Sons & Daughters are pissed off.
Idiotic pap-strewn mags have got their goat and reality TV has been rubbing them up the wrong way – and judging by the full-on ferocity of their new album This Gift, they want the whole world to know about it.
musicOMH greets the Glasgow-based quartet in different stages of undress as they prepare to storm the stage of London’s Islington Academy…
There is a problem with their tour manager’s phone which means we endure 20 minutes of pelting rain, stuck outside the venue, until warm and wiry drummer David Gow spots us and saves the day.
He leads the way through winding corridors to the modestly decorated dressing room deep in the bowels of the venue, where we find guitarist/vocalist Scott Paterson and Ailidh Lennon. The bassist, all in black, is applying the finishing touches to her immaculate make-up while Paterson and Gow wait, both ready to go; the sticks-man looking dapper in red braces, drainpipes and a neat, grey trilby hat and the singer donning an eye-catching combination of rockabilly quiff, dotted shirt, skinny jeans and scuffed leather jacket.
After a few minutes frontwoman Adele Bethel rushes in to the room, “Sorry I’m late,” she apologises, flashing that famously cheeky grin with huge rollers in her hair and eyes twinkling with sparkly gold glitter and thickly-applied kohl.
It is the vocalist and lyricist’s different approach to writing and singing that has primarily shaped the marked shift in Sons & Daughters’ latest attacking incarnation. In the past Bethel has scribed from a very personal standpoint, whereas infectious third effort This Gift contains more intriguing references to classic cinema and literature (films such as Cathy Come Home, Billy Liar, Darling and works by Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Emily Dickinson all provided inspiration) and makes for a compellingly dark and biting social commentary.
“The album is about a real dislike for contemporary culture and media,” Bethel explains. “That’s why there is a lot of romanticism of the 1960s in it and of the cinema and poetry of that time. I hate culture at the moment,” she spits. “I hate Big Brother and all the reality TV shows that are around. They’re like a guilty pleasure, I watch them and end up feeling totally repulsed with myself,” she says dramatically, before bursting into laughter with Lennon.
The music is also drastically different this time around, due in no small part to the influence of producer Bernard Butler, and although they are extremely happy with the finished product, the band say the experience of working with him was far from easy. “Making This Gift was very hard,” explains Bethel. “Obviously we are a close knit bunch and we had spent the summer in this beautiful location (the village of Adfern), playing board games and writing loads of songs that we were really proud of, and then we met Bernard, played him what we thought was our strongest stuff and he was really harsh. To have someone else come in with such strong opinions was quite shocking at first… he was like a strict teacher at school that knew you had a lot of potential but thought you were wasting it,” she chuckles.
So was Butler difficult to work with throughout the whole album-making process? “Yeah,” says Paterson, blue eyes glinting. “He could be really stubborn and cutting and was quite vicious at times. A lot of it was psychological, to make you angry so you’d really go for it.” “I’d be in the vocal booth and he’d say “I want you to make up four completely different harmonies over the top of the chorus, now go”, and press record,” Bethel says incredulously. “He really likes putting you on the spot and it was pretty severe. We’d come back to the studio after lunch every day wondering if Bernard and Scott were speaking to each other…”
These relentless methods have clearly paid off, however, as one listen to the breathtaking new material proves. While both Love The Cup and The Repulsion Box were pioneering in their addictive blend of folk-tinged, lusty blues punk, This Gift pushes the foursome to completely new and exhilarating heights. It sees the band really delving into their love of 1960s girl group stomp, Marr-ish guitars and soaring pop melodies and mixing it with their trademark, ragged riff attacks and poetic lyrics to staggering effect. In short, if ever there was an album to break them into the big league this is it.
Most excitingly, however, This Gift is the sound of musicians fearlessly experimenting with new techniques and in the process truly finding their form. Butler has brought out completely different dimensions to Sons & Daughters and showcased an ability and style that they didn’t even know they had, let alone dare use. Paterson, who later admits to being such a fan of the ex-Suede guitarist that he had an Athena poster of him on his wall as a teenager, much to the hilarity of the rest of the band, explains, “We had got to this point where we were almost in a corner with the way we were playing and Bernard completely obliterated that. Now we feel free to do whatever we like.” “He told us that if we moved the key of everything up a couple of tones, Adele would hit a register that would suit the higher parts of her voice better,” Gow says of Bethel’s stunning new singing style, “and it has really brought her vocals out. In fact I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.” Bethel agrees, “It has given me so much confidence, but it was hard. The first time Bernard made me sing House In My Head that high I almost vomited.” “That’s why it’s the set closer live,” Paterson giggles, “in case of any little accidents.”
Some acts too quickly fall into the trap of hashing together an unoriginal retread of glories past – step forward Reverend and the Makers and The Twang. Sons & Daughters could teach them a thing or two. The four-piece have put their own magnificent twist on their influences and pushed themselves well and truly out of their comfort zone, and in the process created the kind of electrifying sound that the mainstream can no longer ignore. Just don’t get on their wrong side.