The Rails – ‘This record is definitely more us…’

We spoke to the English alt-folk rock husband and wife team... and their producer!

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We also spoke with Cancel The Sun producer Stephen Street. He worked his magic on classic indie guitar albums by The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur, Kaiser Chiefs, and The Cranberries. We ask him what it was like making Cancel The Sun with The Rails, what he brought to the record, and how he listens to music at home?

SH: How did you come to work with The Rails and had you heard any of their music before you started on the album?

SS: They approached me through their manager – I had no previous knowledge of their music, but I was vaguely aware of James’s reputation as a seriously good guitarist in certain musical circles.

When we first met, James mentioned to me that he wanted a ‘more direct’ record, with perhaps a bit more edge and ‘indie’ attitude, with the guitars being a bit more to the fore. I guess that’s what I’m known for. So, I just did what came naturally.

It all went so smoothly – everything we tried seemed to work well. We had a good working relationship. The sessions were fast and highly productive.

As you said, James’s electric guitar has been pushed to the fore on this record - particularly on heavier tracks, like ‘Call Me When It All Goes Wrong’, ‘Ball and Chain’, the title track, and ‘Waiting On Something’. How did you approach recording those songs?

James is a seriously good guitarist – unleash him and let him play! Rehearsals were important; making sure the rhythm section was playing the right parts and the groove to support James’s guitar parts. James and I would experiment with different guitar and amp combinations to get the tones we wanted.

James has a technique he has developed that is fantastic to watch and listen to. I loved working with him.

Cancel The Sun [the title track] was always going to make the cut. It stood out on the initial demos that I heard. Kami’s singing is superb – I loved the slightly Beatlesque feel that the song naturally seemed to lean towards, so we just went with that vibe. James’s solo at the end is scorching – so much feeling!

There are some quieter, more stripped-down songs on the album, too…

I particularly love ’Something Is Slipping My Mind’. Kami’s melody is beautiful. Rather than the whole band just strumming it, I came up with the idea of an electronic ‘heart beat’ pulse, which we added to the sound of James slapping the back of an acoustic guitar, while holding the chords, to get a slight overtone of the musical note, while being percussive at the same time. After that, we just had the chords played simply, but put through a tremolo setting on the amp, to give it a slightly shifting, liquid atmosphere, against which to set their beautiful vocal harmonies.

How have current audio trends such as the return of vinyl and the rise of streaming, as well as the emergence of hi-res audio, affected your approach to producing records? Has it made your job harder? Is it something you think about when you’re making a record - ‘how will people be listening to this?’

One of the good things about the vinyl revival is that artists are once again conscious of fitting an album onto that format – i.e., not making it too long and editing their work to fit. There was a time just after CDs became popular when acts were recording far too much music for an album just because the format could take it.

This album [Cancel The Sun] is a case in point. Ten songs, 34 minutes – bang, thank you very much, goodnight!

What’s your preferred way of listening to music at home?

I listen to music on all formats at home – CD, vinyl, and streaming. Streaming is convenient if I’m sitting at the computer, but I do love to play a CD or vinyl album through my hi-fi system, too. I have an Arcam amp and a NAD CD player.

Any new projects in the pipeline you can tell us about? And who would be your dream collaboration?

I’m currently working on a new Pretenders album, which is shaping up really well. Hopefully it will be out early next year. Obviously I would love to work with Blur again in the future, but I’m not holding my breath!

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