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An Interview with Cattle & Cane

May 17, 2011 Features, Interviews No Comments

Cattle & Cane are a real family brood. Comprised of 3 out of nine siblings, Joe Hammill (guitar / vocals), Helen Hammill (keys / vocals), Frank Hammill (bass / vocals) plus Paul Wilson on drums, this folk indie-rock foursome have been attracting a grand following since their inception in the early months of 2010. From Thornaby in the North East, the success of their timeless, sepia-tinted sound was compounded by their appearance on the BBC Introducing Stage at T in the Park last year. Undoubtedly set for big things, here Joe, Helen, Frank and Paul chat to us about their sound, future and new single ‘Sold My Soul’.

So, tell us about the set up of Cattle & Cane. Where did it all begin?

J: Myself and Helen had been writing material and occasionally performing together for a while beforehand. Then we started to look for a fuller and more dynamic sound and the natural progression of this was to ask Paul, a friend of mine from school, to play drums and to ask our older brother Fran to come in on bass. From there we started to build up the ideas that we had been working on.

The group is dominated by the Hammill siblings on an array of musical instruments plus Paul Wilson on drums. I’m right in assuming that the Hammill household was a pretty musical household? How did you find Paul?

F: We were always encouraged to play music from an early age and this leads on to today. We’re not all necessary musical! I’d say half of us are. Although there are nine of us so that’s still quite an achievement! Paul was found through Joe, they’d known each other for a while. Paul had backed Joe on drums for a few performances in the past so it was a natural fit.

Where did your name, Cattle & Cane, come from?

P: Our name comes from a track by an Australian band called The Go-Betweens and it was a single of theirs in 1983 from the Before Hollywood album. Basically we felt it flowed nicely phonetically and the lyrical content of the song is very warm and has a kind of yearning nostalgia and that’s something we really connected with.

How would you describe your music?

H: We’re massive fans of vocal groups, for example Fleet Foxes and Fleetwood Mac, so I guess it’s along the lines of a kind of folk-indie rock. I think we’re quite difficult to define. We don’t see ourselves in any particular style; we try and experiment with various different elements to keep it fresh.

Your sound has been described as having a ‘sepia-tinted, timelessness quality’. What attracts you to this style? What are you trying to explore / offer, if anything?

J: We try and write songs that have strong, affecting melodies that have the power to stick in your head. We haven’t tried to emulate any specific style, we’ve tried to keep it as natural possible. As a family perhaps our voices have a natural blend so we try and acccentuate this as much as possible in the harmonies that we write.

Describe to us your writing process. Is there a particular member who takes the lead?

F: The songwriting process usually starts with Joe or Helen who will have an idea – often they will have collaborated together. Then they’ll play it to the rest of us and we’ll piece the arrangement and structure into place. That’s the basis of it and we’ll keep refining things until we’re happy to start playing a song live.

You’re all originally from Thornaby in the Northeast of the UK. What is the music scene like? Any good / influential contemporaries?

P: There’s a lot of interesting music coming through so I hope it can spread to a national level. There’s a strong diversity of styles as well. Some bands to look out for are Young Rebel Set and The Chapman Family.

Where does inspiration come from?

H: I think our inspiration comes from pretty much all areas of music from classic pop and rock bands of the past through to some of our contemporaries. We individually have a wide range of taste in music which I think makes for an eclectic feel to our sound overall. Hopefully those influences come through in our songwriting.

Name 3 musical inspirations.

J: John, Paul and George. Can we have Ringo as well?

Now name 3 non-musical inspirations.

F: Our families, friends and Maggie the family dog.

You sang for BBC Introducing at T in the Park. What was this experience like?

P: It was slightly surreal but a great experience all the same. The offer came through very early in our development really so we were probably a bit more rough and ready than we are now – so hopefully soon we’ll be asked back again but you’re not going to turn down an opportunity as great as that! Once we got up there we really enjoyed ourselves. I think it was a wonderful experience for us to have to take on board for the future.

The new EP ‘Sold My Soul’ is to be released on May 15th. What’s the song about?

J: The song is about the lengths you go to for someone that is special to you and all of the emotion that goes along with that.

How did you find recording the debut EP?

H: We had a lot of fun doing it to be honest, we worked with a local producer. With it being our first forage into a recording studio it was an exciting experience and perhaps slightly nerve-racking but we think did ourselves justice with the end product. We’re very pleased with it.

The video for ‘Sold My Soul’ is set in an exquisite but empty auditorium cut with shots of you out in the landscape. Tell us about the filming. I notice Paul that you didn’t hulk your drum set up the hill!

P: I somehow managed to escape that one! In all honesty I was travelling back from London at the time of that scene’s shooting. We were desperately searching for somewhere aesthetically striking to film and we contacted a friend of ours, a local promoter, who offered to let us use the main auditorium of Middlesbrough Town Hall. It’s a very impressive room with the high ceiling, plus the windows and lights, so it worked beautifully. The outdoor shots were filmed at some nearby countryside and I’m told it was absolutely freezing and wet – the others did a fine job considering the circumstances!

You’ve got a pretty prolific song list, any reason why ‘Sold My Soul’ is the debut release?

F: We feel it’s one of our strongest songs, it’s gotten a great response at the live shows. It’s definitely one of our most popular songs so it was a fairly natural choice for that to lead off the EP.

You’ve recently been tour. Any funny stories to tell?

H: There have been some very funny episodes throughout our time together so far. I’ll give you one from our run of dates in Scotland – we’d played in Inverness at a club night and subsequently we all had a good drink afterwards. I think Paul perhaps had too much as he left the hostel room to use the toilet and never returned. He ended up going into the wrong room and going to sleep in an empty bunk with a room full of strangers!

You’ve toured across the UK. Have you noticed any difference in reception in different parts of the country? Is there really a North / South divide?

J: I don’t think there is to be honest. Perhaps some nights of the week up in Scotland you’ll have more of a party atmosphere than a Sunday night somewhere else but I think that’s just natural.

Now the EP is just about to be released, are you looking to or have you started the album?

P: No, we aren’t thinking about an album just yet – we feel that really would be too soon. I think we’re still progressing and exploring different things musically for that to happen right now. We will be releasing a second EP later in the year though.

What’s next for Cattle & Cane?

H: We’ll be releasing another EP later in the year and we have a lot of exciting festivals coming up and hopefully we’ll get to play some shows outside of the UK before the year is out.


Cattle & Cane’s debut single ‘Sold My Soul’ is out now and available on iTunes. Click here for more info.

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