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Free to change their lives.

Sound of Thieves are a band, but also a couple about to take on Europe from the back of a van after establishing their sound in Cyprus. THEO PANAYIDES meets a real unit

By the time you read this, Sound of Thieves will have left Cyprus. I catch up with Jan Bures and Phoebe Pope just a few days before they depart, on their way to England where -- as their fans already know -- they plan to buy a camper van, using money that's been raised through online crowd-funding, then use the custom-fitted 'house on wheels' to go on an indefinite tour of the UK and Europe in their guise as Sound of Thieves. It's a new chapter in their lives, and a bit of a risky venture -- but that's okay because Jan and Phoebe are 25, a good age for taking risks as well as the subject of some affectionate banter, the duo being an offstage couple as well as a duo.

"You're not 25 yet ," points out Jan, with the air of a senior partner.

"Uh... In a week!" retorts Phoebe.

"Not in a week."

"What do you mean ?"

"What date is it?"

She gives a theatrical gasp: "You forgot my birthday?!"

All in good fun, of course -- though it turns out Jan didn't mean 'What date is your birthday?' but 'What's the date today?', so as to calculate whether it is in fact a week away. He doesn't seem the type to forget people's birthdays, and also seems the type who's usually right in his calculations (as indeed in this case, albeit pedantically: her birthday is in 10 days, not a week). Then again, Phoebe herself is by no means as dizzy as that exchange makes her sound. The very next thing she says reveals her practical nature, speaking of 25th-birthday presents: "Whatever you buy, don't spend a lot, because we need to save it".

You wouldn't know it from their music, which tends to be ethereal and atmospheric -- or maybe you would, because it's very practical music beneath the hippy-ish trappings. Phoebe sings in a warm expansive voice that ascends fearlessly, floating above the ridges of sound, Jan plays guitar and looks very serious -- he looked even more impressive with his trademark Mohawk, unfortunately lopped off a few days before our interview -- and they also use a 'looper', a machine that plays pre-recorded snippets of music; a typical song might involve half a dozen loops, all cued at different moments. Their sound is rich but also "self-sufficient," as Phoebe puts it: they can travel light and be ready to play in 15 minutes -- an important asset as they prepare to conquer the world beyond Cyprus, which will involve street performances as well as living out the back of the aforementioned van.

Won't they get sick of each other, living at such close quarters? "We've been living here, in this living-room, for the past two years," shrugs Jan, pointing to a double bed in a corner, so a space of their own -- however tiny -- is actually an improvement. We're in the front room of a house in the boondocks of Nicosia (Ayios Dometios, very near the Green Line), surrounded by out-of-sync clocks which all chime at different times, so a clock seems to be chiming every few minutes. Jan called it their studio on the phone, and there is a studio attached -- "Where the magic happens," he says in ironic quote-marks then berates himself, like any good 20-something, for being so cheesy -- but in fact the house belongs to his mum, who plays the viola in the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, and the bed in the corner is their own little haven. "This is our corner," he explains. ("This is our corner," echoes Phoebe.) "We've got a little folding partition, we fold it out when we want to shut ourselves off from the world. And yeah. This is where we stay".

He must've felt a bit awkward two years ago, buying a one-way ticket from London to move back in with his mother; Phoebe must've felt even more awkward -- though presumably she'd been here before, since they've been a couple (though not a duo) for the past five years. They met in Bolton, her hometown, when they were both bartending in the same bar. Jan was doing odd jobs, Phoebe was on holiday from university (she has a BA, specialising in Film Composition; he's tried for a Music Production degree, but dropped out twice). This was not a sophisticated bar, but Phoebe used to work summers there, "and one summer, Jan was there. And how we bonded was that Beck's Bier had a picture of Mozart on [the label], and I said 'Oh, they've got Mozart on', and he's like" -- shocked expression -- "'Oh, you know Mozart?'. 'Yes, I used to play the cello'. 'Ah, I played the cello as well'. Then we kind of became connected."

"Yeah, I think we were the only people --"

"We were the only people, definitely, in that bar, who knew who Mozart was! So it was really like" -- she trills, as if quoting Shakespeare -- "'Oh! You under-staaand me'."

It's a slight paradox that Phoebe is by far the more dramatic of the two in conversation (she acts scenes out, laughing uproariously and often) but claims to be much shyer when it comes to performance. "Because I'm really into the creation of music," she explains (she plays the larger role in 'composing' the loops that drive their sound), "I think maybe I saw myself as a bit of a geek. But actually, because of Jan -- because he loves being onstage -- he kind of pushed me to do it. In the beginning I remember sitting in a car, before we went for a gig, and I was like 'Jan, I've forgotten all the words, I can't do it!' and he was like 'No, come on', and he literally booted me out of the car and pushed me onstage". Oddly, given her pellucid voice, she'd never sung in a band before. Even more oddly, given that both Jan and Phoebe were unemployed musicians and living together on the same double bed, it took them six months to figure out that it might be an idea to form a band together.

What happened next is remarkable, and perhaps a cautionary tale for local musicians who set out to try their luck in a big city without giving Cyprus a chance. Jan had played in a few bands in London -- but in fact it was more a case of attempting to play in bands, "because everybody was so busy with just trying to survive and paying the rent that if you managed to get four people in a room once a week, that was a miracle". Here, on the other hand, Sound of Thieves flourished. The set-up helped: living in a house next to a studio, without any day-jobs to distract them, allowed the couple to polish and perfect their music -- but they also played live, 106 gigs in the first year alone, winning fans "one by one" as Jan puts it. "We made friends with them, and they follow us."

Local audiences tend to be receptive, and are unlikely to throw bottles. (It may be different abroad, he admits; "I'll need my baseball bat.") The local scene offered frequent opportunities to hone their craft. They made mistakes, had some disasters and "messy situations" -- last year, at the Farma Project festival, their looper's screen died when it fell off a table five minutes before showtime -- played one show while crippled by food poisoning, and steadily gained in confidence. Two years later, the experience has paid off: TC-Helicon, the company that makes their machine, has featured them on its website, online music show BalconyTV has included them on a compilation, they've had offers to play in festivals as far away as Chennai in India -- and they also have a list of gigs and YouTube vids to ensure they're taken seriously as they look for venues in Europe.

London was a low-point, however; they agree on that. "If you'd seen how we felt when we were in London," muses Phoebe, "travelling on a train every day, going past Canary Wharf. I was on the train -- and every morning I'd see these guys in suits, looking like they wanted to end their life, and it was just..." She shudders at the memory. "Even though there are millions of people, it's a very lonely city". During their two years in Cyprus, on the other hand, the lowest point was maybe "when we were broke, and we had to eat lentils". It doesn't compare.

It's instructive that she chooses that image of those stuck-in-a-rut London suits to illustrate despondency -- because that would be Sound of Thieves' nightmare, losing the freedom to change their lives and/or do things their own way. Jan and Phoebe come from different worlds: he's a Pole raised in Cyprus, she's from the north of England. Still, they have a few things in common. Both come from slightly unsettled families -- she has two half-sisters, both much older; he has three half-sisters, all much younger (the youngest, aged six, lives with them in his mum's house, along with a cageful of guinea pigs and a blind dog named Muka). Both have dads who've done a lot of different jobs: Phoebe's father was an aviation engineer who also owned a chip van and a mortgage company, Jan's has been a landscaper, estate agent, marketing director of a toy company, and is now an English teacher in Germany. Unsurprisingly, the couple themselves are also restless and unimpressed by convention, especially when it comes to handling their careers: "Whatever the norm is, in the management sense, we just said, 'Well, that just kind of sucks. Let's not do that'."

Maybe that's an aspect of being 25 nowadays, that suspicion of a 'right' way of doing things -- partly a result of the recession, which of course has cast a pall over their entire adult lives. Art grows in a recession, reckons Phoebe, because it makes you say 'This is rubbish, so at least I'm going to do something I enjoy'. Open-mindedness is another aspect, this being a notoriously globalised, "chilled" generation. We chat a few days before Brexit (their joke, says Phoebe, is that if Britain leaves "I'm going to have to marry him for his passport!"), and she makes it clear that she wouldn't vote for it. "Now, with Brexit, thoughts come out from people that you might not expect, and it makes you think 'I don't think like that'. I don't see a disconnect between anybody. We're all the same... I just hate people with any kind of prejudice -- for any reason, age or race or sex or whatever".

"We're all much less tribal now," adds Jan, 'we' being his peers. "It's not based on 'This is my geographical location, and these are my borders, and these are people I know and these [other] people are bad'. It's more like 'I've got my friends and family -- from wherever the hell they are -- and we stick together'."

There's another aspect to being 25 nowadays, especially the kind of 25-year-old musician who plays 106 gigs a year and decides to live on the road: succeeding in a time of recession means you have to be focused, determined, driven. Phoebe quotes her older sister, who's amazed at how "responsible" 20-somethings are these days. Do Jan and Phoebe have a social life? Not really, they laugh. What do they do for fun? "We practise!" They go out for a beer now and then, and mingle with fans after a gig -- "but really our life is about getting this whole project off the ground". The rock'n roll lifestyle doesn't really appeal. "I don't think we really enjoy that, to be honest... For me, and I think for Phoebe, I can entertain myself with what I've got here. With music, or talking, or reading a book. We're not really extroverted in that sense".

Sound of Thieves are practical people. To be sure, they get a little mystical sometimes; it's hard not to, when playing their kind of ethereal music. "There are moments when you feel something being channelled through you," muses Jan. "You tap into something different. And there are moments when you feel almost invincible..." But mostly it's a question of practical things -- saving money and making music, and moving forward one step at a time. They're a team, you can see that. (Don't they get on each other's nerves? "Minimally.") Phoebe laughs more, Jan seems slightly bossier -- but they're on the same page.

"How often do you meet another person," he asks rhetorically, "who's going to not only be in a band with you, but be your partner and go travel the world, sleeping in the back of a car for god knows how long? The more we get into this adventure the more excited we are, and the more we want to do it, and the more we feel it's going to work". Phoebe nods firmly, thinking ahead to their new chapter: "It will come together".

The post Free to change their lives appeared first on Cyprus Mail .

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Jul 8, 2016
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