[Image by Pete Dunlop]
Set deep in the West End of Glasgow, the Rio Café feels like the ideal place to interview Sons and Daughters. It has that classic feel of 1950s Americana with its four-seater booths and solid, oversize bar; yet the noisy chatter of the mid-afternoon clientèle confirms to the ear that this is most definitely Glasgow. Kinda like Sons and Daughters.
On entering this scene ten minutes before the pre-arranged meeting time, I spot half the band already – diligently – here. Singer Adele and guitarist Scott slouch in a booth nursing large coffees, eyes scanning the room for impending journo; both are dressed and styled that bit more carefully than your average human being, making them easily identifiable. When I introduce myself they seem to relax and smile genuinely, and prove easy-going company. Bassist Ailidh and drummer David are en route, they explain, so I order a coffee, withhold my tape recorder and let them tuck into a late lunch of French toast (Adele) and egg bagel (Scott).
The other half of Sons and Daughters soon arrive and all four disappear outside for a quick cigarette (or perhaps to discuss interview tactics) before it’s down to business. Now the complete unit, their individual personalities quickly emerge: Adele is enthusiastic and friendly; Scott sharp and focused; Ailidh quiet but interesting; and David is, well, the drummer – his detached, almost bored demeanour belies a keen sense of humour.
Sons and Daughters began life through Adele and David’s involvement with Arab Strap’s touring band in 2001. Adele: “I had a guitar on the tourbus and roped Dave in early on and he said, drunkenly, ‘Yeah yeah I’ll play the drums.’ It was an idea for a while… So when we got home we had a bit of time off and Ailidh and I started playing together. We recorded some terrible demos in Ailidh’s bathroom. We thought it would be cool to hang mics from the shower, sorta DIY, but actually it was rubbish.” David: “It sounded alright!”
When they eventually graduated from bathroom to studio and recruited Scott on guitar and backing vocals, they recorded Love The Cup over four days in 2003 with “whatever songs we had”. It was picked up by cult New York label Ba Da Bing Records and, after much publicity and promo postage, Domino – the label hosting friends and mutual appreciators Franz Ferdinand – decided to give the mini-album a shinier release in 2004. Follow-up The Repulsion Box was an equally raw, undiluted vial of rock’n’roll poison, and received more acclaim for its intense country-blues and dark outlaw soul.
As we speak, Sons and Daughters have just returned to the publicity circus with the single Gilt Complex; its title a neat pun on our national obsession with empty-headed Big Brother contestants. “It’s about hating celebrity culture and being sick of people making money and having no talent,” Adele says. “It’s like a car crash though. You’ve gotta look at it haven’t you?” For a B-side, the band covered Adamski’s Killer, a strange choice, which actually wasn’t a conscious choice at all, as David explains: “I think we’d started playing Papa Was A Rolling Stone by The Temptations and it’s the same chords so we went, ‘ach, it’s Killer’.”
This all pre-empts Sons and Daughters’ third album This Gift, set for release in late January. “The album’s been a really long process,” Scott says. “We started it in January, only finished it in July and mastered it in September. So we’re really proud of it but really sick of it.” The song-writing dates back to 2006, when the band secluded themselves in a West Highland cottage – “a cool wee house up in the hills, surrounded by rabbits and sheep”.
Adele: “There wasn’t anything to do really.”
Ailidh: “There were a lot of board games.”
David: “What was that game that Ailidh hated and we all liked?”
Ailidh: “Balderdash. It was just really boring after a while.”
Scott (pretending he’s concerned about their image): “Naw it was actually mental. There was loads of drugs…”
Adele: “It was really meant as a family place so we found all the board games in a cupboard…”
Scott: “But it was also really mental and edgy!”
The eventual recording of This Gift saw the band progress to a higher strata of creative freedom. “Before it had been like one recording session and a mixing session with a chunk of writing in front of it,” David says. “But this time it was spread out so we had more time to consider it.” Scott agrees: “We weren’t exactly writing in the studio but we’d record, get time off, then go back and realise what was lacking.”
They also benefited from a producer equally feared and revered in Suede legend Bernard Butler. Domino boss Laurence Bell had originally suggested three producers but they decided to work with Butler after a successful demo session. The band talk about him admiringly, but was it such a cosy working relationship?
Adele: “I think he really tried to put us under as much pressure as he could, and it worked.”
Ailildh: “He’s one of the old school producers, whereas Victor [Van Vugt, who produced The Repulsion Box] let us do our own thing.”
David: “Before, it was all about capturing the real, live sound, but Bernard wanted to take a more layered approach and build the whole thing up.”
Scott: “It’s a lot more sonically impressive because of that. Everything’s been tweaked and we’ve got exactly the right tones. It’s a wider palette.”
If that means that the visceral intensity of their previous sound has been somewhat tamed (and Adele confirms that “it’s not as angry”), it also means that This Gift is crammed full of accomplished pop songs. But while they’ve taken musical inspiration from 1960s symphonic pop on songs like The Nest, any trace of innocence is stamped into the ground with a lyrical content informed by Adele’s fascination with the darker side of life: depression, break-ups, self-harm, Sylvia Plath and Ken Loach films all figure in her song-writing.
When I ask what they expect from This Gift, Adele answers, tentatively: “I think this one’s probably our breakthrough record.” Scott continues: “I think it’s a really good record for tasting who we are; a bit more sense of humour about it, a colourful record, more varied. It’s a bit more representative of our taste I think.” If their prediction proves true and they become a mainstream act, it will be the culmination of an unusually patient success story in today’s excitable music industry, and the band are grateful for the chance they’ve had to develop.
Scott: “We’ve wanted to do that from the beginning. If you look at great bands like Tindersticks, they grow over ten albums or whatever…”
Adele: “I think it’s the only way to have a proper career now. In the short period of time we’ve been around we’ve seen bands get pushed for one record and then the label isn’t interested.”
David: “It’s really sad that there’s this obsession with ‘the new’. It’s not ‘oh that great band Clinic have a new record out’, it’s ‘oh Clinic, they’ve had two records, what’s fucking new?’ It’s gonna implode at some point.”
Sons and Daughters themselves aren’t immune to hype, and although they profited early on from Alex Kapranos’s complimentary words, they don’t feel part of any Scottish or Glaswegian ‘scene’. Rather than rebel against collectivism, the band explain that it’s because in their opinion such a scene just doesn’t exist.
Scott: “One thing about Glasgow is that it’s such a broad church. I mean you’ve got electronica, rock… There’s no bandwagon-jumping up here as far as I can see, whereas in London you get that – bands thinking ‘we better sound like The Libertines this week’…”
Ailidh: “It’s more like there are people who are into music.”
David : “If you look at all the bands that came from Glasgow and are successful now, none of them sound like each other: Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Franz… It tells you a lot.”
But in my journalistic urge to place them in context, I make the mistake of suggesting a loose association with Primal Scream’s 12-bar rock’n’roll. Adele starts laughing; David’s face drops.
Adele: “I’m laughing ‘cos Dave hates Primal Scream. I actually don’t mind them and I know what you mean. Although some would say Primal Scream were bandwagon-jumpers of their time.”
David (disdainfully): “They’re having a laugh you know, they’re having a good time.”
Adele: “But Country Girl was one of my favourite songs last year.”
Despite my faux-pas we reclaim amicable ground before winding up for their photocall. I leave Sons and Daughters as they sit in the booth staring meaningfully up into the camera lens, looking every inch the band on the verge of something. Right now that something is anyone’s call, but one safe bet is that this year will be their making or breaking. Complacency just isn’t their style.
This Gift is released on 28 Jan.
Sons and Daughters play Fopp in Glasgow on 14 Jan and ABC, Glasgow on 15 Feb and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on 16 Feb.
- This article was written for The Skinny.