The Soft Cavalry – Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell on Their Self-Titled Debut Album | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019  

The Soft Cavalry – Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell on Their Self-Titled Debut Album

Resoundingly Positive

Oct 24, 2019 Web Exclusive
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The Soft Cavalry is the brainchild of husband and wife duo Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell. The latter perhaps better known for her work with Slowdive, Mojave 3, and Minor Victories while the former has played bass and sang backing vocals in a number of bands (including Ricky Gervais/David Brent's Foregone Conclusion) as both a full time member and session musician.

Together they started writing songs while finishing off the first Minor Victories album three years ago, then recording them between shows and tours. Earlier this summer, the first eponymous Soft Cavalry record came out on Bella Union to a rapturous reception from various segments of the media.

The band also features Clarke's brother Michael on various instruments and production duties, guitarist Tom Livermore, Jesse Chandler on keys, and Stuart Wilkinson on drums. The Soft Cavalry represents so much more than the sum of its parts, containing a depth and flow that makes it one of 2019's finest debuts.

Under the Radar caught up with Clarke and Goswell to discuss the album, as well as future albums for Slowdive and Minor Victories.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): When did you first decide to make a record together? Was it something you'd both been planning for a long time?

Rachel Goswell: A couple of years I guess.

Steve Clarke: But it was a little bit of an accident. When Rachel and I were working on the lyrics and melodies for the Minor Victories record, I wrote "Passerby" and "Spiders." Initially, "Passerby" was something we put forward for the Minor Victories record then Justin [Lockey] whacked loads of beats on top of it but it didn't really work with what they were doing. With Minor Victories Justin, James [Lockey], and Stuart [Braithwaite] were doing the music, whereas we were working on the top line stuff of it. So when we threw something at them for which the music was already done they turned it into a very different animal, which in reality didn't work. It was a rich, creative period doing the Minor Victories stuff and we absorbed ourselves in that for a good year. We finished the vocals for that on New Year's Eve then went to the pub and the next day, I woke up wondering what I was going to do with myself now! But I had those couple of songs and was enjoying writing so decided to keep going and see what happened. Initially, I thought maybe we could do a Rachel Goswell solo record with these songs but then lyrically it became so personal to me that I knew I had to man up and do this. Before this, I'd never sung lead vocals in a band. I've always been a bass player and backing vocalist. I've co-written with people in the past, but the idea of being a frontman was a bit of a weird concept. So we just kept adding more songs.

Rachel: I did encourage it. When Steve and I first met he played me some old demos he'd done with him singing on them. His songwriting is really strong and his vocals were too, so I asked him, "Why aren't you in a band? Why aren't you singing in a band? Because you're really good."

Steve: Because I was too busy tour managing Slowdive that's why!

Rachel: When I first heard his voice and what he'd written I was really shocked. I hadn't heard of Dum Dums. I had to Google them on YouTube and was really shocked. So I looked him up and found Clarksville and Rogue States. Other bands Steve's been involved with. Right from the moment I heard his stuff, I was hammering him to do something.

Steve: I think Rachel and I getting together as a couple was a big inspiration for pushing it forwards really. I'd had a really weird few years with a lot of upheaval in my life. So this became a real outlet to get that off my chest. I guess some of the initial ideas were borne out of frustration and anxiety, but I was quite adamant I wanted to make a record which overall was resoundingly positive. Life is all light and shade. I don't like anyone that makes a really depressing album, and I don't like anyone that makes a really happy album. I wanted people to listen to this record and come away with a feeling of warmth and optimism. Otherwise I wouldn't have bothered doing it.

Were these 12 songs always going to form the basis of the album or were others written around the same time, which might see the light of day in future?

Steve: Possibly. Fifteen or 16 songs were written and 12 made it onto this album. I wrote a song called "Leech" which was quite an angry song, but as I went through the process and wrote more songs I didn't really want to be putting angry songs on this record. It wasn't what it was about. It's about warmth and love, so I very quickly eliminated things. Just because it wasn't what I wanted to be saying on this album. When I wrote "Dive" I always knew that was going to be the first song on the record. I've already written a second record, which I need to get recorded. There's nothing on the second album that was left over from the first record. It's a whole different thing.

You're both involved in a number of different projects. How did you find the time to make The Soft Cavalry record?

Rachel: Steve took a step back from tour managing Slowdive towards the end of last year to get the recording process for The Soft Cavalry album finished. Otherwise it probably wouldn't have been. I was just doing my vocals at home in between tours. He had to force me to fit it in, even when I was exhausted. Steve spent a lot of time in Birmingham with his brother Mike and guitarist Tom Livermore so we were able to put it all together on a laptop wherever we were. It was hard going at times but I'm so glad we got there in the end. Because Slowdive are on a break this year, it will be so much easier to just fully focus on the second album and record it together properly.

Steve: This album was done in dribs and drabs over a year and a half, whereas we're just going to block out a month and do the next one.

Rachel: I haven't done a record like that in years. The last time I did that was the second Mojave 3 album [Out of Tune] in 1998. Everything since has always been bits here and bits there.

Steve: We're only putting this record out now because the second one is written. I don't want the gap between releases to be too long. If it's done then let's just get it out there. Otherwise, what normally happens is you move on creatively anyway. I'd rather do it now knowing that's where my head's currently at. So I think it will be a quick turnaround between albums one and two.

Will there be a full Soft Cavalry tour?

Rachel: We hope so

Steve: We were a little bit late for festivals this summer when the album came out.

Rachel: It was the wrong time of year to be touring which is why we only did a couple of gigs and in-stores to introduce the record.

Is it the same people that played on the record who will be playing live?

Rachel: We've got a regular band. Everybody that played on the record will be playing with us.

Steve: As well as Mike and Tom, there's also Simon Smith on bass that used to play with Carina Round's backing band. Bizarrely, Tom ended up living on the same street as my brother yet they'd never met before. I knew Tom but he met my brother independently of me. So it became this kind of weird reunion where I knew Tom was the right guy for the band because he's a very interesting guitarist.

Rachel: He's a very atmospheric guitarist, quite similar to Christian [Savill] in Slowdive. We did ask Christian to play on the album but when it came round to recording he was literally in another country at the time.

Reviews have been very positive all across the board. Did you expect such a universally favorable response?

Steve: Because of what this record's about lyrically, I think you'd have to be a pretty miserable person to slag it off. All I ever wanted to do was be heartfelt and honest. Because of that I was comfortable with people saying whatever they wanted to say about it. I know what I feel about it and where it was borne out of which is what's important to me. So yes, I am surprised that the reviews have been as positive as they have been because I don't have that self-belief really. But at the same time it's great that people are getting it.

Rachel: Also, it is hard from having the Slowdive association because it is so different. I know there will be diehard Slowdive fans that won't like it because it sounds nothing like Slowdive.

But then I guess one way of answering that is pointing out each Slowdive record is different to its predecessor.

Rachel: One writer spent the entire review trying to match Soft Cavalry songs to different Slowdive eras! He clearly didn't get the record and was so far off the mark. More importantly, Neil Halstead is the songwriter for Slowdive. Steve Clarke is the songwriter for The Soft Cavalry. The only common denominator is that I sing on both! Also, he was referencing Minor Victories, which is even more off the mark. People are entitled to their opinions and that's fine but this guy really didn't get it.

Steve: I didn't grow up with shoegaze in any shape or form.

Rachel: He hates it! He really doesn't like it.

Steve: I've learned to like it. When you spend four years on the road with a band you either come to love or hate them.

Rachel: He only comes to the side of the stage for the last song so he can shine the torch and get us off! He sits in his office the rest of the time.

Steve: When I got offered the job to tour manage Slowdive I'd never heard of them. I'd literally never, ever heard of them. I grew up listening to bands like Soundgarden. If people were to ask me what influenced the writing on this record I honestly couldn't say. When I write songs I don't really listen to any other music at all. There are certain subconscious things you've listened to over the years which ease their way in and my writing's quite structured so I guess there is an element of a '90s thing there. Even though sonically it's not that obvious.

It's a very diverse record sonically. I'd even say the majority of the 12 songs come from very different places.

Steve: I'm into loads of different stuff so I guess that's where they come from.

Rachel: Also, there'd be lots of different points where I'd be saying to Steve, "Allow a bit more space in the songs rather than have them all just lyrics." That's where we differ I guess.

Steve: We had a similar thing with the Minor Victories stuff didn't we. Filling in gaps left, right, and center where Rachel would be saying no! Let the guitar speak.

Will there be another Slowdive record?

Rachel: I think there will be. I don't know when it will come out. It might be a couple of years. We're taking this year off. We had planned to take a year off from last September but then we kept having more gigs added. Pitchfork festival in February was the last show we played this year, but we turned down everything we've been offered since. They're all coming over to our house soon, as we've just moved, so I've engineered a little Slowdive reunion. That might be the only time we'll see each other for the rest of this year. I think Neil's working on solo, electronic bleepy stuff at the moment.

And Minor Victories too?

Rachel: There will be another one of those as well at some point. We went to Stuart's wedding in April and we were all there apart from Justin who was doing Editors shows. It was all a bit of a love in. We were just talking about friendship and how important it is when you meet people in life—particularly as you get older—that you resonate with. Those kinds of friendships tend to be few and far between. It can be quite rare. So when you find those people you try and hold onto them. So we did talk about doing another Minor Victories record and the idea is there of what it might sound like, even though we haven't started it yet.

Steve: Also, James from Minor Victories made our videos for "Bulletproof" and "Dive" so it's a great little family unit.

www.thesoftcavalry.com

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