To celebrate the release of Cloud Boat‘s stunning experimental debut album ‘Book Of Hours‘ released on Apollo Records we sat down with the London duo Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke to discuss the origins of the album and their music career in general, focusing on their early involvement with R&S Records, supporting James Blake in 2011 and their natural move to Apollo Records. Tom and Sam also speak about the meanings behind specific tracks from the new album as well as their approach to composing tracks, artwork and the coining of the name ‘Cloud Boat’.
How did the two of you meet?
We’ve known each other since we were about 15 years old. We played in a metal band together around that time and there’s still incriminating evidence of it online but we’re not going to tell you anymore about that. You’re the second person to try and get the name of the band out of us.
When did you musically move on from metal to producing more ambient music?
We haven’t moved on, we still like elements of what we liked when we were younger, but I think when we went to university we got into dance music, like everyone does. We found it very rewarding to try and combine things that for a lot of people doesn’t seem to work, like using guitars and live vocals with new influences that we were getting into.
When was it when you got involved with Dan Foat, R&S former A&R man?
He didn’t exactly pluck us out of obscurity. We knew him already through James Blake and it happened quite naturally in that respect. We were already playing with James and we were really interested in each other’s music so Dan got involved through that as opposed to popping out of the blue and picking up those tracks that we made.
It was a nice way for it to all comes together. A lot of the music that was coming out of R&S we all saw as just mates releasing music. I went to school with James and with Rob from Airhead as well. Nick Sigsworth aka Klaus is also a good friend of ours. So it was just a bunch of mates releasing on the same label.
Was this in 2010?
No it was later than that. Our first show with James was in January 2011. I’d known Dan for a few years prior to James.
We were supporting James at his shows; his band was made up of Rob on the guitar from Airhead and another school friend Ben on drums. We would open the shows. We did that on and off for a year, some gigs in Europe and a few around the UK, it was a great experience for us.
Where are you currently based?
We live in Enfield, it’s home sadly…There’s no good reason to come here. HMV closed and KFC moved. The transport links to the good parts of London are good here, so we can head into town no problem. It’s nice to be out here in the quiet but it can get boring. It definitely hasn’t played any part in the music that we’ve done.
Is Enfield where your studio is as well – what are you using?
Yeah our studio is my room. For drums we often use recordings of things we’ve recorded when we’re out and about. For guitars we have guitars and pedals. We wire up the amps in the bedroom and move things around till things sound ok.
What about splitting the workload?
I’m usually the one in the hot seat, pressing record, as Tom will be singing. We hit points when we know it’s right to swap, I’ll chill out whilst Tom gets into the hot seat, it’s like a relay.
Tell me about your new album ‘Book Of Hours‘ and the entire process of writing it up to this point.
We never sat down to write an album, it didn’t all come from one specific writing process because all the songs we’ve collected over a long period of time. A lot of the tracks came together from playing live and then coming back and recording it. Some of it came from sitting down in a room and experimenting and writing tracks. We were worried that the album wouldn’t have a consistent vibe to it, but I think we managed it in the end.
What sort of vibe do you think ‘Book Of Hours’ emits?
It’s hard for us to say. As we wrote it, it has an experimental vibe. It takes people through quite disparate places; it’s not flat or on one level. We’re happy with that and we like to think of it as a dynamic record, in the sense that the quiet bits are very quiet and the loud bits are very loud.
Is the album seasonal at all, or does it refer any particular environment, time or personal experience?
It’s more introvert than that. In terms of the way it was written we don’t think that it has any seasonal connection. It’s more a personal reflection.
Are there any particular songs in the album that refer particular moments or moods?
We do but they do so in a more abstract way. All the lyrics sound personal and maybe quite profound to me, which I suppose they are but it’s packaging them in a way that you don’t necessarily have to describe the exact experience to the listener, but more so that they can latch onto the emotion that you’re trying to convey. We never want to say exactly what happened or how we felt but to write a story or paint a picture that alluded to a certain emotion, vibe or feeling. That’s what we try to do with the lyrics most of the time, make them abstract but having a balance of making them personal and emotional as well, whilst also making them sound good.
Do you have a favorite track form the album?
It changes a lot, but playing live we’d say ‘Pink Grin’ is probably our favorite.
Is that part one or part two?
Originally it was going to be just one track, but we thought we could give it more grandeur by splitting into two parts. It also makes it less intimidating for the listener. Otherwise they have to sit through 8 minutes of the track. When we play live it goes on for a lot longer and it’s a lot of fun to play.
Personally I’d say ‘Pink Grin II‘ is the stand out track on the album, it’s a very powerful, dynamic track.
Yeah it was one of the first tracks we made and we actually lost the laptop with the stems on, so we had to mix it from the sampler. We spent ages recording that track as we struggled to get it to sound good; in the end we recorded it live in a friends room, as if we were playing a gig. That’s the version on the album.
Sometimes I’m into the more retrospective songs depending on what mood I’m in. I really like ‘Godhead’. It’s put together with the barest of materials and we’re really happy with what we got out of it.
It’s nice to listen to the album as a listener finally and to decide what our favorite songs are to listen to, without having to do anything, or think anything other.
‘Wanderlust’ begs the question about your experience with travelling, have you been away exploring during the album writing process?
It more alludes to the sense of needing to go somewhere as opposed to the specific act of travelling. It’s something that I always need to bare in mind, that need to go somewhere else just to get a sense of perspective, whether it’s a case of writing music or general life. I guess it’s a theme that occurs in a lot of similar aged people that urge to explore.
What’s the meaning behind the name ‘Cloud Boat’?
I was doing my third year of my music degree. I was at a PHD forum about a Lithuanian composer called Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, who made paintings for each movement he was doing for each Sonata. It was at a time when I realized that I wanted to do music. They passed around a book of his music with examples of his paintings and it had this one called ‘Cloud Boat’ and it just stuck in my head because of the mood and frame of mind I was in at the time. There wasn’t any specific meaning in the words, or a specific love for the painting. Six to eight months later we got a few songs together and we were one of those bands where we had everything worked out before, we had songs, a live set, gigs but no name. ‘Cloud Boat’ kept coming into my head so we used it. It looks good written down and the words sound nice together.
I think the name ‘Cloud Boat’ compliments the music well.
Some people don’t see that at all. I think that they’re the ones who go for the more aggressive songs and they don’t see the correlation. People say that the music is too dark, which is actually something we like.
Who’s behind the artwork for the album?
We chose it; a friend of mine from university who is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades did it. He takes photographs and does screen printing and graphic design as well. He sent over some photos quite a long time ago and I remembered one of them, which I thought was amazing, as soon as I saw it I had a vision that it would look amazing on an album or more specifically on something that we did.
We used it for the website and all the artistic stuff that went out, we did a t-shirt press as well. I like the idea of having continuity.
It’s also really nice to work with friends. To be able to look back and think that we had fun with our friends and made something great with them. We didn’t just rely on the record label to pay someone else to create the artwork. When you have that personal involvement in every aspect to the product that your releasing is very rewarding.
Also there’s a definite sense now that if any of your friends or people you know that are creative, they’re bound to be struggling in some way so to be able to reach out and give them a paid job, it’s nice to reward them with that. We were struggling for artwork and he was helping us. We also feel that as it’s a friend behind the artwork, more love has been put into the job.
Tell me about your shift from R&S to Apollo Records?
The main reason was that Renaat was extremely passionate about the record. He would always email us asking when he could hear the new tracks and he was always really supportive. When he started up Apollo again he really believed in the album, which is actually quite a grueling process, as we didn’t always believe in it. When you have your A&R person as your biggest champion, it’s a hugely motivating thing.
Also as Apollo is focused on the more ambient side of R&S, it’s a real honor to have made the move. It also means that we’re not in the same league as the big techno heads on R&S.
There was definitely a conscious move at R&S towards MPIA3 and Paula Temple, as opposed to ambient records. If we released on R&S it would be considered as artistically confused for them to have put out a record like ours alongside a very strong move towards harder dance music.
What do you think of the (new) Apollo release schedule?
I think the Apollo roster is very interesting, it’s not contrived, it’s not A&R’d around hype. It’s just made up of records that Renaat loves. Nadine Shah is incredible. She supported us at our album launch the other day and she has an incredible voice. There’s also Volor Flex from Russia and Gacha from Georgia who are really good. We also really like the Shadow Child release. It also sounds quite fresh.
You’ve worked with Old Apparatus and Flako – what are your relationships like with them?
Old Apparatus, I believe are four guys, they’re very mysterious. We were playing a gig at The Nest in Dalston and I just remember that before that night I was a big fan of their music. I imagined that they would be really, really weird. But they set up their stuff and they were really nice and pretty down to earth guys. It’s easy to have a preconception of artists who want to do something interesting and dark. People think that we’re weird but we are not. Anyways after the show we got in contact with them and asked if they’d like to do a remix and they did.
fLako is someone who our manager Tom Lilley has worked with. He runs a label called Five Easy Pieces and he wanted to get a remix that was something a bit more tropical, something very different to what we do. Because we could never make music like fLako’s. It’s very clinical and clean, his production has an almost surgical quality to it, as in every single component has a very specific part where it needs to sit and it does. Otherwise our music is very messy, we have lots of background noise and fuzz, so it was nice for him to come along and clean it up. His remix came out really well and we really like it, but we’ve never met him.
Finally can you tell me about the mix you’ve recorded for Inverted Audio?
I found this mix particularly fun, as it gave me the opportunity to incorporate more tracks than usual. It’s roughly split into two halves, with the first half being a somewhat eclectic mix of lots of the things I’ve been listening to recently. It was great to include tracks by friends of ours, including the great new upcoming release from Winter Son.
The second half consists of the kind of dubstep that was mainly responsible for me discovering a love for electronic music in the first place. At university I spent alot of time lurking at the back of Plastic People and Mass watching the likes of Digital Mystikz and Pinch. I hope people enjoy the mix as much as I enjoyed making it, and would like to thank you for asking us!Cloud BoatApollo RecordsBassElectronicaHouseTechno