PHOTO CREDIT: Gordon Couling
AS I jettison and embargo certain types of interviews…
it is great to receive a rare one to the inbox – not accepting interviews where an artist has very few photos, I mean. Couling Brothers, in a sense, are one of the last acts who I take in whose online portfolio is not as stocked and illustrative as many – there is a slight aversion and distance from social media. I talk to Toby and Ollie about their musical bond and their upbringing; what stories and explorations go into their songs.
They split their time – and bodies, a lot of time – between the U.K. and Australia so I was eager to learn whether there will be any tour dates; insight into their fantastic album, // REDDA //, and the musicians/albums that have inspired them to write their own material – and the other musicians that help give // REDDA // its candour, personality and wealth.
ALL PHOTOS (EXCEPT WHERE LISTED): Ollie Couling
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
What’s up, Sam.
Very good, thanks, mate.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Ollie: Hi. We are Ollie and Toby - Couling Brothers.
Toby: Sons of the same mum and dad; brothers and best mates: currently living in London, England and Melbourne, Australia.
How did the decision come together to form Couling Brothers? Was there a moment when a song sparked something or was it a more gradual process?
O: As brothers; our partnership formed thirty-two years ago - when we first met.
We have always been extremely close and into the same things - so this project was (just) a good excuse to join forces.
T: It probably started after a recording session at The Fold Studios - where we used to work and live. I used to have my drums set pretty much full-time, so, after recording sessions for other bands, using the studio, we used to just hit record and jam.
On one of these nights; we came up with the piece of music for Sad Night - we both went completely mad until very late that night/morning trying to work out these crazy timings – but, what appears on the album, is basically unchanged from that jam.
I guess it was, at that point, I knew we would have to have that on a record - along with some other ideas that had been brewing for a while.
O: The reason for (actually) getting in the studio and doing it was a slightly more practical one. I had a long-running injury to my wrist and needed surgery, so, before my operation, we decided to book a week at a studio. We really wanted to work with Owain Jenkins at StudiOwz; so we just went for it with very little agenda and a few pretty sketchy ideas.
That week produced 90% of the tracks on the album – plus, a few more that didn’t make the cut. However, it took over a year before we went back to record the vocals. The break did work out nicely, though, as the final track - Dear My Home - was written in that period and has turned out to be a special song - that really completes the album and puts a massive full-stop at the end.
Can you remember those early days and the kind of music you were playing?
Yes; very much.
We come from a very musical family. Our mum is an incredible pianist and we both learnt a lot about music from just listening to her play - and absorbing her sound and use of harmony. Later on, in our late-teens-to-early-twenties; we both played in a band together called 8Fold - for a bunch of amazing years. It was a great time of discovery in which we all lived and breathed music.
Toby and I used to jam together in our basement almost every day - and I think a lot of the core ideas that appear on the album was a result of this time experimenting. We used to love just locking in on a groove together and could do that for hours.
// REDDA // is your new album. Can you talk to me about the title and the kind of themes you address within?
We went to Iceland in June last year and saw the word ‘// REDDA //’ printed in a magazine. We didn’t know the meaning of the word at the time but I think Toby just liked the look of it.
T: I looked up the meaning and it translates to something like ‘to fix’ or ‘to work through a problem’. It fit the concept of the album, so it kind of stuck.
O: The theme of the album is about the transition from your late-twenties into your thirties.
It has a lot to do with the claustrophobia of living in London and wanting to get out, basically - but always getting sucked back in.
Listening to the music; you observe real life and mix the spectacular with mundane. How much of your day-to-day experiences go into the songs?
This was literally the soundtrack in my head.
T: I think as perceptive, creative-thinking and empathetic people; we can’t help but pick up and absorb life, in both its mad and mundane ways.
Ollie and I know each other on such a deep level, too - and the music is a parallel symmetry of both of our minds.
Talk to me about the track, Stripes on the Table. It is a song that intrigues me. Is there a story behind that?
O: Yes. There is story behind all of the songs.
Stripes' is based on how a quite a long and complicated event unfolded. I was in business with a very good friend for about five years, but, when I decided I needed to move on; working things out got very complicated between us - and our friendship was massively tested, as a result. The song is about how difficult I found it afterward: trying to start out again on my own when up to that point I had only done music. I didn’t have any academic qualifications to my name and felt really unemployable - so it’s about freaking out about that.
I think that it must be something that a lot of people who make a commitment to art or music go through at some stage. Having gone through it - and come out the other end - it made me realise that the skills you learn as a ‘creative person’ are so valuable - and far more practical that what you learn at university (I went to uni. afterwards).
I wish this kind of stuff is better recognised in society.
Toby and Ollie. You wrote the songs but there are one or two musicians who appear on the album. Was it quite a smooth recording process and how did you come to meet the other musicians that feature on // REDDA //?
T: We were always sure of who we wanted to play on the record and what instruments they would work with.
Rob Lamont played most bass parts as he just understands our brotherly rhythmic flow - and just makes things feel great. He also played some great keys parts – especially on Life Without a Hat. Matt Park is such a talented musician who oozes emotion and compliments our music perfectly with his pedal steel-playing. We knew his sound and performance would feature heavily on quite a few tracks – one, in particular, being Dear My Home.
Our mum is a huge inspiration for us both; so we were extremely happy when she came to come visit us in Wales to record on the last studio session. Will Rixon has been on the scene in London even before I moved here so we were super-chuffed to have him shred some trumpet on Sad Night. Thom Sinnet was chilling at the studio in Wales when we needed bass on Life Without a Hat - so he stepped up and completely nailed what we had in mind for the bass part.
Owain Fleetwood recording the songs. What was it like working with him?
He is an absolute badass!
He is a good friend, a very skilled engineer and knows all his equipment, instruments and studio like the back of his hand. He understood what we were looking for and always helped us get something sounding how we imagined or better.
O: We must also mention Matt Wiggins - who mixed the entire record. He did such a great job taking the music and lifting the mixes to a higher place.
Is there going to be a video or single-release soon? What are your plans for the album and its promotion?
There are no plans to make a video or to release a single: it was never like that. We would love to do some live shows at some point with all the guys who played on the record - but that’s going to have to wait until I get back from Australia.
Hopefully, we can work something out for spring/summer 2018!
T: We both (just) wanted to make an album for us, really.
It was a perfect way to spend time together with a focus. Looking back now, it almost feels like it was some sort of audio-therapy.
O: As far as promotion goes: we would love to try and get a bit of radio-play in the U.K. and Australia.
There is an awesome radio station out in Melbourne called PBS - that is really good at supporting new music and giving unsigned artists, airplay. It’s a community-funded station with volunteer D.J.s, so they have an amazing range of genres. There are a few D.J.s who have shown some interest in playing some of the tracks off // REDDA // so, hopefully, we might be able to get a little buzz going in Melbourne. Maybe, we could even convince all the guys who played on the record to fly out to play some shows over there…that would be insane!
You can listen to PBS online at www.pbsfm.org.au. I, literally, can’t rate it highly enough!
There is no Facebook or Twitter account for the Couling Brothers. What was the reasoning behind that decision and do you worry it threatens a sense of anonymity?
For now, we have decided to stay off social media… leave Facebook alone for cat-lovers and Twitter for Donald Trump.
T: I think we are both happy that it is on BandCamp – which, we believe, has a better sound-quality than most other online music platforms. Like you mentioned in a previous question, we “observe real life” - so that’s what we’ll keep doing with this project for now.
Toby. You are a drummer and producer. Kevin Spacey has praised your playing. What is it like getting praise from him? How did you first come to bond with the drums?
That was a surreal and funny experience. I was playing at Ronnie Scott’s with Tony Allen, Speech Debelle and Roots Manuava one evening. After the show, I was packing my drum kit down, when I noticed a pair of shoes turn up in my peripheral vision. I looked up and it was Kevin Spacey!
I was quite overwhelmed to see a face I knew so well in front of me. He introduced himself and then said some nice comments about my playing style. I led him to meet the other guys backstage and we all had a nice post-show hang.
I think, rather than drums specifically, I think rhythm has always been important to me. I have always felt rhythm in all things and when I had the opportunity to learn the drums (age eight), I jumped at the chance. It gave me a new voice and understanding in life. I have spent a lot of my drumming career in recording studios, so, have picked up lots of things and learnt and observed a lot about the techniques - emotion, social structure and nature of a studio situation.
I am involved with many projects as a drummer/producer and feel that all that experience gave me a great platform and understanding of how to approach the album. Ollie is gifted with a large knowledge of production and engineering too – so, we feel as a team we have a good balance and knowledge base to create new music.
What is coming up for Couling Brothers? Any tour dates approaching?
O: Toby is coming over in January 2018 and we are going to do some walking in New Zealand. That’s the next thing in the calendar for Couling Brothers.
T When the time is right to play live; we’ll play our hearts out. It will happen!
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
O: At the moment, I’m really into a Melbourne-based artist called D.D Dumbo.
I’ve listened to his album every day for about two weeks straight, now. Check out his album, Utopia Defeated.
T: (I also absolutely dig D.D Dumbo).
A band called Tweed & Hyenas released an album called Yates quite recently - which is wicked!
(Also, the recent Bon Iver album, 22, A Million).
If you each had to select the album that means the most to you; which would it be and why?
That is a hard question…
I think the band that gave us both the inspiration to pursue music when we were young was probably a band called Reef. Their first album, Replenish, is amazing - and will always be amazing!
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
O: Just be yourselves…
T: Yea…be yourselves, bold and trust your instincts.
Collaborate with people and practice hard at the beginning, middle and the end.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
O: Pleasure – Universal
T: Tweed & Hyenas – Norðasta Horn
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