PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel McMahon
Cable Street Collective
I love it when an artist puts their everything…
into an interview! Cable Street Collective give me an authoritative and comprehensive look into their world and past; where they plan on heading – I discover the story behind their latest song, Wonderland.
The band talks to me about their upcoming (out on 4th May) E.P., Where Now from Here?, and how they have changed since their inception; the sort of music the members all enjoy; why African sounds are so important; what the choice memories from their careers are – they end the interview with some cracking song selections!
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?!
Great! We just finished shooting the music video for the second single off the upcoming E.P., So We Go (song). It involved having industrial-strength leaf-blowers fired at our faces, so that they get all distorted and pulled out of shape - and filming the results in slow motion.
Watching your cheeks ripple in the wind at 240-frames-per-second is quite a surreal experience...
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?
We’re a London-based Indie band who plays upbeat music with a strong African influence. Tristan (Guitar, Keys) spent his childhood in Swaziland and Malawi and Aaron (Bass) is the son of Greg Kofi Brown - who played bass for the legendary Afrobeat band, Osibisa. So; they both grew up surrounded by those sounds. The rest of the band are big fans of Congolese Soukous and African music more generally; so, that’s one of the biggest influences that creep in when we write.
What can you reveal about Wonderland? What is the song all about?
The song is about relationships and how they can make you feel like you’ve lost control of yourself or your emotions. Not just during that initial honeymoon period but, also, after the relationship fails - when the dream turns nightmarish. It’s quite a bouncy, upbeat tune but Fiona’s lyrics are actually pretty sad; channelling that weary resignation you feel looking back after it’s over.
It is from your upcoming E.P., Where Now from Here? Have the songs – that will appear on the E.P. – been in your minds for a while? Are there common themes that link the songs?
We were playing a version of one of them, Anyway, as early as 2015 but the version we now play sounds quite different. The others are all more recent. They were written between the end of 2016 and last August, when we started recording them. They weren’t necessarily written to be a collection of songs but, when we listened back to them all together, we realised there are definitely common themes.
They deal with the stresses of modern life, the pressures that come with getting older and the ways in which people deal with the increasing realisation that the world isn’t as shiny and wonderful as it might once have seemed.
Despite the fact that the music is generally pretty upbeat, the lyrics touch on some pretty dark topics - emotional breakdowns, the ways in which people self-medicate and the strains that social media puts on people and relationships…
Hence the title, Where Now from Here?
PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel McMahon
How do you think you have grown and developed since your debut E.P.?
Despite the last answer, we’re not actually old and embittered. Haha. We’d like to think our songwriting has matured, though, and our sound has definitely evolved. The first E.P. was recorded with live drums and more live instruments generally.
Where Now from Here? features programmed beats (admittedly, augmented with live percussion) and far more synths. This is partly as a result of line-up changes, but also, as a result of changing tastes. We were listening to stuff like Sinkane, Rostam Batmanglij and William Onyeabor when recording this - and some of that definitely snuck into the songwriting.
When did Cable Street Collective come together? Did you all have that instant spark when you met?
Ash and Tristan went to secondary-school together and first started making music there (although ‘making music’ is, perhaps, generous - there were some pretty terrible Punk-Rock covers). They met Fiona at university and the three of them used to play open mics – although, she didn’t join the band until later, after a stint living in Australia.
The first iteration of Cable Street Collective featured Tristan’s brother on bass (who helped push the African sounds they had grown up with) and a different vocalist. But, when Fi moved back to the U.K., it was obvious that we’d ask her to join.
Dan Cat (responsible for the drum programming) was a long-standing friend who’d actually produced our first demos. He, Sam and Aaron (both friends-of-friends who we’d met through open mic nights) all came on board in 2016 when we decided to change-up the sound after the departure of our drummer and bassist.
I know your numbers have increased since the start. Why did you decide to expand the ranks?!
We had previously played as a six-piece - but, with live drums rather than electronic beats. The line-up changes were because of changing priorities, really - the bassist and drummer, who we’re still very good mates with, weren’t as up for it as they once were.
Rather than try and replace them in a straight swap; we saw it as an opportunity to switch things up a bit sonically and experiment with new ways of making and playing music.
Do you share musical tastes? Which artists have inspired the music you make?
There are, obviously, a lot of shared musical reference points but everyone has their own influences that they bring to the mix as well. We definitely don’t agree on everything all of the time and sometimes we definitely disagree. Haha.
I guess, inspirations we share, are things like a love of 1970s and 1980s Soukous guitar (Diblo Diabala, who played with Kanda Bongo Man and Loketo, in particular), bands like The Very Best (a Malawian-Swedish duo) and artists like Songhoy Blues and Mbongwana Star.
Then there are points where we differ a bit. Fi’s into Funk and Soul; Sam (who grew up on Shetland and played the fiddle as a kid) likes Celtic Trad-Folk, Ash is a far too into Radiohead; Tristan loves Rancid (who, Ash thinks are rubbish); Dan Cat mixes questionable Disco and Aaron loves Metal and Post-Rock. That’s not to say any of those are bad things but, yeah; we all enjoy an impassioned discussion of different artists’ musical merits.
Thankfully, when we disagree, it never gets too heated.
How important is African music to the band? Do you take a lot of guidance from the sounds of Africa?!
It’s definitely a touchstone and an influence we all share. But, as much as we borrow sounds from that part of the world (the tinkly guitars, an emphasis on rhythm; driving basslines and the love of beats and percussion); we’re still an Indie band channelling those influences into western-style songs. We are (we’d like to think) far too aware of the inappropriateness of cultural appropriation to ever claim to be something that we’re not.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
We’ll be doing a big E.P. launch-show in London on 18th May, followed by a couple of shows in Sheffield and Leeds - details of which are on our website. We’ll, then, be hitting the festival circuit again this summer. So, yes; we hope to see you in a sunny field or a sweaty venue very soon!
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
This release is our main focus for now...
Beyond that, we’d love to spend some time writing new music and just jamming the ideas that have been kicking around, half-formed, for the past few months while we’ve focused on this.
Have you each got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Tristan: There’s loads...but one of my favourites was turning up to this little festival in East Anglia, only to find the backline didn’t include a drum kit. It was a proper hippy-fest; the kind where half the campsite is vans, everyone has a dog on a rope - and the Psytrance Stage and the Main Stage were the same thing...
The sound-man told us to go out the back of the stage, knock on a caravan door and ask for a ‘Dr. Damage’ who, apparently, had a home-made kit he could lend us. Turns out the drums weren’t up to much - but he did have a flask of mushroom tea which he insisted we partake in...
Fiona: It’s either Dave, our old drummer, realising about five minutes before our first set at Secret Garden Party that he’d left his cymbal case propping open a door in London, or me realising about thirty minutes before another set at S.G.P. that we’d left all my gig outfits in Ash’s flat. In both cases, so many people helped out; arriving mid-gig with a borrowed cymbal stand, or piling into my tent with all their festival gear and dressing me far better than I could dress myself!
Ash: We have had some belting gigs at Secret Garden Party. Arguably, my favourite was on an incredibly wet weekend a few years ago. The whole festival was a total mud bath and our bassist (at the time) was on crutches, so dropped out of the gig. Our mate, Alex, was playing a kind of multi-instrumentalist vibe for us at the time, but happens to be more than a little handy on the bass. So, the show went on! We had to practice the songs in half an hour backstage - and on we went.
It was heaving down with rain outside and the Rhumba Rum Bar was packed to the rafters. The place went off and everyone was having a blast. To cap it all off, a guy who had played trumpet with us a couple of times previously turned up (off his bonce I might add) and jammed a track.
There was a kind of spontaneity to the thing. From the ashes of adversity grew one of my favourite-ever gigs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel McMahon
Dan Cat: While I was touring in the Cheshire Catz D.J. duo, we were flown to Avignon in France to play in club carved out of the bottom of a quarry called ‘Le Prive’; which is where Daft Punk first played outside of Paris. A truly humbling experience. After rocking the club, feeling like superstars and storming the decks at the after-party; we were kicked off after fifteen minutes for playing minimal Techno. The after-party crowd wanted Disco. We would have gotten away with if a journalist from DJ Mag hadn’t been with us covering the tour.
Sam: Playing the Royal Concert Hall with Nordic Tone in 2010 was very special. It was a big group project spread across five countries and the near-impossible logistics of getting us all together meant that we knew it would probably be our last gig. It felt as though we really rose to the occasion on the night - and a five-star review in the Scotsman was the perfect end to the story.
Aaron: I’ve got a couple: both relating to Osibisa, actually. As a kid in the early-nineties, I was playing percussion on-stage with Osibisa at an event that that was live on T.V. and Pat Cash (the tennis player) joined in on guitar. Then, later in that decade, Finlay Quaye became good mates with the band. I was always the little kid he'd kick the ball around with. Then, many moons later, he called me up to come play guitar for him.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
I’m not sure we’re really in the position to be doling out advice to anyone but I guess, if there’s one thing we’d suggest, it’s to make sure you’re doing it because you enjoy it – ‘it’, being writing, playing live; even the promotional stuff that goes with being in a band. Unless you’re a massive act, the financial rewards aren’t great; so, it’s all about making the experience its own reward.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Too many to mention really, but there’s one band we’ve played alongside since fairly early days that we reckon are always worth checking out, especially live. They’re called Tankus the Henge and they sound very different to us - but they’re great craic. If you ever see them on a festival bill, go watch them. You won’t regret it.
Do you all get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Oh, yep. Aside from Aaron, who’s written for Big Narstie and played with Finlay Quaye and Rita Ora (and a whole bunch of others); none of us are full-time musicians. Ash and Dan both work in tech; Fi is an English tutor (who’s also just co-written her first play - one of the Evening Standard’s ‘must-see shows’ at VAULT Festival no less!); Sam plays in a couple of other originals bands and tutors undergraduate maths and physics on the side (as well as being a s*it-hot percussionist, he’s also a Cambridge-educated astrophysicist!) and Tristan is a journalist at Vice Media.
The good thing about working other jobs is it removes a bit of financial pressure from the band. It also means that, while we work hard at it, music and making it is part of unwinding for all of us. If this turned into a full-time job, I guess we’d probably have to turn to astrophysics, tech; play-writing and journalism to unwind? Haha.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Tristan: I’m loving Rostam’s Bike Dream at the minute. I love the way he’s taken a really poppy melody and subverted it with jarringly loud drums, wonky production and a weird vocal effect.
Ash: My jam of the week has been Sorceress by Jordan Rakei - my favourite album of 2017 and a tune I recently came back to!
Fiona: I still have Hey Now (When I Give You All My Lovin’) by Romare on-repeat. I love it when the brass kicks in.
Dan Cat: I’m digging Soft Hair’s A Goood Sign at the moment - and I found Soft Hair via LA Priest. LA Priest is the Prince of Electronica.
Sam: I Asked by Snarky Puppy (feat. Becca Stevens & Väsen). It’s a live collaboration between three of my all-time favourite acts: Becca Stevens’ unmistakable vocal is perfectly framed by Michael League’s incredible arrangement and touches of otherworldly class from Swedish Folk kings Väsen; culminating with André Ferrari’s towering percussion breakdown over a fifteen-beat cycle.
Aaron: I’ve been listening to Express My Mind by Sharna Bass a lot.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel McMahon