For a man as famously private as Bob Dylan, a remarkable number of Bob Dylan sightings have been recorded in Britain alone. There’s the time, for instance, when Bob turned up to view a house in Muswell Hill and was treated to a cuppa by the absent occupant’s mother. Then there’s the story – borne out by several witnesses – of Bob stepping out of the tube at King’s Cross and patting a busker on the head who happened to be playing a particularly obscure morsel from his oeuvre.
And there’s the story of Scottish singer-songwriter Adele Bethel sitting in her back garden with Bob, who was singing a particularly impassioned version of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’. She woke up from her dream immediately after the line ‘Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command’. Hence the name of a band which – needless to say – sounds nothing like the Forever Touring One.
Sons & Daughters were founded nearly ten years ago by Bethel, who was also singing with local heroes Arab Strap. The band then consisted of drummer David Gow, bassist Ailidh Lennon, who could also play a mean mandolin, and multi-instrumentalist Bethel. Guitarist and co-vocalist Scott Paterson joined a little later. At first, Sons & Daughters played a raw, guitar-driven power pop with a hint of rockabilly. Their last album This Gift (2008), however, came with a shiny big Bernard Butler production.
Now, with Mirror Mirror, the band has returned to a rougher and at times even minimalist sound. While not exactly reinventing the wheel, Sons & Daughters nevertheless sound ‘different’. Different in a similar way that a plethora of other present-day Glasgow bands from Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Trembling Bells to ex-Delgado Emma Pollock, Zoey Van Goey and Frightened Rabbit somehow sound, subtly but indefinably different to what’s going on in the rest of the country.
SUBLIME: Your new album sounds very different to your last, what happened?
ADELE BETHEL: We just did exactly what we wanted to do. There are some similarities with Love the Cup, the first album. This is the record I thought we were going to make the last time round, which we didn’t. It’s the record we discussed making three years ago. There was a lot of talk back then of making a really dark, almost Goth record. And then we made This Gift.
S: You used to be quite guitar-driven, and now there’s a computer edge to it, isn’t there?
AB: There is, but it’s funny because there were probably more computers used for the last record in terms of how it was produced! Mirror Mirror was really organically made, even in the basic sense that only three vocal takes could be done because it was all recorded to tape. Scott became massively influenced by Fever Ray (Ed: the glacial, dark side-project of Karin Dreijer Anderson from Swedish electronic duo The Knife) during the period when we were writing these songs. I’d always wanted to try something in this direction anyway. I really love Violator by Depeche Mode, a really dark record with synths.
S: Depeche Mode, Fever Ray, a sly quote from Kylie Minogue and another steam – what other reference points are there on your music map?
AB: Both Keith and I (Keith, aka J. D. Twitch, from Glasgow DJ duo Optimo produced the album), are massive Blondie fans. We try to outdo each other. He’s also really into The Gun Club and stuff like that. He just randomly plays us the most obscure stuff I’d never heard of. I also really like Jenny Lewis, the lighter country stuff and Stevie Nicks. And P. J. Harvey, always! There’s no one like her. She’s been a constant source of inspiration since I was a youngster, really. Oh, and I’m a really big fan of Leonard Cohen. He’s someone I’ve always taken inspiration from. Why not? He’s the best.
S: Did you see him on his tour recently?
AB: I saw him twice. Once at Edinburgh Castle, which was life- changing – I mean, he’s not like a real person to me, he has a kind of godlike status in my life. I always say that to my partner – he basically knows that Leonard Cohen is far more important in my life than him. They lit the castle in the break, and he came on and there were all these little candles right round the stage and round the castle. He did ‘Who By Fire’, and honestly, it was just jaw-dropping. I went with Scott from the band, and he was mortified because I was shouting, ‘Marry me, Lenny!’ quite a lot. Scott would go, ‘Sit down, sit down!’ It was phenomenal, the best gig I ever saw.
S: Why has it taken three years since the last album?
AB: After This Gift, I felt quite disheartened by the whole industry. We were not pushed to do it, but there was a certain expectation for us to be commercially successful with the last record. It’s not that I don’t care about money. Everybody needs money to live. It’s just that it was never the reason to be in a band in the first place. Then the album came out, and it didn’t have the commercial success that a lot of people had hoped it would.
S: Given your attitude, did that still bother you?
AB: Maybe I felt I somehow disappointed those that had had the expectations. The new album took a long time to make because, I think, we were really lost. I was lost, and I had terrible writer’s block, which is what ‘Ink Free’ is about. I couldn’t write anything. I didn’t even know if I wanted to. I was going through quite a hard time on a personal level. Scott and I were splitting up during the writing of it, as well. It was hard to be an ex-couple and write together when we’d always been a couple.
S: With the prospect of sharing a tour bus with the ex as well!
AB: That’s fine, actually. It was just hard initially. Scott and I are so close that even when we split up we still lived in the same apartment for a year. He’s still one of my best friends. He’s someone I could phone at four o’clock in the morning if I was upset. We probably get on a lot better, definitely in the band, than we did when we were together. You can push each other’s buttons a bit too much. For a while I was thinking, Oh God, I hope we don’t go the way of Fleetwood Mac, not speaking to each other but writing snide songs about each other. But it’s really not like that at all. We’ve all been through such a lot. The band’s been together for ten years now. I’ve known them all for a long time. We always annoy each other, but we try not to. These days, we’re a bit older and a bit wiser.
S: How did you spend your time when you had writer’s block, if you weren’t writing songs and making music?
AB: Reading and attempting to get ideas. I guess I was working, in the sense that I became obsessed with conspiracy theories and serial killers. For three years I just sat and watched every single documentary on those subjects I could possibly find. I’d be going to bed at night having just watched the next 9/11 documentary I’d found, and my new partner would go: ‘Oh, no, Adele! That’s why you can’t sleep! That’s why you’ve got these nightmares.’
S: Ah, if you’re into conspiracy theories, maybe you can answer this, then – Is Michael Jackson deado r not?
AB: D’you know what? We were thinking the other day: Michael Jackson asked to be cryogenically frozen, it was a huge deal, remember? Where is he, then? He is in a cryogenic chamber! So technically he’s not dead.
S: What got you out of the writters’ block?
AB: It was gradual. Scott helped, actually. I only really got out of it by going in and sitting with him. He was so supportive and so helpful. He’d go, ‘Look, you’re sure you haven’t got anything that’s OK?’ But I’m a terrible self-critic. ‘I do, I have four bits of lyrics but they’re all shit.’ So he would sit there and sing the vocal line of gibberish. He’d go, ‘Here’s the vocal line, and we’ll just sing gibberish.’
Quite often, because his guitar is so bloody loud, I would just think while he was playing and I’d get interesting ideas from what he was singing. I did have most of the titles. I can usually think up titles quite easily and I usually do that first, as a starting-off point. It’s much easier to write a song if you have an idea of what it might be about.
I also use mind-mapping, which is what a lot of painters used to do. You draw a circle and you write one word in it, and every single thing that reminds you of that word comes out of the circle in one branch, and every word that reminds you of that comes off another. You create a map of ideas, and you go to it and pick words randomly and put them down.
Another thing we did was we used Brian Eno’s idea of having a set of cards with cues on them. But we made our own cards instead of using his.
S: You live in Glasgow, as a matter of principe?
AB: I was just thinking about this recently. I wouldn’t live in Glasgow if my parents didn’t live there. I’m really close to my family. I need them there, they’re a great support for me. My partner, also. He works in a record shop called Monorail Music, an absolutely fantastic independent record shop: he’d never leave it.
But we went to Crete a week ago. You can’t tell – I’m so pale and Scottish and pasty. I thought, I wanna move here! I love the Greek lifestyle and the food and the people. We genuinely looked at house prices over there! It’s something I’d like to do when I’m older. Definitely.
S: Glasgow is such a hive of musical activity, all that great stuff on the chemikal underground label, for instance, and so much seems to be going on. There does seem to be a common element to it all – Glasgow has its own sound, in a way – but I can’t define it. Can you help?
AB: I know what you mean. And I don’t know, either. Glasgow is a great place to be in a band because it’s so small and everyone knows each other – everyone’s genuinely friends with each other. There’s nothing competitive in the nature of the Glasgow scene, as opposed to London, probably. There’s no outside pressure from record labels because there are barely any, apart from the Chemikal people. Glasgow is somehow far removed from the commercialism of the industry. I can genuinely say, hand on heart, that people don’t make records to sell them or to get signed. It would be nice if it happened, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. A lot of it is down to the influence of the art school, I think. A lot of art students are in bands, and that’s a big thing, but they’re doing it purely for their own happiness.
Sons & Daughters, Mirror Mirror (Domino Records)