“Don’t think about the endgame so much. Let yourself experiment.”
We’d all do well to heed the advice of cellist and singer-songwriter India Bourne, at least judging by her own post-York trajectory. After advancing from the University’s music department, India went on to record the hit album Every Kingdom alongside Ben Howard, playing sold-out stadiums and scooping two Brit awards along the way. By the slippery standards of the music industry, you might dare say Bourne and the band had “made it”.
“It’s a funny old thing, ‘making it,’” she tells me on a brief tour break. “For us, it was such a gradual thing. It wasn’t like we were suddenly flung into stardom … It was much more of a gradual process, of playing at larger venues at a time. To have got to the point of walking on stage after making a record and seeing so many people is just unreal.”
India’s recent tour across Canada, Australia and the US only adds to a long history of playing with Ben Howard. They were friends as kids and have performed their folk-infused tunes at venues varying from Devon pubs to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. “I got to know Benny through his sister,” she says. “He was writing songs and playing them for us on his guitar. I was playing cello, and he asked me if I would join him for an open mic one evening. We had a laugh, improvising for quite a big crowd, and that’s always been there; taking risks and seeing what comes out.”
In their mid-teens, however, international recognition was at most a distant prospect. India left Devon for York where she would fall deeper “in love” with music for three years, returning south to jam with Ben (who went to Falmouth) in the holidays. She would find an “inspiring” range of styles and genres to study at the music department, and promptly went about “soaking up as much as possible” in her first year. India even admits to an obsession with her subject: “It can completely fill you up, music, and I love that side of it, but you need to remember that there are other things! My friends really helped me remember that, and I need to remember it now.”
India never joined a band as a student – instead, she began to play more seriously with Howard late in her time at university, and after graduating, and after she got a job with the National Opera in London. Obviously, she and Ben are a good fit. “I was leading this weird double life,” she says. “I was working in the opera’s education department office during the week, and on the weekends I’d be doing gigs in Cornwall and festivals.”
In 2011, everything would change with Howard’s signing to Island Records. “Ben said, ‘I really want you you come and get involved with recording our first album’, so I quit my job and moved back home to Devon.” Leaving London and the opera for a miked up barn, India would spend the next 18 months recording Every Kingdom.
The rest is history – but it’s also very much the present; their follow-up record, I Forget Where We Were, is on release in October 2014. “You just wonder what’s going to happen. We’ve had a great response from people, so we’re really excited,” she says.
India Bourne isn’t just a band member; she takes the time off tour to focus on her solo work. I ask what she’s aiming to prove in her own songs, and her reply is somewhat artistic: “It’s just something I’ve had to do. It’s not something I’m doing to prove that I can write. It comes more from a desire to create, always. It makes me so happy. I’ve never thought of it in terms of proving myself.” She repeats: “It’s just something I’ve had to do.”
We go on to discuss the influence of place on her songwriting. “I think everywhere you go somehow influences you,” she tells me. “Especially beautiful places. I’ve been so spellbound sometimes that I can’t help but write a poem or some lyrics that help me remember and celebrate where we’ve been. You can’t help but channel that into your work.”
As for what 2014’s new cohort of students should channel into their first years, India says it’s the capacity to just savour it all:”You have the time and the freedom to be as creative as you possibly can. Do not waste that time. It’s sacred, really, so take advantage of it. This is your time to just go for it, and don’t think too much about where you’re going, or about what job you’re going to get. It’s okay not to know what you want to do.”