Back in September of 2011 - I bumped into a certain Thomas Hall around Glasgow University. It was a typically dour Glasgow day, water gleaming on slippery pavements, the sky a thunderous shade of grey, but Thomas was in an optimistic mood. He told me he was jamming with the quartet formerly known as Johnny Reb, they were nameless - but they had songs. Kindred spirits they must have been, because those jams have manifested themselves in something wonderful - a series of dream pop gems released over the summer by an artist now known as Father Sculptor.
And things kicked off from there. 'Ember' was picked up and admired by the NME, the guardian, and most of the local blogosphere; a gorgeous vocal performance accompanied by a rhythm section both intricate and spacious, and some stunning reverb work on the guitars. Glasgow Podcart called it a 'dramatic little hussy of a track', and I couldn't put it better - a damn fine way to announce yourself, and straight away I knew why Thomas had seemed so happy back in September. Tracks like that are worth waiting for. They're also worth travelling for, and I meet up with Thomas a year on from our last encounter to see how things are going.
"It's a bit of a dilemma at the moment", says Thomas, of Father Sculptor's current geographical position - with the band having spent the summer in Dunblane, Glasgow (Thomas), Manchester (Phil, bass and Matt, Keys/vocals) and York (Joe, guitar and Felix, drums). Has it been a nomadic experience? "It really has, everyone getting trains everywhere - and where we go totally changing every week. We've been rehearsing and writing between Glasgow, Manchester and York - with a few trips to London - and it's great but expensive! All the money goes on trains, rehearsal times… the sort of stuff that was less of a worry when we were all in Glasgow". The band are planning to relocate to Manchester in the new year, with some releases in the pipeline, and while this presents an exciting change for Father Sculptor, I'm curious as to what Thomas thinks of Glasgow the city, will it be missed?
"I love this city, it's the only city I've truly loved", he gushes. "It's one of the best places to write music, and play and perform… there's great venues here! Enough to keep it different, such a variety of bands and people to play to - and you get such a good response from people who haven't purposely come to see you. In London we had people talking the whole way - but it's to be expected, I mean everyone claps and stuff as well, but when you stop playing, or in different parts of the songs where the dynamic changes, you can hear people talking - and thats fine!" There's a degree of acceptance here about the manner of London crowds, is it just a cultural thing, I wonder? "Yeah it definitely is. In Scotland, you get this eerie silence, where people are trying to get as much out of it as possible, and that's unique, it's something you don't get further afield.
Thomas mentions a now legendary XX performance at the old Captains' Rest: "It was one of the best gigs I've been to, it was absolutely rammed…. and just after the first album came out. They played, and their music is just so spacious - they use a lot of pauses, I mean you're really conscious of yourself listening to it. There was this eerie, attentive silence, and then an eruption of screaming and clapping, and these kids from London were just so shocked at the response they got away from home! I wouldn't knock it [Glasgow] for the world… our reasons for moving are totally circumstantial.
Circumstantial, but also you get the feeling that Father Sculptor are a tight knit group of friends, and this seems to be fundamental to their chemistry. In 2012, you hear about artists collaborating from across oceans (Animal Collective, intriguingly, are based in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Lisbon), but this is a group for whom it seems having a 'base' is important. So whats the plan?
"Manchester…just because, we all had different ideas what we wanted to do, some of us liked the idea of London in terms of lifestyle - which is important as well as pushing the band as much as possible. In a lot of ways London had a lot of pros to it, but there are cons as well in terms of the music, a massive fleet of bands all trying to 'make it' - and the cost of living is so high. It [Manchester] should be a real kick up the arse for us - we've really enjoyed Glasgow, and I would have loved to have stayed here, but a change of scene will be good for us". It's important to acknowledge that Father Sculptor's ascent has been very much on their own terms - and keeping the group together feels imperative. I'm told that the songwriting is a 'communal' process, and all the songs FS released over the summer were recorded entirely by the band. Shabby demos they ain't - and while they're lo-fi in spirit - theres nothing 'unfinished' going on here.
"I don't think you ever write a song thinking 'i want to sound like this band' and if you do, you should stop"
"We've been entirely self-recorded up until now. Jo has done it all, he did a course in Glasgow, and he was working on all of these recording techniques in the flat, with 1 microphone… we're lucky to have someone with the knowledge to do that. What we got out of it… I think we did really well, it doesn't sound like a home recording."
"We're releasing an E.P in the new year on a record label called Splendour… and now we have Joe as a bridge to make sure that we don't tamper with things in the wrong way in the future. Up until now it's worked perfectly, and I'm hoping it goes smoothly with the next stuff."
I want to find out about the influences behind Father Sculptor - and I'm keen to avoid the simplistic Johnny Marr/Morrissey comparisons, and Thomas speaks at length, with references contemporary and otherwise. "I love the way The Maccabees are a band who've always changed their style, I think Given to the Wild has really solidified them, and I'm curious to see what they do now - the new album seems so mature. Not even just a band adding a brass section or keys - more than just the aesthetics, playing with the sound where it was welcome and where it made sense."
The S***** comparison, inevitably, comes up. "A lot of people consider us to be the 'children of the smiths', which is great to be compared to one of the best british bands of all times (I can't believe i've brought this up in an interview, he adds) … its something we see as an influence in our heads, but when we listen to it… we don't think it sounds terribly smiths - maybe the vocals are influenced. I don't think you ever write a song thinking 'i want to sound like this band' and if you do, you should stop. you'll always get caught out - and I can understand it, I've heard songs and thought 'i wish id written that', but the best thing you can do is be as comfortable with your own ability as possibly.
Hear hear, and I'd tend to agree. Father Sculptor deserve the plaudits coming their way - rather than being The Smiths of 2012, they seem to have hit upon a sound full of personality, with a group of songs that demand attention - and with this show moving to Manchester, I'm excited to hear what the new material sounds like. "You always come back to a catalogue of music you wrote from a time when you felt something in particular, when we move to manchester I feel we'll write different songs about different experiences."
This is a band who know what they're doing, and from the bottom up they've done things on their own terms. Whatever happens, the soundtrack to their next year will be worth listening to.
Father Sculptor play Glasgow School of Art on Saturday 17th November.
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