Belfast-born, Liverpool-landed brother/sister duo Southern have just announced another change of location, this time moving to London, as they announced this past Saturday on their Facebook page. They are also just at the end of a lengthy autumn tour of the UK, but their hectic schedule hasn’t kept them out of the studio. They have managed to intermingle their live performances with recording work on tracks for their debut LP, which is expected sometime in 2015. To that end, they are set to release their next single, ‘Cool Kid’, on the 24th of November via Marathon Artists.
‘Cool Kid’ is a newly reworked version of a track that initially appeared on Southern’s self-titled EP, released at the end of 2013. The refreshed adaptation moves slightly away from the band’s typical folk rock sound and more into pop territory, with an energetic rhythm, punchy verses and an infectious chorus, “’cos she’s a cool kid / lost and found / she’s dead when she comes and it’s tying me down / such a cool kid / I should dedicate this one to you”, that immediately sticks in your head.
The crisp black and white imagery in the song’s recently released video is the pure essence of cool. Constantly shifting shots of Thom and Lucy Southern nonchalantly strumming their guitars alternate between a shadowy foreground view and a sharp background projection screen. The mood is immediately set with the detached opening guitar riff and Thom Southern’s sullen delivery of the opening vocal lines, “he don’t wanna release her / she don’t want a kiss on the cheek / and someone keeps telling me I’m no good”. The mesmerising bridge section is a combination of lightly echoing guitars and vaguely evocative lyrics: “it’s interesting, ‘cos you dance the way you feel / now I know that you dance the way you feel.”
For the single release, Southern have paired the uptempo ‘Cool Kid’ with a brand new song called ‘Sympathise With You’. In contrast with its A-side track, ‘Sympathise With You’ is slow and introspective but with similarly reverberant guitar sounds. The guitar melodies change from sulky to sultry as Thom Southern croons the lyrical chorus, “and who are you? You’re so good, I sympathise with you / and this feeling that you want me / Is there something I don’t wanna know? That’s just something that I don’t know”.
On the ‘Cool Kid’ single, Southern display an ever-expanding degree of musical range and confidence in their own abilities, a rare combination among bands just starting their careers. If their relocation to London is any indication, 2015 could be a year of more bold moves for the Northern Irish pair. In the meantime, they are scheduled to close out this year with a headline show at London Barfly on the 4th of November and an appearance at the Whiskey Sessions Festival in Manchester on the 21st of November.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 29th October 2014 at 11:00 am
This is part 1 of a massive interview with Cloud Boat. Part 2 posts on TGTF tomorrow.
I’ve done interviews on tour buses. I’ve done interviews on outdoor festival grounds as well in indoor venues during city festivals. But I can say for sure I’ve never been invited back to the hired flat of a band to do an interview. (Don’t worry, they were on their absolute best behaviour!) Timing didn’t work out for me to have a chinwag with the chaps of Cloud Boat after their rousing set at Manchester Soup Kitchen on the 11th of October, but like them, I was in Liverpool the next night (though I had committed to see Tom Vek at the Kazimier), so we made a date to meet up after the more difficult bits of the evening were out of the way. Cloud Boat comprises Tom Clarke (vocals, lyrics, electronics) and Sam Ricketts (guitar, electronics) plus live touring member Andres Perrera, officially part of prog rock band Arkestry, and all three of them were happy to chat with me in the wee hours of Sunday night into Monday morning about their latest album, the sophomore ‘Model of You’, their UK tour and their feelings on the music industry today.
The first topic I bring up is the historical rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester that existed long before their footy teams started warring, as it just so happened that Cloud Boat played Manchester followed by Liverpool this weekend. I was curious if they could detect different vibes from the two cities, especially given their background as Southerners. “On a boring level, Saturday night in Manchester gave it sort of an edge to Sunday night in Liverpool”, said Sam. “I also thought both support bands in Manchester (face + heel and Hartheim) were really, really good. In terms of atmosphere, there’s a certain level of excitement to both cities, I think. It was only our third time in Liverpool and we’ve been to Manchester a few more times than that…There are so many great bands from both cities. We listened to the Smiths on the way to Manchester; I’m sure we would have listened to the Beatles on the way here if we’d had them on CD! But yeah, any of the big cities, there’s always a feeling of a wealth of history.”
Tom holds a different view: “I always feel like Liverpool is way more vibrant than I expect. It has quite a strong reputation for being quite a down to earth, working class city because it always has been. But it’s way more, I dunno, more exciting. It’s probably wrong for me to expect that it wouldn’t be, but when you come here, there are loads of cool different restaurants and bars and venues. And down by the waterfront, it’s all been redeveloped and it’s really cool. Every time I’ve been here I’ve been more surprised by how vibrant it is. And with Manchester, you know it’s got a solid, good vibe. Everyone’s friendly, there’s a nice community spirit there, it’s just a nice place to be.”
“We were discussing how all the venues in Manchester are great,” says Sam. “It’s sort of like as big and exciting as London but without the masses of competition.” Tom interjects, “and the drama. There’s no drama to Manchester like you would get in London. In London, there’s so much theatre involved with everything, with everyday life, but with Manchester, it’s a bit more simple, which is nice.” The singer is quick to give kudos to the promoters of the Soup Kitchen show the night previous: “And with Now Wave, the people we played for, they’re some of the best promoters going as well, it doesn’t get much better.”
Liverpool was the sixth show of their October UK tour. “We have a couple more shows, we’re home for a week, then we’re out for 3 weeks to the mainland. It’s been really good,” Sam says. “We’re doing a festival in Holland (Let’s Get Lost in Zwolle), and then there are a few shows in Germany, then Copenhagen, then back through Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, back to Germany, then to Paris.” I ask if they feel that they get a different kind of reception on the Continent compared to when they’re back home in England. “It’s a hard question to answer without seeming like you taking a slight with our audiences, but I think what we’ve found with mainland audiences are slightly more open-minded and more open to enjoying whatever is presented to them. I feel like in the UK – and I’m probably as guilty of this as anyone is – you want to know who you’re going to see and what they’re going to do. Whereas I feel like when we’ve played for audiences who haven’t known us previously, we’ve felt a sort of warmer reception in Europe. And that goes to say when you’ve got people who are more open-minded, they’re more likely to come see you again, so we’ve always looked forward to playing in Europe more than the UK. Also, the adventure of not being at home and going over there, you sort of lose yourself a little bit more and maybe play better as a result.”
Tom goes further: “The whole system allows people to be less inhibited as well. Venues are subsidised by the government and bands enjoy playing there because they get paid and they’ll get fed. And people there can afford to buy tickets. In London, or in the UK, venues are struggling to stay open, bands are struggling to play, people are struggling to afford to buy tickets to go, that’s not an environment anyone really wants to be involved in. I think it’s a big shame, and I think it’s become more like this in the last 10 years. It’s hard in the UK. Until you’re playing 1000-cap venues, where you’re given dinner if you’re lucky, the people who come in and watch you, you’ve got to be in at 7:30, out by 10:30, you’re getting frisked by security wherever you are, the toilets stink and aren’t well kept. There’s a lot wrong with the UK system.”
Sam describes an experience they had as support on tour in the Fatherland. “You can go to Germany and play in what is essentially sort of some left-wing stronghold squat with the best PA, the best staff, the best beer, the best catering, and everyone’s nice to you. They’ll have an apartment, maybe above the venue. Like we did this lovely old theatre in Leipzig when we toured with Forest Swords. We arrived late, we’d driven 11 hours, we had 20 minutes to sound check, but they were all really nice. We got paid well, we got fed well, and they were all like, ‘we’d love to have you back’. Whereas in the UK, it doesn’t feel as much like that. That’s not to say we don’t like playing in the UK. I’d hate to come across as sort of ungrateful to anyone who’s put us on in the UK, because it’s hard for them, and it’s extremely hard for promoters. I know I couldn’t be one.”
“That’s the thing. There are so many great bands and great promoters, and loads of people who care, and there are loads of great venues. It’s just the way the system works,” declares Tom. “It’s almost wholly down to the government and the arts funding. They’re just completely fucking it and they know they are, but they don’t mind because there’s a massive detachment between culture and arts and the current government, and it’s only getting worse. But that’s not to say I know the recipe to fix it.”
I ask Tom what he thinks about music piracy, as part of the music industry that has changed so much in just the last 2 decades. “I think it’s difficult, because in one sense, you want your music to be as readily available to the widest audience possible. That’s the optimal goal. In one respect, piracy and streaming and all the rest of it does that, it makes you readily available to everyone all around the world, for a very small amount of money or no money at all. So in that sense, you can become accessible to a lot of people, but in the other sense, you get paid fuck all. And if you’re getting paid no money, it’s not sustainable.”
Sam chimes in: “On top of not getting any money, I think people care less about the music. I will raise my hand and say I’ve downloaded music for free, but I would like to think (other people would do) like how I’ve gone to see a band, or bought a vinyl or a shirt at a show. But not everyone’s doing that. We all come from a background where we’ve grown up listening to hardcore and metal and screamo, the sort of bands where they just want to be able to go on tour and just make enough money to get to the next gig…Majors are worried about people downloading the Lady Gaga album for free, I’ve never done that. I can’t relate to that, really. Whenever I’ve downloaded a record, I’ve then gone out of my way to go and support that band. I wouldn’t mind if someone downloaded our discography if they came to see us every time we played in their city.”
But Tom brings up a good point about the disconnect even streaming and the advent of mp3s has caused in the business: “That’s the thing, like you said, if you’ve downloaded something, you felt like you needed to justify that by going to a show. Because of Spotify now and people buying everything on iTunes, people don’t have the sense they need to justify that kind of cheapness with buying a ticket or buying a hard copy of a record. People don’t have that sense anymore. You can just literally listen to it on Spotify and then cut it off, and you don’t need to have that attachment to a band. I think (what) a lot of people, I suppose, are missing now is having some sort of a relationship with a band.”
Sam agrees, pointing out a good alternative for smaller bands: “I think things like Bandcamp, it’s a nice way of, on a smaller level, of being direct with your fanbase…Radiohead obviously are a good example of putting ‘In Rainbows’ being pay as you want and the new Thom Yorke’s torrent-based thing. But they’re also famously anti against that platform (Spotify)…There are examples of people doing cool things, but until you break that level where you can fill rooms and sell enough (albums) so that your record label aren’t constantly pulling their hair out, which for most bands, what labels make money anymore?”
Speaking of labels, I asked how they caught the attention of the bods at R&S Records, who reactivated their Apollo imprint and released Cloud Boat’s debut album ‘Book of Hours’ on it in 2013. Sam explains: “This story goes back quite a long way. We originally knew an A&R at R&S through James Blake. He picked up a couple of tracks, which ended up on the first album, for a 10″ on R&S. We sort of became a band and never really knew how to release music or make music or anything. From having nothing, we suddenly had this release on R&S. And we had nothing else recorded. So it took us a while to take a step back and make the first album. And then Renaat (Vandepapeliere), he’s the ‘R’, he said, ‘I’d love to put this out on Apollo’. I don’t think he would have let us say no if we wanted to!…There was a wave of artists R&S wanted to put out, I think it was in 2010? James Blake, Pariah, Space Dimension Controller, Vondelpark as well.
“Compared to them, we were one of the smaller acts, but it was really exciting to be part of that. And Renaat brought Apollo back for the more traditionally ambient things, and alongside Nadine Shah and the live side of Apollo, it made sense to stay there for the second album. He’s a really passionate, supportive guy. Plus I don’t think he’d let us go anywhere else!…He’s terrifying and intense, but the guy lives and breathes music. Sits at his laptop all day…The first time we met him, I don’t think he even knew what we did or who we were, he said, ‘Any of you can call me, any time of the day. If I don’t answer, I’m making love. But call me, any time of the day.’ That completely stuck with me.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, which posts on TGTF tomorrow.