> Interview: Cloth 'Secret Measure' and the inherent optimism in music-making - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview: Cloth ‘Secret Measure’ and the inherent optimism in music-making

In 2019, Cloth’s acclaimed self-titled debut album introduced listeners to the cool, intimate, and understated soundscapes created by twins Paul and Rachael Swinton. Their follow-up LP, Secret Measure, sees the Glasgow duo take a less insular approach, collaborating with producer Ali Chant in his Bristol studio and working with other musicians for a more organic and dynamic sound. SNACK caught up with Rachael and Paul ahead of the album’s release on 5th May to chat about putting faith in collaborators, expanding their instrumental palette, and the inherent optimism in music-making. 

This album was your first time working in a studio, as I understand it?

Rachael: Well, not really, actually. It was the first time working in Bristol with a producer called Ali Chant. Before, everything we’d done had been self-produced, so it was quite a cool experience to place our trust in someone else who shared our vision for something quite bold. 

Paul: Up until that point, we’d worked in studios before and we built our own studio during lockdown as well. We used a lot of time before we went into Ali’s studio in our own place, kind of mapping things out and stuff like that. But then it was probably the first time we’d been in a studio where there was an uninterrupted run of two weeks to work with Ali and get things together, so that was quite unique for us, and came with its own new, exciting pressures. 

What was it like working with other collaborators for the album and trying to communicate your artistic vision to them?

Rachael: Really fun! It’s not something we’d done before, we’d not opened our music up to any outside ideas when it came to parts. So we worked with Matt Brown [drummer] and we just got on with him really well. He’s super quick; he was able to interpret our ideas and our vision for things, but also fuse them with his own flair. He’s a jazz drummer so he was adding a lot of cool embellishments that really elevated [the music]. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, to be honest: let a session drummer let rip on the tracks, listen back and cherry-pick bits. The other player that we worked with was a musician called Jemima Coulter; they added trumpet to one song. We’d never had trumpet on a track before, so that was new. 

Paul: It’s quite unusual for our music to go anywhere near wind instruments but I feel like that is a fine example of what Rachael said about placing our trust in somebody else. It’s not something we would ever add but Ali was like, ‘I really hear a trumpet here,’ and then he was like, ‘I’ll call my pal Jemima,’ and they did a lovely part on it. 

When did you know ‘Pigeon’ was going to be your lead single?

Rachael: I’d say, in terms of how it sits within the album, it’s a little bit different in that it’s kind of a poppier song, so it made sense for us to choose that. It felt like it would be a fun one to come back with to announce an album because it feels uplifting, it’s a big track and just to get people excited about what’s to come … And then wrong-foot them with everything else that’s coming after it! 

Paul: I think there was a key moment in the studio where we’d arrived at an idea of what the drums would sound like and they were quite straight and on the line. And then Ali said he’d like to see the track being a lot more bouncy, so Matt put a drum beat down that was head-boppy and it made us sit up and be like, ‘Okay, this actually has quite cool, weird, alternative pop song potential.’ 

Which track on the album are you most excited for people to hear? 

Rachael: I think the title track. I’m proud of it because it feels really big. It’s more of a journey of a song rather than a condensed pop number, so I think it’s a good one to ease people into it. Also, there’s a track on the album called ‘Drips’, which I really love. I’m just really proud of it; it makes me cry in the chorus and that’s a really cool thing. It went through a transformation when Ali mixed it; he had a vision for it sounding a bit like a song by The Roches, in terms of lots of layered voices in the chorus, so I think we achieved that. 

You’ve obviously cultivated a very unique sound on this album as well as your last one, but are there any particular artists and inspirations you had in mind while working on it?

Paul: I think for me, the thing that we wanted to do differently with this record came more down to production. Like Rachael was saying, it’s the first time we’ve worked with a producer. We were really aware of the stuff he [Chant] had done with bands like Yard Act and Squirrel Flower. We listened to those records and we heard how big and vital they sounded, even right down to some of the tones and instrument choices that he’d use and the analogue synthesiser. 

Rachael: I’m always really careful when we’re actually writing. I’m just too scared of absorbing other things so I actually don’t listen to too much music.

Photo credit: Rosie Sco

Why did you decide the analogue synth was the sound you wanted for the album?

Paul: One of the cool things was when [Ali] came in with ideas for bass guitar for a few songs but he had this amazing old Moog thing, and he suggested hat we just track the bass as a synthesiser. It sounded so much more beefy, on ‘Never Know’ and a song called ‘Ladder’ as well. It just added this dimension in the low end that wasn’t there before, so that was really cool. Again, I think the choice to use all that gear was us consciously wanting to try new things, to see how they could elevate the tracks a wee bit more. 

You also play an instrument called the santoor. How did you come across that?

Rachael: That was a classic example of seeing something on the shelf and saying ‘Ali, what is this?’ and getting it down. It was more or less in tune, but he tuned it up a little bit  and then it was one of these fun moments where we didn’t really have a line in mind, it just came naturally and it was very quickly recorded. I was really glad that we got it down. 

Paul: It’s on a song called ‘Ambulance’ and that was quite unique for us, that song, because we wrote that in Bristol while we were recording. We’d never written a song in such a condensed period of time before; we tend to take our time to flesh out arrangements and structures and things like that. Rachael had this riff that we both really liked and we thought that it was too good an opportunity not to try and make something of it and use everything that we had at our disposal down there. 

Paul, you wrote all the lyrics for this album. What made you decide that it was just going to be your lyrics this time, rather than collaborating as you have done in the past?

Paul: It was quite a natural thing. I was kind of writing lyrics that revolved around similar themes that deal with the idea of trying to reassure yourself when things are tough in life and trying to be a little bit more self-sufficient. It ended up becoming a thematic thing that runs through the album. It was a nice thing to explore by myself, and Rachael was keen to let that develop. It’s always great coming to Rachael with lyrics and hearing her singing them and how she imparts her own meaning and delivery on them. A lot of the time we won’t actually discuss what the songs are about; Rachael won’t really ask me. But I think that’s quite cool in a way because you can impart your own meaning to things. 

There is a strong theme of reassurance on the album: on ‘Lido’ you sing, ‘Nothing’s so wrong that we can’t fix it.’ In this very uncertain, volatile world that we live in, what brings you comfort and hope?

Paul: Music does, for me. A lot of musicians are quite prone to optimism and hope, as much as the tortured artist thing is still an approach. When you read about artists writing lyrics, that’s the way they express hope. For people who are continuing to write music and make art in general, it feels like a celebration of life in itself. If there was nothing in life worth celebrating, people wouldn’t make art. So, in a way, that’s what gives me hope, because people continue to create all the time. 

Secret Measure is out 5th May via Rock Action Records, and Cloth are performing at TRNSMT Festival on 7th July

All photo credits: Rosie Sco

You May Also Like

Gig Review: Edinburgh International Festival 2022 – Herbie Hancock@ Edinburgh Playhouse, 7th August

A ground-breaking genius in many genres including funk, jazz, and ambient, Herbie Hancock is ...

Interview: Lynsey May on her debut novel Weak Teeth

Lynsey May has just celebrated the publication day of her debut novel, Weak Teeth.  ...