As their name indicates, in earnest‘s brand of indie folk is rooted in raw emotional honesty and deep introspection. Composed of couple Sarah Holburn and Thomas Eatherton alongside Toby Shaer, the Southend-on-Sea band’s music calls to mind the likes of Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers in its intimate exploration of mental illness, but what quickly sets them apart is Sarah and Tom’s dual songwriting; their songs seem to be in direct conversation not just with the listener, but also with each other. ‘put me under’, from their recently released debut self-titled EP, is an unflinching look inside Sarah’s negative thought patterns written from her perspective, while follow-up ‘come upstairs’ sees Tom singing about their experiences battling these feelings of depression and anxiety together. “When we ask if we deserve this/ We are digging our own grave,” he admits over a haunting string-laden instrumental, his delivery powerful and impassioned. But the most heart-wrenching moment arrives on ‘fables’, where the two join forces for a hair-raising crescendo that’s the closest the trio’s ethereal sound comes to approaching overwhelming chaos. It’s precisely that unique dynamic that makes the record’s final message of togetherness all the more potent: all three members, as well as collaborator Chris Asher and producer Peter Waterman, sing together on closer ‘the house’, a glimmer of hope in the midst of darkness.
We caught up with in earnest’s Thomas Eatherton for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
How did you form in earnest?
We used to be a different band with a few extra members. Over time, our writing naturally started to take itself in a different direction and the time came to re-evaluate what we were doing and how we went about it. ‘in earnest’ was born out of a need to create music that was more direct in its intention, more personal and artful.
You’ve cited artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker as major influences – what is it about their music that resonates with you?
We love music that is written and based on true stories and raw emotion. The music that speaks to us the most is the type that breaks your heart or results in self-study and introspection. Both Phoebe and Julien are definitely artists that are at the forefront of this type of writing and we just love it so much.
While your music evokes the same sort of intimate vulnerability, part of what separates you from such singer-songwriter acts is that you exchange songwriting duties. How does that dynamic play into the kind of songs you write?
Myself (Tom) and Sarah handle the bulk of the core songwriting, and we usually do this separately and there are a few reasons for this. Usually we come up with initial ideas individually and we don’t feel it’s of benefit to compromise the original writer’s intention for the song, so we bring full songs into rehearsal, explain what they’re about and our vision for them and then we work collectively to create the finished article. We do like to change things up every now and then, so we’re currently working on a double-single that will feature a double lead vocal all the way through both songs!
Much of your EP deals with themes of mental illness. Was the process of writing and recording the project in any way cathartic?
Absolutely. The self-study and cathartic benefits of writing music are basically the whole reason that we do it. We find that singing about our own personal experiences and struggles in life make the music that much more poignant and relatable to our listeners. It was a difficult thing to begin doing it, but our fans have responded to it in such a positive way. If we can also help other people with their struggles, then that’s an added bonus.
How does it feel to have the songs out in the world? Are you already working on your next project?
It feels great! We’re always looking ahead to the next project and new music, so it’s great to have these 6 songs out in the world. Some of them we wrote almost 2 years ago, so it’s very exciting to hear people’s thoughts on them. We just finished recording our follow-up EP that we expect will be a 2021 release.
What’s your message to anyone who listens to your EP and can relate to the experiences you sing about?
We hope you enjoy these intimate impressions from our lives and find some hope or empathy within them. It’s so important for us to share our stories in order to lessen the stigma that is attached to mental health and needing to reach out for help – we hope that hearing our stories will encourage you to tell yours.
in earnest’s debut self-titled EP is out now.