In the long list of interesting debut longplayers of 2013, British duo CLOUD BOAT managed to receive a special place in the heart of NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION. Book Of Hours is an impressive record – simple but powerful, tender and lovely, but also dark and morbid. Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke have their own way to create a haunting hybrid of traditional singer/songwriter folk and futuristic electronic beats. It’s a mixture that makes it kind of hard to define these two lads.
There is no need to give the band’s sound a distinct name. Even Clarke and Ricketts find it hard to name their sound. They let the music do the talking, and that’s a spirit we like to support whenever we can. On the duo’s recent little tour through Germany, we had the chance to talk to them in Leipzig about their debut album, their love for musical simplicity and a few more topics.
If we just stick to the CLOUD BOAT metaphor a bit and pretend it was a real vehicle, on what type of fuel does it run?
Tom: I would say it goes on petrol.
Sam: It runs on coffee and biscuits.
How did you get to know each other?
Sam: We met when we were 15 or 16. We lived close by each other and we played in a band together with some friends, and that one for a couple of years. Then we went to university and when we came back started a sort of experiment. We started to write songs and tried different songs. Just nothing that we tried before, and well, now here we are in Leipzig.
What kind of music did you play together?
Tom: Hard rock. He had long hair.
Sam: I played the bass and he sung and screamed.
Tom: Yes a little bit of both, I wanted to shout because I had a lot of anger, while being a teenager. But I can sing a bit and so I started singing choruses and sing more and more. And today I am not shouting anymore, I’ve got less angry.
What were your musical circumstances back in the early days?
Sam: We were very young and played a lot shows locally, with other bands. But we weren’t big and our recordings were terrible. But then I discovered dance music. That’s probably what really cemented what we’re doing now. In 2007 dubstep DJ’s like SKREAM came up and that was sort of fresh. It was non-commercial.
Is there a specific influence for all the soul and – almost – gospel-like elements in your sound?
Tom: For me folk music is often quite gospel and I think that’s were it comes from for me, just this kind of simplicity and kind of purity. Just a guitar and a voice did a lot for me for a long time and I enjoyed this. Because you are kind of limited when you making this music. You are limited to what a guitar can do or what you can do on a guitar and how you can sing over it. And making that sound or packaging in a way that feels exciting is a really hard thing I think.
Sam: It’s like squeezing the maximum out of it.
If you talk about limits, how difficult is it for you to keep the level of reduction in your music? Are you forcing yourself to stay focused while recording and not getting lost in the details?
Tom: I think it’s an interesting kind of judgement: the position between the music sounding quiet intimate or quiet restrained but the actual nature of the music itself is kind of “limitedness.”
The amount that you can accomplish with electronics and feeding guitars and vocals into a kind of electronic template is really limited, but there is still a lot of sense to try to keep things really simple. If a note or if one phrase sounds amazing you don’t have to throw a lot of more stuff to it and that doesn’t have to become a small part of a bigger thing, that can be everything, that one sound you love so much can be the whole song. You can make a song based on that. I think it’s really important that you don’t lose sight of what a song is meant to be to start with and that could be one word or a sound or just one really simple idea.
CLOUD BOAT: “It is an important aspect of music to have a consistent vibe”
There are other buzzing artists at the moment (f.e. HOW TO DRESS WELL or ACTIVE CHILD) who combine this minimalistic part-electronic, part-organic sound in a way you two do it as well. Do you have an explanation for that trend or do you see a certain need for this kind of sound?
Tom: Well, I think so, we have come to a situation where in order to make kind of big, exciting and experimental music you don’t need to have ten musicians, all with their own instruments in a massive studio with a producer. You can be out in a park with a field recorder and your laptop I think that’s an amazing thing to have happen. This massively diverse and awesome sounding music can be made by someone. A guy like BURIAL, and no one knows who he is and his music has been shaped a generation and it’s not like through having an orchestra or a huge bands.
How would you describe your debut “Book Of Hours” in a few words?
Tom: I always find this so difficult and I really don’t know how do describe it. Hmm … (thinks). No, I really can’t do it, I don’t know how.
Sam: Just try it. (laughs)
Tom: It maybe got a darker set of sounds and influences, I would say.
Sam: It takes off quite seriously. And I like the idea that you can listen to it in one flow. It’s not just connected by a bunch of singles, you know. It works good in the dark and very loud.
I really like the way the album sounds so organic after all. And it’s amazing how all these different kind of songs made it onto one album.
Tom: Yes, first we didn’t have enough material to really justify a full album. And then we took the time to finish a few things, mixing it up a bit and at the end we didn’t really now what to cut from it. And at the end we almost had too much which was a nice position.
Sam: Each song breathes in its own way but I also think that it is an important aspect of music to have a consistent vibe for an album. And I really hope that people listen to it and see that it’s us because we put so much of ourselves into it.
Final question – we are called NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION and I’m interested in your opinion on these two things.
Tom: In terms of passion: I might have always related the word wrong since I thought passion means to struggle. You need to work for a few things you’re passionate about. And when I think of hope I always think of it in a musical way. You know, when you write chords and you’re looking for ones that sound quite hopeful. It’s a nice word I’m using in such situations.
Sam: Yeah, bringing some hope into the sad moments is something I want us to achieve.
Tom: Hope and sadness go really well together, indeed.
Interview by Stefan Kutschera