This week sees Caulbearers, one of Manchester’s most progressive music outfits, release their much anticipated debut EP. Manchester MULE's Tim Hunt meets their front man Damien Mahoney to find out all about it.
“Sorry I’ll be five minutes late,” reads the text from Caulbearers' frontman Damien Mahoney a minute before we had agreed to meet. My heart sinks, this usually means 20 minutes (at least) and I have to get back to work, but luckily he arrives just three over time. A record.
On arrival he looks clearly stressed out. The Caulbearers’ debut EP launch night is on Friday and “there’s loads of spanners in the works, you forget you have to do some music.” The latest problem is that the bass player has broken two fingers on his left hand. “It’s a bit of a fucker,” says Damien, which with a gig on Friday seems a bit of an understatement.
“We rehearsed last night but with a totally different line up, it wasn’t the one that will be playing on Friday,” he explains. “The drummer is on tour with Magic Hat Ensemble, he is so difficult to track down, Dan’s not around as he lives in London but now he’s bust his finger anyway, Matt (guitarist) couldn’t make it… It’s like that at the moment. Having eight members is difficult to work between you.”
Luckily the Caulbearers use the “squad rotation system” as Damien calls it, a pool of musicians that can play all the songs (and learn new ones quickly). And this squad has a bit of everything: “We have drummers who are multi-instrumentalists and can read music like a book. Then there’s me who can’t play a chord and that’s an interesting mix in Caulbearers.”
But the system is born out of necessity and does have its problems. “It’s the only way,” says Damien, “otherwise the band wouldn’t survive. We’ve had to cancel gigs anyway. Once because three drummers can’t do it and another because Julie (vocals) can’t do it because her tour manager [from her other band] with Shaun Ryder has asked her to fly out somewhere a day early. But there is nothing you can do about it. It’s really frustrating.”
Today these problems seem to be causing him some concern and he looks as if he’s carrying the weight of the world (or at least the band) on his shoulders. I ask him if he’s the manager as well as the lead singer. “I’m the Daddy,” he says with an air of resignation, “but I’d rather be the Daddy to a small child than a group of musicians.” Others of course chip in that the recent mini-tour of Ireland was organised by Gavin (percussion), which Damien says was great, adding, “I could enjoy it more.”
But Friday’s gig at Islington Mill is down to him. The night will see the launch of the band’s long-awaited first EP, entitled More Lie Deep. “It’s our first proper release, proper in a DIY sense.” It’s DIY, for Damien at least, because he has produced the whole thing himself. “I’m pleased with it,” he says with an air of real pride, “because there were times I felt up against it.”
“We did the drums and bass at the Blueprint studio in Salford, all the other recording has been done in the Redbricks [a housing estate] in Hulme, in my flat. We sound proofed up a room using whatever we could and used the living room as a control room, and we just edited it all there.”
The final mixes were done at Moolah Rouge Studios in Stockport with producer Seadna McPhail, who’s worked with several big Manchester artists including Badly Drawn Boy. The first track on the new EP has quite a light sound not dissimilar to that of Mr Gough. “This,” says Damien, “is quite different from other Caulbearers tracks.”
I ask him if this change in sound from one track to another is a conscious decision or something that’s just happened organically. “The thing that unites them is more where they are coming from lyrically. Some Caulbearers stuff is quite outward looking and angry, looking at society and things that are going on, and political. Not that it’s rammed down your throat,” he adds quickly, “it’s more poetic. It’s not like a Billy Brag track where there is a really obvious narrative. But the tracks on this EP are a lot more introspective, about trying to deal with yourself and your psyche and that’s what links them together more than the sound.”
The other songs on the EP lurch from deep funk to brighter pop, with a whole range of sounds and influences all neatly mixed together. “There’s this thing that it’s funk or soul or this that and the other,” complains Damien, “and it always feels uncomfortable, a lot of the strings don’t fit within that and vocals don’t fit within that.”
The EP is available from Bandcamp. He says this tag makes it sound “‘slick’. But it isn’t like that. We’re trying to pull lots of things together and the EP is an expression of [different] influences with other textures.”
And those influences are widely varied. “It comes from a background of New Order and Joy Division and The Smiths and The Specials being really big influences and reggae and African music,” adding, “we’ve got space for a big variety of those things.”
This eclecticism is really what marks Caulbearers, yet all spins around the centrifugal force of Damien. As well as singing, producing and being Daddy, Damien also writes most of the songs. “I come up with the basics of a track,” he tells me, “I’ll get a demo together and send that out to the band. Then we bring it to a rehearsal and it gets jammed out and changes made and the song develops.”
‘Sinking’, the first track on the EP, was done in that fashion. “It’s pretty much as the first demo with the same parts,” while other songs he says “change radically. People add parts and change parts, so people are massively involved in the writing process but the initial germ of it tends to come from me.”
However, this has started to change. Julie, Will (sax / keyboards) and Dan have started to write more. “You could feel usurped,” he says, but instead feels “like a Dad, full of blushing pride.” Let’s hope the tracks that the other band members give birth to are just as interesting and enjoyable as those their Dad has created on the new EP, which comes with a handmade cover (very DIY) and is well worth a listen.
Words: Tim Hunt
The band’s launch night is 8pm-2am this Friday, 10th June at Islington Mill, Salford M3 5HW.
There will be support from the Mind on Fire Band & Ben Mellor and DJs: King Spinna; Joe Sope & Defunkles.
Tickets are £5 on the door.
[This article originally appeared on the Manchester MULE website]