When Inspector Tapehead disbanded after releasing their debut album back in 2010, it seemed like it was the last we were going to hear from them, judging by the radio silence that followed.
Which would have been a shame, given the songwriting invention and burnished alt-folk quality that Chris Croasdale (guitar), Roy Mohan Shearer (drums) and Jonnie Common (keyboards) put into Duress Code.
The good news is that the Scottish trio have overcome geographical challenges to finally deliver the follow-up, So Solar, which is out this week on Glint Recordings.
We spoke to Chris about the making of the new record, the art of drumming and how this album is “their Empire Strikes Back“.
Your new album So Solar has been a few years in the making. Why did it take so long to come together?
“For one thing, I’m pretty slow when it comes to writing new material, so it took a long time to assemble an album’s worth of music. Then we could only get together once every couple of months to work on it, due to the fact that we now live far away from each other.
“Recording and mixing probably only took about two weeks of studio time in total, but that was spread over the course of around 14 months. Once that was all done it took a while to get the master to a point where we were totally happy and then we had some issues with the LP test pressings which needed to be resolved. To be honest, there have been quite a few obstacles that needed to be overcome before we could put this album out. But we’re all delighted with the finished article, so it was all worth it.”
You moved to different corners of Scotland after making Duress Code. How did you get over this geographical hurdle?
“Everything was very carefully planned so that we could make the best of a bad situation. We’d intensively rehearse the tunes in batches and then go into the studio to record the basic tracks live. We’d take these recordings away and do as many as the overdubs ourselves as we could, before returning to the studio to assemble the parts, finish off the last bits of recording and mix everything. An unfathomable number of emails were sent and many miles were travelled.”
How does So Solar progress the band’s sound from the debut album?
“There weren’t too many ways in which we consciously tried to make So Solar different to Duress Code and we recorded it with the same engineer, but things took their own course and it ended up being its own thing anyway. On Duress Code there was perhaps more of a friendly/country vibe to the writing and the production is cuddly and warm. As So Solar developed it became clear that it had a colder edge to it musically and lyrically and that’s reflected in the sound somehow. To really hammer the point home we brought Adam Beattie back in his role as a narrator to continue the story that he started telling at the end of Duress Code. It takes the Inspector’s tale in a pretty sinister direction. I suppose this is our Empire Strikes Back.
The single ‘Soldier Boy’ is sure to appeal to fans of classic indie-pop. Which bands have played a part in informing your sound?
“Like everybody else I go through phases of listening to different stuff, but there are certain bands that have always stayed with me and they tend to be in that mould. Artists like Yo La Tengo, Low, Pavement, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and particularly Papa M have long been a part of my diet. I’d say there are a couple of tracks on this album where we attempted to shuffle in that direction and ‘Soldier Boy’ is definitely one of them. There’s also a short instrumental called ‘PM Weft’ which was written during a bout of heavy Low consumption and it probably shows.”
What does each member of Inspector Tapehead bring to the musical table?
“The exciting part for me is taking the songs to Jonnie and Roy and seeing how they transform them. They are both masters in their field and I’m incredibly fortunate to have them as bandmates. We each have a different background and skillset and the trick is to make the best use of that.
“I love playing with Roy. There are some drummers that are impressive because they are machines who can play fast and hard with metronomic accuracy, but Roy is not that kind of drummer and is something infinitely more precious. Roy’s got a style that manages to be both surprising and distinctive and plays with a bagginess that brings a dose of humanity to everything that we do. That’s a massive contribution, but Roy is also very gifted in other respects and has a lot to say in terms of arrangement.
“Jonnie is a keyboard wizard and also has a great ear for arrangement and production. He’s also by some distance the strongest singer of the three of us. He has a genius instinct for coming up with a part that would never cross anyone else’s mind and those kind of parts will elevate a track. I don’t think any decisions regarding the way a song sounded were made without Jonnie’s approval, because he’s got the best ears and you can trust him to be honest.”
Were there any other friends or collaborators involved in the recording?
“Jonnie suggested that ‘Soldier Boy’ would work nicely with a female vocal part on it and suggested that we got Panda Su in to do it. I’m thoroughly glad he did because she showed up with an ace part worked out and nailed it. That was a great day in the studio.
“We were also able to get some great brass players in to do play the odd brass part. Alex South from the Scottish Clarinet Quartet also laid down eight clarinet parts on one track, which sounds glorious. Local saxophone legend Martin Fell also came in to record two bars of saxophone at the end of one song. It’s very brief but works brilliantly. That was Roy’s idea.”
How did the recent gigs go down, and do you have more planned?
“Before these gigs we’d only played one gig since 2011 as we’d spent every possible moment working on the album. I was nervous to the point that I wasn’t sure I wanted to play them at all. But the audience were so good at the first gig in Edinburgh that within a couple of tunes I was elated to be back, and that set the tone for the rest of the shows. I’d really missed playing with Jonnie and Roy so it was a blast to get that opportunity.
“We’re hoping to play a few gigs later in the year, but we haven’t made any concrete plans yet. Right now I’m turning my attention to writing some fresh material.”