This is part 2 of a massive interview with Cloud Boat. Go here to read part 1.
Cloud Boat and I switched gears to discuss their latest release, this year’s ‘Model of You’, released in July. At first Tom seemed anxious about divulging his thoughts to me. “Nonspecifically, it became more expensive as we tried to have a bigger palette of sounds and expressions. We tried to explore a wider space, really. I think the first album was quite narrow in its production and its kind of sound choices. That’s not a negative thing at all…but we had more means on our second album, so we used it the best we could.” Sam explains further about their humble recording beginnings: “If we’d been able to record with a live drum kit, grand piano, a harp on the first album, we would have done it. But we had one microphone, one amp in the bedroom and that was it.”
I then asked if they were like most electronic-type musicians I’d come across, being very OCD about the way things sound and the way things come across because they’re in charge of everything behind the scenes, including all of the production. Tom disagrees: “we’re probably the opposite. We like to do things differently every time to see (what happens). We don’t need to record the vocal through the same mike, through the same pre-amps, through the same compressors every single time because it might sound better (recorded differently). I wouldn’t like to do everything the same every time in case it could have been done better another way.”
Sam chimes in: “…because we’re not producers first. When you say a lot of electronic artists, they probably started making music in their bedrooms making beats and things and have become almost scientific in their production. We could never sit at home and make a track with a mix that would sound good on the dance floor. I’m essentially someone who has grown up playing guitar and Tom has grown up singing. We have always thought of ourselves as a band, and that’s why working with a producer on the second album (Andy Savours, who has worked with My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Ros) meant that the science of everything was taken out of our hands, and we were just free to be creative. So in response to us having any sort of OCD, there isn’t any of that. The more happy accidents, the better.”
Tom adds, “there has to be a level of spontaneity in live music and recorded music in order for it to stay exciting, I think. If you know that everything is going to stay the same every single time, it becomes monotonous and you won’t be able to be excited about it.” Sam describes an unusual part on one of the standout tracks on the new album: “There’s a part of ‘Hideaway’ on the record, we recorded it at The Crypt in North London, which is fairly sort of renowned, they’ve got a baby grand piano in there. It was Friday night, I was just doing all the piano takes for everything, I hadn’t written any of the parts. We did four songs for which I’d worked out the parts and recorded them between 6 at night and midnight. Me and Andy went and had a massive slap up dinner at this really nice restaurant opposite. We came back and the room was freezing and I was really tired. There is a chord on the end of ‘Hideaway’ in which I kind of creak on the seat, and there’s this noise or something. Andy wanted to cut it out from the recording and I was like, ‘you’re leaving that in’. It’s really, really quiet, but knowing that, there are bits and bobs on the record (like that) when there’s a sound when there’s not supposed to be (one) there, you use that sound as a focal point instead of getting rid of it.”
Speaking of strange noises, I just had to ask them about the goat noise on ‘Portraits of Eyes’, which I’d Tweeted them about the morning of the Soup Kitchen show. “It’s actually a guitar”, Sam admits. “I’m pretty sure it’s a guitar with loads of tremolo on it? And I suppose it’s really high.” I express my mock disappointment that there was no goat onstage in Manchester. “But how would you make it go on cue? You’d have to get a goat that could mime. But I’m pretty proud now that I could make a guitar sound like a convincing goat though. We’ll try and get another animal on the next album.”
— Cloud Boat (@cloud_boat) October 11, 2014
I next put the question to Tom about the origin of ‘Aurelia’, one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs on the new album, and if suicide was the theme he was going for in the lyrics. “I studied French existentialism in university and did my thesis on Camus”, he replies. “There’s a lot of that running through (the album), not suicide in the particular act, just the idea of it, not like explicitly. I like to use those themes and try and create something that sounds like a specific moment in time, a specific situation that reflects those themes. Not a situation I myself have personally experienced, but something I’ve created in my mind with those themes.”
I asked him how he felt about the majority of dance / electronic music’s lyrics being throwaway, with the primary intention for the beats to get punters out on the dance floor. For Tom, it has become a more personal thing and that has bettered him as a person too. “For me, it’s important to feel like singing the song is worthwhile, to be able to give something of myself to it. I’m not a confident person, and I’m not an outspoken person, I don’t like people to know too much about me. There is something, it probably sounds quite cliche, but there’s something very therapeutic about, whether directly or not, telling a load of strangers something about yourself.
“Whether they know it or not, telling them something about yourself you’re not necessarily comfortable with is, like, massively therapeutic and good for you. I think it’s good for you, and it’s been the best thing for me over the last however many years. It’s good for your mind, I think. People say that if you struggle with depression and whatever else, and talking about things like that directly is almost the best medicine for that. In those kind of frustrations and thoughts and existential ideas, talking to people directly about them has been really good for me…But I think the lyrics are almost cryptic enough in telling them. I know what I’m telling them, and I know what I’m thinking, but they don’t necessarily. It’s kind of selfish in that sense.”
I next ask about ‘Thoughts in Mine’, what I consider the other massive song on ‘Model of You’. Sadly, the song was not included in the set in Manchester due to time constraints. Sam considers the tune “the most biggest departure for us. We were in the first studio, writing it in Dalston. Tom had this big vibe he called ‘Little Orange Buckle’, and it had a pretty weird beat in it, and we set up all these synths and started pissing about. We thought it might be kind of fun trying to write a song that didn’t have any guitar in it, and that was sort of the challenge in that. As a result, it’s a departure from anything from the album, and certainly from the first album, and that’s why it’s later on the record.”
I query Tom about the lyrical content, citing that the first time I’m heard his words, it immediately made me think of Morrissey‘s ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’ (“I am now a central part / of your mind’s landscape / whether you care or do not”). “Yeah. There’s a Deftones song as well that has this idea, I’ve been listening to it, it’s on my phone but I forget what the title is. It has this idea like the thought of occupying someone’s mind but it sounds stalkerish, that kind of like describing being close in proximity to someone and being inside. I really loved that, because it’s obviously not actually true, but the thought of using music words to make it sound like a specific situation. It’s not so much about a specific person, it’s more about me, (in) quite a lot of the lyrics I describe myself as another person and write about myself. So that’s kind of in that song a bit. I like writing about a person that’s me and writing it from another person’s perspective.”
We then turn our attention to ‘Carmine’, which was picked up by NPR, who then went on to write several nice features on Cloud Boat’s music. “The NPR thing was great”, extols Sam. “The press team for the record were looking for the outlet with the best reputation and reach for the music, and NPR was what they decided to go with. The press side of things is something we’re not particularly comfortable with, and we are guilty with sort of letting our team get on with things, which may not be the best thing to do.”
The video for ‘Carmine’, however, is something they are more than eager to talk about. “That was done by a good friend of ours”, says Tom. “Neither of us are visually inclined”, laments Sam. “Whether it was the fonts, the artwork, the merch, the videos…we’re quite useless. So basically, our friend Chris (Toumazou) who did the video, we trusted him with it. Music videos are something we struggle with a little bit, because something you’ve spent so much time making orally, to then have someone put a visual to it and it doesn’t come anywhere near what you feel for the track, it’s quite rare, I think. We enjoy hanging out with Chris; for a serious artist, he is a fucking hilarious guy. He’s like this little clown! He had this sort of idea, and we gave ourselves to him pretty much…I didn’t really have anything in my head of what I expected the video for that song to be like before we did it. But if I had, it definitely wouldn’t have been that.”
‘That’ was the promo filmed in a working laundrette in Barbican, London, filled with actual customers. Sam continues: “It was a really surreal day. We were all really busy, and it just happened that there was just one day where we could be in the video. The laundrette was still open while we were filming, so they blacked out the curtains. There were lots and lots of old people who obviously went there every Friday to do their laundry, they would come in and find their way through this curtain…So we sort of shot the shots round so people could then use the free machines. It was really fun, it was brilliant, it was a great day. I dunno, I remember the first take, when the main lady mouthed the lyrics, we watched on in the monitor. They shot it sped up to then slow it down to get the sort of crazy movements. I remember it being really sort of powerful. I remember thinking, ‘wow, this is really good’. It wasn’t the setting I would have imagined for the song, but in trusting the director, we got a result we didn’t really expect but we were really happy with.”
As a final question, I asked the three of them if there were any band secrets no-one else but them would know. Tom says he shaves his legs, to which Sam quickly quips, “but we all knew that!” I am not sure whether or not this is true, since naturally they’re all in jeans. So I ask if they have any musical vices, to which Sam is quick to answer. “I think people would probably be surprised with the amount of heavy music we listen to, including really old shit heavy music that we liked when we were 15. I think people would think if we were to get into a van with that band for a week, they probably would not expect full-on metal…When we first started releasing music, we kind of got lumped in with serious, weed-smoking bedroom producer kind of vibe, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
This leads into a discussion over what bands Cloud Boat do get compared to. “Almost always the comparisons are flattering”, says Sam. “We get compared to some really weird, obscure bands, like Cocteau Twins”, replies Tom. “This Mortal Coil”, Sam contributes, “but I’d barely even heard of them. I listened to Cocteau Twins and thought, ‘that’s brilliant!’…Luke, the bassist of face + heel, said some of my guitar playing reminded him of Low, who I’ve never really listened to.” Tom adds, “I’ve heard Moby, This Will Destroy You, bands that don’t sound anything like each other! Which is always good…I suppose it would be really bad if you’re in a rock band, and every night 10 people came up to you and said ‘you sound like Weezer.’…I’ve settled for electronic post-rock, and I don’t even think it’s very accurate, but for when people ask, that’s a broad enough spectrum of sounds.”
Andres, who has been pretty quiet up to this point, interrupts with, “a guy I know said we sound like Moby and Mogwai.” Then they get into an argument over what a project between them would be called. Mobwai? Mogwy? They are, however, in agreement that a collaboration between those two artists would be amazing. “I’d listen to that”, says Tom.
Many, many thanks to Tom, Sam and Andres for this wonderful interviews. Best wishes, fellas.