Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

Bill Cummings 12/09/2006

Twenty year old Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly., a.k.a. one-man band Sam Duckworth is a unique artist in various ways, as a solo performer he doesn't conform to the recent model of dull corporate tunesmithery (James Blunt, David Gray et al), his brand of music infuses the spirit of folk with a forward thinking slant upon music making: using his laptop he adds lays layers of organic samples, and beats upon his brilliantly tuneful, picked out personally and politically charged songs. Fans and critics alike, are relishing and praising, his refreshingly stripped down sound calling it “The Postal Service crossed with Damien Rice” and leading me to draw parallels between Sam's work and the inventiveness of early Bright Eyes. A line from one of his singles “I Spy” says it best though, this is modern heartfelt songwriting laid bare: "...I don't care that this song has a melody or that the beats are not complex / I'm just trying to make you sing and not be perplexed. It doesn't mean any less."

Hailing from Southend Sam's new album “The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager” is inspired by his home town, his trips on the road and his own unique world view. But the story starts much earlier than that. “I've been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I think I was about fourteen when I started writing seriously though, before that I was in a small punk/hardcore band.”

Leaving behind his boyhood friends in that band Silverskin, he began working on his own material in 2004, eventually leading to a demo put out by the indie label with an eye for talent Big Scary Monsters. “One of my friends was on BSM, so I got on there through him, and released a few Eps on that label. Mostly basic demos”

A buzz quickly grew around his first few critically acclaimed demo EPs, which eventually led to him signing to Atlantic. A move which some in the “indie world” may have seen as selling out but Sam strong disagrees with any notion of that. “I don't think people who talk about selling out know what it means, and are probably obsessing over it unnecessarily. A lot of bands sell out before they ever sign to a label,” he points out, “I had all my equipment stolen so I literally wouldn't have been able to carry on touring, recording without the Atlantic deal. There was no compromise, the album is exactly the same as I wanted it to be before I signed to the label.” Indeed Sam appears to have complete control over every aspect of the GCWCF project him and his mates produced the album in Duckworth's Southend bedroom and a converted lock up near Luton, his tiny touring band consists of Sam, a drummer and a trumpet player and he confirms that his major label has never once questioned his creative freedom.

When you ask about his influences I guess most of us would expect him to cite various types of American indie, folk and alt-country but the answer is quite the reverse: “I'm into a lot of dance stuff, and things like Lemon Jelly. Also I really like At the Drive-In.”

While songwriting the GCWCF way seems to be based upon organic creativity, there's no complicated construction, his approach is very much seeing what comes out when he sits down to write a tune, it's this “let's see what happens” approach that is possibly one of the reasons why his sound is so natural and effortless. “I just tend to write songs on an acoustic guitar, and then build on top of that. The samples I use are taken from real instrumentals.”
Even lyrically, given that some of his bitter-sweet words are both autobiographical, self reflexive, and questioning of the wider world you may expect Sam's lyrics to be well thought poems that emerge long before he ever starts to pick up a guitar but again it seems that the GCWCF way is not too think too much, to seize the moment. “I have a subject matter in mind when I sit down to write the song. But I don't keep a lyric notebook or anything. I just see where the song is going and build layers on top of that.”

What's clear is that Sam is interested in experimenting in the future, his influences aren't limited by the restrictions of any genre, and I guess that's what part of makes him most exciting. He clearly isn't content with producing all of his music, working with other people, who challenge him musically is something he'd like to do. “Someone like Roni Size or William Orbit would be interesting I get the impression they would allow you space to create.”

I noted that lot of acts seem to go for the obvious name “indie” producers. “Yeah it's quite shocking. I don't care If I don't sell any records as long as it's the music that I want to make.”

Recent debut double A side single “Call me Ishmael/I Spy” led to a playlisting on Zane Lowe's show on Radio One, and inspired a great little anti-work video. I ask what inspired “Call Me Ishmael”, a song that's seemed to really begin to push him into the wider public consciousness: “I was working at a Halfords at the time, trying to fund my music.” he remembers “So I guess it's just about working boring 9-5 jobs, giving respect to people like my parents who have to work to survive. I drew some parallels with Moby Dick.”

Although some have called him the new Billy Bragg, Sam certainly doesn't want to be known as a political artist, he's no pompous Bono figure, his songs are mostly autobiographical, but speaking with him what comes across is his intense passionate views, and unlike many others he doesn't think twice about speaking his mind, when it comes to modern political issues. He has a genuine political conscience which is quite rare these days. When asked his thoughts upon the media's representation of terrorism or Islam, he has quite a lot to say. “The media is supposed to represent people yet they don't. Politicians are meant to represent us but they don't. Just because they wear a suit and a tie and sit in Parliament doesn't mean they speak for us. There's always going to be extremists yet they chose to highlight it. It's the same way it happened in Northern Ireland about 90% of the people are peace loving yet the Media chose to focus mostly upon the terrorism, they embrace extreme circumstances, we need to stop the scaremongering as its leading people in the Asian and Islamic communities getting discriminated against.”
On the other end of the political scale Sam has recently been known to deliver anti-BNP rants, inspired, it is reported, by a run in with the party themselves, before many of his recent live shows: “Racism comes down to a social problem pseudo political people who can't accept black people, Asians and lesbians ect I'm not part of the anti war movement, I'm not leftist but I do think its important to challenge things like the BNP.”

Sam clearly loves playing live, he's notched up over a hundred and fifty gigs since January 2005 , while over the next few months he will play over twenty gigs including festivals and club shows in small venues, even now he's on his way to appear at the Pop Factory in Porth, playing live is clearly an important way for him to communicate his songs. “If you're a musician who can't play live then you don't deserve to be called a musician. All these acts with backing tracks and vocal enhancers are lazy,” he spits, “playing live is really important to me, club shows are better because they're more intimate but Festivals have that comradely, when I go to a festival its great to catch up with my friends I haven't seen in a while and gave a good time. Reading this year was my favourite live gig so far.”

Some artists really pay attention to their press, I get the impression with Sam that he would never change anything to suit anyone else, but does he read the reviews he gets? “I'm always curious to see what's been written about me. You get compared to all sorts of things and pigeonholed but that's part of a journalist's job. The weirdest act I've been compared to was Fall Out Boy and I don't think I sound anything like them.” Indeed, Sam, indeed. Sam may be passionate, but “emo” is never really a word I would associate with his music: personal, crafty, escapist, tuneful and refreshing are words that come to my mind when taking a listen to his superb debut album “The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager (released on the 18th of September). Inspired by his love/hate relationship with his home town, his constant touring and his youthful vision of the modern world, this year he will be carving a niche in many people's heads and hearts. Get ready for GCWCF to take flight, hold on tight.