Armed with four-part harmonies and delicate instrumentation, Cloud Control are preparing an assault on the UK. In the nicest way possible.
As places go, the Blue Mountains in New South Wales is a pretty special place. As opposed to the world-famous Bristol establishment with its permanently sticky floor and musty ceiling characterised by uber-gurners and juddering basslines, this is over 4,000 square miles of dramatic canyons, stunning vegetation and unique rock formations. It’s the kind of place you can turn 180° at any time and see yet another breathtaking view which would change your or my life; a remarkable, never-ending panorama illustrating what this planet, or at least the bottom half of it, has got to offer.
Yet when we speak to Jeremy Kelshaw, bassist and one fourth of psych- folk-rockers, and the Blue Mountains’ current favourite exports, Cloud Control, we find him at home in Dalston, East London. Not only this, but we speak to him on August 10th, a point in time which will stand long in the memory of any Londoner. Violence, lawlessness and mass discontent had struck the capital over several nights previous, and had indeed erupted across the country. Suffice to say, finding himself nestled amongst the hoards of feral idiots ripping the place to shreds and then setting the shreds on fire and then tweeting a photo of all the fiery shreds could scarcely be more removed from the world where the Cloud Control story begins.
“The Blue Mountains – we use the term ‘mountain’, but anyone from Europe or the Americas or from anywhere else in the world would probably say they’re not mountains at all,” says Jeremy of the area which birthed him and his bandmates. “What it is, really, is a huge area of wilderness, lots of rivers and canyons and what we’d call ‘bush’, just as far as the eye can see. It’s truly an area where you could get lost for days on end.”
Such a remote location can’t be conducive to a bunch of kids trying to start up a rock band? “Well, we were in the lower mounds, which is a bit closer to the city, so the best of both worlds I guess. But no matter where you are, you can just travel five minutes and you’re right out in the wilderness. There are plenty of bands in the Blue Mountains, so many spare garages and so much spare time, but nowhere to actually play gigs. So as soon as we started wanting to play shows, the drive to Sydney wasn’t that big a deal.”
This relationship between the rural and the urban is something which Jeremy feels has bled into the band’s sound on debut album Bliss Release, a joyous and irresistible collection dotted with intriguing moments of lyrical variety from lead vocalist Alister Wright, most notable on the sublime Death Cloud. “It’s reflected in the way we wrote and recorded the album, a bunch of it was written in the Mountains and a bunch in the city, and then when it came to recording, it was divided between the two. A lot of it was recorded in my parents’ lounge in this beautiful valley, and some was recorded in deepest, darkest Sydney.”
The mention of Jeremy’s parents is telling. Cloud Control is a family affair, born as much from friendship in a close-knit community as musical ambition, a process which Jeremy refers to as “organic”. And the family ties are also literal, with brother and sister Heidi and Ulrich Lenffer on keys/vocals and drum duties respectively. As any sibling will attest, the prospect of going on an extended tour in a cramped van together is, to put it bluntly, bloody horrendous. “Man, they’re good, they’re good,” laughs Jeremy. “As with any brother and sister, they have their moments, but you have to have a good sense of humour. If you don’t, the road will eat you.”
There are many a young band who’ve been ‘eaten’ by the road. It’s a road littered with vast amounts of potential; countless individuals who, once they were out on that endless trail, found the physical and mental demands simply overwhelming. This has never been the case for Jeremy and his cohorts, though. “I love playing live, I love being out there. I wanted to do nothing more in my life than to be in a band, I’ve always been a performing musician, so to be given the opportunity to do that is amazing.”
The band’s dedication to making an impact in the UK and Europe is exemplified by the step of uprooting their lives to move here. In a British culture obsessed with staring longingly down at our Antipodean brethren, with their beaches and their koalas and their Christmas Day barbies, it’s difficult to comprehend someone wanting to come and join us lot in the drizzle, and perhaps even participate in our newly-found national sport of brick lobbing.
Cloud Control follow in the footsteps of a number of Australian bands to have experienced recent success in these parts. The likes of The Temper Trap, Cut Copy and the theatrical shenanigans of Empire of the Sun have doubtless found themselves a European audience. Jeremy looks at this Australian music scene with plenty of positives. “There’s been some great bands coming out of Sydney in the last couple of years and I do think the scene has gotten stronger. It’s just my impression, but it seems there are a lot more Australian bands playing bigger venues back home, which is really exciting. I mean, no one pays attention to record sales these days, so the main way to gauge how a band is doing seems to be where they are on the festival bill and what venues they’re playing. But there’s a lot of bands back home playing 2,000 capacity venues which would usually only be reserved for international acts coming to town.”
The manner in which the band rose through this scene makes their determination to leave their comfort zone and immerse themselves in the UK all the more admirable. “At the end of touring this album we had reached around the 1,500 capacity venue level, which is really cool.” This impressively burgeoning success came to a head with the band being bestowed with the Australian Music Prize, their equivalent of the Mercury Music Prize, in March. It’s an honour which capped off a remarkable cycle of success earned off the back of a single record. “It’s judged by a panel of what I guess you’d call ‘industry people’ – people from bands we grew up listening to, distributors, label people and live music representation – so it’s pretty amazing to be judged by such a respected crowd and for them to decide that ours was the best album of 2010.” Plus, after some coaxing, Jeremy bashfully confesses that “the money … y’know, the money came at such a good time for us. That just went straight into the bank and paid off so many debts. It also meant that we were able to come over here and actually, y’know … eat and stuff.” 30 grand is nothing to be sniffed at.
To receive this prize for a first offering in a contest with a separate category for Best Debut Album is all the more remarkable. A bit of context on its production, however, makes it clear that this was not some slap-dash first attempt. “I guess it’s a classic first album, in that you write tunes over a very long time, and there was no pressure at all to get the album done. We really took our time over it and tried to ‘craft’ something”, Jeremy reveals. “When our record label gave us our budget and said ‘do what you want with it’, our thoughts were ‘we can either go to a studio and blow it all in a couple of weeks, or we can use it differently and take our time.’ So we had a friend who’d been recording bands and been getting some great sounds that were right up our alley. We took all his gear and moved it into my parents’ place, and to his place, and crafted it over about six months.”
The word ‘crafted’ is an incredibly apt one which reoccurs several times. The love and painstaking time poured into the record is made evident in layer upon layer of textured vocals and timeless instrumentation. It’s in those gorgeous, almost Mamas And Papas-esque harmonies which rear their heads frequently that Cloud Control truly excel. Jeremy confesses that he and drummer Ulrich found themselves putting the hours in to keep up with natural front two, Heidi and Alister, on the vocal front. “I think we’ve all really improved through the process. To combine singing live with playing your instrument, it’s really not easy. But Ulrich and I, we’ve been told that our vocals have really improved, and it’s so important to be confident enough to bust out loud, powerful vocals, and know they’re going to be on key. It’s really exciting to get to a stage where your voice becomes as much of a force as your bass or your drums or whatever.”
The band revel in a smooth and delicate 60s-tinged sound. Whilst reluctant to admit to being overly influenced by that decade, Jeremy admits that “the era is an amazing one of people making really inspirational music. We haven’t gone out specifically to do that, but obviously we do use those jangly guitars which are hollow-bodied, I play a hollow-bodied 60s bass, Ulrich plays a 60s kit, we use lots of vocal melodies and harmonies so … with all that instrumentation it’s very easy to go down that road, I guess. We’ve never tried to avoid it, but at the same time it’s not something we’ve searched out.”
Having reached such an assured position in such a short space of time, thought inevitably turns towards a follow-up record. With critical acclaim, an ever- expanding fan base and the pressure which goes along with their much-vaunted Australian Music Prize in tow, surely there is a danger that expectation might outweigh the ethos of time, space and ‘craft’ which led to the strength of their first album? Jeremy’s relaxed tone suggests the band feel no such compulsion. “We’ve booked a studio at the end of the month near where we live, so we’ll have that for about three weeks to start creating stuff, and if anything gets good enough we’ll take it out on the road – get a feel for it in the rehearsal space, adapt it for the live show, and then adapt it further for recording. We want to try and craft something and understand the song before we take it into the studio. And you’ve got so many tools in the studio, why would you ignore them just because you don’t have them in the live space? The two are completely different.” In terms of a time scale, the only suggestion given is “hopefully some time next year.”
And as tentative plans are made for what may well turn out to be a highly-anticipated release, Jeremy makes it clear that it’s an album he fully intends on being involved in. Rumours had recently been rife on the ever- reliable internet that Jeremy had, in fact, left the band after they appeared with a replacement bassist for their set at Australian festival Splendour in the Grass. But as Jeremy explains matter-of-factly, “my wife and I had our first baby, and we had her in London, so I took six weeks off.” So was there any question that you wouldn’t return? “No, no. Never!” comes the immediate reply.
As well he might move to fervently deny such rumours. Cloud Control are a band with a luminous future, and as being greeted like old friends at Field Day, Reading and Leeds and several other shows over the last couple of months has shown, the UK is more than ready to have our lives illuminated by some Blue Mountains magic.
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Words: Geraint Davies