Oxford-based band Stornoway had humble beginnings. After meeting during freshman week at university and bonding over a shared love of Teenage Fanclub, guitarist Brian Briggs and keyboardist Jonathan Ouin promptly formed the band and proceeded to play any gigs they could get. Now a five-piece signed to 4AD (comprising Briggs on vocals, Ouin on keyboards, Rob Steadman on drums and his younger brother Ollie on bass), Stornoway are preparing to go global in November, when they launch their US tour. Despite this success, the USP of Stornoway’s music is still its shy, almost childlike simplicity, overwhelmingly evident on the beautifully minimal, one-note guitar intro of today’s track, “Zorbing,” the lead single from the band’s self-produced debut album Beachcomber’s Windowsill, which hits US stores August 10 (the next UK single, "Watching Birds" is out August 22). As the band drove across the UK this month, zipping between festivals, we caught up with Briggs to philosophize about festivals, fires and whiskey.
The band’s named after a small Scottish town. What’s the significance?
We only had one criterion for the name selection process—that it sounded a bit “maritime.” It was a very long process, and during the whole name selection ordeal I went on a sailing trip with some friends from university and tried to get to Stornoway, and failed. And it stuck in my head as a name.
Have you been there now to pay your respects?
We went this spring and played a gig to an audience of about 100 in the castle in Stornoway, and it was brilliant. They did need convincing that we were good enough to be worthy to steal their name. But by the end of the gig—once we’d plied them with whisky—it worked.
What was the first festival you went to?
The first I went to with the proper overnight experience—the crusty, sleep-deprived joy—was the Green Man in Wales. Another early one was Womad, five or six years ago. At that one I worked for Oxfam, standing on fire towers in the rain!
And what’s been your best festival experience?
There’s been a lot of highs, but the best has to be Glastonbury last year. It was the first time we’d been and the biggest crowd that we’d ever played to.
Any festival essentials this summer?
There are a lot for me, and some of them can’t be spoken about! But one of them is a hacky sack. Another one is a secret bottle of whisky. Scotch, of course. And the final item is a pack of cards—I’m old before my time really, but I’m quite into cribbage.