Dropping the Guilt: Catholic Action interviewed
Chris McCrory has already tasted acclaim as the drummer in Casual Sex, but new band Catholic Action finds the talented producer taking centre stage. The Skinny met the Glasgow group to talk pop music, religious guilt and resembling Bobby Gillespie.
In the niche world of Glaswegian drummers from acclaimed bands who later branched out to become frontmen of their own groups, it’s too easy to draw parallels between Bobby Gillespie and Chris McCrory. While the former quit keeping time for The Jesus and Mary Chain to concentrate on Primal Scream back in the mid-1980s, the latter remains sticksman for Casual Sex despite now leading Catholic Action – a four-piece band gaining positive attention thanks to their "unashamedly poppy" songs. There's also a passing resemblance between the two.
"I get that a lot," groans McCrory when The Skinny raises the subject. "I didn't think I looked like him. But someone once bought me a drink in King Tut's because he thought I must somehow be related. I'm pretty sure some people think I'm his illegitimate son. Anyway, I played guitar before I played drums – although I’m probably technically a better drummer.”
McCrory formed Catholic Action last year with old school pals Jamie Dubber on bass and drummer Ryan Clark, while Andrew Macpherson would later join as lead guitarist. All in their early-to-mid 20s, they've played in and continue to collaborate with a number of other groups. "We're a typically incestuous Glasgow band," confirms McCrory. Coincidently, at that very moment, Casual Sex supremo Sam Smith strolls past the window of the Sauchiehall Street pub where we've gathered the foursome – further evidence that if an earthquake were ever to strike this stretch of Charing Cross on any given evening, half of the city’s bands could be wiped out.
Catholic Action began gigging regularly late last year and have released only a handful of songs – most notably a superb split single in March on Fuzzkill Records with fellow rock harmonists Poor Things – but have already appeared on the radar of industry faces. Last month they were invited for a recording session in Liverpool with producer Bill Ryder-Jones, deemed fit for this year's T Break bill and have also been booked by the publication in your hands to play The Skinny's stage at the Electric Fields festival this August. The group remain tight-lipped about any possible label deal, but do reveal that at least part of their weekend session was spent watching their drummer playfully wrestle with the former Coral guitarist “in one of the most expensive control rooms in the UK.”
"I can be a bit of a dictator in the studio. I sometimes worry I get a bit like... what's his name, Billy Corgan?" – Chris McCrory
Having thankfully avoided a hefty repair bill for studio damage, the band are quietly thrilled, and a little bemused, that things are moving quickly for them. “This has gone further than I ever could have expected,” grins Clark, who has cut his hours at a local supermarket to two days a week thanks to the increasing commitments of music. McCrory, although a veteran of several international tours with Casual Sex, is also adjusting to his new status. “Being interviewed... it's weird. People want to know what we think about things. I was thinking in the shower earlier about what you might ask me.”
One subject The Skinny is keen to quiz Catholic Action on is how they have seemingly amassed an impressive body of work in less than a year. They have written and recorded the majority of a debut album – planning to resume work on it this summer – while a second LP’s worth of songs has already been demoed. This work rate is helped enormously by having free and regular access to McCrory’s home studio in Erskine, where he has worked on a professional basis since the age of 18. “I started off on a small scale and really enjoyed it, slowly piecing together what is now essentially a fully-formed studio set-up where I'm lucky enough to produce bands and frequently enough to avoid working in Tesco,” he explains.
“It was a way to make my own music myself and not have to pay to go to other studios, where I had, not disappointing experiences, but the kind of experiences where I thought, 'I could do this'. I was lucky enough to meet the guys at [respected Glasgow studio] Green Door and Sam; that's how Casual Sex came about. I spent a lot of time there learning how to record. The dream scenario is to do that when I get too old to tour.
“I can be a bit of a dictator in the studio,” he continues. I sometimes worry I get a bit like... what's his name, Billy Corgan? It's just the nature of how a lot of the first album was put together before we came together as a band. The longer we've been together, the more we write together.”
The upside of this arrangement is that while other groups may blow the budget on rushed recording sessions, Catholic Action have the luxury of time to refine their songs as much as they want.
“It is an advantage over some other bands," agrees Dubber, dubbed ‘the Wolf of Waterloo Street’ by his bandmates thanks to a day job at a Glasgow city centre bank. "We can just jump into the studio and start recording.”
“Remember The Yawns?” asks McCrory. “They put an album out that was so good. I remember thinking that's what Catholic Action should do; work on an album, and just put it out to announce who we were. We've not done that, but we do have a lot of material. We've spent a lot of time coming up with stuff to the point we're happy with it. It’s just as much fun for me to tinker around in the studio.”
Catholic Action might be the first Glasgow band in 40 years to be mentioned in the same breath as ‘70s glam rock heroes The Sweet, but it’s a comparison not quite as ludicrous as it sounds. While they don’t go in for leather jumpsuits – at least, not on this particular evening – their songs have a strong melodic foundation, but a tough exterior that pushes them away from the self-consciously twee C86 revivalists.
"In my mind, it’s all about good songs,” McCrory insists. "If the song can be played on an acoustic guitar and be just as powerful, then great. I was talking to Bill [Ryder-Jones] about this – there's always a reservation coming from an indie background and being shamelessly poppy. But I really like shameless pop music. To me, the thing that excuses is having really interesting harmonies, or a great guitar part that Andrew plays, or just sonically something that catches your ear... My Bloody Valentine are an enormous influence. They're not apparently a pop band, but sonically it's like music from the Moon.”
The other burning question is… what’s with the name? While by no means controversial in itself, just saying aloud the words Catholic or Protestant can still, depressingly, arouse strong passions in some individuals from the west of Scotland. “Our name has been on posters for a year and I've not seen any vandalism,” Clark insists. McCrory offers a fuller explanation. “It's not a super-religious thing. Actually, no, it absolutely is a super-religious thing.” He pauses as his bandmates erupt with laughter. “I was brought up Catholic, as was Ryan. Catholic guilt really does exist, for better or worse.
“There are some things you do that are perfectly normal as a young teenager, yet you really do think you're going to hell for it. So I suppose a ‘Catholic action’ would be any action, or lack of action, brought about by this overwhelming Catholic guilt. I didn't think I had it – but the older I've got, I look back at my teenage years and realise that I was really quite affected by it. My mum thought it was a terrible name – which is obviously why I thought it was brilliant. I thought we might have some trouble with it, but we've not had any at all. If we can play Belfast... I'll be happy.” It’s doubtful a trip across the Irish Sea would pose the group any problems. A band already used to winning hearts and minds, given their breezy charm and knack for writing winning melodies, it’s hard to imagine Catholic Action ever making enemies.