As a Snack reader, it’s likely you have a favourite Scottish indie band: one you feel should have achieved fame, money and festival headline status around the world by now. Kid Canaveral still hold that position for many people, even though the band has come to be much loved and well-respected.
Now that principal songwriter David MacGregor is going solo under the moniker of Broken Chanter, we thought we’d catch up with him to discuss the album, desolate winters, and if it’s possible to remain hopeful in a hopeless time.
Broken Chanter – who and why?
In principle it’s just me. It’s a pseudonym to make solo music under, but with others. I recorded the record with some brilliant people I’ve met and admired for many years, and other people I’ve worked with for the first time.
Did you have a hit list of people you wanted to work with?
I did. I had played gigs with Audrey Tait in the past, and she filled in for Kid Canaveral at a festival in Norway. After that she was number one on my list to work with. With Gav, I’ve always admired him as a songwriter, so I approached him and asked if he wanted to work with me. There are two songs on the album that we wrote together.
Emma Kupa is one of my favourite songwriters, and I was really chuffed she came up from down south to work on the record. I’ve been mates with Hannah Shepherd for years, and I was keen to get her involved with her skills on the cello. Gal recorded the album and had worked on Kid Canaveralrecords in the past. I wanted to use him, as I trust his opinion and judgement completely. He’s an extremely talented engineer and musician, and he has got the best out of me in tight situations before.
All these people brought their own thing to the songs I had written, and helped shape them into something quite different from Kid Canaveral’s output. I set out to make something distinct from a Kid Canaveral record.
I hadn’t worked with Jill O’Sullivan before, but I was delighted when she agreed to play violin and add vocals. Her contributions really lift the songs she’s on. She does live shows with us as well, which has been good.
We came back from recording the first part of the record, and I decided to make things difficult for myself by writing a song, ‘Mionagadanan’, in Gaelic. I asked Kim Carnie to sing it, and she was very kind in saying yes to a complete stranger.
Are you a Gaelic Speaker?
I’m a student. My hectic lifestyle and making this record has put that on the backburner, but yes, I’m
Was there a freedom or added pressure in singing in a different language?
I felt pressure, as I didn’t want to disrespect anyone who was a fluent speaker. As someone who’s trying to learn, I wanted to write a contemporary piece of music with a Gaelic lyric, and treat it as the living language it is.
I got Kim and my sister-in-law to check my Gaelic for stupidity. The last thing I wanted anyone to think it was that it was just a novelty, or that I was using the language and culture as a bauble for the record.
How did Broken Chanter come about?
At the end of the last touring cycle with Kid Canaveral, Kate (Lazda, founding band member) wanted to take a break and do a couple of different things, so she encouraged me to work with different people. I had nothing, so I started writing in August 2017 and had a busy winter period trying to create an album’s worth of songs. I was going to start recording on the last day of January, whether I had songs or not.
If I didn’t have that time constraint, most of the songs wouldn’t exist, or would be very different.
How was the recording process?
Creative Scotland provided support for the record, so Gal, Audrey and I went to a remote part of Donegal and set up a studio.
It was the middle of winter. It was beautiful, but the weather was wild. However, the freedom I had in those 10-11 days was unparalleled. My only focus was to finish writing and record an album. It was one of the most satisfying creative periods of what I would flinchingly call my career.
I felt pressured, because you woke up, rolled downstairs and started recording straight away. However, the pressure evaporated thanks to the talented people I was working with. It went so well. The only instruction I gave Gal was that anything which sounds like Kid Canaveral, you need to shelve. This isn’t a Kid Canaveral record, and it’s not a continuation.
That’s exactly what David Holmes said to Noel Gallagher…don’t sound like Kid Canaveral! You must feel as though you need to do something different. Did you actively try new things?
Yes. Gaelic breakbeat was a way out of that! I wanted a real break, music-wise. It was also about making myself a better songwriter and musician, more fluid in electric and acoustic guitar, and more relaxed about writing songs. I wanted something more atmospheric, and not to sound like a wank, but I wanted to try different instrumentations and create sound textures. We had nights messing about with synthesisers through guitar effects pedals… I had to drag myself back from sounding like Dave Stewart post-Eurythmics.
We experimented with different layers and sounds; the album opens with a six-minute instrumental. That wasn’t to deliberately confound people, as I think it’s a great song deserving of its place on the album, but it was a conscious decision, to say ‘this isn’t a Kid Canaveral record.’
Did the surroundings seep into the record? Would it be a different record if you created it in Ibiza?
Oh aye, it would be a lot cheerier with all that sunshine! I wrote and recorded some demos in Ardnamurchan, and in a snow-bound cottage in Skye. The landscapes are stunning up there, in the few hours of sunlight you get, but it can sometimes feel desolate in winter. There is a brittleness to some parts of the record, but there’s also an openness which is influenced by the expansive surroundings in which it was recorded.
We went for ambience and then steered it back to more conventional songs, keeping that element of ambiance underneath it all. I didn’t want it to be self-indulgent; I still wanted to make pop music. It is a pop record, but gentler in places, and also more abrasive in places, than Kid Canaveral. It spans fair few genres.
I was trying to be more hopeful on this record. I tried to write a love song, like a hopeless sceptic trying to become a hopeless romantic. It’s not an entirely personal record; it is in part a reflection on the terrifying situations in which we find ourselves. A lot of the times you write stuff and you don’t know what it’s about. It’s only when you reflect that you realise what thread you were picking at.
I sent it to an old friend and she replied, ‘So you’re writing about getting older and existential worries?’ I didn’t think so, but I see why she thought that. I set out to make an optimistic record, but there is apprehension and reflections on ageing, seeing others around you becoming frail, alarm at the normalisation of hate in mainstream media and political discourse.
You’re playing Doune The Rabbit Hole – do you approach these festivals differently from your own show?
Aye. A few folk have a joke at my expense because I ramble a bit on stage, so I’ll cut that out for the festival show. The way I’ll approach that is to shut my gob and entertain people. It’s a full band show and we’ll kick the arse out of it.
Do you have a preference for solo guitar shows or full-band line-ups?
At the end of last year, and start of this year, I was doing some ‘hey, look at me, this is new’ gigs and that was just me on acoustic guitar and Jill on violin and vocals. They were really enjoyable and intimate; it could have exposed any frailties in the songs. But the reaction we got was great, and it gave us the confidence to head out with a full band. If you can strip a song to the bare bones and it works, it’s great.
I love the full band stuff though. Audrey is one of the best drummers going, and Gav is a fantastic guitarist. And when Jill’s violin is going through guitar pedals, with her vocals, it’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve really enjoyed it, and the added edge of live music has carried the songs to people who haven’t heard the music before.
The rhythm section has some force, so the songs will work at festivals. The songs may have been written in winter, but there’s a vibrancy to them that I think will work in any season.
Broken Chanter release their debut record in September on Last Night From Glasgow/Olive Grove
Records and will tour extensively this autumn.