The Greatest Endangered Thing on a new chapter: “It was everything we had been looking for and felt like a perfect beginning”

Emerging from the ashes of the critically acclaimed Sheffield-based band Ophelia, The Greatest Endangered Thing is an exciting new project by indie-folk artists Samuel Taylor and Rebecca Van Cleave. After releasing their debut album, Phosphenes: Vol 1, Exposed caught up with the duo to discuss the new directions explored in the album, the vitality of the local folk scene and the essence of youth captured in their latest single, ‘Delilah’.

Hello! Could you please introduce yourself to the Exposed readership?
Hey! We’re Samuel and Rebecca and we’re a Sheffield-based indie-folk band called The Greatest Endangered Thing.

The last time we caught up you were writing under the name Ophelia. What inspired the change and has it coincided with a shift in styles too?
Yes! It’s been quite a journey. There were a few unfortunate elements that all hit at the same time just after we released our first album for Ophelia, meaning that we needed to press pause and regroup. But everything happens for a reason, and it enabled us to take a breath to look at what was in front of us and figure out how we wanted to move forward. We found the name The Greatest Endangered Thing in a poem called Your Soft Heart by Nikita Gill. It stuck with us; it was everything we had been looking for and felt like a perfect new beginning. Nikita kindly allowed us to use it for this project.

Style-wise, it’s the same and it’s different. I think there will always be a similarity there because it’s us, but there are new elements. There’s a lot more space in the recordings, a lot more room to breathe. We wanted to escape the noise, to stop filling every moment just because we could. We built it up and stripped it right back. It was about making every part complementary: if it didn’t add something, it was taken away. Our vocals are often in harmony on this project, rather than trading off on lead. There’s still the energy of Ophelia, but there’s a softness too. It feels more raw in a way. So, The Greatest Endangered Thing is Ophelia and it’s also something new – a little older, a little wiser and hopefully something that can continue and grow for many years to come.

“There’s still the energy of Ophelia, but there’s a softness too. It feels more raw in a way.”

Sheffield has enjoyed a vibrant folk scene for quite some time, producing some remarkable artists and music along the way. Why do you think that is?
Sheffield has such an abundance of musical talent across all genres. It’s a little tricky to hypothesise about the alchemy of it all; there must be something in the water here. We feel very lucky to be part of such a great music scene and a wonderful community.

On that note, are there any artists from the local scene who you feel particularly enthused or inspired by?
There are far too many to list, but we’ll be playing a gig this month with Rhiannon Scutt and Robbie Thompson, who are both incredible artists. We’re excited to be sharing the stage with them as well as Philippe Clegg and Ruth Nicholson. All of them are doing very cool things in the local music scene, working with younger artists and in lots of different projects, solo and collaborative. For this record, we were also lucky enough to have Jon Boden come into the studio for a day and add some violin parts to the tracks. He created such beautiful moments, pulling out melodies that really took the songs to a new place. He’s an incredible musician. We are very grateful to have him on it.

There’s a lot more space in the recordings, a lot more room to breathe. We wanted to escape the noise, to stop filling every moment just because we could. We built it up and stripped it right back.

Your latest single, Delilah, features on the recently released EP, Phosphenes: Volume 1. Could you tell us a bit about the inspirations behind that track and how it links into the wider themes and sounds explored in the EP?
There’s a bit of a loose narrative that ended up running through all the songs on Phosphenes. It focuses on the past, the present, the in-between. The name of the album came from the idea of memories: the way that when you close your eyes, memories often come back in short glimpses, disjointed pieces, non-linear fragments. The way they can be triggered by colours or scents or sounds. These tiny little snapshots of a life, of a moment. They’re all part of a bigger story, but when you close your eyes, all you have are the remnants, the bits that stuck. And those become the new story, the one that stayed.

In creating Delilah, we wanted to focus on that feeling of the sweet headiness of youth: the electric current that runs through your veins when you realise you could sweep the board or lose everything in a single hand; the cheap thrill of impending danger; the rush of losing yourself in a new person, a new place; of burning so brightly you may spontaneously combust at any moment. We wanted it to feel explosive, tender, urgent, playful, edgy, celebratory, hedonistic, a hand placed a little too close to the flame.

For the video for Delilah, we started playing around with the idea of the process of creativity. Do ideas appear from thin air, from dreams? Or are we subtly (or not so subtly) influenced by the artists that came before us? By pop culture? By books and films and snapshots and memories? We started with a few key references which we reinterpreted and then let the rest of the day take on a life of its own. We cut the clips together with public domain archive footage from Prelinger Archive. The result is something that straddles reality and a dream. How do we create? How do we exist when left to our own devices? Where do our thoughts go when we allow them to roam? What’s the process that gets us to the starting line?

What else is on the horizon for the band?
We’re off to Greece next month to finish off writing Volume 2 and begin working on the next record. We’re hoping to release Volume 2 by the end of this year/early next year, with some other small releases in between. And definitely some live shows. We’re really looking forward to gigging again. It’s felt like a long time since we were consistently playing live, what with the name change and then the pandemic and the live music scene shifting, it’s felt like a journey to get back to it. But we played a gig last month and there was something so incredibly special about the immediacy of it all. It reminded us how much we missed it. People in a room together, collectively sharing an evening, a moment… there’s nothing like it.

The album is available to buy/stream now.

Finally, where can people next catch you live?
May 30th at The Samuel Worth Chapel with Robbie Thompson and Rhiannon Scutt.

For tickets to Folk in the Chapel with The Greatest Endangered Thing, Robbie Thompson and Rhiannon Scutt, head here. Keep up to date with gig and release announcements on the band’s socials, @thegreatestendangeredthing

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