Matt shakes his head, raises a fist to the blue, vapour-trail-free sky, and shouts “Damn you!” in mock-anguish. He has no-one in particular to be angry with, but is still frustrated – and for good reason.
He ought to be in New York, playing the violin; instead, Eyjafjallajokull’s petulant ash-gasm means all flights are nixed – so he’s stuck in gloomy Manchester, and nursing a heavy cold to boot.
He shrugs. “Oh well,” he grins, after his momentary release of steam, “what can you do?” Bandmate Rachael suggests that we can go for a coffee, and we all agree that this seems as good a solution to the problem as any. Such is the cheery outlook of Manchester band Run Toto Run.
After de-camping to a noisy coffee shop, we sit and we talk about change.
When Run Toto Run were first featured on ANBAD back in December 2008, they were a delightful, sunny, folky quartet producing delightful, sunny, folky songs. Yesterday, I listened to their new single. Things are different now.
“It’s been a year since we were on A New Band A Day,” mentions Rachael. “That was a double bass ago,” adds Matt, thoughtfully.
That instrument’s cruel axing is indicative of their subsequent mutation. Matt joining the group was the catalyst, bringing the electronic expertise that Rachael longed for. Change was quickly afoot. Or perhaps, not so quickly.
“We were then writing songs that were still very acoustic, but heavily influenced by electronic music. We’d sample violin lines and vocals, then mess around with them live.”
That sounds exciting, I venture. The pain of a resurfaced bad memory is etched on Matt’s face. “Yeah – but it was massively, massively impractical. Stressful.”
In RTR’s new music, wistfulness has been replaced by introspection, and stringed plucking now a mere bit-part, demoted by a surge of technological burbling. The only constant is Rachael’s dreamy voice, clutching firmly on centre-billing as always. What has brought about this stylistic volte-face?
“We all used to work full-time jobs, and when we started we were pushed in front of the industry at the 2008 In The City music conference, we weren’t ready.
“We didn’t have enough time to work on the band in the way we wanted. The sound we made wasn’t really what we were interested in. What really focussed our progression was me losing my job.”
Like the volcano’s grip over flight arrangements, events out of the band’s control gave rise to an opportunity of a lifetime.
The event in question was the economy disappearing down the toilet, and the resultant time ‘in between roles’ allowed Rachael and Matt, RTR‘s creative duo, to step off the new-band carousel and breathe deeply.
Rachael is only grateful for the delay. “It gave us an opportunity that most bands never have. We could solidly focus on the band, and in that time, we wrote a whole album and changed our sound completely.“]
“If we’d been signed earlier, we would have been pushed down a route dictated by the sound we had then, and not been able to experiment. We’re really lucky to now be in a position where we’re writing songs that we would choose to listen to.”
Relief, hope, pleasure. Most new bands collapse in the vacuum that forms after being rushed into releasing the first record too soon. How many bands get a chance like this?
Matt’s eyes widen: “It was a scary step for the band to take. Because everything was learnt again, even the simple things were new. We went from plugging our instruments in and playing to having huge diagrams showing where cables went for the new equipment. Now, when we play live using samplers, we’re adjusting and changing the sound organically – and that’s how we’ve written too.”
Thanks to the twin resources of time and determination, the resultant sound is no clumsy mashing together of tech and folk, but a complex melding that belies its organic growth.
“It’s the fusion of different ideas – you can listen to the old songs and the new songs and tell that they’re by the same band, even though the sound is massively different. By combining the two different songwriting approaches – the old and the new – we can record quickly, then email songs out and recieve feedback just as fast.”
Feedback from the top, too. Rachael: “One day we decided to record a cover of a Bombay Bicycle Club song, and later that night Steve Lamacq played it on his radio show. It’s so exciting – the technology gives you the means to do fantastic things.”
“It’s interesting to see what will happen now – because there are so few limitations. The more time we have, the more things grow. Every gig we’re doing at the moment, we’re giving away a five track demo to give away for free, which builds a following who we get a lot of feedback from. We feel like we’re making friends, and we’ve learnt a lot very quickly by doing this.”
Everyone’s happy. Matt’s so happy, his subconscious is clawing through the ether to help out.
He recounts a story of how he’d sent himself a text message whilst on a night out, which was subsequently lost in a boozy miasma. The next morning, he discovered it, and read the words, ‘Music sounds fasterer when you’re drunk.’
“Perhaps it’s true…” he ponders. They decide that this ought to be explored further – and this seems to be a good time to allow them to retreat into the exciting new world of sonic adventure. And, presumably, booze.
Photography by Karen McBride