I’m so tired of knowing about EP launches and the pigeon roosting patterns of Glasgow side streets that I bought a ticket for the launch on the 28th at the 13th Note so I could be there in spirit. How did it go?
(James) “I think I can speak for everyone in the band when I say it was a fantastic night. We managed to lose track of the number of people coming through the doors but from counting ticket sales at the end of the night we realised we had sold the venue out. It was a tight squeeze, but I think that adds to the charm of the 13th Note. A bigger venue wouldn’t have had the same intimacy between ourselves and the audience. This catered for both our upbeat, electric songs and the quieter acoustic pieces.”
The first time I heard the EP and then listened to it repeatedly was in the few hours before going to see Midge Ure back in mid-January. I bring this up one last time (promise) because I was struck by several things that night – how good this young band I had just discovered was and how set in musical amber my generation tends to be. Why do you think so many people tend to stop looking for new music not that long into adulthood?
(Angus) “Having worked in an “old man pub” that had covers bands playing the same pub band songs from their generations I’ve seen a lot of this. I think in a lot of cases life gets in the way, in that they don’t have the same spare cash to buy music or access to the knowledge/technology to find new music. I mean I know a number of exceptions to this but that seems to be the case with the majority. However, I have found that if you take time to show people something they will often like something new. I think if someone is a true music fan they will always be a music fan.”
A few weeks ago while doing some research I stumbled across Angus’ blog The Practice Room. I found it fascinating in that it mirrored, live and on the ground, the search for new music that I have to conduct from afar. The blog is something I’d like to revisit later, but I am curious as to the motivation for doing it?
(Angus) “I originally started that blog as a university project last year in which the original plan was to do a blog centering around sessions with bands and ask them about their writing process and influences etc. However time and money constrains stopped this so it morphed into a more conventional music blog. I always seemed to be telling people to listen to a band or recommending music to people so this seemed a good medium to do so. Since I go to a lot of gigs, live reviews seemed to be a good way to get this point across to encourage people to go see bands. Being based in the industry too, I wanted to have somewhere other than facebook or twitter to voice my opinions and try and put my point across about certain matters. The only reason I’ve taken a bit of a break from it just now is because of commitments to uni and the band but I do have plans to start it up again, the sessions too hopefully!”
I assume you’ll take a few copies of the EP over to Avalanche later in March when you play Edinburgh? Have you played there before?
(James) “We definitely will try and get some copies into Avalanche in March, Angus is already in contact with Kevin about it! Previous to the launch, we got some copies into Love Music and Monorail in Glasgow. As a band I think we all agree that one should support their local record shop. Brave Young Red have never played in Edinburgh before, I have in a previous band during the Fringe Festival period which was great fun so I’m looking forward to getting back with the Brave Young Red crew.”
You’ve literally just added the Roots EP to bandcamp now. So instead of asking when you are going to do that, I’ll ask what you think of the new Kid Canaveral record?
(Angus) “I’ve not actually heard it yet but you’ve reminded me that I really liked the first one and saw the band at a few festivals in 2011, but never ended up buying the album. So I’ll probably end up getting both when my next student loan payment comes in (along with the endless list of other albums I’m looking to get)!”
I was listening to the ‘Youth and the Young’ EP as I finished these questions. From my perspective, it seems young Scottish musicians and bands are slightly more inclined to incorporate some of the cultural musical traditions of their surroundings. Do you think this is a fair assessment? Have Scottish traditions had an impact on your own music?
(James) “I think that’s a very appropriate comment. Something I’ve been listening to on loop recently, which I think is a great example, is Rick Redbeard of the Phantom Band’s debut solo album No Selfish Heart. The melodies and warm acoustics with the odd violin and subtle harmony thrown in, really evokes a strong sense of Scottishness. My favourite track on the album is actually a cover of a traditional piece, called Kelvin Grove, about a park in the West End of Glasgow. I believe it was written by the poet Lyle. The slow pace and descending chord sequence is beautiful along with the vocal melody. It’s a timeless piece that sits comfortably in the album, so you can understand how Scottish folk tradition directly affects a lot of the contemporary music we hear coming from Scotland today. Larger Scottish bands such as Frightened Rabbit and Admiral Fallow have clearly drawn influence from this culture and of course, we listen to these bands. One band at the minute who I think are fantastic are Flutes, who we are supporting in April at their single launch in Glasgow. They have a darkness in their music, the spacey, obscure, picked chord progressions and the imagery that their lyrics project possesses that defined Scottish sound. As the main songwriter in the band I think I generally draw my inspiration from all of these bands around me, big and small.”
Who would you cite as direct musical influences?
(Angus) “We all come from rather different musical backgrounds but there are certain bands that when we were starting out we decided we really like and would like to make music that was akin to that. Whether what we came out with sounded like these artists or not is irrelevant now I’d say but there definitely was an idea of what we liked and would like to sound like. Normally when asked we say Frightened Rabbit, Admiral Fallow, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Bombay Bicycle Club.”
(James) “I think we all grew up listening to the legends – Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the list is endless. But I think listening to our music it would be hard to draw comparisons. We may share common tastes with the main Scottish acts of course being Frightened Rabbit, Admiral Fallow, WWPJ etc. but do we really sound like these acts? I think it’s important to have influences, but we’re independent thinkers as well. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I don’t think we really sound like anybody. An influence in terms of band development I suppose would be Bombay Bicycle Club. They have so many complex sounds, intertwining genres and that’s something as a songwriter I can relate to. They have an entirely stripped-back acoustic album, Flaws, but on the other hand the rest of the music they play is powerful, alternate indie rock or whatever you’d like to call it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think we have a limited sound and I never would want to limit.”
Sometimes I’m pretty slow but I could swear you started off as a three piece. I just now realized that Erin not only provides additional vocals but is also a regular member of the band. I was not aware of James’ earlier solo efforts. What has the transition from solo artist to a five member band been like?
(James) “I’ve been playing solo acoustic gigs since the age of 15. Since beginning University and discovering an entirely new music culture in the South of Scotland, I found my music taking a turn and becoming more dynamic and in some cases adopting obscure rhythms, chords, and melodies. I began to find it difficult to really communicate the songs across to listeners in the context that I wanted to, I felt the songs were limited with just the acoustic guitar and alone vocal. It was then that I asked Angus and Michael (Stewart) to step in. Angus of course played bass and Michael played cajon drum at this point. This helped the dynamics and confidence grew in the newly formed group. We began to gig more and more regularly, but we were still only playing acoustic nights and we wanted to do more. There was talk of introducing a violin player, flute player, but in the end we decided we just wanted a female vocalist. We had played a couple of gigs with Erin before and then asked her if she wanted to join us alongside her own solo career. From there piano was introduced and Michael moved to drums. However, at Christmas time he couldn’t make a gig and we asked Mikey (Hepburn) if he would fill in. It went well, and we wanted him to stay on drums as Michael (Stewart) was never that comfortable as he’s always been more of a guitarist. So that kind of happened by accident. So it’s been a journey, but we’ve done a few gigs as a full band and have had a great response, so the only way from here is up!”
How do you tell the two Michaels apart?
(Angus) “We tend to refer to one as Michael (Stewart – guitar) and one as Mickey (Hepburn – drums)…them looking different helps too however it does confuse matters when one of our friends uses Mickey as a general nickname for either one.”
(James) “One is good at drums, the other, not so good. *winks”
The EP cover art, especially the compass, is arresting. What’s the story behind it?
(James) “I bought the compass when I was in holiday in Corfu last year. It was in a shop that sold hand made wooden items and I found it in a box. I simply thought it looked pretty cool. I had not long finished the song “Footprints” which is the second track on the EP and it mentions the line “My compass starting pointing South as I began to fill with doubt”. Perhaps I subconsciously thought that I had to have it! Footprints in particular is about me leaving my hometown in the North of Scotland and moving to the South. Essentially it’s about the struggle of finding where ones true home is where they feel most comfortable, amongst themes of entering manhood, growing, and leaving. That’s where the line in the chorus “These roots have a hold on me” comes from as well, giving us the EP title. We wanted to evoke a strong sense of something organic hence the trees, leaves, etc.”
Listening to the EP yet again, I’m struck by how accomplished it is. ‘Silk and Satin’ could have been the result of putting Kid Canaveral and the State Broadcasters together in a room and not letting them out until they distilled and blended their sound. It is such a lovely song. Being in the lead position on the EP, is it what you would consider the first single? What does the title ‘Roots’ signify?
(Angus) “Thank you very much! I remember when we first started playing the song it reminded me of Kid Canaveral now that you mention it. It’s arguably one of the more upbeat songs from the EP but I always find it hard to define what is a lead single from a limited choice. For arguments sake just now I’ll say it is though. I think James is better explaining the EP name…”
(James) “As discussed earlier, Roots, comes from the second track, Footprints and the internal struggle of finding ones true home. Again, the EP has recurring themes of growing and leaving, as represented by the female character. I guess it made me think back to basics, where someone is stripped down to having nothing except themselves. Stripped down to their roots.”
The last song ‘Little Dove’ sounds like it might have come from the solo period. Have you already begun writing new songs? What is next after this EP?
(James) “Surprisingly, Little Dove was written after the rest of the band had been recruited. Michael (guitarist) was playing about with the waltzing chord progression one afternoon and I asked him what it was, to which he answered he was only mucking about. I instantly had a melody forming in my head and began writing the song in the next room. When it comes to lyrics I like to challenge myself using different stimulus and it was the cover of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, that had caught my eye. I found the image of the woman very powerful and starting writing about the character, tying it in with the same female character illustrated in Silk & Satin. Little Dove resembles an acceptance in her life where she realises leaving is the best option. I think for just now we’re going to continue to promote our EP over the next few gigs as it’s something we’re very proud of. There’s talk of releasing a single in the summer, but we also have some exciting opportunities such as playing at Liverpool Sound City in May.”
It will be like being in Glasgow with sunshine around here in a week. Chvrches, Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad twice in a six day period. Now that Washington Irving is no longer headed to SXSW, I don’t even regret not being able to head down there. I’ve often thought that if I was in Scotland that I would not be able to properly function with all the shows I’d want to attend. How do you juggle so much live music?
(Angus) “With great difficulty…I think the only thing that is stopping me going mad with choices of gigs to go to all the time is the band itself and being a student based in Ayr which means I’m limited by train times and money. Often what I’ve found does dictate what gig I go to is which ticket is available first and if I have the money to get a ticket at the time. If it’s a friend who’s playing/promoting the show that can often dictate it too.”
Any other Scottish artists we might not yet know about?
(Angus) “Running a blog means as well means I can talk at length about this so I’ll try and be brief. Despite being in the band I’m in I often end up listening to a lot of loud, riff orientated bands like Carnivores and The Darien Venture (whom I love). If instrumental music is your thing, then our good pals Vasa are definitely worth listening to. Campfires In Winter who you’ve already featured, blew me away the first time I saw them last year and I can’t wait for their single launch next week as well. Inuit who I did a blog post a wee while ago seemed to be very interesting. I absolutely loved PAWS’ debut, and look forward to seeing what Honeyblood have to offer as well. On the quieter side of things a singer originally from Edinburgh but based in London who goes under the name Blue Rose Code has just put out an excellent debut album called North Ten which I highly recommend. Jamie Flett & Matt Scott both played amazing sets at our EP launch, and finally Anna Sweeney, Hannah Jackson and our own Erin Todd are excellent female solo performers. I think that’s enough for now…”