Hello Scott – This is a bittersweet occasion, since the band that you’ve been a part of for over 11 years, Sons And Daughters, broke up this past November. I had the pleasure of interviewing you back in 2007 when Sons And Daughters was running full steam ahead with the imminent release of the Bernard Butler-produced album This Gift. It’s been quite a ride for you since then, with the release of last album Mirror, Mirror in 2011 and then the break-up of the band. How is life treating you now, post-Sons And Daughters?
Life is really great, thank you. Still living in Glasgow but working out how I can make that Malibu one day.
Will you be continuing in the music arena, maybe as a solo artist, or as part of another band? I dearly hope so, preferably with you on lead vocals and guitar!
That’s kind of you to say. I don’t have a specific project like that in mind at the moment although I have still been writing music. I was working on a theatre project last month and all being well, I may be working with a dance company, scoring music for a live piece we will collaborate on.
I’m hoping to start writing some music with a good friend soon so we’ll see what happens with that.
It sounds like you potentially have a lot going on music-wise in the near future. That’s awesome! Sorry to be so nosy, but why is Sons And Daughters no more, especially when musically you were at a high point and there were so many possible avenues to travel as a band?
I guess it just felt like the right time to wrap things up. I really liked our last album but I found I sadly didn’t enjoy the touring and playing bit as much as I had in the past and it was a promise we always made ourselves that if that happened we would stop.
Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but sometimes you have to know when to fold them. Was the split amicable and do you all still keep in touch? Do you know if Adele, David, and/or Ailidh will continue to make music?
Yes, it’s all completely amicable. Adele, Dave and I all live in Glasgow so it’s easy to keep in touch. Ailidh lives a little further away but we mail.
Musically, yes I think the others are all busy. Dave has multiple bands on the go at the moment and I think Adele has plans for a new project of her own.
I didn’t realize that you and Adele were a couple until I recently read an older interview with David for Contact Music online where he mentions this! How did your relationship influence the band, if at all? If you don’t mind me asking, are you and Adele still together?
Well, it made touring easy for us both for a start as we weren’t missing someone at home. We aren’t together any more but after doing some touring not as a couple I did realise how much harder Dave and Ailidh must have had it in the early years when we were away from home for about 9 months a year.
It’s not a reason for the band ending by any means although I gather that’s what some may read into it. It was all very amicable.
Okay, this is kinda a simple question, but maybe not: How do you write out the band’s name? On early recordings it’s “Sons And Daughters”, which is what I’m used to, but on recent releases it’s “Sons & Daughters”. Why the switch and does it matter which moniker is used?
Um, any way you like really. I use the & because I like how it looks. But it doesn’t matter.
Looking back upon the formation of the band, I’ve read conflicting accounts of how you came on board and what the band’s sound was early on. I know that Adele and David were the founders, but when Adele spotted you performing and asked you to join, were you singing in a band or as a solo act? As a trio, did you have an acoustic, folk-based sound at first, and then you went electric, or did that happen as soon as you joined the band?
I was playing in a bunch of different bands in Glasgow when I was at University, all sorts of things. Noisy, pop, math rocky things and even a Massive Attack style trip hop band which was great fun. After that I played around the city on my own just doing acoustic semi instrumental stuff. At the time I was really into people like John Fahey and a friend’s project called James Orr Complex and I guess I was trying to do a similar thing.
When I joined, and for the first year or so, we were all really into people like Cat Power, Low and Bonnie Prince Billy and that was very much reflected in the our songs which at that time were really slow… slow core sort of things. We were just exploring, looking for a sound I guess and with Adele and Dave coming out of Arab Strap it seemed like that end of things was a good place to look first of all.
A turning point probably came when we started writing songs that became Love The Cup. Songs like “Fight” and “Johnny Cash” came about and significantly upped the tempo. We found it more fun to play live and things grew from there.
Ah, I had thought that the signature floor-stomper “Johnny Cash” was yours from before joining Sons And Daughters. Are there any songs that you’ve had a hand in creating that haven’t been committed to record… yet?
“Johnny Cash” was just a riff really and a vocal melody then we all just bashed it out together when we recorded Love The Cup. There were never any lyrics right up until an hour before the vocal take!
I’ve got loads and loads of stuff at home, demos, sketches, riffs that haven’t become anything but not all of it is good. The good stuff tends to get used and it’s just a part of the process that you have left over stuff that you file away and forget about. There were a couple of songs on every album that never made it out. One called “Rope” that we did a full studio recording of for This Gift. I remember not being fussed about it at the time but I don’t mind it now. Ailidh had a fantastic Kim Deal-ish bassline and it was pretty driving.
You mention liking Jeff Fahey’s guitar style for a time, and I’m curious as to what you specifically liked about his guitar-playing. I’ve heard some of his work and as a casual listener I’m not sure what to get out of him.
John Fahey was a great finger player and I discovered him just at a time when I was looking to do something different with my playing. I think I got a Papa M record, enjoyed the instrumental guitar stuff then a friend recommended me John Fahey which had a similar flavour but had been recorded in the 60s.
I enjoyed the fact that it was this new way of playing to me. Like Nick Drake or Bert Jansch, fingerstyle playing. Less complicated than those two perhaps but no less melodic.
The Repulsion Box, your breakout album, took a speedy 2 weeks to record, and I have to admit, it’s my favorite album of yours. Was the fast turnaround time due to necessity (as in limited studio time) or were the songs for this album easy to knock out quickly?
Well, the producer Victor wanted to record us pretty much just the way we played live so there wasn’t that much in the way of overdubbing or really intricate extra stuff to put on each song so it was quick. We wrote “Red Receiver” in the studio but I think everything else was good to go. We’d been playing them for at least the last 3 months live so we had them worked out the way we wanted them at that point.
The funny thing is, as the tours and years go on all the songs warp and morph in to their own thing. I don’t listen to the records so you just played them from your memory of what they were so it’s sometimes funny to hear one of them played out and about and realise it’s much slower than you remember, or in a different key or missing all these little guitar things that you did live. “Rama Lama”, more than any of them, changed into a massively different beast in the subsequent years.
Your next album, This Gift, was produced by Bernard Butler. In an interview for The Brag, Adele mentioned that Bernard wasn’t keen on you singing lead, Scott! What’s up with that?! What possible reason(s) could he give for not wanting you at the forefront of at least one song?
Well, to be fair I remember it differently. I wasn’t that keen on singing anything lead on that album myself and I think Bernard really wanted to concentrate on bringing Adele’s voice out more and focus on her as the central voice which I think was a fantastic thing. Up till that point Adele had sung in a lower range and Bernard brought this whole upper, higher more open sound to her that I don’t think anyone of us even knew was there until that point. So it was absolutely the right thing to do from a production point of view. Plus, I don’t love singing, I’m much happier playing.
Bernard and I concentrated on how to do more than we had done previously with guitars and that was a huge learning experience for me. In truth I’d have found it difficult to play some of the more tricky parts and sing at the same time. I learned a lot of tricks about songwriting, instrument layering, hooks, tempo, studio gear. Everything.
After the record came out a little too much was made of some of the difficult stuff that happened on that recording and I really regretted that as Bernard worked incredibly hard. He was very hurt that we thought it had been hard and that we’d been open in saying that and I wish now I hadn’t.
He was so generous with his playing secrets and some of the things he did like letting me use his beautiful guitar for the record. I had pictures on my wall of him playing that when I was a teenager and it was a privilege to work with him. He was and still is one of my guitar heroes.
Speaking of guitars and guitar heroes, is it true that you also played a guitar of Johnny Marr’s for the album? What song or songs are graced by that guitar?
Yes it is. Johnny Marr gave Bernard this gorgeous Gibson 335 that he used to record a lot of the Smiths’ Strangeways album with. Knowing that I was such a fan of his playing Bernard very kindly brought the guitar in to the studio and let me use it on the record. It was a lovely gesture and it definitely gave a whole heap of inspiration. The track you can hear it the most clearly on is “The Bell”, the main guitar, that 12 string sounding one, that’s the guitar.
What was your most favorite guitar to use when playing live?
Well in Sons & Daughters I used to play a Travis Bean 500 in the early days. It’s a great guitar but it’s very rare and therefore quite risky to take all over the world. An airline lost it for 2 weeks when we left Spain once and I swore I’d never take it out again. After that I mainly played Telecasters in the band but at home I’m a huge fan of Gibson stuff. I have a lovely Les Paul with a Bigsby that was my first ‘good’ guitar. Playing with Bernard gave me a new appreciation for the older Gibsons as his 355 that we used on This Gift is probably the best guitar I’ve ever played. So gorgeous.
Moving on to your vocals, how did you learn to sing like you do? Some of your vocalizations are very distinctive and dramatic, like your hollers on “Chains”, yodels on “Taste the Last Girl” (Were you channeling Morrissey?), and wails and shouts on lots ‘o’ tracks.
Ha! I don’t know. It’s far from a conscious thing. I’d love to sound like Moz or any number of people but you just do what your vocal chords are capable of I guess.
In 2006 Morrissey hand-picked Sons And Daughters to open some of his shows. You and Adele are known to be fans of Morrissey, and I was wondering when and how you first discovered his music. Did you hear a The Smiths song first, or was it a tune from Morrissey’s solo output? I was a bit late to the party… I think my introduction to Morrissey was his “Suedehead” video on MTV’s 120 Minutes.
I got Smiths albums on tape when I was about 13 or 14 in the early 90s. I was living abroad and as with so many of these things, we got introduced to them via a friend’s cooler older brothers who were at University back in the UK. That’s how we found out about Pavement and Jesus and Mary Chain too.
I was listening to lots of things like Nirvana and harder American stuff and The Smiths and the first Suede album were the first British things of that sort that got me interested in what was Indie music at the time.
You’ve covered Morrissey’s “Pregnant for the Last Time” live. What other songs have you covered live and do any of them exist on record, maybe as a b-side?
Loads of song over the years but I doubt any were recorded. We did “Nice N Sleazy” by The Stranglers and “Come In Out Of The Rain” by Parliament (which became B sides). I remember we did “Because The Night” early on too. “Lioness” by Songs Ohia…
One cover that you did commit to record is Adamski’s “Killer”, which is the b-side to “Gilt Complex”. It’s so different from the Seal-sung original. You really made it your own! Did you pick this song to cover just because it contains the lyrics phrase “…sons and daughters…” or was there another reason behind the choice?
We just really liked the song and figured it out in rehearsal one day and thought we’d do it. I love the chorus.
The brisk, tuneful, and effortless “Chains” is my most fave song off This Gift. Was there a different creation process or vibe in the studio for this song compared with others off the album?
Actually, there was. Adele had the verse chords and vocal melody and some lyrics for years and years but we never managed to make it into a full song. After our first 2 week session recording This Gift we came home and I worked out a chorus and some other bits. When we got back together in the studio we showed it to Bernard and he further tweaked some things like the arrangement and suggested a few changes. Other songs were similarly tweaked with Bernard but I don’t remember any of the other ones being around for so long before being recorded.
I haven’t heard your b-side “Giallo” yet and I was wondering if you are a fan of this style of film. While this style is not my cup of tea, I have run through several Dario Argento films. I didn’t realize that he directed Dracula 3D last year!
I like some of that stuff. I’m not a huge horror aficionado though, that’s Adele. I do like some of Argento’s stuff. Suspiria, obviously. I wasn’t aware he’d directed Dracula 3D!
I’ve always thought of your band as being Scottish or ‘just’ a band and never considered whether any American artists have influenced your sound. Some reviewers, however, have pointed out there’s an American streak to your dark rock songs. Would you agree with them and if so, which American bands and/or singers have shaped your outlook?
Um, I think we all like music from all over the world. I wouldn’t say one country influenced us more than another. There’s so many things it’s almost impossible to list them all. Everyone from Led Zeppelin to Nina Simone to The Smiths to Neu! to Suede to The Cure to Dylan to early blues to Iggy and Bowie to The B52s to Pixies to Nick Cave & The Bad Seed to PIL to Sonic Youth to… It’s endless really, and that’s only me, everyone in the band would have a different list.
You’ve traveled all over the globe as part of Sons And Daughters over the years and you’ve stated that you enjoy touring, with Australia being a fave destination. Is that as ‘far-flung’ from Scotland as you’ve been? Are there any locations that you haven’t been to that you want to visit?
Love Australia. There’s so much of the world I still haven’t seen. I’ve got a little map of all the places I’ve been and the whole of South America and South Africa are pretty much untouched. India, Thailand, Vietnam…
Speaking of touring and playing live, do you feel that any or all of your albums sufficiently capture your live sound?
Probably not if I’m honest. Albums are always done backwards. You so the record then go on tour for a year and over that time the songs end up becoming something else. What you really should do is tour them first then record them once they’ve been battered into their new shape but it’s not the way it works.
I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime in the 2000s you subbed for Paul Thomson in Franz Ferdinand for a few gigs. What was that experience like and how difficult is it to pick up another band’s songs?
It was a wonderful time. I didn’t exactly sub for Paul in that I played drums. Our friend Andy played Paul’s kit and I covered what Andy had been doing which was keyboards and some guitar stuff.
It was amazing fun getting to play to enormous festival crowds every night, the songs are just incredible so it’s a pleasure and the guys are a lovely bunch to hang around with. We had a great summer. I’m actually off to see them play a tiny secret show in a pub in Glasgow in about 3 hours as it happens!
I read long ago that you follow a vegan diet. If so, how tough was it to tour and eat right? I guess the fried scorpions on a stick were out of the question…
I’m actually vegetarian but you’re right it’s still very tough to eat well in some places. It’s getting better these days but on some of the long American or European drives the only options are beige junk and it just ends up making you feel low and slow after a too much of it. We got served a plate of brains and pigs ears in Spain once when we asked for something ‘traditional’!
You did the soundtrack to the short film Native Son, directed by Scott Graham in 2010. Did you craft a song or songs especially for this film and if so, is the music available anywhere besides in the film?
Yeah, that was a really good experience and something I’d be really keen to do more of. Scott wanted full songs rather than a traditionally arranged score so we just wrote a bunch of things and let him select what he liked. One of the pieces became “The Beach” on Mirror Mirror but the other two are only in the film. I don’t think I even have a copy anymore!
You’ve done several music videos for your songs, but some of the most entertaining footage I’ve seen of you is actually from a live clip in 2007 where you and Adele are singing in a hotel elevator in Amsterdam. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYfXrIAKd_E What are your memories of this taping? How weird or funny was it to have that unsuspecting hotel guest walk into the elevator while you were performing?
Haha! Yeah that was funny. Adele and I were just on a press trip to promote This Gift being released and we just got asked to do that. You can tell from our faces we found it pretty amusing. I have no idea what the Dutch people in the lift were thinking.
Your live performance of “Red Receiver”is also ace: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7STL7K_6FnM I don’t know what year this is from, but it’s for the Fearless Music Show in NYC. Do you remember this gig at all and why there are all those guitars hanging on the walls? Did you use one of those guitars for the performance?
I do remember that. It was probably 2005 but I don’t remember what the deal was with the guitars but that’s my trusty Travis Bean I’m playing.