Sacred Paws on Glasgow and Run Around the Sun
We speak to SAY award-winning indie pair Sacred Paws on letting go of shame and letting loose on the live circuit with their new album, Run Around the Sun
"I’ve just moved house."
Despite her reputation as an energetic onstage performer, Rachel Aggs tells us she's feeling a bit tired, as she holds the phone between herself and Sacred Paws bandmate Eilidh Rodgers on a call from Glasgow. It’s quite a moment for the pair who, up until now, have put out all respective releases to date – 2015’s Six Songs EP, one-off single Everyday, and 2017's SAY Award-winning debut, Strike a Match – with a 400-mile gulf between them. Aggs nestled in amongst the DIY scene of South London and Rodgers up in Glasgow.
So today marks a shift for the band and the end to Sacred Paws’ long-distance dynamic, something the guitarist is particularly thankful for. "It means we can take it a bit more seriously and devote more time to it but, at the same time, be a bit more relaxed because it was crazy having to plan everything around travelling up here. I was often away from home a lot while recording – because we’ve always recorded up here – it’s been nice not having to do that," she admits.
Turns out the band has gone from one extreme to another when it comes to proximity. "I’ve moved literally around the corner from Eilidh…" Aggs chuckles as Rodgers interjects, "We have the same back garden so we’re going to get out there with little tin cans and talk to each other." It’s not a bad metaphor for a band who have been committed to staying connected since their paths first crossed performing together as part of twee-pop troupe Golden Grrrls at the start of this decade. And, as they talk from the upstairs offices of Glasgow’s Monorail – where Rodgers works between writing, recording, and life on the road – it’s clear what a tight unit they’ve become.
But even the best of friends have to face certain challenges. For Sacred Paws, it was the prospect of delivering that second album and Aggs can recall a particular moment when her faith faltered. "When we wrote Shame On Me we were having a slight moment of despair because we couldn’t write anything, literally lying on the floor and then it came out of the ether. It ended up being a little bit about that process. Almost feeling like you want to give up on something and then you get it back and you remember what it is you’re doing and feel a slight shame of, 'God, I almost gave up. Isn’t that awful?'"
Nothing about the new record, Run Around the Sun, is awful though. Instead, you’ll feel warmed by its rousing horn section, bountiful handclaps, and dizzying hi-hat work, all jostling together like a happy skank session on the dancefloor. The summery tropicana vibes aren’t a far cry from that of Paul Simon’s Graceland, although unlike the decade-spanning songwriter the pair didn’t follow his loose production approach as we share that he actually went into the studio without having a single song prepared.
"I can’t imagine going into the studio without songs," Aggs responds, clearly shaken at the thought. "That sounds so terrifying. Because we don’t write in a particularly methodical way. It feels like magic when we do come up with a song. We’re just like 'Oh, a song!' or we spend ages staring at the ceiling thinking 'We’re never going to write a song again,'" she says in an exasperated tone for added effect. "Then finally something happens. You can’t predict it," she pauses. "Well, if you’re as good as Paul Simon perhaps you can but that’s definitely not how we work." Rodgers doesn’t imagine their label being so trusting either. "Things were different back then. I don’t think Rock Action would be very comfortable putting us in the studio without anything to go on!"
Despite the moments of songwriting frustration, Sacred Paws had a handful of live favourites in their midst that at least formed the beginnings of their second release. "We were always writing songs when we could get the chance," Rodgers recalls. "But there was definitely a point where we thought 'Okay, we do need to get our shit together and write more for the album, but there’s a few we’ve been playing live for a while'." There were definitely early hints at the band’s return after 2017’s celebrated Strike a Match. New Year teaser Brush Your Hair welcomed Aggs' classic climbing fretwork back onto our speakers, while album opener The Conversation let out a bit of a red herring with that feedback screech, only to glide into the band’s signature sunshine strings.
Alongside their own tight-knit relationship, it’s clear that community is also at the heart of Sacred Paws’ sense of belonging as a band. The pair seem to revel in being in the thick of it, alongside fellow ambitious sorts for collaboration rather than competition. Thankfully, Glasgow’s cultural melting pot provides a bit of a home from home for Aggs who’s still acclimatising herself from the sprawling streets of London. "You can definitely feel there’s a community here. Although I have tonnes of friends in London and it’s been great over the years, it started to feel a bit more disparate towards the end because it’s so big as a place and it’s so difficult to survive there. Everyone was doing a thousand other jobs and kind of struggling."
Meanwhile, a stalwart on the Glasgow scene and positioned in its independent record shop Monorail for the best part of a decade, Rodgers has seen the city change and a new wave of hopeful indie types descend. "There’s kind of always been a hub and it’s good because Monorail exists like a bit of an epicentre," she says. "There’s always an influx of young people who start making music," which prompts Aggs to add: "There’s something about Glasgow that feels like a music town and people are really proud of that, which is really nice to be a part of."
From Honeyblood’s return to the Glaswegian suburbs to write her latest release to BBC Introducing favourites Cloth picking up heavy support from national stations like 6 Music, it certainly feels like Glasgow is proudly supporting a slew of independent artists.
In fact, Rodgers found herself teaming up with one of its rising acts, Free Love (fka Happy Meals), as part of this year’s Outskirts festival on a project documenting the lives of residents in the Glasgow suburb of Easterhouse. "It felt like quite a lot of pressure to represent those conversations," she explains when we ask her about it, confessing that, despite the distance, Sacred Paws had sort of become her go-to approach for songwriting. "When Rachel and I met, we were both playing in different projects but, over time, Sacred Paws is the only thing I’m doing now so you get into the flow and comfort of that and it was quite strange to make music with Lewis [Cook] and Suzi [Rodden] because I don’t know them inside out. With Rachel now, it’s second nature."
That's another element, of course. It wasn’t only the miles between them draining their creative wells. You might also recognise Aggs’ freeform fretwork from post-punk band Shopping or, indeed, charming lo-fi trio Trash Kit – the latter also have a new release coming out next month. It’s an ambitious juggling act but one that Aggs is very humble about, putting a lot of the creative differences down to her fellow (and multiple) bandmates. "There’s only so much I can do on my own. It’s always about being in a room together and what comes out of that collaboration and that conversation. It’s definitely not just me coming up with stuff on the guitar. Each band is a combination of its parts and everybody brings their own flair to it."
But she recognises that there are also strengths to Sacred Paws' two-pronged personality that sets it apart from your traditional jamming-in-a-sweat-box rehearsal space set-up. "Sacred Paws might be the only band where I’ve managed to write a song, sort of on my own, and bring it to Eilidh, but that’s only happened once or twice for us."
With the 2019 SAY Award recently launched, at the top of our conversation we ask the pair what an accolade like winning the Scottish Album of the Year Award meant to them as a band. Both, surprisingly, and with huge doses of humility, admit there’s an element of relief. "We never really wrote those songs with a view to putting them on an album," Aggs says. "We casually went about writing songs that would be fun to play live but it all came together really organically. We were just surprised that people liked it so much."
For Sacred Paws, it really is the best of both worlds. The pair get to perform together, now only a yard apart in a city they both love with the prospect of a tour on the horizon following the release of album number two. Because now, of course, all that travelling doesn’t seem like such a drag. "We haven’t really toured that much as a band because it’s always been this long distance thing of travelling to do gigs anyway so a tour was like, 'Oh god, even more travelling'", Aggs jokes. "But [touring] always reminds me why I do it and what it’s all about really."
Leaving the rat race behind, Sacred Paws have moved closer towards one another and into their happy place. All is golden.
Run Around the Sun is released on 31 May via Rock Action; Sacred Paws play Rosyth Library, 5 Jun; St Luke’s, Glasgow, 7 Jun; Summerhall, Edinburgh, 15 Jun