Simon Jay Catling 08/12/2009
Air Cav are vocalist/guitarist Chris, violinist Sophie, bassist Mark and drummer Allan. It feels slightly odd introducing a band who've been going four years now and who, for this writer at least, remain one of the most engaging live acts he's seen. Yet if they've not been so well known outside of their native Manchester, then it's not due to any fault on their part. Their euphoric folk-stomp comes drenched in shoegaze atmospherics with more than a nod to a broad spectrum of psychadelia, and has graced many of the north west's venues to an ever more rapturous reception. Simon Jay Catling met the group over a drink to find a band fully confident in the slow but steady development they're imposing upon themselves and, of course, keen to promote their end-of-year gig in a Unitarian Chapel in Manchester. They've been described many times now as “Manchester's best kept secret”. You get the feeling it won't last for much longer.
GIITTV: The gig in the Unitarian Chapel: what sort of things can we expect from it? Why did you pick the venue?
Chris: It would have been easy for us to just play a Christmas gig at the Night & Day without the pressure of promoting it ourselves; but I think we wanted to curate something ourselves and showcase what we can do over a whole night, rather than having people just turn up and watch us for half an hour.
Allan: I think the circular outlay of the room'll lend itself well to what we've got planned for projections and lightshows.
Mark: It's going to look like a planetarium isn't it Chris? (Laughter)
Chris: Yeah Mark, it's going to look like a planetarium. There's your quote. But yeah, it'll be different; you see bigger bands put on gigs in unusual places. It's uncommon for an upcoming band to do it.
GIITTV: Is this something completely new to you then?
Chris: It's something of a statement, to show that we can do things like this and sell it out; and to prove that unsigned bands can put on a great evening and pull a crowd, not just play support slots.
GIITTV: How's 2009 been for you? In some respects it seems like it's been a quieter one.
Sophie: Quiet in terms of releases.
Allan: We've been busy behind the scenes, though. We've developed tunes; there was the Holland tour this year, which was a sight to behold. It's been a productive year; the fact there's been no releases is probably a good thing, we've got a full armoury ready to push into next year with the idea of releasing an album.
Chris: We're very fussy and perfectionist; we're happy to take time getting something right rather than just rush into it. A year of consolidation, on the outside, sounds like we've not really done anything, but as a band we've developed in that time. I suppose the gig we're doing in a couple of weeks is a statement of intent for next year; the next time you talk to us will be in a few months when we've got big things to talk about.
GIITTV: And I suppose this slow burning process is a good thing, especially when a lot of bands who broke through into Manchester when you initially did have fallen by the wayside [Fear Of Music, Polytechnic, Granby Row etc.]?
Mark: We've always tended to go at the right speed for how we want to work.
Chris: We want to keep control over every aspect, and not go from something to nothing in such a steep tangent so that once you get there you're open to be shot down. We're trying to build a credible back catalogue and a credible set of fans; then we'll have people who'll stick around and we can be in it for the longevity, and not just explode and disappear.
Mark: Yeah, I think basically we'll always stay in control; we're never going to be a band that gets out of control too fast.
Allan: (Laughter) Genius quote!
Mark: Like, “if it's not good we'll go crazy”, we won't do that.
GIITTV: Having built up a following in Manchester over a number of years- and because you've always differed from the dated notion of what a Manchester band should sound like- is the city's recent burst of creativity on a local level in some small way linked with yourselves?
Chris: Well since we've been around there's probably been several different 'Manchester sounds'; we've always just stuck in the background and let it happen.
Sophie: I've always felt that we're on a different plain to everyone else; people view us differently, we sound different and we don't seem to have the hype that other bands acquire.
Mark: We aren't an indie-pop culture sort of band. We do what we do and it's different to a lot of Manchester-based music.
Chris: The temptation's always been there for us to go “this is what's getting picked up now and selling, we should maybe do that.”
Sophie: But then I don't think we could do that if we tried, to be honest.
Mark: Well it's also why we take a while with our songs.
Sophie: Yeah, a hell of a long while.
Mark: We don't give into trends, we want to make original stuff and make it high quality; and that takes a little bit longer to do.
Chris: It'd be nice to think, though, that some of the bands that are in Manchester now are getting picked up because they've heard what we're doing or something like that.
GIITTV: In practical terms, you put on your own promotions as well [Sophie runs regular folk night For Folk's Sake, whilst Mark is in charge of the GIITTV reviewed Revue] which seem to bring together a wide range of diverse acts currently in the city.
Chris: Yeah, I didn't think of that. People might look at Air Cav and see Mark's night and Sophie's night, and assume we've got a bit of a mini-empire, that maybe we're pulling a few strings.
Sophie: Which isn't intentional.
Chris: Two of the four of us put on their own nights; that's productive isn't it.
Mark: It helps us to learn as well, we get to learn more about the music scene we're in. No one knows everything about how the whole live aspect works, so for us it's about experience things.
GIITTV: I guess by doing that, you sidestep the problems of sales and distribution affecting a lot of lower level bands at the moment. Do you feel affected by the current shifting emphasis towards the live scene?
Sophie: Well we've always been pretty DIY from the beginning and that's never changed. When I promote my night though, I always read the back stories of other bands coming through and it's interesting to compare their experiences to ours. We've not changed at all in that sense though, and I don't think we will.
Mark: In terms of the whole sales versus live thing, it's not really worth thinking about; it doesn't make any difference to us.
Allan: We're here to provide the tunes at the end of the day. A lot of bands get too focused on other things and it detracts from your main point. It's not a reason for getting into a band: “how's it going to be distributed, what markets we're going to exploit”.
Sophie: That's for Simon Cowell to sort out.
Mark: (Looks at band mates) I don't know about the rest of you, but I prefer playing the gigs than releasing the singles though.
Sophie: We've always said our recordings haven't captured how we sound live. That says that we probably are a live band; people feed off the energy we have live.
GIITTV: You do have a very distinct sound though; is there a strict set of guidelines you adhere to concrete your sound?
Mark: We have a couple of distinct characteristics within the band: Chris's vocals and Sophie's violin. In terms of song writing, though, we try and vary what we do each time to create something more interesting. But yeah, it does always have an Air Cav sound.
GIITTV: We've talked about staying in Manchester, cultivating your sound and fan base; but you've been to Europe a fair bit- France last year, Holland this. Is there something over there which attracts you?
Sophie: We're so well looked after over there! It becomes not just about the gig; they made sure we were fed, watered, paid. At one place I had ten beer tokens and there was no way I was going to be able to use them!
Mark: Whereas I was like, “yeah I shouldn't have drank ten beer tokens”
Chris: It's a taste of what you get over here if you're established. But over there they seem to have it for bands at every level. If you make the effort to play for them then they'll make the effort for you.
Sophie: From what we could understand, though, if you're British or American you get this weird kind of respect. Some of the Dutch bands we met can't seem to get that kind of kudos as a result.
Mark: They do love English bands over there; they flock just to see what you're up to and I think that's part of the reason why all the gigs were full. And it was great!
GITTV: In terms of your sound, do you think it's interpreted differently in Europe?
Mark: I don't know that it is different.
Sophie: They instantly want to compare you to Manchester bands; “do they sound like Manchester bands? Are they following on the Manchester legacy?”
GIITTV: Does that get annoying after a while?
Chris: If you're going to play in Europe, you need to have the promotion of where you're from, or else people'll assume you're a Dutch band and not turn up. So it's a selling point that we have. It doesn't work the other way round though; you wouldn't all go and pile in to see a Dutch band in Night & Day.
GIITTV: Do you think that there is still a stigma attached to bands from Manchester? Or has that been outgrown?
Allan: I disagree with that; you look at the Manchester sound, well what is that? Simply Red, Joy Division and that's it?
Sophie: But no other cities get talked about as much in the sense of “do they have a haircut? Do they have a swagger?”
Mark: Elbow are probably one of the biggest bands in the world right now, and they don't exactly go in the same vein as most of the other big bands from Manchester, so it is slightly changing all the time.
Chris: I think it's quite an old-fashioned view of Manchester. Certainly since we've been going three or four bands have broken through who've been labelled 'the new Manchester sound', and they've all sounded different.
Mark: Everyone knows music comes in waves in different parts of the country; not any one part has a specific sound.
Chris: That said, for as many bands saying “oh we don't sound like we're from Manchester, Manchester's crap”, you'll play on it when abroad and say “yes, we're a band from Manchester” to get people to come and watch you. Bands have to expect to be stereotyped; whether they're going to embrace it or not is up to them. Manchester has helped us; we'd not done as well if we'd sounded the same but come from Stoke. We're thankful for the legacy; but that's all it is: a legacy.
GIITTV: There does seem to be a bit of a buzz around the place this year.
Mark: I think it probably has been a good year, (looks at band) do you think?
Sophie: There's certainly a lot going on, whether that breaks through is another matter.
Chris: There's enough going on for everybody now; whatever your style is you can go and embrace it.
GIITTV: So, what are your plans going into 2010?
Chris: The blueprint is to do this gig, and then go away for a few months to plot and scheme in terms of creating an album for the summer, all going well. There's a few decent labels interested, we're getting studio time sorted, we've got fifteen plus tracks ready to go. And that's going to be our labour of love for the next six months or so.
GIITV: Where have you thought about recording the album?
Mark: We're still not decided.
Chris: Probably the grander the better for us though, I think. We work better in those surroundings.
GIITTV: Finally, what have been your favourite releases and live acts this year?
Allan: I enjoyed this year. Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Warlocks' new albums were good; Deerhunter, Animal Collective, strong EPs and albums; and probably The Warlocks again on the live front.
Chris: Spiritualized re-release of Ladies & Gentlemen, Yo La Tengo- amazing. Yeah, Yo La Tengo live too.
Sophie: Yeah, that was my favourite gig.
Chris: I've really enjoyed For Folk's Sake and Revue; they've been highlights.
Mark: Revue was a highlight!
Chris: 'cos we're let loose on the DJing; Allen plays Ice-T and stuff. I find it difficult to get into new groups though; it sounds snobbish, but I really need to believe in a band, and I've not been able to grab onto anybody this year.
GIITTV: The turnaround's so quick now as well.
Chris: Exactly, before you know it you're the last person that'll get into it and then it disappears.
Mark: He's too busy writing.
Chris: Oh yeah, that's right. We're too busy strumming our own songs.
Air Cav play Manchester's Cross Street Unitarian Chapel on Saturday December 19th. Tickets are available from the band's official website or on Ticketweb.