Super-Cannes Interview: The Sound Sweep
By Richard Lewis 31/3/2011
Whilst Manchester has long had a reputation for bands who deal in dark or melancholy subject matter, from Joy Division through to The Smiths and on occasion, Elbow, groups from Liverpool have tended more towards the optimistic. The rise of Super-Cannes however may change this received wisdom as the band tap into the same vein of angsty noir-pop as The Doors and Radiohead. After a long gestation period in the practice room and a slow trickle of gigs the group are now ready to take their music to the masses.
With the majority of their songs describing a paranoid, uneasy world not entirely dissimilar to this one, Super-Cannes say virtually nothing onstage, the atmosphere of their tracks suggesting a late hour when all talk has been exhausted. With a strong claim to being one of the best-read bands in Liverpool, their song titles and lyrics teem with literary references and viewpoints, whilst musically many of their tracks have a claustrophobic, urban tension similar to Joy Division.
Named after the JG Ballard novel of the same title, which in turn was derived from the community of ex-pats living on the coast near the famed film festival, the band join an illustrious list of British musicians who have been influenced by the novelist. From David Bowie to Joy Division (‘Atrocity Exhibition’) onto Suede and Klaxons’ (‘Myths of the Near Future) the band’s esoteric tastes also extend to film, which fitted in with their moniker. “We haven’t got it all sorted out yet, but we’re very visual and obviously ‘Cannes’ suits film” lead guitarist Davy says.
Comprising of Richie, lead vocals and guitar, Davy, lead guitar, Jules, bass guitar and Jams, drums, the band are variously influenced by Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Joy Division, Nick Cave and Television.. “Radiohead are the band we all definitely agree on” Davy says of Oxford’s finest. BBC Radio Merseyside presenter Dave Monks’ description of Super-Cannes as “a group you really have to listen to” is borne out by their tracks’ slow-burning brilliance, as by three listens in you’re hooked.
Wanting to have their sound fully realized before they started to undertake a gigging schedule, the band took time to decide on what direction they wanted to head in before they started writing together. “The set up as it is now, we’ve been together about two and a half years, in the present form.” Jams explains. “We made a conscious decision not to gig for a while, just to get to know each other and write together and throw ideas around. I think a lot of bands just seem to form and go straight into it, instead of trying to relax. We’ve been in bands before over the years, with this we thought well, let’s see what we want to do, and I think that’s important.” “We’ve all got different kinds of backgrounds before we came together,” Davy adds. “Richie was in The Bandits, Jams has been in loads of bands in North Wales, Jules has been in loads of bands, I was mostly doing soundtracks for documentaries.”
“Even though we’ve been together for two years we haven’t got that many songs, but the ones we have got we’ve sort of honed, they’re constantly being worked on, even now,” Jams states. “A lot of the stuff we write is by jamming, someone always comes along with something and then everyone else has to get onboard, it works well that way. We seem to be on the same page, we pass each other books that we then talk about, we do seem to know what we want,” he continues.
“A lot of practice room time” has gone into the formation of the group who seem assuredly unhurried in their approach. “Yeah, we’re trying to be a bit different and experiment. What everyone wants is a young band and they’re thrown onstage and that’s pretty much it. We’re all twenty-eight, twenty-nine, we’re at a nice age where we’ve been in bands and we’ve learnt from mistakes, and we know what we want now,” Davy says. “It’s not all about just gigging every week, it’s about choosing the right one and getting in the studio, we’ve just finished recording our first EP.” “That was amazing, after taking ages to get anything done (on the demo recordings) after three days we had five tracks,” Ritchie says of the sessions at the city’s Whitewood Studios. “Thirteen hour days for us but it was brilliant” Davy concurs.
The “melancholy undertow” as Davy describes the band’s lyrics having is best glimpsed in the chilling ‘When People Die in Small Rooms.’ Beginning with a restless drum tattoo and ominous bass rumble that recalls Massive Attack, the introduction of a razorwire guitar line and deep vocal melody, makes the track change course, the elements combining to produce a song that, once lodged in your head seemingly won’t leave. Despite its JG Ballard-esque title, the song draws its inspiration from experiences closer to home. “That’s about me working in a homeless hostel, where I got the title from,” Davy explains.
“Richie will do the lyrics and I come up with the titles. It was a place near Sefton Park. That was from just basically knocking on the door at seven in the morning and usually they knock back. If they don’t knock back, they’re dead and we had to move them out of the hostel. They were in very boxy, small rooms, we’d take two or three guys out every weekend who were dead. It’s where all the veterans used to go who had problems, alcohol, drug abuse, they’d all end up there. I heard some stories, so I thought I should write about that.”
Playing live as well it seems was something the band were reticent to rush into straight away. “We’ve not gone over the top about doing gigs, we’ve been very selective about where, it’s probably been about forty-five so far. Getting out of Liverpool we’re certainly looking forward to.” Davy says. “It’s a bit like a foreign exchange really, we’re lucky that we have friends who are in bands in different cities, so we’re looking forward to that.” Fittingly for a group so obsessed with literature, all of the band’s lyrics from their demos on their MySpace page are displayed, along with the running orders of their sets. The practice of uploading setlists following a gig highlights how important the running orders of their shows are. “The lyrics have to lead into one another” Ritchie explains of how the set is constructed, as the themes have to be able to flow, to achieve a feeling of continuity. The chances of the band stumbling onto the stage and launching into whatever they feel like not being a option.
Back onto the subject of literature, what do you think it is about JG Ballard’s work that appeals to so many musicians? “There’s something very realistic about it, it takes you out of your comfort zone, out of your bubble.” Richie says. “It’s real, nothing’s about it’s glossed over, it’s very shocking too.” Another standout track, ‘The Mystery of Golgotha’, was derived from a more obscure literary source. “I lifted the title from a Rudolph Steiner book, Golgotha was the hill that Jesus was crucified on,” Richie explains. “We’re massive Christians” Jams interjects with heavy irony. The book in question The Karma of Materialism, published in the nineteenth century demonstrates the range of the band’s reading, branching off into various esoteric realms. Albert Camus’ The Outsider, George Orwell’s entire canon and post-structuralist French philosophers Gilles DeLouze and Felix Guattari are also cited as inspiration. “They wrote a book called Capitalism and Schizophrenia which is impossible to read.” Richie laughs about the heavy-going tome.
A major part of the Super-Cannes’ sound along with Jules’ bass rumble, Jam’s almost military drumming and Richie’s baritone vocals is supplied by the plethora of FX pedals at lead guitarist Davy’s feet. The sounds generated being more akin to washes of synthesized strings than electric guitars. With sixteen stomp boxes presently at his disposal, (two more than Richie’s mere fourteen), this can best be heard on ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Built around a tick-tocking arpeggio and drum tattoo, this is sporadically ripped apart by Jonny Greenwood-esque gale-force guitars.
The aforementioned ‘The Mystery of Golgotha,’ the Bunnymen by way of religious imagery, pushes Richie’s vocals high in the mix before switching to a stargazing guitar riff halfway through like ‘Gravity Grave’ era Verve. ‘Please Take Me Home’ meanwhile mines the same modern malaise as Ziggy Stardust-period Bowie. Along with the tumbling ‘New York-London-Paris-Tokyo,’ the songs amply demonstrate the band’s hard-won writing sessions have paid off handsomely. The latter, backed by a video that comprises still photos of the band with the locations named in the title, backs up the group’s interest in the visual. “Art, like literature’s a very big thing with the band,” nods Richie. Elsewhere, new track, ‘Girl on a Hill,’ its mellow atmosphere replacing the tension found elsewhere shares the same sonic territory as Fleetwood Mac’s blues/proto-chillout track ‘Albatross.’
After their lengthy rehearsal room sessions and with an EP ready to go at the end of May, Super-Cannes name will soon be on the lips of many gig goers in the city. The band’s ideal launch party in Super-Cannes itself however may have to wait for now.
Super-Cannes’ debut EP is released on 27th May, with a launch party at The Shipping Forecast.
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