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

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There’s quite a few reasons why a band might split up or embark on an indefinite hiatus. Your frontman permanently moving to an entirely different continent is probably one of the more extreme. After releasing their debut album The Songs We Sang To Death in 2013, By Toutatis’ chief songwriter Daniel Cochrane moved to Saudi Arabia and it looked like the Teesside quartet was no more. Luckily, even with 4238.6 miles between them, the band have still been busy recording their new EP The Beasts. In this uncut interview, I talked to Daniel Cochrane extensively about the gap between himself and the other band members, the challenges that brings and the new release.

You said that the band had pretty much split up after you released your last album; what drove the decision to get back together and record more music?

It’s less a band than it is occupational therapy, so there was no real talk of splitting up. It was just the circumstances of me moving away. One of the first house-calls I make when I’m home is to see the band and we lived out of each other’s pockets before I went. We’ve had a horrifying band WhatsApp group that’s about a million messages strong for three years now. It was just time to do some recording and we’ve been working on these songs for a long while.

You’re splitting your time between Saudi and Bahrain at the minute; how hard has it been to organise everything and record as a result?

I’m a complete OCD control freak and the other three are ridiculously relaxed when it comes to bands so I hassle them a lot. Thankfully they ignore four out of five of my suggestions and stick to the more important ones. Recording has been split between three studios and two years, but the bulk happens in two weeks when I land. It’s exciting because we have a few days and if it doesn’t work then we have no EP.

Really I love being busy and I’m useless when I have nothing to do. So it’s always wonderful to get together as a band when I’m home as I feel a bit rudderless in England without a job or house there anymore.

Similarly, a lot of the other band members are now part of other bands here in the region; has that made it difficult to plan your time as a band and get together?

Well actually they’re all in the same band (Kingsley Chapman & The Murder)! I’ve had the odd conversation with Kingers about band maintenance and care: not feeding Ben (drummer) after midnight, not getting Robbie’s (violin) hair wet… It’s perfect because they’re all used to playing together all the time and I get the benefits. Plus it’s like puppies or orphans – it would’ve been a shame to see them separated.

How have you been constructing the songs, in light of the distance between you and the other band members? Have you been sending each other segments of the songs or have you made a concerted effort to get together and record as a unit?

Well Ben Hopkinson (piano/guitars) wrote the music to two of them and I did the others but they’re passed back and forth more now. The title track has been traded the most as we managed to learn the others last time I was home. It’s weird recording demos and sending them across the world because you’ve no idea what’ll come back. Thankfully they’ve got it spot on so far.

How would you personally describe the overall sound of the new EP?

I think it’s a bit more sinister than before. The last record was a straightforward breakup album written in the middle of all this horrible stuff. This is a more measured set of songs about ferality and the “evil” things people do. I think the drums and vocal patterns are more important – it helps build a kid of Lord of the Flies theme, a breakdown of civility and society. It’s a pretty simple sound and that’s definitely part of the plan. The violins on our debut were quite orchestral but this time I wanted to hear the catgut.

“It’s weird recording demos and sending them across the world because you’ve no idea what’ll come back”

Getting a little bit personal here but my favourite song on the EP is Oil & Diamonds, mostly because it reminds me a bit of the poetry of people like Robert Pinsky. But what were the real inspirations behind that song?

Thanks. It was an attempt to channel a more improvisational, beat ethic so the Pinsky comparison is apt. It’s a simple song about two people meeting romantically in a strange place and acting out parts. It gave me a chance to play with words to a greater extent. Everyone slips into different characterisations of themselves in different situations and having lived amongst solely men in Saudi and then in a more social, arty scene in Bahrain, I do see changes in how I act. I see it as a good thing, a way to grow a little as you can get calcified into a role when you stay somewhere for any length of time. You can take it to the extreme though – changing something you’ve wanted to change for a long time and then going home and feeling that disconnect can be jarring.

That song is also very different to anything else on the album because of its almost jazz-inflected piano and spoken word.

It doesn’t belong on the record really but it was something I really wanted to put out. Ben’s piano is so beautiful – he’s an amazing musician and it’s like a showpiece for that. I think it’s a counterpoint to all the more stark and violent stuff on the rest of the EP. We’ve done spoken word before and it’s very strange going from this learned singing voice back to trying to talk like a human. You doubt your own voice.

Cutting that inspired The Beast

Cutting that inspired The Beast

Can you tell me a bit more about the cutting you sent me that inspired The Beast? Where is it from and how did you find it?

I was studying my history MA when I found it in the online archives. I hope you can print it because it’s very strange! It’s where the title of the EP comes from. The idea of this ragtag, stitched-together beast and how the hell it existed. They weren’t completely ignorant about biology back then, so it must’ve been a joke or some poor mutated or deformed thing. The estate it was found on was where I went to college (Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough) so it was of particular interest. I have lots of songs about the legends surrounding that place, it’s a goldmine of intrigue. And now a goldmine for the council as they parcel it up and sell it off.

You’ve said that track also relates to Frankenstein, duckbilled platypuses and the fox hunting bill – that’s a lot of ideas in one song, but actually the track doesn’t sound overly complicated at all. How have you managed to distil so much into a coherent song?

No, it’s not so complicated. I remember reading about how everyone thought the platypus was a hoax made from different animals and that all coalesced together with Frankenstein. The set-piece of the song is about a pair of drunken hunters shooting anything they can find and then creating a new creature from the remains. It’s a bit of black humour. It’s not such a leap of imagination to think that someone could go from hunting to that.

The fox hunting bill is a big topic at the minute, since the Tories are planning to repeal the ban. Are any of the other songs on the EP political in any way or is it all quite implicit?

I tried to get something of the vicious nature of a lot of political and online discourse into the lyrics of Into the Woods. How this civilising technology has increased the feral nature of some people. The herd mentality of Twitter and Facebook. The fact that a stupid comment that you’d laugh off if made in the pub can now travel around the world, get you fired, get you branded as a terrible human. Political dialogue is even worse; this decayed thing now. It’s a pissing contest and nobody cares about finding common ground. Us and them. Our tribe and your tribe. No more words. Club hits bone. Ug.

What’s going to happen after the release of the EP and the two gigs in the region?

Afterwards nothing’s set in stone. The guys are doing really well with Kingsley and things are similarly busy here with The Belly of Paris album underway. I think it’ll be an “as and when” endeavour in the future. Whatever happens we’ll always end up in the Back Alex in Saltburn at closing time.

By Toutatis play Head of Steam, Newcastle on Thursday 9th July and The Green Room, Stockton on Friday 10th July.

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