So far Air Cav have resisted the temptation to cash in on acclaim afforded them since emerging in 2008, choosing instead to hone their skill for heart-poundingly epic shoegaze compositions. The ‘Alliance / Branches’ single was tagged by Steve Lamacq as one of his five picks for ‘Hottest Records in the World Right Now’ and various analyses have alluded to Arcade Fire when searching for an appropriate simile for uplifting violin embedded within the alt-rock line-up. Unhurried and unfazed, the quartet have been biding their time, adding to that an armoury of tunes all tried and tested as part of an oft-applauded live show. Everything is now picking up pace – a new single ‘A Call To Arms’ was released earlier this month and the debut album entitled Don’t Look Indoors is set to follow on 5th December.
The album in question meanders from alt-rock’s choppy staccato to the engulfing reverberations of shoegaze which, with the presence of the undeniably soothing violin lines, embraces both the classical and contemporary. Serene yet stirring instrumental breaks belie the urgency of motorik marching beats and Chris Nield’s Brian Molko-esque vocal charges; it is a collection of contrasts cohesively soldered into shape. The band’s name (Air Cav is the name for an air-mobile division of the US Army) isn’t where army influence ends; from ‘A Call to Arms’ to ‘Alliance’, ‘So Others May Live’ to ‘Here Be Dragons’, there are military references aplenty, which violinist Sophie Parkes defines as “metaphor and a combined respect for war films – from the males in the band at least!” The record could be interpreted as a concept album; in the same breath, the architects could be interpreted as a concept band.
Released on the band’s own label, Crystalline Recordings, Don’t Look Indoors realises that promise with all the grandiose aplomb that you’d expect. Still the standout track, ‘Alliance’ is that rare musical adhesive that’ll stick to your inner playlist long after listening and it is accompanied by an often fearsome arsenal of fellow euphoric climbs. But the highlights aren’t necessarily always the besieging; ‘Exile’ and album closer ‘Glossary’ retreat to forge a fortress of melancholy, captivating those who enter its melodic gates.
Ahead of a headlining slot at Now Then Manchester’s first Antwerp Mansion showcase on 24th November, violinist Sophie Parkes spared some time to answer our questions.
Now Then: You were initially victims of the journo shorthand for melodic indie: ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’. Did you welcome this? What did you think about the reaction to your recording emergence back then?
Sophie Parkes: Well, as much as I love Arcade Fire, it seemed very simple to be able to equate ‘girl on violin’ with ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’ – I don’t think we would have had those comparisons had we not the line-up we do, because I’m not sure there is all that much in common. It’s one of those journalistic timeframes where everyone is caught up with the ‘big sound’; a decade ago, everyone sounded like The Strokes. Otherwise, I think we were really pleased with the reaction to our first singles: we had some really nice airplay, including Radio 1 and being made ‘Single of the Week’ on XFM. It’s always heartening to have that kind of reaction when you’re essentially doing this yourself; no manager, no agent, no label, no PR specialist and so on.
NT: It’s been a long time in the making since the first singles released back in 2008. What has been the hold up?
SP: We’ve spent a long time scrapping, rewriting... We weren’t going to hurry, as there seemed nothing to hurry for! It’s not like we’ve ever been involved in the hype machine or anything. We thought we’d take our time, get together a collection that we were pleased with and see what happened...
NT: Did you hesitate before including the early singles on the album, given the length of time since they were originally recorded, or were they too significant to omit?
SP: I don’t think we hesitated as such, just as we’re really proud of ‘Alliance’ and ‘Picking At The Bones’ and wanted to include them, but we did want to record them differently, with a different slant. So ‘Alliance’ is calmer, fuller, whilst ‘Picking At The Bones’ includes different backing vocals and more noise.
NT: What has the response been to the album so far and how do you feel about it?
SP: The reviews have started filtering in and they’ve all been really positive and enthusiastic so far – and some of our nearest and dearest are very impressed, and that’s what matters. We’ve also had some great airplay: Steve Lamacq has played ‘A Call To Arms’ to end one of his shows on 6Music and John Kennedy gave us a whirl on XFM, so it’s looking good.
NT: You’ve recently been taking support slots on Now Wave and WotGodForgot promoted shows... How have they gone for you?
SP: It’s really great to be able to support interesting, well-received bands from outside the UK and see what all the fuss is about. And, of course, they’re experienced promoters who choose great venues and really think about which support bands will complement their headliners, meaning that fans might well have an ear out for us, too.
NT: Which has been your most memorable live show and why?
SP: Well, there’s been several really. We were really lucky to head to Holland with our friends, Daniel Land And The Modern Painters, for a couple of shows and meet some really lovely people who we’ve stayed in touch with. We also put on our own Christmas gig a couple of years ago at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel which was amazing; mulled wine, mince pies and music in a very ambient setting always goes down well! Then this year, Dave Haslam invited us down to play at the Manchester International Festival, which was really great, and we also loved supporting Ringo Deathstarr at the Ruby Lounge, just because they’re fantastic.
NT: Which records are you playing the grooves off at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?
SP: I’m a big folk fan and I’m currently enthralled by a new female English folk singing collective called Lady Maisery who specialise in ‘diddling’, singing instrumental tunes rather than singing words. Chris is desperately awaiting the new Spiritualized album, following their performance at the Albert Hall last month.
As for other bands at the moment, we’re big fans of Driver Drive Faster, who we asked to support us at our Christmas gig a couple of years ago, and I love Caulbearers, too.
NT: Where will Air Cav go from here?
SP: Well, we’ve already got a clutch of new songs that we’re really chuffed with, songs that are sounding a little different to what we’ve done before, so we’ll be looking forward to playing those live and seeing how they go down.
Words: Ian Pennington
Photographs: Courtesy of Air Cav
Logos: Courtesy of Air Cav / Crystalline Recordings
Promo design: Craig Brown Beards Club Illustration
Air Cav headline the Now Then Crystalline Records show at Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 24th November. Foreign Hands and Ivan Campo will also perform; entry policy is pay-what-you-like, £3 suggested.