“I don’t want to just A-B-C it… I want to throw a D in there”
The cardinal sin of interviewing bands is asking them what they sound like, but as we’re cramped into a nook in the Curler’s Rest on Byres Road, I’m sort of forced to. As a nearby, raucous table of politics students yell words like “Colonialism” and “Systemic”, I’m embarrassed on two fronts: 1. That I’ve recommended the alt-pop brilliance of Cloth to so many people without being able to say “uh well they sound like…” and 2. I’ve agreed to meet them at peak, post-work hours, when the West End’s most self-righteous have finished up lectures and are nestling in to an evening of pints. It’s not that I loathe the students; not much anyway. I’m just regretful on the basis that I wish I could be one of them again, wide-eyed and zealous, and I’m equally remorseful as Cloth’s formidable twins Rachael and Paul agree on the inspiration of Cocteau Twins. Fuck, of course! Why hadn’t I thought of the Cocteau Twins?! Even then, though, that’s not the most helpful pathway into describing Cloth. I’ll attempt to do so now:
Cloth find addition by subtraction. They layer intricate, weaving guitar melodies beneath soaring, reverb-laden vocals, littered with cryptic, brilliant lyrics. The drums boom and crash, but with the steady-handed control of a sculptor. Live, they eschew bass, and in their craft, they reduce and reduce from a melodic starting point until their tracks become cerebral, skeletal whispers. They produce labyrinthine road maps, steering the listener off-course (0:35 into ‘Demo Love’ is the perfect example) into textured, off-road pop. It’s brilliantly sophisticated without wandering into the pointlessly baroque; tricky hits.
“Looking at every element of the song, and seeing how it can be tweaked…”, Paul (guitar, twin) offers. “I was watching Alan Partridge last night, the new one, and they mine every element for a sort of wee nugget of something you can focus in on… we really enjoy the process of song-writing, gaining a better understanding of what you’re doing. We’re setting ourselves a challenge where you don’t end up with some off-putting symphony of shite, something that’s a reflection of our ideals.”
Those ideals are formed from unlikely sources. If you can’t imagine Rachael and Paul as teenage metalheads, sourcing inspiration from bone-crushing riffs and spittle-flecked yells, then try, despite the inherent lack of pinch harmonics in Cloth’s music. The Cloth story also involves former outfit Café Disco, a more pop-punk indebted band who – yes – layered snaking guitar parts, but this time, it was over 4/4, sugar-high yearns. It’s a departure to say the least.
“We were gonna go down the Sleater-Kinney route. We started playing loud and gradually got more quiet”, Rachael (guitar, vocals, twin) explains.
It’s worked. Forming in 2016, Cloth spent two years refining and tweaking their sound, releasing the immaculate ‘Demo Love’ on YouTube in 2018. Its incredible dynamic shift serves as the perfect introduction to the trio, and works as a mission statement. Bass features prominently in the song’s intro, before exploding into blissful dual-guitar melodies and soft, reverby vocals. It’s – without hyperbole – one of the best songs to come out of Scotland in this decade. Just as impressively, ‘Tripp’ and ‘Old Bear’ followed, winning fans such as BBC 6music’s Tom Robinson and Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, as well as nods at the SAMAs, slots for BBC Introducing at Latitude and myriad slots in festivals around the UK. This was followed by a record deal with emerging Scottish label Last Night From Glasgow, who have a habit of snaring quality bands.
“it’s happened very organically. We just dumped our first song on YouTube, and we didn’t have any connections. We played the Glasgow circuit and were familiar with venues and some promoters but we didn’t have a game plan”, Rachael explains. “We’re sensitive to social media. I’m of the opinion that if you don’t put too much out and it looks pretty, you’ll have a ripple effect.”
Making your first set of recordings in the legendary Chem19 always helps, too. Working with Derek O’Neill of King Creosote, Cloth went from rudimentary DIY recordings to using Scotland’s most historic studio spaces.
“It took a bit of getting used to, being that the first two years, we were recording in our bedrooms”, Paul offers.
“We had no time constraints, so to speak”, Rachael adds. There’s a clear freedom in the songs Cloth already have out; much like Mogwai’s oeuvre, natural reverb and space echo through ‘Old Bear’ and ‘Tripp’.
What’s instantly noticeable about Paul and Rachael Swinton is how likeable they are. It’s hard not to root for a band that have paid their dues in local scenes and are in awe at their own fortunes. There’s an unerring humility and passion to how they talk about music. It’s apparent how laser-focused they are as songwriters but our conversation is scattered with words like “grateful” and “novelty”. As we cover a 3-date run with Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert, the twins talk delightedly about sound engineers who allow for proper soundchecks and playing to warm, appreciative crowds. There’s not an ounce of entitlement or pretension; the short tour seems like it’s galvanised the instincts of a band who are attentive and eager to take every experience together as an opportunity to learn something.
By the end of my time with Cloth, I’m less embarrassed to have asked such a basic opening question, because honestly, while there are reference points you can use to cover the scope of where their sound belongs, it’s not like anything else in Scotland right now. This is a band who bond metal (“only the good stuff” – Paul), pop-punk, post-rock and – most importantly – pop influences to create something that doesn’t sound anything like any of those things. Cloth’s is bold, inventive music, and their LP is a tantalising prospect.