Saint Saviour’s new album Sunseeker is an experiment in challenging dourness; 11 tracks of baroque pop that swim in light. For so many of us, joylessness and cynicism are the default—it takes work to find the sunshine. For Becky Jones, the person behind the Saint Saviour moniker, it took a child. On her fourth album, among messages to her own children, she offers all of us heirlooms of joy as well as a word of encouragement: No matter how deep it’s buried, no matter how long it’s been dormant, the sunshine can be found.
It was a revelation that came to Jones during the writing of her previous album Tomorrow Again. Pregnant with her second child, Tomorrow Again, which Mark Radcliffe described as “exquisite, effortless and quite brilliant”, it was the first album she wrote after becoming a mother: a role that challenged her own dourness. On it, Jones wrote Saint Saviour’s first upbeat song: ‘Rock Pools’. “I realized afterwards that I was writing music to convince myself that I could find the bright mood. And it worked,” says Jones.
Originally from Stockton-On-Tees, Jones moved to London in the early aughts to pursue a career in music, taking her stage name from a piece of art she purchased from a local artist in Bermondsey. She quickly found her own sense of joy in the area, as well as an affinity to the largely working-class area, the docks, and the history steeped within. She applied that sense of exultation to her side-projects, developing a talent for crafting upbeat tracks that inspired a kind of hedonistic catharsis while working with electronic producers and touring with Groove Armada. Her solo projects were largely an expression of Jones’ introspective and melancholic side: following two EPs, she released her critically acclaimed debut album Union in the summer of 2012, before collaborating with fellow Northerner Bill Ryder-Jones for 2014’s In the Seams, who also appeared on 2020’s Tomorrow Again, which drew flattering comparisons to Kate Bush and Elizabeth Fraser.
Sunseeker is a radical shift away from the downbeat existentialist inquiries of those previous albums towards a search for warmth. With each song, Jones aims to let the light in, applying generative sunshine to her own work and life. While existentialism had been the bedrock of her previous songwriting efforts, on Sunseeker, she allows a variety of new thought processes to creep in, as she reckons with new questions concerning religion, spirituality, and the long shadow her mother’s death has cast.
With the assistance once again of Bill Ryder-Jones, the album’s sonic palette is warm, light, clarion, taking inspiration from European ‘60s baroque pop. It’s sanguine in its sense of joy — a feeling that Jones embodies in a softer, quieter tone of voice. Her words hang like simple structures in the air, pegs from which the listener can hang their own emotion.
Sunseeker is ultimately an attempt to reconcile grief and newborn life, though it lands lightly on the listener’s ears, allowing us to sit with the cycle of our lives while Jones processes her own.
Jones disguises these heavy, heady sentiments with pithy statements and poppy hooks, aiming to embolden rather than overperform or preach. The album’s opening track ‘Better Than’ is a perfect example of Jones’ coy formula. “I told my girl self I would deviate,” she sings, before self-analyzing herself, her feminism, and how she can pass down the self-esteem and sufficiency needed to be a good feminist to her daughter. “I'm just trying to embed little messages for her, so that she can take her own confidence from it,” she says.
Jones wrote much of Sunseeker while taking long, fast walks around London — searching for inspiration in graveyards, galleries, parks — and placing herself among a world of voices, stories, strangers, history. ‘‘Be Gentle’, which balances jocular Zombies-inspired bass and a kitschy organ sound with a morbid storyline, assembled itself while Jones was out rambling around London, attempting to mould words out of melodies and sound. The song’s main line “please be gentle to me, baby” came as easy as sudden rain, but the rest wouldn’t arrive until she took a trip to the Tower of London. Jones had been reading about the Plantagenet’s, which culminated in the story of the peeress Margaret Pole’s botched beheading. Despite surviving an unruly King, what really survived from her story was the macabre way in which she died. ‘Be Gentle’, the album’s harlequin wildcard, is ultimately a redemption story for Pole, as Jones imagines her ghost coming back to reap revenge.
Playpark dates provided further inspiration for the album. During one rainy afternoon, Jones locked eyes with The Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks, who declared himself a fan before the two discussed the trials of making music as a parent. Weeks’ choral harmonies feature on the jubilant ‘A Picture Is All I Have’, a track inspired by a photograph taken after Jones had just given birth, looking towards the camera with a stern power after enduring 40 hours of Medieval-style torture.
“It’s all poetry” is something a close friend told Jones while they were discussing the Bible during another playground date. An atheist who had always viewed the Bible as an oppressive and rigid text, Jones became fixated on her friend’s epiphany-creating perspective. During a dramatic juncture in her life, Jones began reframing religious scriptures as texts that could be perpetually chipped away at, reinterpreted, reapplied to one’s life when needed. Like a a fable of its own, ‘Poetry’ is ultimately a song about embracing the terrifying and ecstatic mystery of love, a message she wishes to impart to her children as they grasp the world around them in innocent wonder: “Little by little you’ll understand, little by little they’ll come to your hand”. The track culminates in an explosion of noise, a kind of sonic nirvana that transcends words. In that sense, it achieves the album’s ultimate aim: to find joy, to emanate it, and to pass it down. “That's all I can leave. And that's all people can leave: words of encouragement.” Sunseeker is Jones’ heirloom of joy, and it’s ready to be shared.