Rock Action signings Sacred Paws got together when former Golden Grrrls Rachel Aggs and Eilidh Rodgers wanted an excuse to continue hanging out. Can their occasional meet-ups support a proper band? There's the small matter of geography to overcome first
Having first got together as members of now-disbanded indiepop group Golden Grrrls, the story of Sacred Paws is a tale of two cities. While guitarist Rachel Aggs is resident in the south London district of Camberwell, drummer Eilidh Rodgers is well-known to anyone who frequents Glasgow's respected Monorail record store. The duo live 400 miles apart, but that hasn't stopped them from crafting an intriguing debut EP, Six Songs (released on Mogwai's Rock Action label this month), and carving a niche with chanted vocals, highlife-indebted rhythms and spidery post-punk guitar tones. Just don’t ask what they spend on coach fares.
Music cannot be tied to one place, but making a band work over such a long distance is not easy, even if there are only two members. Sacred Paws might not play all that many gigs, but their songs create enough of an impression that an increasing number of people are sitting up and taking notice. It’s partly the distinctive marriage of Aggs’ inspired guitar playing style, like a modern-day Elizabeth Cotten, and Rodgers' curiously off-kilter beats. Bring in the pair’s synchronised harmonies, which recall the likes of The Raincoats, and you’ve got some of the richest lo-fi pop around.
To understand why this unlikely musical arrangement came to be, you must look back to 2010 when Golden Grrrls shared a line-up with Trash Kit and Grass Widow, the former being one of two other bands that Aggs somehow finds the time to play with. “It was when MySpace was still a thing, and people used to find out about bands that way,” she explains. “There were lots of groups playing together at that time, a real DIY scene, I guess.”
"We did a lot of Megabus journeys and yet somehow it didn't break us" – Eilidh Rodgers
“It was my dream bill!” Rodgers enthuses. “We were both really shy back then, and I was especially awkward because I really loved Trash Kit. I think we only exchanged a few words in the corridor. We met again in London when Golden Grrrls played a house party for a night Rachel had started with her friend Andrew. The venue flooded and we ended up playing Andrew's bedroom – I guess that was an ice breaker. We asked Rachel to join. She was the perfect choice, I'm just glad she said yes.”
“I was excited as I liked the band,” Aggs recalls. “Myself and Eilidh became good friends. We thought we would try something on our own, really as an excuse to hang out.”
There was another reason to form a band, social niceties aside. Aggs’ ears had pricked up when she heard the drums on Golden Grrrls track Beaches. “I was really into that beat,” she adds. “I thought we could do something a bit different, and write more songs like that. I knew Eilidh’s drumming style would suit the way I play guitar more naturally – in Golden Grrrls I was more trying to play indiepop, which isn't really my style.”
“We realised we liked a lot of the same music,” Rodgers adds. “We sent each other mix tapes and joked that we should start a band. I'm not sure how serious we were at the time – 400 miles apart – but somehow we made it work. It was always fun, right from the beginning. We did a lot of Megabus journeys and yet somehow it didn't break us. The band was primarily a means of hanging out, we never had an agenda. I guess that’s why we enjoy it so much. When we're playing music together it feels like an escape – I just wish we could do it more often.”
Sacred Paws will be seeing more of each other this month as they head out on a short tour to promote their EP launch, with shows lined up in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester, and more booked in April. Six Songs represents a step up for the duo. Several demos have been doing the rounds online ever since they first played live, and while they showed promise, the EP benefits from the more considered approach they adopted when working at Mogwai’s Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow with producer Tony Doogan.
“We spent more time on those six songs than I ever have on a whole album,” laughs Aggs. “We never talk about recording when we rehearse; it's all about playing live. It's probably a bit of a nightmare for a producer to record our stuff. But it sounds good.”
Sacred Paws have some practical advice for anyone that wants to start a long-distance band – ensure you meet up regularly. “We just write when we are together,” Aggs continues. “We tried it over the internet, but it didn't really work – there's too much of a time delay on Skype. We did a few things where I would write the guitar part and send it to Eilidh, and she would add drums on GarageBand. Some nice stuff happened like that, but it didn't have the right energy – the sort of thing I would write in my bedroom is really different to what we write when we are together.
“We probably could have done the EP quicker, but it is quite difficult, when we don't live in the same city, to get together. We're also very disorganised as people, and the combination of the two means we can get distracted quite easily. It's quite a lot of work, putting out a record. There's a lot of decisions that need to be made, and we're just quite slow to make up our minds."
Rodgers makes no secret of her desire to see her bandmate and friend move to Glasgow so Sacred Paws can continue on a firmer footing. “I'm just looking out for her,” she insists. “London is a struggle! I think we'd both be happier if she lived here.” Aggs, however, is content to keep on travelling. “We've always lived in different cities; but it's fun, as it means I get to hang out in Glasgow – and I love the place. It's great to be in a band with someone from there, especially at the beginning as I didn't know the city at all; it was like going on holiday when I went up to practice. Eilidh is constantly trying to get me to move to Glasgow, but I don't want to. Because I have other bands here, I'll always be tied to London. At the moment I'm happy to be based here, it's a bit stressful sometimes, but it seems to be working.”
The upside to their separation is that Sacred Paws can rely on two support networks, not one, and can tap rich seams of advice from a variety of musicians and industry veterans. Rodgers, through her work at Monorail, is friendly with owner and venerable Pastels songwriter Stephen McRobbie – a man who knows more than most about releasing records independently. “He’s been really supportive and on our side from the beginning,” she confirms. “Recently, I’ve found myself asking him for a lot of advice, and he's been great. He's very encouraging and he always champions the things he believes in. Everyone in the shop is really supportive; it's a good environment to work in and it makes me excited to be making music.”
Aggs, meanwhile, continues to write and record with her three bands. While it's a creative workload others might struggle with, it’s something she clearly thirves on. “I just enjoy playing with different people, with different sounds. There's no sort of hierarchy, I just have to divide my time.” And as the love for Sacred Paws continues to grow, she may find herself booking an increasing number of bus tickets to the Dear Green Place.