to you?

Aquilo: Like a lot of our inspiration, if it’s not about us… it comes from the people around us and what they’re going through (or at least what we feel they’re going through).

Time will slowly unfold you,
Even though they told
you nothing would work,

You’ve been in the deep end
Without your best friend,
Man I know it hurts.
I think you need a painkiller,
Cos you been sleeping with the lights on,
Takeaway the pain quicker,
And all that shit you’re tryna run from,
I don’t really know about you,
I hate to see you black and blue,
I could be your painkiller
Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo ‘Painkiller’ © Harvey Pearson

Sonically, what were you going for with this “Painkiller”? What was your vision (or North Star) for it, if any?

Aquilo: This song probably had 6, 7, or 8 versions. Sonically as artists for the last 3 years we’d been on that journey of trying to find what we wanted to do production wise. Often you don’t know until you hear it. After about the 7th version, we’d started working with a friend Eliot James. Eliot has produced some of our favourite indie records growing up as kids. Felt like he just simplified the production to its bare bones.

“Painkiller” arrives alongside the “B-Side” (if we have to call it that) “Keep Moving” – and I have to say, this song is an absolute dream. What is this song about, and why pair it with “Painkiller”?

Aquilo: Haha. Yes, we hate that it’s called a B-side, too. But the label like the idea of calling “Painkiller” the single. We wrote “Keep Moving” in Nashville with our good friend and long-term collaborator Jon Green. We don’t want to get into specifics on what the song is about, but again, a a.

There’s a beauty in the pain,
An ocean full of rain,
I got cold,
So I closed an open door,
Now I don’t know what for,
If we keep moving
Long enough to know
where went we wrong

keep moving,
You and I two stars colliding,
Underneath the sound of lightning,
So loud, we don’t say goodbye,

You know me, guys – I've always been drawn to your lyricism. Do you have any favorite lyrics from these two songs?

Aquilo: Ooooh, really not sure. Probably ‘there’s a beauty in the pain, an ocean full of rain.’ V emo.

What do you love most about these new songs, and what do you hope listeners take away from them?

Aquilo: Unsure really. The songs (to us) feel a little more mature, maybe in terms of production too. We guess just making people feel something is winning right?

Aquilo 'Painkiller' © Harvey Pearson
Aquilo ‘Painkiller’ © Harvey Pearson

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Painkiller - Aquilo

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