When I first attempt to speak to Rachel Aggs, one half of the effervescent Sacred Paws, I’m on a train from London to Glasgow. The line was crackly and I went through three tunnels in quick succession, each break-up happening straight after saying ‘hey’.
I’m talking about the boring logistics of my travel because it’s what Rachel and Eilidh did for six years. Whilst I struggled to hold a conversation, they managed to make an album while separated between the two cities. I think that puts things into perspective.
Their debut album, Strike A Match, was recorded whilst Rachel lived in South London and Eilidh lived in Glasgow. “I mean, it was always a bit silly, but we managed” Rachel tells me. They did more than manage, they won the 2017 Scottish Album of the Year award for it, no small feat when up against releases by the likes of Mogwai, Meursault and C Duncan.
Rachel has since made the big move, a year past, to settle in Glasgow. “I had come to the natural end of wanting to be in London; I was ready” she tells me. “Eilidh didn’t like it as much and I felt bad making her visit. I really love London, but it can be such a hard place to live.”
And so, how does Glasgow compare?
“I’ve never really lived in close proximity to people I know. I think that’s different. Also I just think the way the music scene or community works is really unique in that you just bump into people, be it a member of Belle & Sebastian or Stuart [Braithwaite, from Mogwai]. No one has an air or something, it’s just really normal.
“It feels kinda effortless, in Glasgow. People can be really modest and self-deprecating but they still get loads done, somehow, and I think that’s really great.”
You can definitely count Sacred Paws amongst the ranks of people getting things done. Their follow up album, Run Around the Sun was released on May 31st via Mogwai’s Rock Action to solid critical acclaim. And, fundamentally, it was made on more stable ground than its predecessor.
“It was much better to not be sleeping on floors or being stressed out”, Rachel tells me when I ask if stability changed the sound. “It was more relaxed, getting up in the mornings and going to work. There were a few songs I could work on more, back at home. In London I didn’t have that – there was hardly any space.”
It’s probably reductive of me to argue that the closing of physical distance was the only influential factor on the album. Yes, moving away from the musically-nomadic life has to have had a huge impact, but so did the place that they have settled in. Eilidh has been entrenched in the Glasgow music scene for years, working in Monorail.
“I don’t think its unique – every city has it’s community, and musicians have a way of making a community for themselves” Rachel explains. “I do think there is something about Glasgow, though, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. The independent record scene helps, but I think it’s more the attitude of musicians who live here. They are very together.”
Winning the SAY award helped, too.
“We definitely felt more confident in the studio. We felt like we knew what we were doing, and we sonically had ideas about different parts of songs before we went into the studio. It felt like, what could we do with the songs to make them more exciting?”
‘The Conversation’ opens the album and, fittingly, sounds the dialogue between Rachel and Eilidh, which for many years had been punctuated by train lines going between two major music cities.
“We get shy talking about what things are about, and we sing over the top of each other to see what comes out of it”, Rachel tells me. “Sometimes it’s poetic. It’s two voices, a conversation. It’s also two people having parallel experiences, but that’s life. We communicate in music.”
The connection between Rachel and Eilidh seems a strong and impenetrable thing, and I think this is one of the most endearing things about Sacred Paws. Beneath the Tropicana vibes, the jutting guitars and drums; it sounds like two women making their voices and experiences heard in an industry that hasn’t always had the time or inclination to listen to women. It’s really quite something.
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