Interview: Conquering Animal Sound's James Scott and Anneke Kampman
'We like that place where experimental and pop music meet'
A few things you might not know about Glasgow’s beautifully skewed electronic pop duo, Conquering Animal Sound. One: they only had one pint of milk to hand when taking this press photo (above). ‘The pressure was definitely on to get it right’, says producer James Scott, one half of CAS. ‘Plus I only brought one t-shirt along.’ Luckily the milk-spitting, action-photography gods were looking down on them that day.
Two: the singer, Anneke Kampman, doesn’t like it when journalists compare her, as they inevitably do, to Björk. [Ah, we send apols in advance then Anneke, both The List's single and album reviewers went there without realising … ]
Although we have to admit there is something undeniably familiar-sounding about that vocal – something in those playfully stilted, brittle vowels and sugary, breathy loops, we prefer to think of Kampman as a Scottish Holly Herndon, endlessly messing with the limitations of her carefully exhaled air, treating her voice as another musical instrument. (When she’s not involved in Conquering Animal Sound, which she says is her ‘favourite, main and most enjoyable project’, Kampman also makes solo music as ANAKANAK, and duets with jazz guitarist Haftor Medboe.)
Three: Kampman does a lot more than stand up front and sing. Although that may be what you’ll see her doing at live shows, behind the scenes she shares songwriting duties fifty-fifty with Scott and she also plays harp, flute, sequencers, kick drums, a wooden toolkit found in a charity shop, jars of lentils and seashells – all of which can be heard on their newly released second album, On Floating Bodies.
The album has been much anticipated; their debut Kammerspiel was an eerily excellent stand-out from that year (2011), and it was nominated for the first Scottish Album of the Year.
‘We kind of hothoused the second album,’ says Scott. ‘Anneke and I lived together in Glasgow during the making of the record. It was pretty intense. We both get pretty excited about tiny little minute details, and that ends up kind of fuelling our creative process. We’d easily spend an afternoon on a bassline, or synthesise some violin sample with the computer for hours …’
And yet, despite the studied approach, and the move from lo-fi bedroom oddity (their debut was released on Leeds DIY label, Gizeh Records) to a Chemikal Underground-released, Paul Savage-produced creation, the charms of Kammerspiel are all still there, but in a more confident, structured form than before.
‘We both like experimental music, and pop music, and listen to both – Kate Bush, The Knife, Laurel Halo … ’ says Kampman.
‘Andy Stott, Four Tet, Beyonce, Tujiko Noriko, Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof, Carly Rae Jepsen … ’ adds Scott, ‘actually please don’t put that last one in.’
‘We’re both interested in finding that place where the two meet,' says Kampman. ‘It’s good to do something very hooky and fun, but also experiment with putting sounds together, almost mathematically.’
Scott puts it another way. ‘The stuff we like is the stuff where we hear it and go, “woah, that’s mental, this is bonkers. But at the same time – that pop refrain is really gorgeous”.
‘We both love to mess about with a track to the nth degree,’ he explains. ‘Maybe play something live once, then try it out at home and see what works. But for me, I always like to have something drawing me in – a melody, something really beaty, a good hook … We've tried to add more of those rhythmic, loping beats on the album, just to help drag everything forward.’
Kampman and Scott’s individual influences find common ground in their music too – their separate loves of hip hop, techno, noise and pop fuse together in Conquering Animal Sound. (Like Kampman, Scott’s got other projects on the go; he's just retired his Japanese War Effort, but has started rapping in a new solo project, Ar Droops, and has an album in the works with his friend Jonnie Common, under the working title Carbs.)
‘Anneke and I have pretty different tastes,’ says Scott. ‘But we’re both serious enough about our music that we’ll say [when writing music] if we don’t like something. We disagree about music things, but we never seem to fall out. It’s rare Anneke comes up with stuff I don’t like. She’s got a clear sense of what she wants, and often that shapes where we go with a melody.’
‘I try and use my voice as another tool, I guess it’s quite, er “structural”?’ says Kampman. ‘It often ends up guiding the instrumentation.’
Now that record two is out, plus a brand new underwater cosmic-dazzle-blur of a video for single ‘The Future Does Not Require’, (see below) directed by GSA-graduate, Sally Sibbet, Kampman and Scott will be keeping busy, flexing their creative muscles on other stuff. Namely cherry-picking choice local artists to collaborate with, and making music videos for upcoming singles (one’s already in the pipeline, from Glasgow pastel-gore loving illustrator Lachlan Rattray, and another one’s on the back burner from Japan-born, Glasgow visual artist, Urara Tsuchiya.) They’re also creating visuals for live shows (with help from wonky experimental animator, Alex Tobin) then going on a mini-tour with Chvrches.
'Anneke gets more involved in the artwork and that side of things. She always ties the music together with it quite well - it was Anneke who made the covers for this album and the last. She hired some models for the body parts on the cover of On Floating Bodies. Maybe some of her body parts are on there too, you'd have to ask her really - but my arse is most definitely not on there.
I really like watching films, but otherwise, I don't dabble that much in other art forms. I'd say I'm fundamentally obsessed with music. Music's my only boyfriend really.'
Truly, their love of the wonkier end of pop may be about to conquer all.