Manchester three-piece The Longcut returned earlier this month with Arrows, their first album since 2009’s Open Hearts. However, over the course of those nine years the band has been anything but inactive.
Formed in 2002, The Longcut first grabbed our attention courtesy of debut single ‘Transition’ two years later. Drawing comparisons with the likes of The Rapture, Hot Hot Heat and Radio 4 as well as fellow Mancunian beat experimentalists A Certain Ratio, their ascension to bigger things seemed nailed on, especially after the band signed a deal with Sony via Deltasonic. Sadly, by the end of 2007, the band found themselves dropped despite inaugural long player A Call And Response picking up rave reviews all across the board.
Having regrouped and put together a follow-up two years later in the shape of Open Hearts, itself a vastly underrated collection of songs that came out in the right place but at the wrong time, the band seemingly disappeared from view until their addition to 2016’s Cosmosis festival bill at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse sparked a resurgence of interest.
Now, two years on from that triumphant mid-afternoon slot, they’re back with a new record and it’s up there alongside 2018’s finest to date. DiS caught up with drummer and vocalist Stuart Ogilvie and bass player Lee Gale last month to talk about albums old, new and lost.
DiS: It’s been 9 years between your last album Open Hearts and your new one, Arrows. What have you been up to in the interim period?
Lee Gale: Loads. I guess it seems from the outside that we stopped doing stuff.
Stuart Ogilvie: A lot of people did up until we played Cosmosis two years ago and I guess they had a very good reason for thinking that. We have been gigging throughout the years but at the same time, probably haven’t played more than two gigs in any year. The shows have been very sporadic but we never stopped doing things. We did have an album ready in 2012 but it just happened at the same time as a lot of other things like marriages and children. So it ended up being a little bit rushed. We gave it to the label and expected them to say, "Brilliant lads, let’s get it out." But they didn’t. They said no, it’s not good enough. And at the time we were devastated. In retrospect when I listen to it now, it wasn’t as good as we thought it was at the time. The label’s idea was for us to go away, write some more songs, come back in a few months and see where we are.
LG: It made us take stock and re-evaluate where we were. We made the second album straight after the first one then went on tour and made a remix album as well, so we launched straight into the third one when the songs clearly weren’t ready. There was no planning. No big break in between. Then we found it very difficult. There’s no other word for it. It really was difficult. For many reasons. We had a big confidence knock after the first album culminating in us trying to dive straight back into making another record when we really shouldn’t have done.
Open Hearts is a good record though. It just probably came out at the wrong time as the whole indie dance/new rave scene had moved on by then.
SO: I do love that record. I won’t say anything bad about it but it definitely came out at the wrong time. Also, we were trying out lots of new ideas at the time. Some of them worked and others didn’t.
LG: It’s a record full of determination and defiance. The first album (A Call And Response) came out on Sony and then we got dropped like a stone. So we started working with Melodic and were determined to prove Sony wrong for dropping us. We were really happy with the album. It just didn’t connect with people for whatever reason.
Did any of the songs off the aborted 2012 album survive and are any of them on Arrows? For example, ‘Arrows’, ‘Punches’ and ‘Deathmask’ were all in the Cosmosis set two years ago?
SO: There are four songs on Arrows that were on the 2012 record, but neither ‘Punches’ or ‘Arrows’ were on that album. They were written after. ‘Deathmask’, ‘Monuments’, ‘Fractals’ and a very embryonic version of ‘Popic’ were on that record. ‘Popic’ has changed so much since then. The first version was about twelve minutes long! Then we cut it down to the version which is on the original third album. At the time we thought it was brilliant. Now it sounds under developed compared to what it is today. We spent four years trying to chop it down and had so many arguments. It was probably the only time we stopped talking to each other! Then we thought let’s go with the original structure, stick the vocals in the middle and see if that works, which it did.
LG: For me it was even more different to that. I remember putting together a version on my laptop that I thought was the definitive structure which I sent to the other two only for them to send back. There are that many versions knocking around it’s difficult to remember which one’s which.
SO: I think the only real difference between the structure of the original version and the one on Arrows is we cut half the first chorus. The other major difference is the last section with the brass in there. The original version had a synth instead but then after we mixed it, I thought it would sound better with a trumpet over the end. Cosmosis was only the second time we’d played it and it made us realise how much fun we get from playing live because it’s easy to forget when you’ve been away as long as we have.
LG: Just being asked to play that festival then seeing the response out front was enough to convince me to carry on playing. Somebody actually wants us to do this! They gave us a soundcheck, which is quite rare for a festival so we turned up and the stage was about three inches high. We thought no one would be able to see us but at least we had visuals so this is still going to be cool. There was a sheet at the back of the stage hung like a curtain and a tiny projector, which we managed to get working. Then two minutes before the show I tried to play the DVD containing all our visuals but couldn’t get it to work, so we basically had nothing apart from us playing on this really low stage.
How many songs were on the 2012 album?
SO: Eight. The four that made it onto this album, then a couple that were cut to pieces and started again. ‘Brutalist’ is one that springs to mind. The rest were scrapped. ‘Deathmask’ was actually written before Open Hearts but didn’t make it onto that album. We dusted it off in 2012 then again for Arrows.
Were there any other songs written after 2012 which didn’t make it onto Arrows that might also be revisited in the future?
LG: Definitely. One is this really heavy eight-minute song called ‘Lurching’ that ends with a really soft, quiet drum machine. We wanted to put it on this album but we couldn’t find another eight minutes worth of music on there.
SO: There are a few other demos that could easily be worked into new songs. One called ‘The Beast’ was written around the time of Open Hearts. We recorded a demo then forgot all about it.
LG: We tend to find this is what sparks the next record. The bits we have left over from the previous one. We’ll go back and have a listen to some of the stuff we haven’t heard in ages and often get a completely different perspective to when we first recorded them. It almost makes us realise what we should have done with them first time round.
Arrows is definitely your most diverse collection of songs to date. Were you conscious of that while making the album? Did any of your tastes change significantly during that time and if so, did that have an influence on how the record turned out?
SO: I’m not sure our tastes have changed that much. We’re still listening to a lot of the same music we were when the band first started. We’ve always had pretty eclectic tastes anyway. Lots of different guitar music, dance music and hip hop. It’s always been a pretty broad spectrum. There will have been bands that came along during that time period who maybe inspired us a bit more. For example when I heard ‘Singles’ by Future Islands it opened my eyes and ears to other ways of doing things.
LG: That’s true actually. Our tastes didn’t change but our way of thinking did. How to put songs together. How to actually make music. After the great 2012 disappointment, we had to take stock and think about doing things differently. It got to a point – about three years after that incident – where we knew it was pointless putting out that record. It had been so long anyway and by that point, we were all in agreement that we wouldn’t put anything out unless it was exactly how we all wanted it to sound. Without any compromises. So we decided to take our time and make sure everything was spot on how we wanted it to be.
SO: And we wanted to enjoy it as well. When we recorded the second record straight after the first then dived into the third straight after that was probably the point we were enjoying it the least. So once we made the decision to take our time it removed all the stress around having to get a new album out so soon after the last one. It meant we could relax and enjoy writing songs again. There was no pressure to get the album finished within any specific time frame. I don’t think it works in music if you have to do things like that. Certainly not for us anyway. There was a deadline, albeit a self-imposed one. But trying to work to a deadline like that is not good for being creative.
Was the weight of expectation a massive burden after A Call And Response? I remember you being compared to bands like The Rapture and Radio 4 at the time. Looking back, do you think it hindered the band’s progress somewhat?
LG: It was totally bizarre!
SO: We never really expected to be in that position in the first place. We’ve never been a careerist band. When we started out it was just to write songs and make music. When things started to take off it completely took us by surprise. We never expected to play places like America or even go on tour to the extent we did.
I read somewhere that your breakthrough record ‘Transition’ wasn’t even meant to be a single so how did it eventually come about?
LG: ‘Transition’’s another song that went through so many different versions. It started off as a weird instrumental type thing. We never had a career path charted in our minds so even when we got dropped, it didn’t feel like we were missing out on something. There was a bit of pressure to bounce back with something else, again probably self imposed. We’d released that first album, then been dropped even though people seemed to really like it, so we needed to get something out really quickly. We were trying to work really fast even though we had no label and no money. We had to find real jobs once the chances of us making it in the music industry dropped significantly. There was definitely an element of that on the second album, which we then carried over to the third. We didn’t really relax which ultimately was probably why it took so long with us getting off on the wrong foot.
SO: We must have played that song at least a thousand times if you include gigs, recording sessions and rehearsals. Yet every time that beat kicks in I get this massive rush of adrenalin. That never changes.
What happened with Sony? Why did you get dropped?
LG: I think their expectations were far too high. When we started we were on Deltasonic. The first time we met Alan Wills and Joe Fearon from the label we got on really well. So they offered us a deal, which was part of a contract with Sony meaning we were only signed to Deltasonic for all of about thirty seconds! The head of Sony UK at the time, Rob Stringer, was a big fan of our band and he knew our manager quite well. So when he talked about signing us we thought it was for the best. Then Rob left and a new guy came in, looked at who was on the roster and dropped most of the acts from the label. We ended up being part of that huge cull…
SO: …which was fine, but then once the music industry started to realise they weren’t going to make as much money from new bands, a lot of doors slammed shut. Previously it wasn’t uncommon for labels to sign lots of new acts, throw them against the wall and hope that one stuck. Or more if they got lucky. Bands would be on three album deals and only if they hadn’t made any money by that point would they end up being dropped.
LG: All of the Deltasonic acts found themselves in a similar position. I think they might have kept The Coral and The Zutons but that was it.
How long was that after A Call And Response came out?
SO: About a year maybe? We’d just gone out on tour with The Charlatans as well.
LG: We already knew they were dropping us by that point. I remember them asking us if we wanted a splitter van or tour bus for those shows and we all answered unanimously, “Tour bus!” In retrospect, it was the best decision we could have made!
You’re now back working with Deltasonic once more. How did that come about?
LG: We sent the record to Melodic knowing that some of the songs were the same as they were on the album we gave them in 2012. Then we had a chat with them and decided it was probably best if we looked elsewhere. Alan Wills, who set up Deltasonic sadly passed away in 2014, and his wife Ann continued putting records out on the label. They’d just released records by The Vryll Society and Hidden Charms so I dropped her an email and she got back to us about two weeks later offering to release it so that was it. We had spoken to a few labels in the interim period and there was a point where we were worried no one would want to put it out.
David Jones from Nine Black Alps produced Open Hearts. Was he involved with Arrows as well?
LG: We did it ourselves primarily. We had some help with the recording in a borrowed studio on a borrowed drum kit! Everything else was done in our own studio.
SO: We did most of it in the evenings after work or at weekends if we had any spare time.
LG: We had the bass amps stacked in Stuart’s kitchen. There were pots and pans rattling all over the place. It was a proper DIY process. We got in touch with Tom Knott who did the Airtight Sessions with us back in the early days of the band. We recorded a couple of b-sides with him as well so we sent him the album and he agreed to do it.
SO: He struggled with ‘Deathmask’ at the start. Because we’d been playing it live for so long we already had an idea how we wanted it to sound. We weren’t getting that same energy from playing it live with the recordings. It was all a bit flat so Tom tweaked it a bit until we were happy with it. After that it was all plain sailing.
If Can were around today and experimented with electronic sounds, ‘Deathmask’ might be the result. Were they an influence?
SO: Not really. I was listening to a lot of Mastodon at the time and wondered whether something as heavy as that would work alongside repetitive electronic beats.
If you had the benefit of hindsight is there anything you’d change or do differently?
SO: For Arrows or all three albums?
SO: There’s one thing I would probably change on the first record. ‘Lonesome No More!’ originally had a drum machine track on it. Jonny Dollar who produced it convinced us to take that off, but looking back now I wish we’d have kept it on. It sounded quite interesting when we played it live. Although having said that I do like the album version.
LG: I reckon we’d probably argue about that for a while!
SO: That’s just one thing from a few years ago and even now I’m not sure I’d change it if I had the choice. There’s no real point in thinking about what you could have done differently.
LG: I wouldn’t change anything that we put out. I’d probably change how we did things. On the first album especially. So we did the ‘Transition’ EP first, then ‘A Quiet Life’ EP. Then for some reason, we got it into our heads that we couldn’t release those two songs as singles after the album came out. We completely ruled it out. We thought it would be better to release a five-and-a-half-minute long song that’s mostly instrumental as the first single instead. I love ‘A Tried And Tested Method’ and the production for that song was probably the best on the album. At the time it seemed like a good idea. In hindsight, I’d maybe change that.
SO: I’m not sure it would have made that much difference.
There have been a lot of changes in both the music industry and Manchester’s music scene since Open Hearts came out in 2009. Do you think a band like The Longcut would enjoy the level of success or have the same opportunities even if you were just starting out now?
LG: I don’t think so, no. It’s a different situation with this album because we’ve been around the block. Just in terms of the money we had to make the first record. I don’t think anything like that is available now. With the advent of social media there are still opportunities out there for new bands, but it’s a lot different to how it was when we started.
SO: I think bands have to try harder now. There’s a lot more word of mouth so people tend to check out new music or go to gigs on friends’ recommendations rather than what they’ve read anywhere. You can check out their music for free before you even go and see them play.
LG: I think that’s a really important point. While it’s great everyone has immediate access to your music it ultimately means you have approximately thirty seconds to impress somebody. And thirty seconds for us is barely even a song intro let alone drums or vocals so it would be difficult for us if we were a brand new band.
SO: I don’t know how a band just starting out would.
LG: There is no formula. It’s all potentially just luck. Hardly anyone’s making any money out of it.
Has the way you write changed over time, particularly in between Open Hearts and the new record?
SO: Definitely. I write all the lyrics for the songs and the biggest change between records is having kids, which obviously affects how you see the world. It focuses your thoughts on a lot of specific things and makes you view them differently. Stuff that you take for granted like nature or crossing the road. As an adult with kids crossing the road suddenly becomes the biggest thing you have to deal with! This dangerous, scary thing that requires complete focus even though there’s far more important stuff happening elsewhere in the world. It doesn’t mean I’m going to write a song about crossing the road but that experience of being more focused about something specific can influence my lyrics. It’s hard to talk about things like that specifically as all of the songs come from different places but there definitely has been a change.
What about the political climate? That’s changed dramatically in the time between albums.
SO: Both Brexit and Donald Trump being elected happened after the songs were finished. Certainly in the years leading up to that – austerity and taking away basic human rights and the disparity of human life…
LG: The Tories, basically…
SO: Without meaning to sound trite about it you can see its impact on Arrows. The darkened national mood is reflected in the songs. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m in abject poverty. There are millions of people who’ve been affected in much worse ways than any of us have. Just that general feeling of pessimism from what was quite an optimistic time leading up to the London Olympics. Everything was building up to that then quickly deteriorated afterwards. Protests against cuts to the NHS and such like. Everything turned really bad and everyone became so pessimistic and I think that’s reflected in a lot of my lyrics on Arrows.
LG: We don’t ever aim to write about those kinds of things.
SO: I don’t think specifically about certain policies when I’m writing. Partly because trying to make them rhyme would be really difficult! At the same time, the lyrics aren’t all doom and gloom. Mainly because all three of us in the band are having good experiences whether it’s with our families or elsewhere.
LG: You find that filters through into the music as well.
SO: I’ve never deliberately set out to write a sad song although I do find it really difficult to write a happy one. My lyrics tend to reflect those ups and downs that you have. I’ve always been conscious of my writing being taken the wrong way so I’m happy with the way this record turned out.
Will there be another Longcut record? You’ve mentioned the songs that are still kicking about from these and the previous sessions. Are there any other new ones you’re currently working on?
LG: Yes. We’ve started writing entirely new stuff for it already although none of them are completed yet. There’s no pressure so we’re trying to carry on with it the same way we eventually did for Arrows. We’re doing it now because the songs came to us when they did.
SO: They’re a lot different to anything we’ve done before. You’ll still know it’s us. I don’t think we could ever do anything that didn’t sound like us. We’ll always try out new ideas, try and put a new spin on something in a way we’ve never tried before. I had this idea of resurrecting these cheesy eighties style rolling beats. A bit like Def Leppard.
You’re playing some UK shows in May. Will there be a full tour later on in the year? A few festivals even..?
SO: We’re definitely going to do some more dates later in the year.
LG: We’ve got a couple of other things in the pipeline around May which aren’t yet confirmed. It’s turning into more of a tour than we anticipated. The reaction when we put ‘Deathmask’ out with people seeing we were back has been incredible. Having been away for so long we never expected that. When we decided to put out the album we just hoped for the best without expecting too much so the response has blown us away. One big difference with this album compared to the first two is we’re doing everything ourselves. We’re working with In House PR but that’s the extent of it. We don’t have an agent so all the live stuff we’re booking ourselves which literally means firing out a million emails and seeing what sticks. Finding any contacts you can. Contacts that might have other contacts. It’s been an experience but nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be. There’s a lot of stuff we haven’t got that realistically was always going to be tough for us to get. Mainly festivals, but then at the same time some things we did get and never expected to which we can’t announce yet. So it’s been a real eye opener. We only did two gigs last year; a tiny little show at the Social in London and a festival in Athens, which was incredible. We first played it in 2010 so it was really nice to be invited back.
What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
LG: Just enjoy it. There are moments on tours where I’ve pretty much gone mad. It can be tough when you’re in close quarters with one another for long periods of time. There’s a lot of rejection so you’ve got to be thick skinned about it. If you love making music you’ll be fine.
SO: You’ve got to love the music you’re making. Don’t try and second guess what you think people might want to hear. At the end of the day if you’re not making music for yourself people will tell. People can smell bullshit. If it leads to success, then brilliant. If it doesn’t at least you can look back and say I’ve written some great songs.
What would you say has been the most definitive moment for The Longcut up to now?
SO: I don’t want to say because it will be different for a lot of people. Each one of us will have their own defining moment.
LG: I can’t say what mine is either but if there’s one song off the new record I really want people to hear it has to be ‘Popic’. I actually wanted to release that before the album came out but its eight and a half minutes long and I can’t figure out how to chop five minutes out of it. I’m really excited for people to hear that more than any other song on the record.
SO: For me, ‘Arrows’ was the song I’d been wanting to write since we started this thing. I knew once I’d finished it. Just the way it builds towards the end and the lyrics in particular as well. I said all I needed to say. It goes back to what you were asking about why we keep on going after all these years. I guess it would be a lot easier to just stop. But then when I thought about all the songs I’d never released I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. If they weren’t released in some form. Then as you go on even longer those songs build up until eventually it comes to the point where you have to release them.
LG: That’s how I feel about ‘The Beast’. There’s no way I cannot do something with that song.
Are there any new bands you’d recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out?
LG: There’s a band called Claw The Thin Ice who’ve just made a new album. Do you remember a band called Day For Airstrikes? Ian (Breen) used to be in them and he’s the guitarist and singer with Claw The Thin Ice. He’s an amazing songwriter, so prolific.
SO: He’s in about ten bands and they all release an album a year.
LG: Jon (Fearon) our bass player recorded one of their albums. They’re great. I think they’re trying to find a label to release the album but it’s on their Bandcamp and well worth checking out.
SO: There were lots of great bands doing different things up here when we first started. Bands like Day For Airstrikes and The Sonar Yen for example.
LG: Tom (Long) from The Sonar Yen has another band, Easter. They have an album coming out this month. When we first moved to Manchester The Sonar Yen were everywhere. They were an incredible live band.
Arrows is out now via Deltasonic. For more information on The Longcut visit their official website.