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The Comedy of Errors


10 August 15 words: Paul Klotschkow
"Grunge to me is what happened in that scene around Nirvana; it was an era and it has happened. We are not trying to revive grunge"
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Illustration: Tom Heather

Kagoule first came to my attention when I was a judge for a Nusic competition to find a band to support Dog Is Dead at Rock City at the tail end of 2011. Kagoule didn’t win, Kappa Gamma did. But in a twist of good fortune, Kagoule ended up being given a slot on the bill when another of the support acts had to pull out. Both bands were signed by local label-cum-management types Denizen and were seen as ‘one’s to watch’ early on. Kappa Gamma eventually lost momentum and fizzled out, while Kagoule pushed on and now, almost four years later, they find themselves on the cusp of releasing their debut album.

When I first sit down with Cai (vocals/guitar), I tell him that I’ve been listening to the first ever set of recordings the band uploaded to Soundcloud way back in 2011 as a bunch of sixteen year olds. “The Son EP? I really thought that I had managed to rid the world of that thing.” If he feels embarrassed by it now (it’s no longer available online), it laid the foundations for what the band has become; a thrilling concoction of buzz-saw riffs last seen wearing plaid in ‘93 and fantastical lyrics from someone who grew up on a diet of fantasy and sci-fi literature.

Still a relatively young band in terms of both age and how long they’ve been together, how does he feel his songwriting has changed since that first set of recordings? “With having played for a few years, I can’t write a song that we couldn’t play as a band. We are all getting better at what we can do, we all bring in better ideas and work with each other differently now.” He continues, “At the same time, I think it has got a bit less honest. Not that I’m at all there yet, but it feels like it’s quite obvious what people like in a song and it is really hard to avoid it when you know what people want. I still try and make it original. It’s its own thing.”

Urth is titled after the 1987 science fiction book The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, therefore it’s no surprise that Cai’s lyrics are full of fantastical word play, metaphors and striking imagery. “The only genre that I’ve been into massively all my life through all the other stuff is folk. I try to do the folk storytelling thing. I guess it is sci-fi, fantasy-influenced folk lyrics. Folk is like fantasy anyway. I’m not very good at remembering quotes, I couldn’t tell you a line from a book, but I can tell you a picture that I had in my head or how it made me feel. I try to do the same thing with lyrics.”

The LP is set to be released almost a year to the day since the band recorded it. The reason for this long gestation is because the band recorded the bulk of it with Peter Fletcher in Wales, and then after a chance encounter with Arctic Monkeys’ producer Ross Orton, did Gush and a couple of other bits and pieces with him in Sheffield. “We were playing with The Wytches, and Rory from Drenge brought Ross along. He was talking over us because we were just the support band.

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Photo: Elmore

“He told us he was really surprised that he liked us, which is strange coming from him – being in a band, he would have been a support band. He mentioned that he had done some stuff with Arctic Monkeys and I thought I better start taking him seriously. We re-recorded some of it with him. He was recording Drenge’s second album at the same time, we were literally popping in to record with him when he had days free, and it took a long time just because he was so busy.

“Some of the songs were written and finished in the studio.” Cai goes on to explain, “Mike for example, the drum take on that, which I think is the best drum take on the album, was a case of ‘We’ve just written it, let’s do a take.’ There’s a massive range of five years worth of songs on the album, the cream of the crop.”

Urth was mostly recorded live, with Cai restraining himself from taking advantage of the studio and going full-on Be Here Now and overdubbing guitar after guitar, and instead opting for a less-is-more approach. “I wanted it to sound empty, minimal, because I know everything is so overdone; you think to get that heavy guitar sound you need five more layers over it, but it doesn’t work like that. When you layer it, it gets really washy. I’m sure by the next album I will be asking for orchestras, but for this one I wanted to keep it simple.”

How does Cai feel about the record? “The songs don’t sound as I imagined them to sound, but they fit well together. Every song in my head is influenced by such different things it would be too everywhere if it was like how I wanted it to be.” He adds, “Nothing was written specifically for the album, it’s a collection of what we have done so far. If anything it is a pre-album. I imagine the next album will be a bit more like I have intended to write an album album.”

The earliest song that appears on the album, one that originally appeared way back on the Son EP and will be instantly recognisable to long-time fans of the band, Made of Concrete, has been revitalised with a new arrangement and a lead vocal from bass player Lucy. “There was no Lucy singing on her own on the album and she’s got a really good voice. It was something we tried in the studio. I do miss singing it. We tried to make it like a journey halfway through the album to break it up; there’s no heavy beat, it’s a chance to take a breather. I was going to call it Interlude and stop calling it Made of Concrete.”

When we talk, Urth might still only be a pre-order on iTunes, but Cai seems eager to get cracking on the follow-up and tells me that the band have around six or seven complete songs that they are happy with and play in practice. “I’m now thinking in songs relative to the other songs that I have just written, trying to write an album that I would really want to listen to.” While his changing listening habits will inform how they approach the second album.

“When we wrote this first album I was probably at a stage where I wasn’t really listening to albums, especially when writing some of the earlier songs. I would have just one song by a band on my iPod or I would listen to only one song off an entire album, which is quite a crap thing to happen, but it’s because we can and it’s free. I’ve listened to a lot more albums since and I understand what I would want from an album, what makes an album I like and what I would want from an album I like.”

Was Cai aware of Earache before putting ink to paper with them? “I knew of Fudge Tunnel, Napalm Death, Godflesh, things like that. When I was younger I was into quite a lot of that stuff without realising that it was Earache. I looked at their website and it was the most hilarious flashing metal logo and I thought, ‘I would love to be a part of that.’”

Earache held off from signing Kagoule for a while as the band weren’t quite ready and “Needed to learn a few lessons as we had done it for a few years just having it our way all of the time, and you do convince yourself that your way is the best way. It takes a few instances to be proved wrong.” The interest from the label came at a critical time for the band. “I was starting to think about other stuff to do like working; it was dawning on me that I’d not gone to uni, thinking, ‘Have I made the right decision?’ There was good stuff happening to us but it was few and far between.”

If Kagoule seem an unlikely signing for a label more notable for its grindcore and thrash metal acts such as Napalm Death, just don’t go calling them a grunge band. “I think when people label you they are changing the label to fit you. They have a different perception of what that label means compared to you. Grunge to me is what happened in that scene around Nirvana; it was an era and it has happened. We are not trying to revive grunge. It’s not like I listen to Nirvana every day, I wouldn’t say that they massively influence me.” While both band and Earache are aware that they are a new type of act for the label. “They’ve not rushed us, we don’t feel like we are going to be chewed up and spat out with them. It does feel long-term – we are working together and for each other on the same level. We are a completely new style of band for them so we are both learning together.”

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He explains that when the band were starting out, they felt like loners existing in a world of their own, but that these conditions were crucial in helping them forge their strong identity. “Growing up in Nottingham there weren’t really any bands our age doing anything similar. At the time it felt a bit lonely, we didn’t really have any band pals and were left alone. That had a massive effect on what we were creating. We existed in our own bubble and it made us stand out. Thank god that Lawrence (drums) can draw as it gave us some kind of image that has stuck with people, then Lucy being the character she is.”

Kagoule’s breakthrough has coincided with – and has probably been given a helping hand by – a wave of nineties-fueled nostalgia that has seen the rise of a raft of bands that share a similar spirit and sonic palette, including The Wytches who headlined Kagoule’s curated stage at this year’s Dot To Dot.

“We have found a really nice bunch of people including everyone we had playing that Dot To Dot stage. Every time we went to Brighton we ended up making friends with a band that we all really liked. You play with a lot of bands that are great but you wouldn’t go home and listen to them. There’s just a bit more of a music scene in Brighton. The Gush video was done by someone who is part of that scene. We are still outsiders because we are the only ones that aren’t from Brighton. One day we won’t be the youngest people either, it feels like we’ve been the youngest for so long, when does it end? It took long enough to find some friends.”

With a debut album on a well-respected label, UK and European tours on the horizon, and even a set of promo posters that will be plastered all over the London Underground (“It’s pretty strange, it doesn’t feel right”), things are currently on the up for a band that started out without much of a plan. Unlike a lot of new bands that break through nowadays, it’s refreshing to see that they have done it the old-fashioned way, through a combination of hard work, talent, and good fortune.

“I feel really lucky”, Cai starts off. “I meet bands all the time who are kind of doing what we are doing, but fifty times better, and wondering ‘Why is this happening to us and not to them?’” He puts some of it down to a simple case of being the right band in the right place at the right time. “I think maybe Nottingham wanted something to happen at the time that we happened and then helped us have a leg up at a point where we might have quit the band. It kept us going."

Urth is released via Earache Records on Friday 21 August 2015.

Kagoule, Rough Trade Nottingham, Thursday 13 August 2015. They will also be supporting Sleaford Mods, Rock City, Friday 9 October 2015.

Kagoule on Bandcamp

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