Tugboat Captain released their debut album Rut last week, it was recorded in Abbey Road towards the end of last year. The band were supposed to play at SXSW earlier this year but, alas, the Coronavirus pandemic put a stop to that.
Birthed from the London DIY scene, the band emerged from the sonic limitations of their previous homespun bedroom-pop efforts into higher fidelity, accompanied by their ramshackle orchestra of friends to present their most ambitious work to date. Whilst being a grand, symphonic baroque-pop record, the album loses none of the intimacy of the previous work.
Frontman Alexander Sokolow’s lyrics have seen significant growth over the last few years, first seen on ace previous singles like ‘The Distance’ and ‘Be Strong, Smoke Less’. The dry wit found in those songs can be heard across the new album. Crafted with a real gleefulness and joy juxtaposed with a reflective lyrical quality that focusses upon every day struggles of being young and lost. Tugboat Captain echo the whimsy and theatricality of the Divine Comedy, the brassy laden melodies of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, and the knowing personal sensibilities of bands like Belle and Sebastian or Trust Fund. It’s a ray of sunshine or a warm hug in a dark time. We caught up with Sokolow to find out more about Tugboat Captain:
Hey how are you today? How are you coping with lockdown/pandemic?
Hi Bill, I’m not doing too badly – just about coping with a global pandemic… it’s all a bit weird having just put out a record and not being able to do all the things one would normally do around a release!
How did you meet? What was the first song you ever wrote?What was it like?
Josh and I met at Falmouth University about five years ago and initially had another band. He was one of the first people I wrote music with – we were both really enamoured with The Wave Pictures and a lot of the music we wrote together back then sounded a little like that. The lineup we’ve now solidified on met over the following years with Buddy, who is Josh’s cousin and our latest paddition, Georgia who joined us around two years ago now and appears recorded for the first time on this album!
How would you describe your music in five words?
Nautical Pop for Rock Dads
You just released your new album Rut, over what period were these songs recorded? What inspired them?
I started writing these songs around two years ago with the track ‘Rut…Waking Hour’ actually being the first song we ever practised and arranged with Georgia. The album was written as I was going into my last few months of Art School and was going through the realisation that not everything was going to turn out okay. They come from a place of frustration, stasis and total apathy – being in a place where you can’t really envisage going forward.
There‘s a real joyousness to the sound like you are holding onto hope whilst attempting to come to terms with being lost and young and trying to make sense of the world; is that intentional or just how the songs emerge? Do you think it’s important to offer a bit of sunshine in these hard times?
Although a lot of the lyrical themes on the album seem pessimistic and dark, musically we’ve always wanted to write pop music. The idea that they’re musically fun tracks is so important to us and I feel that juxtaposition definitely adds to the weight of the music. In the end we’re all Poptimists really and what’s the point if we’re not going to have a little fun with it.
Are you hoping people identify with these songs as well as be able to sing along with them?
Something that’s always been at the heart of what we do as a band is the communal catharsis of sharing music – particularly in a live setting. Previously this catharsis was related more closely to heartbreak however I think as this record takes on slightly different themes I hope it can be relatable and can provide some solace during a time where I think everyone is feeling a little lost.
You recorded the album at Abbey Road; was it your intention to add more brass and layers to the recording? Dare I say portions are a bit Sgt Pepper-esque!
We’ve definitely always had a penchant for varying the instrumentation in our music. Even when the recordings were super lo-fi we’ve added whatever instrument we can find. We definitely got to the end of the demoing process and began to envisage a bigger more chamber-pop sound and it’s a process we get really excited about. It always feels like you’re fulfilling the potential of a song when you start to play around with the arrangements in the most bombastic way possible.
You say your recent single ‘No Plans (For This Year)’ is about capturing the mood of a generation of young adults whose lives have been put on pause. Do you think it’s important to flag up the frustrations of a generation that feels a bit left out or behind?
It’s definitely important – yes. If it’s not done through art then who is voicing these concerns? There’s so much value in relating to music and feeling like you’re not alone in the way you see the world and I think if we can provide that to anyone then it’s an artistic victory.
‘Everything About You’ is a song about feeling uncomfortable at parties and wanting someone else to do the talking, do you find songwriting a good way to explore your own self confidence issues?
Songwriting has always been the main outlet for my feelings and largely my discomforts… I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it difficult to communicate my feelings and songs are probably the only coping mechanism for that for me be that writing or listening! Writing songs has definitely aided whatever self confidence issues, not just through voicing my problems but also through finding communities of like-minded people in the world of music.
I really appreciate the wit and self awareness of each song especially something like ‘C’mon Haribo’ or the communal closer ‘Day to Day’ did it take you a while to mature into a writer who can step outside of your own work occasionally?
It’s definitely taken a long time and practice to feel comfortable using humour, self-deprecation or wit in my songwriting. It’s a difficult skill to land some of those ideas without sounding too silly. I think on top of that it’s definitely required me just reaching a point in my life, outside of music, where I’m forced to look at myself and kind of laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Which artists do you admire? What would be your dream collaboration?
I think it goes without saying that we’re massive Beatles fans. My dream is to have Ringo as the second drummer in Tugboat Captain. Aside from that there are a number of big influences on this record, Phoebe Bridgers use of dark humour or the self depreciation of Trust Fund were big influences on my lyrics. Musically Teenage Fanclub and The Divine Comedy have been big influences on the ‘pop’ outlook of the album.
What are your favourite current bands we have never heard of?
We’re so lucky to have friends who play in amazing bands! Enjoyable Listens from Oxford are set for stardom – you have to see them live to really understand. I’m a huge fan of Cold Fins who are like The Replacements but from South London. The wonderful Rebecka Reinhard recently released a fantastic EP which I’d also strongly recommend.
What’s the best band you have played with so far?
Last year we did a few of our tour dates with the amazing Bull from York. They’ve been plugging away at it for a good few years and have just signed a pretty big record deal. They’re absolutely incredible live and on record and are also fantastic human beings. I think they’re going to be bigger than Britney.
How are you coping with no shows? Are you doing any live streams or working on any new material?
Not having shows is becoming more and more difficult especially as we’ve just released a new record. We’re gagging to get back out on the road and to share our music. We’ve held back on doing live-streams after the initial flurry during early lockdown – there’s just something so frustrating about it as a concept that doesn’t favour smaller artists like ourselves especially now that I think everyone has grown a little tired of it as a model. For the time being we’re just trying to figure out how to get this new record out to as many people as possible!
Thanks for your time