Rachel Goswell and Steve Clarke on The Soft Cavalry
Husband and wife team Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell discuss domesticity, creativity and that other band she may be pretty well known for
Introducing The Soft Cavalry, the hot new sound of rural Devon. And because music hacks are lazy and unimaginative, we take one look at the line-up, spot Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell amongst the dramatis personae, and the whole endeavour becomes some kind of Slowdive spin-off; a Slowdive frame of reference, when the reality is more prosaic, more interesting, and nowhere near as pastoral as the countryside setting suggests (even if, later on, talk turns to swallows and swifts, the birds nesting in the rafters).
"I don’t see this as a side project," Goswell confirms as we float the inevitable question. "I see it as a band.
"It’s a completely different process. The writing, the musicianship on it is incredibly strong – I’m really proud of this record." "And as it’s a husband and wife duo," Steve Clarke, the other half of the pair adds, "it’s something we can keep developing."
A duo in multiple senses, they met when Clarke was tour managing Slowdive, marrying last year. A gifted musician himself – including a spell playing bass in early 00s noise merchants Dumdums – he had nonetheless spent the intervening years hiding in the underbelly of the music biz - you may even recognise him as a member of Ricky Gervais’ surly backing band in the hit or miss comedy David Brent: Life on the Road.
Yet the past is a curious beast, and sometimes thoughts take time to ferment; with input from Goswell and the likes of Jesse Chandler (Midlake; Mercury Rev), a coalescence of ideas into something brooding and complex, unafraid to explore vulnerability or lyrical honesty – their self-titled debut LP suggests something long-crafted rather than a frenzy of marital bliss.
"I think if you race the whole thing through on a record like this, I don't think it would end up sounding the way it sounds now," says Clarke of the album’s matriculation. "The writing, most of the time it’s been about three or four o’clock in the morning. A lot of the songs on this particular record were formed from dropping off to sleep. Sleepless nights, waking up, got an idea.
"In terms of the recording of the record, it was trying to fit it in around schedules," he adds, their commitments including Goswell’s disabled son Jesse, which puts their work with both Slowdive and Minor Victories families into context. "It was slightly more long-winded than I’d have liked it to have been, but I also think it’s a good thing. It gives you time to put a bit of perspective on it. To take away where you were at with the mix or an idea, then go back and say 'actually that's good, but in hindsight I think I would try and do this.'
"We recorded all of Rachel’s vocals at home here in Devon and that was kind of interesting because the second we added those to the picture, it was like – this is starting to sound like a record now because we’ve actually got a real singer on it." They both laugh. But doesn’t working with your other half come with its own challenges? Goswell thinks about this.
"In some ways, Steve and I are very different in what we like," she says. "We’ve got common ground, but there are some things that I love that he absolutely hates, and vice versa. It’s finding a balance between the two."
"That’s certainly a challenge," Clarke agrees. "I crave space, the headspace to dream up some of this stuff. That can easily be cluttered by the day-to-day, but for all the niggles we’ve got a good way of working together." Then, as an obvious tease, Clarke adds: "I’ll write something and Rachel will then tell me that it’s rubbish."
But playfulness is only one of multiple elements that make The Soft Cavalry such an interesting listen. Contrasting flavours, from the nesting birds referenced in the lyrics to deceptive yet considered chord structures. "Growing up, I spent my entire life listening to guitar bands, so I actually wanted to make an album that wasn’t actually a guitar record," Clarke explains. "I didn’t want it to be 'let’s slam a load of bar chords out'."
Yet more than this, the album carries an introspective yet redemptive quality (see: Home, lead single Dive, and album closer The Ever Turning Wheel, a study in involuntary inner-monologue). At times, it’s like a contemporary interpretation of pre-millennial tension – and both are keen to credit the web of collaboration that made the record a reality, from Steve’s brother Michael (who produced the LP) through to Chandler and the wider threads of working with others – a theme that Goswell picks up on.
"It’s the physicality of sitting down and playing music with other people. Everybody on the record are just incredibly talented people – I feel a bit of a fraud," Goswell admits, a little modestly. "Working with different people – you get so many ideas that come into it."
"For me," Clarke adds, "the big turning point of when the record began to take shape was when Jesse added his ideas, and guitarist Tom [Livermore], they kind of threw curveballs into it. If it was left to me it probably would have been a lot straighter in places – it’s amazing to have people around you that you can entrust that to.
"To try to get away from guitar," he continues, "I started many of the demos by playing a lot of single-note piano lines, which we ended up using across the record. It was always the idea, lyrically, to create something textured that had different elements going on."
Chatting with both, there’s also a real sense of momentum, over and above plans and commitments elsewhere (of which… well, you can understand if they stay coy). A couple of gigs this summer, more to come in the autumn, and "there’s another record written already which is gagging to be recorded. We’re going to try to set aside some time later this year to do that." Domestic life doesn’t suggest being quiet – but then again, you’d suspect The Soft Cavalry rather like it that way.
The Soft Cavalry is released on 5 Jul via Bella Union