Encouraged to trumpet the undeniable awesomeness of The Gift by Sons & Daughters, singer-guitarist Scott Paterson instead steers the conversation toward an unlikely inspiration.
“My favourite bands are the ones that always kind of progress and keep you on your toes,” the upbeat Glaswegian says, on the line from his hometown, where he’s headed to the pub. “In modern music, I love that whenever you get a Queens of the Stone Age record, it sounds like Queens of the Stone Age, but that they’re always doing something a little different, pushing things a little more, and being experimental. That excites me. It’s much better than getting a record and going ”˜Yeah—that’s exactly what I expected.’ ”
So even though QOTSA gets filed under stoner rock, and Sons & Daughters formerly trafficked in a Tartan-spiked brand of boilermaker Americana, the two acts have something in common. In the tradition of Queens albums like Era Vulgaris, The Gift finds Paterson, singer-guitarist Adele Bethel, bassist Ailidh Lennon, and drummer David Gow giving their fans something that’s decidedly different from past offerings.
Both the band’s debut, Love the Cup (2003), and its follow-up The Repulsion Box (2005) mixed hard-charging antifolk with traces of pine-splintered country. (That would be, of course, Scots pine, as opposed to the Appalachian variety.) Produced (and, by all accounts, radically reimagined) by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, The Gift walks a whole different line. The band rockets out of the gates with the high-tension rocker “Gilt Complex”, where the guitars are all 220-volt hum one second, surf-wipeout slashing the next. “The Nest” cross-pollinates the gloom of the Jesus and Mary Chain with the go-go-girls spirit of ABC’s Shindig!, “Darling” sounds like a menacingly peppy Raincoats/Supremes mashup, and “Chains” is chugging country-noir streaked with postpunked garage rawk. So while the members of Sons & Daughters clearly still have mad respect for Johnny Cash, they’ve made it crystal clear their record collections don’t stop with the Man in Black and his immediate disciples.
In + out
Scott Paterson sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.
On taking things slowly: “One of the big reasons this record sounds so different from the others is that we had a lot more time to spend on it. Love the Cup was recorded in three days—we had no money to spend on it and did everything by the seat of our pants. The second record was two weeks, which was quick as well. For this one we did nine weeks over six months, which really gave us time to think about things.”
On retreating to the countryside to write This Gift : “When we were in Glasgow, it was, at that point, very depressing and dark. I guess that can have an effect on the music. When we went to the countryside it got all sunny, and I think that added a little sparkle to the songs.”
On the beauty of home: “I’m lucky, because there are few places in the U.K. better for music than Glasgow. Sure, Edinburgh is prettier, but I think if you were to live there it would do your head in because it’s so touristy. Here, you can go see a band every night and it’s easy to be a musician.”
“Bernard is really into the same kind of pop music we are,” Paterson says. “Like the ’70s glam stuff, the girl-group stuff, Phil Spector, Blondie, and things like that. He really brought all that out on this record.”
As effortless—not to mention drum-tight—as the album sounds, Sons & Daughters didn’t give birth to The Gift without a struggle.
“We were writing in Glasgow for a good couple of months,” Paterson reveals, “and everything that we were coming up with sounded like our first two records. We knew that we didn’t want that—we wanted something different. We were a bit exasperated, so we figured, ”˜Let’s get out of Glasgow. We’ll hire a house in the country and we’ll go write there.’ So we got this farmhouse in a place called Adfern.
“We took all our gear up—Pro Tools and recording equipment,” he continues. “We were there for weeks and weeks, and it was like we were able to completely let go. It was a new atmosphere—there was nothing else around, no TV or radio or other distractions. We played for fun. And out of that came most of the songs on the record. It was cool—in our heads we wanted to be Dylan and the Band.”
Sons & Daughters came up with something considerably edgier than that. What immediately jumps out on The Gift is the way that it practically rattles and hums with lead-foot drums, fuzz-bombed bass, and distortion-blizzard guitar heroics.
“Bernard really pushed us to concentrate on things like layering,” Paterson says. “Sonically, this record is our best one because there’s so much going on, especially if you listen to it on headphones. If he hadn’t pushed us to do that, this probably would have ended up sounding like a sparse pop record.”
Even though Sons & Daughters sounds anything but bummed out on the album, some majestically mopey ’80s icons factored heavily into The Gift.
“Not only is Bernard into the whole Phil Spector thing, he’s also really into the Smiths. Those Smiths records are just layers upon layers of guitars, almost like an orchestra. He knew that I loved that sound as well, so he kind of taught us the kind of studio techniques where you get that sound. All that made the record way more interesting.”
Ultimately, The Gift’s gloriously analogue feel makes Sons & Daughters come across as a band rooted in a time when records were made in old-fashioned studios, which is somehow fitting. Laughing, Paterson says that he’s started to give up on new music, mostly because there seems to be a palace revolution every two months, where today’s ruling flavour-of-the-week is next month’s old news.
“This year there’s already been a lot of really great music, but a lot of modern stuff I’ve not really been that taken by,” he confesses. “How do you keep on top of it all? I mean, grime? I don’t even know what grime is. The one thing I am excited about, though, is the return of ’70s classic rock. There seems to be a lot of bands that are into it, groups like Black Mountain.”
Paterson finds it funny that prog—which was a downright dirty word five years ago—is currently all the rage in the alt-music underground. He’s perhaps amused by that because he knows that on The Gift, Sons & Daughters dabbles in a genre that isn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s hot list these days.
“Pop is a bad word,” Paterson says. “So perversely, we like that we got the chance to make a pop record. I know it’s not very cool to say it in certain circles—Pitchfork and all that—but fuck it, it’s a pop record.”
The group’s great accomplishment with The Gift, then, is not only taking a chance, but having it pay off. Josh Homme would no doubt approve.
Sons & Daughters plays Richard’s on Richards on Wednesday (April 30).