Interview: Rumour Cubes
"I don’t think it’s necessarily more difficult as an instrumental band to portray political beliefs. There are a multitude of ways to get a message across through music, and although lyrics are one of the most obvious you’ve also got track and album titles and artwork, you’ve got time between songs at gigs to engage with the crowd, you’ve got social channels; if you want to make your feelings known on a particular issue you don’t necessarily need to do that through lyrics"
Two and a half years on since their last show and more than four years since Appearances Of Collections came out, Rumour Cubes are back with a gig, on Friday 14th Sep at The Underdog Gallery in London Bridge, and not one but two new tracks to release. With that in mind, we thought it was a good time to have a chat with the band and see what they’ve been up to in all that time.
(((o))): Next week sees you guys return to playing live after more than 2 years away, what have you all been up to in that time?
We’ve all been involved in other projects; Adam has been working hard on the MI.MU Gloves; Adam & Terry have been playing in Munro Fox and with Annie Rew Shaw in Austel; Jay and Omar have been playing in Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and Cosmic Strip, Jay plays with Sean McGowan and Chas Palmer Williams and runs a recording studio; Joe is in Eat The Evidence. Also one of us got married and one of us has become a father!
Hannah started a band
Hannah: I did! It’s still pretty early days right now but it’s full of awesome women and we’re making what I can only really describe as post-folk-techno-poetry and I’m really excited about it.
(((o))): You’ve all been involved in other projects in the last few years; how hard is it to pull the 6 of you together to keep Rumour Cubes going?
Adam: Rumour Cubes was always designed to be large, loud and impractical – lots of instrumentation, people and technology. Getting all that into one room is hard work, but when we do it is the best thing in the world. We’ve recently been rehearsing again after a long break, but the sense of tightness and interaction between us has felt exactly the same, like it never went away.
Jay: It has been really hard at times but it’s something we all want to continue with, Hannah does deserve a medal for being the one that actually gets us to pull our shit together when we stray too far from being an actual band.
Hannah: Aww <3 Yeah, it’s difficult with so many of us, especially when we’ve all got so many other things on the go. I think we’ve all been surprised (in a good way!) by how easy and fun it’s been to get back into rehearsing for this gig, and I’m hoping that as a result people feel a bit more energised about the band – that’s certainly how I feel, at any rate.
Terry: Adapting our writing methods to fit with the fact we don’t get together so often has definitely been a challenge, and is partly to blame for the fact we’ve been quiet for so long. But it’s also had an impact on our approach to song-writing – and therefore on how the songs end up sounding. There’s a succinctness to the two forthcoming singles that perhaps we wouldn’t have got had we been playing together twice a week. Because time was limited, we consciously resisted the temptation to be over-indulgent. There were other factors around being briefer and more immediate with these songs, but definitely the practical constraints played a part.
(((o))): How excited are you all to be back playing live again?
Adam: Massively! I think we’ve all really missed it – playing live is definitely the best bit of Rumour Cubes and getting back in a room together again has been amazing.
Jay: I can’t wait, I love playing with other projects but with Rumour Cubes I think we all get to push ourselves in ways we don’t elsewhere.
Hannah: I’m really excited. The rehearsals have been going great – far better than any of us anticipated I think! It’s been great to be back in a room together and I can’t wait to be on a stage together.
Terry: Playing live is the thing that gives the band its energy and drive. Finally having a gig in the diary has got us all raring to go again, and it’s no coincidence that other things have finally started happening – singles coming out, more shows hopefully on the horizon and one or two other exciting things!
(((o))): You’re going to be premiering some new tracks at the gig, can you tell us a bit about them?
Adam: This is our first new material since our last album, Appearances of Collections. The new tracks we are releasing this autumn are a departure from that rich and lush sound, turning towards something much darker and grittier. This doesn’t necessarily suggest a new direction for the band – there are a lot of different sides to Rumour Cubes and these songs have been a chance to show the world a different take on what we do.
Jay: Myself and Adam both run recording studios and (bar mastering) this is the first time that we’ve had no outside influence throughout the production process. I’m not sure it was the easiest way to do it, we’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful producers, engineers and musicians in the past but it was a lot of fun. Using our own studios gave us the freedom to take our time to experiment with some less traditional recording techniques.
Terry: They’re shorter, they’re more immediate and we’ve pared back anything we thought was extraneous. There’s still a really full sound, and we’ve not strayed from trying to maintain a definite melodic shape to the songs, but also they’re more rhythmically driven. I think there’s a more polyphonic vibe going on – you’ll notice a lot of passing of melodies between instruments, weaving of counter-melodies into each other, so you’re not quite sure who’s playing what. And there’s a LOT of pedals in there – on the strings as much as, if not more than, the guitars – so we’re trying to push ourselves sonically too.
Hannah: When we started writing again after Appearances of Collections we all felt pretty strongly that we didn’t want to make the same album again; we love that album, but we wanted to try something different. Alongside what’s been going on in the world over the past few years I think that’s contributed to these newer tracks having a darker, more urgent sound, which is something I’m really enjoying exploring. I also have a pedal board now! So on a personal level I’ve been exploring a less natural violin sound, which has been a lot of fun.
(((o))): Both new tracks have an overtly political slant to them. What are the challenges of getting that kind of message across with instrumental music?
Adam: The state of our politics, economics and wider society hugely informs our approach to writing. Because of this, our music is less aimed at communicating a message, but rather is a reflection of a moment in time and our response to it. Of course, we want to try to communicate a message also, and so we often use the opportunity of releasing music to start a conversation. That can happen via song titles, or when lovely publications such as yourselves give us a chance to speak about our music.
Terry: The songs aren’t necessarily programmatic – we’re not setting out to tell a story with them. At same time, there is a deliberateness to the choice of titles, the dynamics and tone of the songs, which alludes to the context in which they were written, and the feelings that might be stirred up when we perform them or people listen to them. The challenge is to provoke thoughts in the listener without being too prescriptive, I think – the beauty of instrumental music is that no-one tells you what you’re supposed to feel when you listen to it, there doesn’t have to be one single meaning – it can mean what you want it to mean!
Hannah: I don’t think it’s necessarily more difficult as an instrumental band to portray political beliefs. There are a multitude of ways to get a message across through music, and although lyrics are one of the most obvious you’ve also got track and album titles and artwork, you’ve got time between songs at gigs to engage with the crowd, you’ve got social channels; if you want to make your feelings known on a particular issue you don’t necessarily need to do that through lyrics. I do sometimes feel we could do that better in some respects – being clearer about our beliefs on our social channels, for example. I’d like to be a bit more outward about our feelings, I guess – particularly given how much politics dominates our inter-band discussions!
(((o))): In your press release you describe ¡No Pasarán! as “a response to the rise of the far right, the song is an impassioned call for hope and resistance in a world veering towards chaos”. How do you express something like that in musical terms?
Adam: None of us thought we’d be here even three years ago. We have an openly racist president of the United States, who encourages and retweets fascist groups, implementing discriminatory policies against muslims and other minorities. He has a blatant disregard towards women’s rights and an appalling legacy of alleged sexual misconduct towards women. His continuing presence in office is an insult to everyone who cares about gender equality. All this while slashing taxes for the billionaire class.
In the UK we have allowed the fantasies of a set of fringe right wingers to become the only national policy debate. I believe Brexit is a pointless shambles that damages all of us – however, the thing that makes me really angry is the huge list of issues that are unattended to. What about climate change? What about the rise in homelessness? What about poverty wages and zero-hour contracts? All of this is ignored while we indulge in exploring the priorities of what used to be only found in the UKIP manifesto.
In response to this, we wanted to write something loud and uncompromising – a reminder that there is energy on our side of the political divide also. The title “¡No Pasarán!” is a slogan that has been used by many in the past – when faced with a fascist opposition – to say ‘They Shall Not Pass’. The song is our call for hope.
(((o))): Recently we’ve seen a number of places decry the fact that no one is making protest music any more. Do you agree?
Hannah: Not in the slightest. There are loads of musicians out there right now making incredibly vital, angry, political music. They’re just not all white guys with guitars, and I think that’s often what people mean when they say ‘where’s the protest music gone’. We made a Spotify playlist of modern protest songs to accompany the single release. You can find it here and I’d encourage you to listen, there’s some really great stuff on there:
Terry: I love how Gruff Rhys’ latest album takes protest music (continuing a long line of Super Furries’ political songs with The Man Don’t Give A Fuck at its head) and gives it the full Bacharach treatment. Yes he’s a white bloke with a guitar, but he’s also got a full orchestra, which I think is generally a good thing (as the others will attest to, after the amount of extra instruments I tried to sneak onto Appearances of Collections!) Adam and I can also attest first-hand to the continuing emergence of protest music: Austel’s song Choke tackles the rise of Trump and the misalignment of the ruling classes with ordinary people. (The song hasn’t been released yet, but you can hear it live at a couple of gigs next week).
(((o))): Does this gig & single mean that Rumour Cubes are back for good? What are the plans for the future?
Jay: I really hope so. We’re hoping to play a few shows outside of London before the year is over and we have hours of recordings of ideas from the last four years so hopefully we can start to make sense of them and get back in the studio to record them properly.
Hannah: I would love us to be back for good. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to be prolific, given the number of people involved and the number of other commitments everyone has, but it’d definitely be good to do stuff on a slightly more regular basis. As Jay said, we’ve got plans for a few more gigs and we’ve also got another single coming out before the end of the year, so keep an eye out for that!
(((o))): What have you all been listening to while you’ve been away? Is there anything we should be checking out?
Adam: Grouper, Nils Frahm, Clark, Monolake, Kate Tempest
Terry: The aforementioned new Gruff Rhys album (if I’m feeling up to speed with rehearsal for the gig, I hope i might get along to his Festival Hall gig); the new Olafur Arnalds record is a wonderful album of space, light and delicate melodies. Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Wapentak is a lovely heart-warmer of a record. Sufjan Stevens’ recent single offerings – Mystery of Love from the film Call Me By Your Name and his fan-letter to Tonya Harding – are some of my absolute favourites of his songs. I also finally succumbed and found a full mix of Zaireeka by the Flaming Lips online, having owned the record for 15+ years and never managed to play it with more than two CD players. I still plan to get a Zaireeka party going though and doing it properly!
Hannah: Kate Tempest, Shpongle, Emma Ruth Rundle, The Decemberists, Deerful, Get Cape, Austel, Eat The Evidence, Chagall