When Tugboat Captain invited us to come down to their studio in Battersea, we had a certain image in mind. The looming presence of the former power plant has given the whole area a somewhat industrial feel; we picture dingy, high-ceilinged warehouses, cold industrial lighting and echoing reverby vocal booths. So, you can imagine our slight surprise when we turned onto a fairly leafy, row of terraced houses. About halfway down the curving crescent was the studio in question, and it looked, well, like someone’s front room. As band-leader, Captain, Alex Sokolow to his family, Sox to his friends, explains, “this is still the meeting place, this is still our gathering point as a band, because the studio is essentially here”.
It was in this mid-terrace that the band created their frankly remarkable second record, Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud. Listening to the band’s take on orchestral pop, it’s hard to imagine how they crafted it in such an unlikely place. It is a record that simply doesn’t sound in any way constrained or lo-fi. It was a conscious decision, as Captain explains, “that was one of the big ambitions of it. We figured, actually we can do this, without having to pay however much money it is to go into a studio we don’t need that. We can do it at home, the cost was how much Guinness I could drink while I was mixing it”. This charming romanticism is perhaps at the heart of what Tugboat Captain are all about; the band are a disparate collection of characters, seemingly united in a fervent belief in the music they are making. A simple question about musical influences leads to discussing an accidental obsession with classic rock, their currently futile attempts to start an internet feud with Rat Boy, and one member’s grandmother’s lemon trees getting stolen in Bologna. On their own music though they snap into a determined and inspiring cohesion.
The band originally started in a fairly minimal setting, releasing their debut album in December last year. At that point, Tugboat Captain was just Captain, his sister Anoushka, codename Honeyglaze, and bassist Josh, or Jesus Big Boy, a nickname gathered through the joys of translating his surname into a variety of languages and back again. Discussing the band’s formation Captain recollects, “we put out this really lo-fi record in December, just out of wanting to put out a record, then formed a band around it”. The band seems to have grown organically from there, swelling to its current six-piece line-up, plus numerous occasional guests. The band revel in the flexibility of the line-up live, “we played one show in Cardiff just me and Buddy (incredibly laid-back Italian bassoonist, Sloppy Giueseppe) and a sitar player, that’s the one with the naked bassoon photo” – a photo sadly not provided for the internet’s visual pleasure. Although they reject the term collective, “a bit of an uppity catch-all”, the changes have resulted in a shift in songwriting. Captain suggests a more democratic approach to songwriting, “it’s pretty mixed, for the first album I did most of it, but now Josh has got a song, Isaac’s got a song, Buddy’s got a song, then my sister wrote two tracks”.
The five people present for this interview, (Honeyglaze sadly not around due to a holiday in Amsterdam), are wonderfully effervescent company; jumping in and finishing each others sentences, and clearly enjoying being in a band, but none the less there’s a steely seriousness to their music. When asked if they consider music a viable career, Captain offers an unequivocal response, “absolutely, I mean hopefully. The plan is we release this record and it goes to the next record, we just build this thing that we’re creating. It’s growing exponentially, it was only nine months ago that we actually gathered together for the first time”. A lot of the band’s momentum can be traced back to their break out single, Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own, “it did its own thing which was really exciting. Now, we have this way of reaching so many more people, when we launched that Kickstarter we were very optimistic. To raise £1000 towards just getting the record mastered properly. We reached it well before our deadline”.
With that new-found exposure, also comes new expectations, “there was this big pressure when we put out, Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own, and people were like, this is the perfect song for my summer…we were like shit what are we going to do, our songs are so depressing”. Everybody Seems Think I’m A Raindcloud is certainly a record that could be construed as downbeat, but Tugboat Captain reject the idea it’s a sad album, “the first album, I went through a really shit break up, and it was just really sad…the new album, I guess a lot of that is about relationships, it’s not solely focused on that, it’s about being in your 20’s and living in London, scheming and being a bit bummed out”.
As well as marking the release of Everybody Seems To Think I’m A Raincloud, this month also sees the band head out on their first UK tour, “we’re going away for a week, we’re going to play up and down the country, it’s super exciting. Obviously, there’s stresses with it, we can’t just do it on the off-chance as there’s seven of us. So it costs a lot, and we all have other lives, so this is the first time we’re doing it properly”. Those other interests seem to come in a multitude of projects, many of which tie into the band’s needs, they make their own videos and the album artwork is a painting by Captain. It all seems to play into a DIY ethos, which seems to sit a little uneasily with the band. We ask, drummer Jesus Big Boy, if it’s a conscious decision to be DIY, “that’s the only thing we can do without seemingly getting screwed even more. At the moment we can do this ourselves. Like the videos that’s been a real joy, doing all the videos for our own band, having full creative control and we can pretend to do a lot of other things but we can’t pretend to be commercially viable, it has been nice being forced to be genuine about it”. We ask if that creative control is important to the band, “we’ve never been in a position where we haven’t had it I guess, there’s never been anyone coming in to take it away”.
Sonically, Everybody Seems To Think I’m A Raincloud seems to almost have a slightly retro feel, perhaps out of fashion for the trend for more minimal sounds, “the ambition was to make this baroque pop record. We’re going to replicate the idea that we could afford a thirty-piece orchestra, but actually we’re just going to do it with a couple of mates in our house”. There were two contrasting influences for the production on the record, that perhaps neatly bookend the Tugboat Captain sound: Guided By Voices and The Beatles. “Guided By Voices did it in a basement, drinking as many beers as they could and then recording and seeing how quickly they could do it”, explains Captain, though beneath that simplistic approach was a desire for a wider sound; drummer, Boatswain Joe, touches on the influence of The Beatles, “I’m sure there was somebody who did it before then, but with Sgt Peppers, they had so many orchestral things on there, and that was one of the first baroque pop records”. George Martin’s production techniques also filtered into Captain’s approach, “I got nutty about the Sgt Peppers mixing technique. The way it was all being bounced together into single tracks, as they were working, so a lot of the record is actually mixed in the same way. We don’t need to go to Abbey Road to do that, we can bounce four-track string parts into one track, then continue to bounce into a single track of orchestra”. It’s an intriguing approach in the digital age where such track limitations are not the norm, an approach the band only jokingly put down to recording on a low quality laptop with limited storage.
Although their second record is not even out yet, it’s clear Tugboat Captain are already makings plans for the future, it all builds around a three album template followed by other successful indie-artists. They talk of a three album cycle, “there are loads of examples, Father John Misty, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes. Break up, I’m in love, I am god or I believe in god”. With plans in place for the religious awakening required for album three, we finish by asking if there’s a political spin to a band, named as they are, after the Galaxie 500 a-political anthem, “Galaxie 500 is kind of like sad music, Tugboat Captain is sad music, I say there’s no political stance, but wait for the third album, the god album. It gets real deep”. Wherever the Tugboat Captain is sailing next, it’s going to be a journey well worth following.
Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud is out October 27th. Click HERE for more information on Tugboat Captain.