Glasgow-based twin-sibling duo Cloth (Rachael and Paul Swinton) released their new album Secret Measure at the start of the month. It is their first full-length release on Rock Action Records (Mogwai, Arab Strap, The Twilight Sad) and possesses a melodic intimacy and an ability to craft organic songs ripe with sparse textures and a heart. The sublime, hypnotic lead single ‘Pigeon’‘ finds vocalist Rachael’s hushed and evocative vocals wrapping their arms preciously around a tapestry of guitars, synth textures, and clipped percussive sweeps:
It follows the four-song ‘Low Sun EP’ (2022). The album was produced by Ali Chant (Yard Act, Katy J Pearson, Squirrel Flower). We caught up with Paul Swinton to pull back the curtain on the Cloth creative process.
Hey, how are you today? Not bad, thank you! I just had a nice stir-fry for dinner so I’m enjoying that pleasant after-dinner feeling of serenity.
I was interested to read your first recordings were conceived via voice notes, how did this process work and did capturing ideas give them a freshness?
The microphones on our smartphones have been absolutely invaluable to us for recording riff, ideas, vocal melodies, drum grooves – you name it. Just having something you can carry around on your person at all times which can also capture audio is such an indispensable tool for songwriting. I think it does impart a freshness on ideas as it means we’re able to record any little thing that might pop into our heads. The fun part is then listening back to those recordings later after forgetting what you came up with. That’s when you either strike gold on a song idea or wonder what on earth you were thinking.
How did you end up on Rock Action Records?
A friend of ours sent Stuart Braithwaite our EP Low Sun when we were looking for a label to release it. He really liked it so we met up for a drink and got on really well. Stuart was really passionate about releasing our music which, as big fans of Mogwai, we took as a massive compliment. We always looked up to Rock Action as a label when we were just starting out with Cloth so it feels quite surreal (and very nice) to be a part of the roster now!
What strikes me about your sound is how intimate it is, and although there’s an intricacy to the instrumentation it sounds totally organic. Did you work hard to achieve this?
That’s really nice to hear as the intricacy between parts (particularly guitar parts) is something we do strive to achieve in our music. When we were starting to write songs, we found the dual, intertwining guitars in Sleater Kinney’s music very inspiring and loved how the guitars interacted with the drums to form something that sounded really cohesive and exciting without sounding too flashy or technical. I think ‘organic’ is a nice way of describing that sound.
How was lockdown for you and how did it inform your work? I read that thematically there’s a sense of trying to find a light of hope in the dark with this set of songs.
Lockdown was quite a bleak time for us, as I know it was for so many. Though we started off with good intentions to be productive and write a whole load of new material, I think we found it quite hard to motivate ourselves when the reality of no live music or real-life social interaction sank in.
Once restrictions started lifting and normality returned a little, the pull of writing songs did return for us and I definitely felt an eagerness to try and process some of the things I’d been through during that time. At the end of the day, we’re quite optimistic people at heart so, even though a lot of the album’s subject matter is quite melancholic, there’s definitely an insistence that resilience and hope are the key to getting through the difficult times.
How do the songs generally start life or does it differ? I know it’s a cliched question but do you feel being twins gives your creativity a greater connection?
Most of our songs begin with one musical idea which we play around with and develop. This is usually a riff on the guitar which we’ll work on finding an accompaniment for. It has to be something that excites us or something we can see being developed into a grander arrangement – if it’s not, we’ll normally move onto something else as neither of us find it easy to work on something we’re not inspired by. Once we have those things in place, we’ll keep working on it, normally over the course of a few weeks so we can reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. Eventually, we’ll end up with a song.
I think being twins definitely helps with our creative process as we’re very in tune with each other and just generally pretty close. Because we have that kind of relationship, being in the studio with each other always feels like a safe, comfortable space where we can try out ideas, experiment with sounds and not worry too much if things don’t come together.
I really love ‘Pigeon’; what inspired the song?
In a literal sense, the title of the song was inspired by two gigantic pigeons who took up residence in our garden. We were busy working on the song in the studio when Rachael spotted them on a branch right outside the window and we decided we couldn’t not immortalise them in a song title.
Lyrically, the song is inspired by the idea of trying to keep yourself afloat when a situation feels very overwhelming. It’s about trying to hold onto the idea that bad situations don’t tend to last forever and things generally get better, or more manageable, with time.
I read you worked with a producer called Ali Chant. What perspective did he bring to the sessions? Did taking your songs to a different place to record give the songs a different shape?
Ali has an amazing ability to know what a song needs without, as he would say, ‘overcooking’ it.
That suited us perfectly as we tend to adopt quite a minimal approach to song arrangements anyway and don’t like cluttering things up with too many elements. It was a very new experience for us working with an outside producer in an unfamiliar studio environment, but it ended up being one of the most creatively exciting experiences we’ve ever had. Ali’s a great musician and has been producing for a long time so whenever he would suggest trying something out it was quite often something we hadn’t thought about or considered before (for example, putting drums through crazy phase effects, adding weird percussion we’d never heard of). That brought a really exciting dimension to the recording process for us and benefitted the songs massively.
I love some of the instrument additions including trumpet and even a Santoor (which is a new one on me) – who contributed to the album and is it a fine balance adding extra instrumentation to the compositions?
We had an amazing multi-instrumentalist called Jemima Coulter come in and lay down the trumpet solo in ‘Lido.’ We’re big fans of their music so it was very cool to have them involved in the record. All the drums on the album were done by an incredible jazz drummer called Matt Brown. Rachael always has quite precise ideas about how she’d like the rhythms and grooves in our tracks to be and Matt was so good at taking those ideas and elevating them even further in his own style.
It definitely is a fine balance when it comes to adding extra instruments. We like to preserve a lot of space in our music and not make things sound too busy. Sometimes something can sound really cool on its own but when you bring it in to the song arrangement you realise it doesn’t quite work with what’s there already and you’re really just trying to shoehorn it in. I think we managed to strike a good balance of experimenting with new sounds and instruments on this record without damaging the sense of space in our songs.
What’s the song ‘Ambulance’ about? I read this was a song forged in the studio in Bristol?
The accompaniment of ‘Ambulance’ is about dealing with the aftermath of losing touch with someone who was quite an influential person in your life. It’s about the feeling of being lost in the remembrance of that person and what they meant to you. We wrote the song over a couple of days in the downtime between studio sessions in Bristol which was a completely new mode of working for us as we normally work on songs over a few weeks. We knew we wanted Ali to produce it and Matt to drum on it so we pushed ourselves to commit to ideas more quickly in order to have the time to record it whilst in Bristol. That process was quite scary when you’re used to taking your time with things but it ended up feeling really liberating and taught us that good songs can sometimes come about a lot more quickly than you think.
What Scottish artists did you admire growing up?
Cocteau Twins were a big one for us. Even when you listen now, the music feels so unique and innovative. I know that Rachael was really inspired by Elizabeth Fraser’s melodies and how they duck and weave, taking you to unexpected places. Our mum put us onto The Blue Nile very early on as well and they’ve been very inspiring to us in the way they manage to create really evocative moods in their music.
What’s on your playlist?
At the moment I’m really enjoying the new Fever Ray album, Radical Romantics. For me, it feels like very exciting, detailed electronic music and I think Karen Dreijer is maybe my favourite vocalist right now. I’ve also been going back and listening to a lot of Pavement recently, particularly Terror Twilight. It’s my ever-dependable comfort album.
Do you have plans to tour the record or play any festivals this year?
We’re doing a run of UK shows and all-day festivals in May and have a few dates in the diary for the summer, including our first time at TRSNMT in Glasgow (can’t wait for that!). We’ll also be announcing some very cool live things for later in the year soon so keep those eyes peeled!
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