London’s My Sad Captains are Nick Goss (guitar, samples), Jack Swayne (bass), Ed Wallis (vocals, guitar), Jim Wallis (drums) and Cathy Lucas (vocals, keyboards). They’ve been a band since 2004 but only released their first 7” single ‘Bad Decisions’/ ‘Here And Elsewhere’ for Fortuna Pop! in 2007, to be followed by a single for White Heat, ‘All Hat and No Plans’/ Great Expectations’, at the end of March 2008. Named after a poem by Thom Gunn, their moodily melodic pop is influenced by American bands like Pavement and Sparklehorse. They’re now frequent performers in London (Cathy even more so as she also plays with the much-fancied Fanfarlo), having supported the Broken Family Band at a couple of rammed gigs as well as becoming headliners in their own right. In 2007 they played their first festival, the great End of the Road in Dorset, and will doubtless be gracing many more stages indoors and outdoors this year. We spoke with Ed Wallis in March 2008.
SXP: You formed in 2004 but your first single only came out last year. Why so long when other bands these days seem to go into the studio right after they form?
Ed: It just took us a while to get our act together. Although we did first start playing in 2004, it wasn’t until a year or so later that we were all living in London and taking it seriously, and Cathy wasn’t in the band at that point too. So, the band in its current form has been going a couple of years, and we’ve been in no hurry to put something out for the sake of it, and I think the songs are all the better for it.
SXP: As artists, did you get any particular satisfaction from releasing your debut record? And does the format of the single (vinyl!) matter to you?
Ed: Well, as you said, it was a relatively long time before we actually released anything, so it was good to actually put ourselves out there, get some reviews, get some feedback, and generally feel that we were moving forward and getting on the conveyor belt. It’s good to see these little ideas you’ve been working on for a while go out into the big wide world and try to fend for themselves.
Format-wise, I’m fairly agnostic. Whilst there is some romantic appeal to the 7”, we’re not vinyl junkies, we kind of missed that, and I think Jim actually only bought a record player so he could listen to the single! But the artwork really matters to us – Nick and his brother do it – and so vinyl is good for that ‘cos it always looks really nice. The single was download too, but again I don’t really download things myself, but it seems quite a useful and easy way to widen access to the music.
SXP: Bad Decisions was a great first single, which a lot of people, including us, described as ‘melodic and melancholy’. Do you think that description is typical of your songs or are there some party tunes you haven’t shown us?
Ed: I thought ‘Bad Decisions’ was a party tune! But, yeah, I think that description is fairly apt, it definitely sums up the music I listen to, and so I’m glad that’s what other people are hearing in us. The next single but one, we’ve just recorded it, is going to be a song called ‘Good to Go’ and that’s fairly upbeat/uptempo, but again probably has a slight melancholy to it.
I think really melodic pop songs need to have that twist on them, to stop them being irritatingly perky and twee.
SXP: You seem to be a busy live band. Do you particularly enjoy gigging and how have you developed through playing live? Are you able to make any peculiar rider requests yet?
Ed: Yeah we enjoy gigging, obviously certain ones more than others, but we get to play a range of different place and so that keeps it interesting. Playing live still offers a band such as ours the best way of getting people to hear our music, and so we try to keep busy. And it does help get the songs down, although playing too much means you just end up playing your set over and over and don’t get time to work on new stuff, so a little balancing is required.
We are yet to make that leap into gratuitous riders – but it’s something I’m looking forward to. We are usually too pathetic to ask for anything and we need a hard nut manager to force through our unreasonable demands for us.
SXP: You played your first festival at End of the Road last September. How did you find it?
Ed: Very good. It’s a great festival. I’d not been before, but I’d been to Green Man a few times, and it has a similar vibe, which I know is what they were going for. I thought our set went pretty well, we had a decent crowd and they seemed fairly into it, and the rest of the line up was cool too so we all had a good time.
SXP: Cathy is a member of Fanfarlo as well as My Sad Captains. How does that work in practice? If you had a gig on the same night, would you amicably decide on custody? Or would there be some McCartneyesque tug-of-love battle in the High Court?
Ed: We are keeping it out of the courts at the moment. It works fine – it just means Cathy is extremely busy! There’s the odd thing here and there that one of us won’t be able to do, but nothing major. It just requires a bit more organisation and planning than perhaps comes naturally, which is probably no bad thing. And Fanfarlo are great and we get on really well with them, so it’s all happy families.
SXP: I remember reading that you were doing a Sparklehorse cover for a tribute album. Is that out yet? What do you do with a cover version to make it yours? And is there any song or artist that you’d like to cover?
Ed: I really don’t know what happened with that. We did ‘Hundreds of Sparrows’ and the record came out and it’s on there, but I’ve never seen any physical evidence of it. I think they didn’t make very many and it was an American label, so don’t think they made their way over here.
I’d be interested to hear it though as it’s got some really good people on there – Daniel Johnston, as well some more local bands we like, It Hugs Back, Don’s Mobile Barbers…
As a rule we are pretty crap at covers, as anyone who saw us at the Fortuna Pop Xmas covers Party would probably tell you. We don’t really play ‘em much, partly because we can’t agree on what to play, and partly because we prefer to play our own ones.
SXP: What can you tell us about the new single coming out on White Heat? And any chance of an album to follow?
Ed: The White Heat single is coming out on March 31st. We are just sorting out our single launch party at the moment, which everyone should come to. We were feeling gung ho, so it’s a double A side, and the songs are called ‘All Hat and No Plans’ and ‘Great Expectations.’ I’m really looking forward to it coming out, it’s going to be a hit!
We recorded it with Brian O’Shaughnessy, who’s done The Broken Family Band and The Clientele, and he really knows what he’s doing and I think it sounds pretty good, definitely a step up from the last one. We’ve made a couple of videos too. ‘All Hat’ is fairly silly, featuring a gnome/seagull dance routine, and ‘Great Expectations’ is more pretty.
Album is on the radar. Got another single planned after this one, and by that point hopefully we will have made some progress towards getting the album done, so watch this space.
SXP: Every band now has some internet presence. Do you find it a useful tool for My Sad Captains? I imagine that it can create a buzz and publicise gigs but may not sell records as well.
Ed: It’s crucial really, although we don’t exploit it as well as we should, mainly due to lack of technical know how. My Space, for all its flaws, has been really useful, just ‘cos it’s so easy, and you can put music on there, and has now usurped our proper site, which had fallen into disrepair and is now being revamped.
I think the buzz/publicising gigs thing all feeds into ultimately selling records, and so the internet can only be helpful in that way.
SXP: You can hear an American influence on the band like Pavement, Silver Jews and Grandaddy. Is that just the influence on you as the songwriter or is it shared by the band?
Ed: It’s a pretty communal influence really, which is useful. It means we are all pulling in the same direction. Having said that, everyone’s got their own thing going on and brings something different to the table, otherwise it would all get a bit dry.
SXP: The band’s name comes from Thom Gunn’s poem. Is there something in that poem or his work more generally, that inspired you?
Ed: Not particularly. It’s hard not to sound like a tosser when talking about poetry, so I’m not going to try. I like that poem, but there’s no special significance to it, and I can’t pretend to be a Thom Gunn expert.
It was just a case of trying to think of something to call the band, and deciding to steal someone else’s idea rather than think of my own.