Paris Motel was formed during the long, hot summer of 2004, when Amy May and brothers Joe and Mike Smith shared a dusty flat in West London. Amy, a classical viola player and composer, started writing a series of songs about her friends. The three flatmates would crowd into Amy’s bedroom and record the songs with two old microphones and a mac that made a noise like an old lady’s hairdryer. Weird and wonderful instruments were dug out of boxes, various friends and loved ones were roped in to play Amy’s arrangements on tabla, clarinet, trombone, harmonica and French horn, Joe and Mike kept the neighbours awake with driving bass and drum riffs at antisocial hours, truly epic quantities of tea were supped and soon their first demo album was finished.
With the help of a motley team of talented classical players, Joe, Mike and Amy began to perform live, starting in the back room of a pub in Kings Cross and travelling all around the country. Every gig had a new group of score-reading classical musicians on stage, whilst Mike rocked out on bass, Joe provided heavy, metal-inspired drumming, and Amy fronted the band with her unique, quintessentially English voice, accordion and violin playing.
In 2006 the team began to work with Nat Chan and Nick Watson, the duo who helped them produce their EP ‘071’. Nat, a talented engineer and producer, took Amy’s ramshackle recordings in hand and wrestled them into shape, while Nick, who had played guitar on the original demo album, mastered the new recordings. Joe and Amy teamed together to form Hotel Records, which they used as a vehicle to release the EP.
The trio, now joined by Paul 'Reevo' Reeves on guitar, took a trip to SXSW where, between rounds of tequila and deadly tornados, they played a series of storming gigs with a group of talented Austin-based classical musicians. Back home, great reviews were rolling in for the EP. The Independent described it as “a sublime, fully formed slice of orchestral pop”, the NME as “[an] ethereal masterpiece… more comfortable echoing from a dusty gramophone in an empty hotel room… a beautiful slice of archaic chamber-pop that lifts you somewhere sublime” and the Guardian as “exquisite English chamber folk-pop… one of the most lovely things you’ll hear this year”. They spent the summer staggering from one festival to the next, gracing the fields of Glastonbury, End of the Road, Latitude and others with their uniquely chaotic, cider-driven and Beach Boys-inspired orchestral sound.
It was at this point that Amy embarked upon her most challenging writing project with the album, ‘In The Salpetriere’. Inspired by a series of 19th century photographs of female hysterics from the notorious Parisian hospital, she began to read stories of mad and misunderstood women from different periods of history, from witches and pirates to romantic literary lesbians and French free-loving ladies, from characters in novels such as Leopold von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs to the women of her own family. As she collected this magnificent band of characters together, songs began to form. The ensuing album was described as “almost classical in its scope and beauty… Like Arcade Fire playing in an English country garden” (NME), and the Guardian said “[it] almost defies description: indiepop fans should love it, but it’s not indiepop; folkies should, too, but it’s not folk. And admirers of orchestral pop might clutch at its delicious melodies… This is carefully wrought, filigreed stuff: chamber folk-pop that sounds out of its place (it could only be English) but seems to mix centuries with gay abandon. And in that disconnect lies its appeal: warmly familiar, yet intoxicatingly strange”. Once again Amy, Mike, Joe and Paul packed their bags and toured the UK and France, taking Paris by storm and rocking London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Glastonbury in the way that only a group of laughing, drunken and overdressed rock and classical musicians could.
And now we take a break from the story. By 2008 Amy had started playing for other bands and was working for groups and artists such as Elbow, Snow Patrol, The Killers, James Morrison and many others. She took to the road, trotting across Europe. India, the Middle East, wherever her musical skills were required. At the same time she started writing arrangements for bands such as Muse, Jeff Beck, SBTRKT and Hurts, for whom she learned to play sax and clarinet and toured extensively. Back in London Joe and Mike continued to play in various bands both together and separately. Using the unique sound that can only be created by the closeness of two brothers, they both play regularly with Piney Gir in various incarnations of her band. Joe also gets his metal fix with rock band Pig Iron, is part of the Mike Strutter Band, plays with The Perishers, has toured with Lowgold and recorded with Marc Carroll. Mike has lent his bass and vocal skills to the Conspirators and, most recently, joined Alexander's Festival Hall. They are both said to be part of the mysterious hard-rock band Cobretti, but this rumour is yet to be validated…
But in 2011 the band couldn’t resist reuniting and recorded a new album of cover songs, with Nat Chan and Nick Watson on hand to create the unique Paris Motel sound. Amy’s parents had played these songs to her as a child and they were originally performed by artists as diverse as Billy Bragg, Grace Jones, Talking Heads and Tina Turner. Amy’s new arrangements were a departure from the originals and the band were joined by 18 string players, 5 woodwind players, keys and guitar to create the truly epic sound of Songs of Innocence. Paris Motel was now joined by multi-instrumentalist Ben Trigg, whose stunning keyboard and guitar playing added a new magic to the band.
Songs of Innocence is due to be released on June 4th 2012. The band will reunite for a series of gigs during the summer and will be joined by a cavalcade of instrumentalists from bassoonists to bass flautists. So steady your hearts and button up your shirts: Paris Motel is on its way.