Sorry are a band accustomed to apologising to journalists: namely, for not arriving armed with a cache of ready-to-deploy soundbites. Their reticence has seen the group variously dubbed “snotty brats” and “delightfully sullen”, but the truth couldn’t be further than North London cooler-than-thou hauteur, they insist.
“We find it hard to talk about our music,” explains Louis O’Bryen, who forms one half of Sorry’s core songwriting partnership along with vocalist Asha Lorenz. “It can be embarrassing and maybe that comes across as aloof,” he adds sheepishly, “which I don’t think we are.”
“Because me and Louis can be quite shy, people think we’re being rude,” adds Lorenz. “Somebody came to interview us once and left halfway through because we were finding it so awkward to talk.”
The problem is, Sorry’s superlative music means that people increasingly do want to talk to them: last year’s ceaselessly inventive debut album, ‘925’, received near-universal praise (including five stars from NME) and embodied the sound of two thwarted 22-year-olds sifting through the rubble of hook-up and drug culture. It’s easy to sympathise when O’Bryen says he finds it “hard when people ask us to define our music,” because ‘925’ is a genre-fluid beast that shape-shifts through indie, electro, jazz and pop while sending up the clichés of past generations of rock with deadpan glee. Some have interpreted the likes of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ (and wry lyrics like “I stayed up all night with a washed-up rock ‘n’ roll star”) as drawing a generational battle-line, but Lorenz says it’s tongue-in-cheek. If anything, she adds, their ransacking of pop history – such as the nod to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ on ‘As The Sun Sets’ or sampling Tears For Fears for their signature song ‘Right Round The Clock’ – should be seen as a “homage to boomers”.
When Sorry sent ‘Right Round The Clock’ – which filches a vocal melody from ‘Mad World’ – to Tears For Fears for clearance, the ‘80s synth-poppers were apparently baffled. “They said: If you just change one lyric [‘I’m feeling kinda crazy/I’m feeling kinda mad/The dreams in which we’re famous are the best I’ve ever had’] then we wouldn’t have to clear it with them at all, which I found funny,” says O’Bryen.
Almost a year after the release of ‘925’ Sorry have returned with new EP ‘Twixtustwain’ – named after a line in a random poem Lorenz happened to be reading at the time. It harks back to the more experimental, cut-and-paste electronic patchwork of their two-volume release ‘Home Demo/ns’ (which they’ve also just released on Spotify after painstakingly clearing or removing samples, and replacing a number of songs that proved impossible to rework). Previously-released singles ‘Cigarette Packet’ and ‘Separate’ are both co-produced by James Dring (Gorillaz, Jamie T, Nilüfer Yanya).
Influenced by art-pop band Micachu and the Shapes and experimental producer Arca’s ‘Stretch 2’, Lorenz describes ‘Twixtustwain’s tracks as deliberately repetitive: like whispered mantras to repeat to yourself. It’s also a reflection of pandemic loneliness. “I feel maybe not everyone’s going to like them because they’re a bit claustrophobic and intense,” Lorenz says, “but they might tap into the things people are feeling now.”
The pandemic has loomed large over Sorry: ‘925’ dropped just four days into the first national lockdown in March 2020. It has left them in the unenviable position of being a new-ish band on a white-hot streak, trying to promote a record while deprived of the lifeline of touring live or playing festivals. “It’s been super-strange,” reflects O’Bryen. “Playing live is how you assess how stuff is going – by seeing people’s reactions to it. But now we’ve only been able to figure on what’s going on with the album from the internet, which all seems fake. It’s been hard to figure out how it’s doing.”
“Somebody came to interview us and left halfway through because we were finding it so awkward”
Their debut might sound like a distillate of Generation Z, but Sorry don’t subscribe to its hustle culture. Unlike artists who carefully cultivate their Instagram, they have little interest in social media, rarely updating their fans on the minutiae of their lives. “It’s more that social media makes me go crazy,” says Lorenz. “I don’t think if you’re a musician, you need to be all these other things. It should be enough that you make cool music. Personally, I’d like to keep a bit more mystique and it makes me tired to see everyone try that hard in that respect.”
Lorenz and O’Bryen first met at an independent school in central London. Both had been making music and uploading their demos online, and each hailed from an artistic background. O’Bryen’s father writes books, while Lorenz’s dad is an artist. “He lives in his studio up the road and I stayed with him every weekend, and he used to inspire me,” she says. “As soon as he didn’t like something, I’d come back the next week and he’d have painted over everything. He now lives with his boyfriend in a shared studio and makes jewellery.” Her father sang show tunes around the studio, but it was extended family gatherings that drew her to performing. “My mum’s side of the family is Jewish and we used to do a lot of sing-a-longs. I’ve got 32 cousins and we’d put on shows; I’d always sing Bob Dylan or Beatles songs.”
When they met in their first year of secondary school, O’Bryen was initially intimidated by Lorenz (“She was quite scary and a bit mean – she’s a lot nicer now!”) while she had a crush on her future bandmate. “He had cool, long hair so I fancied him a bit at first,” she says. “But we were each making beats on SoundCloud and we had a healthy competition between each other. We were the first people we showed each other’s music to, and the first people we felt spiritually connected to – we knew exactly where we wanted the band to go.”
Expanding the band to five members (though it’s strictly a principal songwriting partnership between Lorenz and O’Bryen) and signing to Domino – with the proviso that they got to support their hero, the lo-fi odd-ball Alex G, on tour – Sorry quickly became part of a new breed of guitar bands, including Fontaines D.C (whom they still send their tracks to to solicit their opinion), Shame and Black Midi. The entire bunch became closely associated thanks to orbiting around Brixton’s Windmill venue around the mid 2010s: and Sorry recently released a fundraising live album ‘A Night at the Windmill’ to help out the South London staple, which is currently at risk of permanent closure after being hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions. The recordings were captured at a socially-distanced show there last year. “That was really important because it’s where we all started playing and where we go,” says Lorenz. “It’s fucking sad, because all the places where we used to go aged 17 have closed down. If you’re in London and want to watch music and form bands, you’re going to end up having to move out of the city for anything exciting grassroots to happen.”
“It’s fucking sad, because all the places where we used to go aged seventeen have closed down”
When contemporaries like Fontaines D.C started releasing their critically-lauded albums, perfectionist Lorenz admits to feeling unexpectedly competitive. “Whenever I used to hear something and rate it, I’d just think it was sick. Then suddenly a few years ago, that turned and everything was making me feel lesser.” When ‘925’ came out, that weight of expectation lifted. Two songs from Sorry’s second album – provisionally titled ‘There’s So Many People That Want To Be Loved’ and ‘I Miss The Fool That I Loved’ are previewed on the Windmill album in skeletal form. It’s clear Lorenz and O’Bryen have their sights set on bigger things, and want to streamline their chaotic creativity.
“We’ve always strived to make warped pop and on the first album, there’s hints of pop songs that could have been big but we subverted them,” says Lorenz. “But on this second album, we’re going to try a bit harder, not to make a hit, but to concentrate on developing the songs more. We both like a good pop song, but it’s going to be more about retaining what we think is special and putting it in a way that’s more accessible to more people.” The unapologetic ambition to connect to more people is there; even if it might prove challenging for a wallflower band that prefer to let their music do the talking.
‘Twixtustwain’ is available now