Broken Clouds, above a little house in ‘Nowheresville’
Kurt Cobain’s death marked the end of Nirvana, one of the most influential bands in music history, back in 1994. A tragic event that will undoubtedly be stuck firmly in the mind of any music lover from the grunge era. Yet, from the ashes (and, from behind the drum riser), rose Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters… one of the most well known hard rock bands around today.
Grohl certainly landed on his feet having joined Nirvana in 1990 just before the Geffen signing, and is regarded as one of the top ten drummers of all time. Yet despite this, he has always considered himself more adept on guitar having learned that instrument before picking up sticks. This became evident with the release of the Foo Fighters self titled debut in 1995, and the emergence of his earlier ‘Pocketwatch’ demo album which was released exclusively on cassette, under the pseudonym ‘Late!’. Both albums had been written, recorded and performed for the most part by Grohl, who had essentially been stockpiling his own work since before joining Nirvana… and he hasn’t slowed down since.
This story of ‘drummer-turned-frontman’ came to mind when I’d stumbled upon Broken Clouds.
Much like the early Late! demos and Foo Fighters debut album, Broken Clouds is the work of one man who had, until now, been seated at the rear of the stage, partially hidden by his drum kit. I’d caught a snippet of his debut single ‘Eyes Shut’ on Instagram, and having carried out a cursory Google search… came up with absolutely nothing! A total mystery, despite the immaculate production, catchy riffs and tasteful accompanying artwork… I wanted to know more.
Broken Clouds music is very much a solo-project and the manifestation of one man’s vision for how ‘his’ music should sound. It is described as “garage-pop inspired by trashy rom-coms, lukewarm coffee and a move to the middle of nowhere” with “a thick slab of guitars, drums and distorted vocals”. The first of three singles to be released this winter, ‘Eyes Shut‘ was produced by Idlewild’s Rod Jones at Edinburgh’s Post Electric Studio and released on Edinburgh independent label Cosmic Peace Jazz.
“This is pop music for the underdog”, says Broken Clouds, hailing from Middle-of-Nowhere, Scotland – where even the saunas are cold this time of year. We’re about to find out some more… Let’s get into it!
Shall we start with a bit of your background? If you could perhaps talk us through your journey in music; where it all started for you, your role in some of the bands you’ve been associated with?
Based in Edinburgh, I’ve been involved in the DIY scene in Scotland for around a decade now, playing in bands, putting on shows, and supporting friends with their releases. Edinburgh has always had a really vibrant music scene that kind of exists in Glasgow’s shadow and in spite of a lack of venues (although there are some bombproof venues that have always made room and time for the unsigned and under the radar). If you look hard enough you will always find great music in the city.
When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I met the guys in My Tiny Robots (a pretty busy band on the scene at the time). They needed a drummer and that was it, I was in. We released an EP and a few singles, with support from Lamacq, Vic Galloway… We played with loads of great bands (Minus The Bear, Dum Dum Girls, The 1990s, The Wave Pictures…) then life got busy and that particular ‘art pop’ odyssey came to an end.
By that point, I also had a live gig playing drums and electronic bits and bobs with Capitals, an electro duo out of Glasgow. I played with them through their album cycle, visiting some of Europe’s lesser-known music venues, and even making it out to the states. Since then, I’ve played (and still play) in a few other bands: Deadboy Robotics, Slow Blood and Golden Arm. Loads more fun shows, DIY tours, releases, and even a live music and theatre project… But I’d never pushed myself to write and create something of my own. That’s what led to Broken Clouds.
Keen to understand your motivation for initiating this solo project, and at what point you felt you wanted to take more of an independent position in the music you were involved with. Can you take us through that process?
Over the years I have become more and more aware of how important making music is to my mental health, both the social aspect and the creative aspect. The winter before the pandemic was a really tough time for me, and I realised that I needed to continue making music in some shape or form and find a creative focus to keep my brain on the ‘straight and narrow’ as we locked down.
Around that time, I also left Edinburgh and moved to a cottage in the middle of nowhere, so I decided to set up a little home studio in the cupboard under the stairs and see if I could do it myself, after years of supporting others. There are a pile of early demos that no one will ever hear, that attest to the reality that song writing is a skill that needs to be practised and learned. After a while, I began to develop a style and a sound that I liked in my demos, and that gave me the confidence to push on and finish the little sketches I’d started – and it’s that sound and shape that inspired what we did in the studio.
On this track, you’re playing the guitar, drums and providing the vocals. Is there scope for this project to take to the stage down the line at some point?
I think there is definitely scope for this project to become a live entity. Probably not until the spring of next year, but I had a few friends help me out in the studio that I’m sure will help me out live if I ask them nicely. We just need to get back into the basement and work out who’s doing what.
Assuming Broken Clouds emerges from the basement with a setlist and gigging schedule, where do you see yourself positioned – singing from behind the drum kit, or pulling a Grohl and handing over the sticks?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, to be honest. I’ve never seen myself as anything other than a drummer, but the more I play with the songs and the way live shows might run, the more I think it could actually be a lot of fun to stand out front and play a different instrument for once.
Sticking to the Dave Grohl theme – I actually just finished reading his book, and among the various bits of sage advice rolled out is “fake it till you make it”. Maybe it’s a sign that I should step up and give it a shot.
Maybe it is a sign! You have described Broken Clouds as being an opportunity to explore and create music that is more to your own taste. Do you find that having full control over every aspect of what you create is more, or less rewarding than being in a band with other musicians?
That was one of the most liberating and most frustrating things about learning to be a band on your own. You can do what you like, play what you like, and write what you like. But on the other hand, there’s no one there to throw in suggestions, or tell you what you’re doing is shit, because let’s face it – everyone needs that sometimes.
Who do you count amongst your primary musical influences?
I found myself falling back on the music I listened to, to push me forward. Lots of American bands from the 90s and 00s: REM, Pumpkins, Silver Sun Pick Ups, The Thermals… And a pile of more recent bands that have been propping up my Spotify playlists: Thee OhSees, Car Seat Headrest, Cloud Nothings, Pedro The Lion, Cymbals Eat Guitars. Also, they say the music you listened to when you were a kid never leaves you – so subliminally there’s probably some late 00s emo in there somewhere, too!
You mentioned a few bands I’ve listened to heavily over the years, (surprised Mogwai didn’t get a mention). Cloud Nothings are a good shout, a good friend of mine hipped me to them not long ago – Wasted Days is a brilliant track! If you could collaborate with any of the bands you idolised or looked up to from your teens, who would it be?
From my teens it would probably have to be Deftones. I am super into the energy and groove that runs through everything they do. ‘Diamond Eyes’ was a big record for me and has been a pillar of my record collection since it came out. I was actually listening to the ‘Ohms’ episode of the Song Exploder podcast recently, they were talking about how their process hasn’t really changed in 30 years and it inspired me to think more about my own process, what it is that I like about writing and what I could do to improve and settle on my own process.
On another note – if I had to pick someone that I came to a little later, it would be John Dwyer (OhSees, Thee Oh Sees, OCS, Damaged Bug…). Not only is he an incredibly prolific musician, but I think he would be a really interesting guy to have post-jam beers with.
You had Rod Jones (guitarist from Idlewild) produce this track at Edinburgh’s Post Electric Studio. Aside from the excellent sound you’ve achieved with Eyes Shut – what else did you gain from working with such a renowned guitarist and experienced producer, and how has that influenced your approach to the songs you’re writing/ have written since?
I first worked with Rod about three years ago, and when it was time to take my sketchy cupboard demos into the studio he was basically the only person I thought of. Mainly because singing in front of a real human gave me the absolute fear, so it had to be a trusted pair of ears, but also because he’s a great producer and makes the whole studio experience incredibly casual and relaxed.
In terms of his influence, I’m a drummer who has taught himself to play guitar in a pretty roundabout way, so Rod pushed me to explore tones and textures to build on what I’d already created to move the tracks on and push them to where they ended up sonically. He has a pretty amazing collection of guitars, amps, pedals and other tone based toys in his studio, so that helped when it came to building the tracks up.
Broken Clouds is described as “garage-pop inspired by trashy rom-coms, lukewarm coffee and a move to the middle of nowhere”. Does the lyrical content of Eyes Shut come from personal life experiences – can you share some of the context behind the song’s origin?
Eyes Shut is about feeling a lack of control. It’s about that moment just before you fall asleep, or straight after you wake up, where your brain floods with a thousand thoughts and anxieties. Something that becomes even more prevalent when you move to a house in the middle of nowhere completely enveloped in still, silent, darkness every night.
The first couple of lines gave me a sense of sleep paralysis, and I imagine waking up at night in the middle of nowhere, in the deathly silent and cold, black night could almost feel that way. You mentioned those anxieties are more prevalent given your surroundings, and also that creating music has become conducive to your mental wellbeing. Do you find that quiet and remoteness feeds your creativity?
It definitely does. Both physically and mentally it gives me space to think and focus, I find it so much easier to clear my brain here than I did living in the city. It turns out the sound of sheep is a lot less distracting than sirens, or people shouting at each other on the street!
My surroundings are seeping into my lyrics in more obvious ways as well, the outdoors seems to be a theme that keeps coming back around in various guises, it tends to be the first place I go when I’m singing scratch lyrics to try and find a melody.
I know you have a few more singles scheduled for release in the New Year, can you give us any teasers as to what we might expect from those tracks, and what you’ve got up your sleeve for Broken Clouds in 2022?
I’m pretty excited about 2022. Another two singles in the new year, both a little different but still variations on the loud quiet loud formula and then hopefully some live shows in the spring. I’ve been continuing to write and I think there is an album in there somewhere, so that will be next year’s challenge.
Thanks for sharing with us Gareth, best of luck for the new release, and we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the other new tracks in the New Year!