In interview with Sheffield band Cellar Door Moon Crow
Much like the two well-bearded siblings who co-own it, Fat Elephant Studio in the old Albyn Works boasts plenty of endearing character and naturally attracts your attention.
Distinctive Martin Bedford posters designs line the walls alongside portraits of Dylan, The Black Keys, Led Zeppelin and various members of hip-hop royalty. A significant chunk of the floor space is taken up by a plethora of instruments and musical devices, ranging from ukuleles to old synths to a handsome-looking reel-to-reel tape recorder. There’s whiskey, quite a lot of whiskey, and a Beastie Boys album is playing on a vintage record player.
Fussing over coffees in the corner are Tom and Phil Goodwin of Cellar Door Moon Crow, the eclectic rock duo who’ve invited Exposed into their lair for an update on their new album, You Got This, which after a solid year or so of work is now ready to release to the masses. Here’s a quick taste of what we can expect…
So, last time we did a feature with Cellar Door, I seem to recall you guys were just about to head into the studio with this record.
PG: Yeah, I think that was around Tramlines last year. At that point, all we’d really done was focus on individual singles and gigging regularly. I think by the time we got to summer last year we were about three of four singles in, and we didn’t want to get to a point where we had an album’s worth of singles out there. We wanted to get a nice body of work together for an album. So, we took the decision to head back into the studio, write a few more tracks to create an album; then we’d channel a few more releases around a small tour, trying to bang a London or Bristol show in there, as opposed to just playing in Yorkshire.
What’s an average day in Fat Elephant Studio look like for you two?
PG: To be honest, we don’t really have a standard routine; there’s not a specific formula. Although, because we’ve done that much work together over the years, we know each other inside out and bounce off each other. Tom might come in with a piano riff or chord progression, and then we’ll work out a decent tempo and make a beat for it. These days we start with lyrics first, which is something we never used to do, to write about a particular issue or theme and build around that.
You mentioned there’s been a distinct shift in styles with your new material, utilising some hip-hop beats and old synthesizers. And is that a drum machine I see behind you?
PG: Yeah, that’s an old analogue 8-bit drum machine and it does give you that old-school 80s hip-hop sound, which we’ve really enjoyed messing around with.
What influenced that?
TG: Tim, who does sound for us, hooked us up with the drum machine. He’d been watching where we’d been going with the sound and suggested it.
PG: I think it’s part of going back to the two-piece. When we first started going out on the road together, it was literally just drums and guitar, but as we started getting more gigs and experimenting further I ended up making a custom rig so I could play bass and guitar together. Tom’s got such a good skillset on piano, going back to his musical foundations, so we brought that back out for a few songs and Tom would also be playing a bit of kick-drum while doing the keys. The more we added, the fuller the sound became. Having our own studio meant we could remix songs and add bits in, so if you take our single ‘Shanghai’, for example, that’s got organ, piano, bass, drums, four-part harmonies, etc. We create first then work out how to do it live afterwards.
You mentioned how you now select themes beforehand and write songs to fit around them. What runs through the upcoming album?
PG: It’s a 14-track album, so there’s a fair mixture on there. Some of them, like ‘Shanghai’, are based specifically on a personal experience: a business trip to China, seeing this mad city, going out to slap-up meals but rushing back to the hotel so you can FaceTime your kid back home. I guess it’s a bit about being true to yourself and putting family first.
Family first is obviously something important to you both, having constantly been in bands together since you were young. Surely you must clash sometimes, even just from a creative perspective?
TG: Nah, it’s pretty hard to be honest. We even pick the same fucking sandwiches at Tesco. We’ll have the same pint in a pub. It was just drilled into us from an early age, my dad would always be telling us: “Blood’s thicker than water, so you look after each other”.
Between you both, what boxes does a CDMC song have to tick to make it to the recording stage?
TG: It’s definitely got to have a hook, we are all about the hook. All killers, no fillers.
PG: If you’re not prepared to put something out as a single, don’t record it. If it doesn’t stick in our head then we won’t bother taking it to the next stage. The album’s called You Got This. I guess that’s a fairly self-explanatory statement. It’s literally just that – taking a deep breath before you go out there and do something, finding your confidence. A bit of a mantra whether you’re in doubt, an awkward situation, or whatever it is you’re about to do.