Acclaimed Scottish Dream-Folk outfit Constant Follower release their double sided single ‘I Can’t Wake You’ today.
Self-released it preludes their debut album ’Neither is, nor ever was’ on Shimmy Disc / Joyful Noise Recordings having just signed a deal with the label behind countless seminal records from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Deerhoof, Dinosaur Jr, Kishi Bashi, and Yo La Tengo. The album is being produced by the internationally renowned Kramer.
Moments last forever, but you’ll sleep through it now,” McAll’s voice carries the wistfully bittersweet lyrics with a unifying sense of sincerity in I Can’t Wake You. The track is underpinned by the sentiment that, not only do things stay with you forever, but more significantly that in a moment of grief or great pain that time seems to stop.
The second track is more instrumental, floating over haunting strings and finger-picked guitar. Inspired by the area of Hamburg where McAll’s partner and bandmate Kathleen grew up, Altona means “all too near” in German. “It’s okay,” he says throughout the track, “It’s okay…”
Where are you currently based?
We’re based in the tiny city of Stirling in Scotland. It’s a great wee place with a beautiful castle on the hill and the mountains within walking distance.
What’s been happening recently and how has your Covid experience been so far?
The lockdowns have been hard because of not being able to play live shows. I miss that. And I miss seeing other live music. I’ll be quite happy to never see another livestream again! Ha! But I think one thing the livestreams have shown us is that the people on stage are only a part of what makes live music so special. When you lose the audience and the setting, it just feels empty. I’ve put the time to good use – working on making this album special and reconnecting.
How did you first start playing music?
I asked to learn piano when I was about 6. My parents were recommended a teacher who took lessons in a nearby church when there weren’t services on. One of my only childhood memories relates to this. I remember walking in for the first time – all the lights were off in the church except a dull light over the grand piano in the far corner. This old guy was hunched over, playing something very sad that filled the room. I remember the smell of candles and damp. I loved going to that old guy. My parents say that he was often drunk when we went and short tempered and grumpy. But I loved him. And, though his problems caught up with him pretty soon after we started together, it was that small handful of lessons with that troubled old guy that started me off playing music.
When was Constant Follower formed?
I‘d been writing some songs for a couple of years and played them out once. Which went well but I felt like I wanted to be able to present the songs in a fuller context. Kurd started playing guitar with me after we got talking at a gig a few years ago and the band has expanded since then to include Kessi and Amy as well as a few other collaborators like Kenny Bates who plays guitar on a few songs on the album. The band around me is a fluid entity, always with the key purpose of serving the songs.
Your single ‘I Can’t Wake You’ is out now. What inspired you to write this track?
In the song is the phrase “moments last forever”, which is kind of about how our perception of time is completely relative to what is going on in the moment, but also about how momentary events stay with you indefinitely. We’re all aware of how time seems to stand still in moments of shock. I was attacked from behind one night and had a bottle smashed over my head. I remember seeing the sparkling shards of crystal tinkling past my head onto the ground in slow motion. They kind of hung in the air before time sped up to normal again and I realised what had happened. Stopping time like this, it’s a superpower!
Tell us about the accompanying video for the track?
The video was made by this fiercely creative Swedish/German artist called Nathalia van de Kerst. Nathalia was helping a friend clear the basement of an old house in Froseke when they came upon a box full of glass negatives from the earliest days of photography, depicting life in old Sweden. The images seem to marry to the music in a very special way.
What’s your songwriting process like?
There’s no process really – I just try and play guitar a lot so that I’m ready whenever a song starts to come. Every now and then a small phrase pops into my head that seems like it has something attached to it; I’ll sit down and sing it, then the next bit will come and on and on in a kind of linear fashion until there’s a full song. Most often I don’t know what I mean by the song in the moment, only later do I attribute meaning in the same way someone else does when they hear it. And that meaning changes when things in my life change. I don’t ever try to force a song out – they just come when they’re ready.
What instruments and equipment is behind Constant Follower’s sound?
Well, there are no drums to worry about – that makes it a lot easier to play live! That rhythmic element comes from my fingerpicked acoustic guitar, which is most always at the centre of the arrangements. Over that I layer synths and guitar parts from Kurd and Kenny, both of whom have very different styles. Kurd has these incredible floaty, swelling, lush sounds that fill out the acoustic guitar perfectly. But I think the most important element in the ‘sound’ if there is one, is Amy and Kessi’s backing vocals. There’s just something about the way they each sing. Amy has the most beautiful and unique voice.
What’s the inspiration behind the title of the debut album, ‘Neither is, nor ever was…’, due to be released in March?
That’s a long, and personal, story…
Can you tell us a bit about the album’s production?
We initially went into the studio with a Glasgow producer to make the recordings for the album. But the studio environment didn’t suit the intimacy of the songs. I wasn’t very happy with the performances – don’t get me wrong, the recordings were lovely, but there was something about the ‘feel’ that wasn’t right. So I decided to improve my own studio and have another shot at the songs, which has paid off. I learned that if I’m sitting writing these songs late at night while my daughter sleeps in the next room, then the best way to capture that feeling is to make the recordings in the same way. We’ve been very lucky that Kramer, the producer who discovered Low and Daniel Johnston, heard my music through a mutual friend and offered to mix the record.
How do you spend your time when you’re not making music?
I get outside into nature as much as possible. The hills are so near that there’s really no excuse not to spend a lot of time there. Being a musician is hard work for no pay, so it’s essential to nurture your mental health in any way you can – being in nature is the best cure.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been listening a lot to the Cinder Well record. Man, it’s beautiful… devastating, but beautiful. I’ve also been improving my knowledge of Mark Tranmer’s music. He lives locally now and we’ve been meeting for coffees and music chats. He and Roger Quigley were The Montgolfier Brothers. Roger’s recent passing has brought new attention to their incredible work ‘Seventeen Stars’, which is just the most wonderful record and well worth getting to know.