It was back in the summer of 2017 that we first stumbled across the band Tugboat Captain. That was via their excellent single, I Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own, a song where sun-dappled melodies played off against wistful, almost heart-broken lyrics, and somewhere in us, a suitable level of obsession was born. The track was lifted from the band’s second album, Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud, a record which crashed into our top ten albums of the year on the back of its ambitious home-produced beauty, and instinctively brilliant melodies.
Since that release the band have toured relentlessly, lead-singer Alex has released a perfectly unpolished solo album as The Groke, and they’ve still found time to share quite possibly their best single to date, The Distance. Despite their distinctly DIY-approach, Tugboat Captain feel like a band on the cusp of a break-through, there’s an ambition to their music, a desire to reach new audiences and take this music as far as it could go. The music industry is cruel, it doesn’t always reward those who deserve it, but Tugboat Captain couldn’t be better placed.
A week today Tugboat Captain play the night we’ve curated for this year’s Blogtober festival, alongside Rebecka Reinhard & Moderate Rebels. Ahead of that show today they’ve put together a mixtape of the songs that shaped Tugboat Captain, featuring everyone from Guided By Voices to Britney Spears.
1. Game Of Pricks – Guided By Voices
This is one of the best songs by one of my favourite bands. GBV are at the core of everything Tugboat Captain. I first listened to them when I was about 15 and after that everything changed – my entire outlook on music was affected by this band, trying to write perfect pop songs that rock, drunk with your best mates as quickly as possible with whatever equipment you can afford. Peter Sellers book Perfect From Now On was my holy bible when I was a teenager and introduced me to so much music on top of the ethos of being a lo-fi DIY musician making pop music.
2. Wildest Dreams – Taylor Swift
The first time I met Jesus Bigboy (bass) was freshers’ week in Falmouth, Cornwall, we’d both just moved from London to study art and he was hanging out of the window playing a Mac Demarco song (we were just starting at art school okay please don’t judge). I was out in the courtyard of our halls and I barked the lyrics back at him. We soon formed our first band (Naked Lights) and wrote some songs, amongst them was Can You Love Me More which eventually made it onto the first Tugboat Captain album. We used to play a few covers in our open mic set which included Stanley Brinks & The Wave Pictures track Orange Juice and Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift. This song is awesome and I don’t really care what anybody else thinks – the sense of longing, hope and desperation is just so powerful. I’ve spent a lot of time imagining myself on a desert dune with a wind machine at my back just like in the music video for this song. (Special mention goes to Uncollective who used to run the open mics we used to play at and have been our biggest supporters since day one, they now run the best festival in the world, Langaland, and also released my solo album as The Groke)
3. Slow Show – The National
When I moved to London about two years ago I went through a really messy miserable break up and I listened to Boxer everyday on the bus to work for about two months. London can be a pretty daunting place to move to and I was super lonely and depressed, trying my best to settle in. I was drinking pretty excessively, and this song is all about the feeling of leaving those social situations to be in the comfort of the ones you love. It’s probably my favourite album of all time, I know every word and it still sometimes makes me cry. It’s an album of songs you can fist pump to whilst encouraging yourself to drag yourself through the misery of long winters in the city.
4. Everytime – Britney Spears
Around the same time Naked Lights, which also featured Boatsain Joe and Jesus Bigboy started to stagnate. I’d started writing material for what was my little solo project at the time ‘Tugboat Captain’ and my sister came up to visit me for one of the first times in London. We recorded something together for what I reckon was the first time and it was a Britney Spears cover. We thought it was absolutely hilarious and if you listen carefully you can hear us giggling like children in the background. We covered this song because we both had such distinct memories of it as children listening to it on the radio on the way to school and sitting cross-eyed in front of MTV watching Britney be miserable. It took us ages to actually figure out what the song was because it was so subconsciously buried in our collective memory.
5. Talking Backwards – Real Estate
For me this song will always be one of the most beautiful love songs. Around the time we released the first album I fell deeply in love with a girl who still lived in Cornwall, it was long distance which is what so much of this song is about but that’s not actually what resonates with me most about it. I just remember falling asleep together for the first few times listening to this album and sporadically waking up in the night to hear the chiming guitar riffs. I wrote Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own because of this song and that relationship – falling in love and being ready to wake up next that person is the happiest you can be. This song is just all about love, hope, and longing and the power of guitars to express that.
6. Intercity 125 – John Hassall
Just after we released Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own we played a show with John Hassall (of The Libertines) and The April Rainers. I grew up a massive Libertines fan and watching their 2010 Reading set on TV is what probably inspired me to take up the guitar. This show was super exciting for us and Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own had just taken off and we were getting press for the first time (cheers to For The Rabbits for what was maybe our first review) and for the first time ever people were actually listening to our music. We love this John Hassall song, we listen to it in the van all the time and I think it represents the moment I started taking making music kinda seriously. We had twice as many people watching us as John Hassall that night and I crowd surfed for the first time – it made me realise how much fun playing live shows can be. We opened the set with Sloppy Giuseppe playing Greensleeves on bassoon.
7. Rainbow Goblins – Masayoshi Takanaka (live)
We went on tour for the first time after we released our second album Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud. We played to a lot of empty rooms on that tour, but it was all so unbelievably exciting. One evening we were staying in our friend Josh Ferme’s garage in Plymouth and Papi Isaac (guitar/banjo) put this on. I know it’s not one song but it’s worth watching the whole thing because it’s totally mind blowing, the guitar playing precision is insane and the live show is just so bold and ridiculous. We were all in hysterics. For me this music will always remind me of being with my best mates out on the road for the first time and the romance and excitement of learning what it’s about to be in a band, sleeping on floors, eating like shit and hanging out with your best pals.
8. Whatever You Say – Living Island
On that tour we met the Living Island gang for the first time. These guys are totally killing it and are probably my favourite band in London right now. I love this song so much, Ollie’s lyrics are dark and weird but also so funny and heartfelt. It also shares the same musical DNA as Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own which is really bizarre. We’ve done loads of shows with these guys now and everyone should totally sit up and listen to them, they’ve also become some of our closest friends. I really like to chant the chorus of this song.
9. Quazar – Pleasure Barge
The first time I met Sloppy Giuseppe (keys/bassoon) he came to visit Jesus Bigboy in Falmouth – he greeted me with a beer at 9am and then later that day fell down Jacobs Ladder (a 111-step climb). The next time I saw him he was supporting us (Naked Lights) at a show in Manchester. He was playing in a 3-piece bassoon/guitar/drum set up and got completely naked mid set. He wrote this song on the Megabus up to the show and it later became a track on his other band’s (Pleasure Barge) first EP ‘We Mean No Harm’. I actually ended up producing their EP at my ‘home studio’ and this is by far my favourite track on that EP. It’s about a space skateboard man who eats manchego and is totally crazy – we like to joke that it’s about Sloppy Giuseppe’s dad who we pretend lives in the pagoda in Battersea Park.
10. What A Life/What A Waste – The Golden Dregs
At the moment we’re rejigging our lineup as a band a bit and going through a few changes – this has meant that I’ve been able to play a few solo shows and in turn I’ve been able to do a few more covers which is always fun, I’m currently prepping this one for a run of shows at the end of October. These guys are mind-blowingly good, and this track is massive. Ollie from Living Island and I went to go see them launch their debut album Lafayetteand this song really stood out. Weirdly it turned out that Ben used to run the space Jesus Bigboy and I used to go see bands at in Cornwall and is arguably responsible for us forming a band and wanting to rock out. Since then we’ve done a few shows with them and Ben’s just mastered our new EP, so I guess these things all cycle back around without you expecting to. I’ve heard a work in progress of their new record and it’s amazing – Ben’s production is awesome, and he really knows how to perfectly deploy saxophone in his tracks. I think The Dregs are part of a scene of great bands writing really, really good songs in London right now that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. I guess it’s mainly down to a trend right now for ‘South London Post-Punk’ which sadly leaves a lot to be desired in the song-writing department which is kinda sad. Bands like Cold Fins, Danny Darko, Worst Place and Milk Disco are releasing unbelievable music but probably aren’t quite the right ‘aesthetic’ to get heard right now. Given a bit of time I reckon a load of these bands are going to be absolutely massive.