INTERVIEW: Rattle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If you fetched up at any of the UK’s more interesting festivals over the last couple of years, you might well have run into the beguiling presence of Nottingham drums-and-voices duo Rattle, who quietly owned every stage I saw them on and then went on to release one of last year’s most unique and satisfying albums, a self-titled release on I Own You / Upset The Rhythm. Katharine Brown and Theresa Wrigley have impeccable drumming pedigrees – in Kogumaza and Fists respectively – so with their upcoming UK tour with Myles Manley taking in an appearance at Think Tank? Underground courtesy of Endless Window on Monday 4th September, I spoke to Katharine Brown about swapping guitars for drums and exploring rhythms within rhythms.

As Brown explains, Rattle came about in a very circuitous fashion. “Originally I approached Tez about having some drum lessons, as I had not long started drumming in Kogumaza, and I really loved the way Tez played the drums, particularly her snare rolls (I still do). So we decided that I would trade a couple of guitar lessons for some drum lessons, as back then I was a guitarist trying to play the drums, which really I still am. We had a couple of ‘lessons’ which involved sitting opposite each other with drums arranged in the format Rattle still is in now, me playing the bass drum with my beater, probably impulsively or nervously whilst we were discussing something, and then realised, hang on, that sounds good, do you want to play along? Then the song Boom came along, recorded it on my phone, kept my fingers crossed that Tez would A) be up for doing another band (I think she was Nottingham’s most sought after drummer at the time) and B) be up for doing one with me ‘sort of’ playing the drums in the strange way that I was. And miraculously she thought it sounded good too! So off we went, into the future.”

Rattle’s set-up is as unusual as it is lovely and seems to have no obvious precedents – despite genres like post-punk and minimalism being bandied around – and Brown came at the whole project in a very intuitive and exploratory fashion. “I absolutely loved playing the guitar, but with Rattle I was suddenly interested in how I could apply everything I loved about playing the guitar to the drums, and not be in a band that sounded like guitars anymore, that felt very freeing. It also was really interesting and exciting to see how two musicians would interact with each other and create discernible melodies and songs with a focus on timing, sounds and rhythm rather than notes, chords and harmony.”

I love off beats, I love rhythms within rhythms and unexpected twists in rhythms

There’s a real intimacy to Rattle’s album and live shows, a shared secret language, although Brown isn’t keen on that idea. “If anything, I would have been keen to make the record sound less like a private conversation as I wouldn’t want to make people feel like they were earwigging and not welcome to listen, as I’d like the music to feel inclusive and open, but at the same time, I suppose to me it’s important that we make music with no worries or cares what other people make of it, the most important thing is how we feel about it. So I can see how it might sound like that, and I know that Mark Spivey, who recorded the album, was very conscious of this.”

Watching Brown and Wrigley live can be utterly hypnotic, their drumming a million miles away from any showboating or funky flashiness and never taking you anywhere too obvious. “It’s something I’m becoming more and more conscious of, because Tez has to work out what on earth the time signatures are before she can work out what she is going to play! I just love cheeky rhythms, I love off beats, I love rhythms within rhythms and unexpected twists in rhythms. But at the same time I love really simple beats and rhythms, and I don’t set out to make things complicated at all.  Hopefully Tez’s funkiness balances things out!”

At a recent Supersonic gig, I overheard someone remark that they were going buy the album to sample it to death, something Brown takes as a compliment rather than a cause for litigation. “We would love it even more if it meant that we could earn money from re-appropriated Rattle beats so we could spend more time making music! A friend of mine (Giant Head) recording me playing drums to make samples earlier this year, I think he said he made about a hundred loops? So watch this space!”

Rattle have been touring heavily in support of the album, included a European run with Kathleen Hanna’s Julie Ruin, but the second album is nearly finished anyway and I wondered if there were any stylistic changes and whether the self-imposed limitations of their set-up are ever frustrating. “The main difference is our new songs are much longer. The new album is going to have fewer, longer songs on it. We’re really excited about it… I don’t think we’ve ever had any frustrations due to the limitations of our set up, in some ways we’ve pared it down even more on the new album. Tez’s cowbell may not make an appearance!”

Rattle play Endless Window at Think Tank Underground with Myles Manley and Competition on Monday 4th September.

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