Preview 2008 - Sons & Daughters
Clear & present danger
If there’s one Scottish band ready to blow up big time in 2008, it’s Sons and Daughters. Camilla Pia talks to them about conflict, culture and pop potential
These days all it takes is a snappy debut, flashy photo-shoots and a healthy number of online ‘friends’ for a band to think they have it sussed. Because there are so many of them around, acts are promptly and callously dropped if they don’t make their mark within the first few months of existence. As a result it is easy to forget that the truly great ones develop slowly over time, and you won’t find a better reminder of this than in the latest remarkable incarnation of Sons and Daughters.
We greet the Glasgow-based quartet in different stages of undress as they prepare to storm the stage of London’s Islington Academy. There is a problem with their tour manager’s phone which means we endure 20 minutes of pelting rain, stuck outside the venue, until warm and wiry drummer David Gow spots us and saves the day. He leads the way through winding corridors to the modestly decorated dressing room deep in the bowels of the venue, where we find guitarist/vocalist Scott Paterson and bassist Ailidh Lennon. Lennon, all in black, is applying the finishing touches to her immaculate make-up while Paterson and Gow wait, both ready to go; the sticks-man looking dapper in red braces, drainpipes and a neat grey trilby hat and the singer donning an eye-catching combination of rockabilly quiff, dotted shirt, skinny jeans and scuffed leather jacket. After a few minutes, frontwoman Adele Bethel rushes into the room, ‘Sorry I’m late,’ she apologises, flashing that famously cheeky grin with huge rollers in her hair and eyes twinkling with sparkly gold glitter and thickly-applied kohl.
Sons and Daughters look self-assured and stylish even in this half-readied state.
The band’s third album, This Gift, is out this month, and although both Love the Cup and The Repulsion Box were pioneering in their addictive blend of folk-tinged, lusty blues punk, this new work pushes the Glasgow-based quartet to completely new and exhilarating heights. Written during the summer of 2006 while they were holed up in a house in the village of Adfern in Argyll and produced by Bernard Butler, it finds the band really delving into their love of 1960s girl group stomp and harmonies, Marr-ish guitars and soaring pop melodies and mixing it with their trademark, ragged, dark riff attacks and poetic lyrics to magnificent effect. In short, if ever there was an album to break them into the big league this is it.
‘Making the new album was very hard,’ explains Bethel. ‘Obviously we are a close knit bunch and we had spent the summer in this beautiful location, playing boardgames and writing loads of songs that we were really proud of, and then we met Bernard, played him what we thought was our strongest stuff and he was really harsh. To have someone else come in with such strong opinions was quite shocking at first. He was like a strict teacher at school that knew you had a lot of potential but thought you were wasting it,’ she chuckles.
So the atmosphere in the studio must have been quite tense at times? ‘Yeah,’ says Paterson, blue eyes glinting. ‘He could be really stubborn and cutting and was quite vicious at times. A lot of it was psychological, to make you angry so you’d really go for it.’
Bethel adds: ‘I’d be in the vocal booth and he’d say “I want you to make up four completely different harmonies over the top of the chorus, now go” and press record. He really likes putting you on the spot and it was pretty severe. We’d come back to the studio after lunch every day wondering if Bernard and Scott were speaking to each other …’
These harsh methods have clearly paid off, however, as one listen to the new material proves. Most excitingly, however, is the sound of musicians fearlessly experimenting with new techniques and in the process truly finding their form. Butler has brought out completely different dimensions to Sons and Daughters and showcased an ability and style the band themselves didn’t even know they had, let alone dare use.
Paterson, who later admits to being such a fan of the ex-Suede guitarist that he had an Athena poster of him on his wall as a teenager, much to the amusement of the rest of the band, explains, ‘We had got to this point where we were almost in a corner with the way we were playing and Bernard completely obliterated that. Now we feel free to do whatever we like.’
Bethel agrees: ‘When we first met him he told us that the one thing he would give us was confidence, and he definitely did that.’
Perhaps the most significant change to the Sons and Daughters sound is in Bethel’s vocals, which have gone from deep and conversational (a leftover from her time in Arab Strap) to sweet, soaring and infinitely more powerful than ever before. Her voice is the lynchpin of This Gift around which driving rhythms, roaring guitar effects and dancing basslines are intricately weaved, and the four-piece admit that the decision to do this was entirely down to Butler. ‘He told us that if we moved the key of everything up a couple of tones, Adele would hit a register that would suit the higher parts of her voice better,’ says Gow, ‘and it has really brought her vocals out. In fact I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.’
Bethel adds, ‘It has given me so much confidence, but it was hard. The first time Bernard made me sing “House in My Head” that high I almost vomited.’ ‘That’s why it’s the set closer when we play live,’ Paterson giggles, ‘just in case of any accidents.’
Another striking development for the band has come from Bethel’s different approach to lyric writing this time around. In the past, Sons and Daughters’ main wordsmith wrote from a very personal standpoint, whereas This Gift contains more references to classic cinema and literature (films such as Cathy Come Home, Billy Liar, Darling and works by Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Emily Dickinson all provided inspiration). ‘The album is about a real dislike for contemporary culture and media,’ Bethel explains. ‘That’s why there is a lot of romanticism of the 1960s in it and of the cinema and poetry of that time. I hate culture at the moment,’ she spits. ‘I hate Big Brother and all the reality TV shows that are around. They’re like a guilty pleasure, I watch them and end up feeling totally repulsed with myself,’ she says.
Sons and Daughters are, however, quick to point out that they are not part of the mainstream-shy, ‘indier than thou’ set. ‘We’d love it if our music started bothering the charts and we were competing with the Sugababes,’ chuckles Bethel. ‘Why not? The Smiths had hits. Ultimately, though, what we really want is to make loads of albums and make a career out of this.’ ‘And to not get shit,’ Paterson adds. On the strength of their current form, you have to doubt that they could.
This Gift is out Mon 28 Jan on Domino.