Future Songs is Cranes’ first release in four years, following an extended vacation that began after touring for 1997’s Population Four.
People who have attempted to review Portsmouth, England’s Cranes inevitably refer to two things: brother Jim Shaw’s experimental arrangements and sister Alison Shaw’s little-girl-lost vocals. While both elements are present on their latest album, Future Songs, their sound has nevertheless changed. Balancing the noisy atmospherics of 1993’s Forever and the road trip guitar licks of 1995’s Loved, their new release can’t escape being called cinematic.
Future Songs is Cranes’ first release in four years, following an extended vacation that began after touring for 1997’s Population Four. The band also departed from the Dedicated record label. Despite the hiatus, Cranes kept in touch with their devoted fanbase through a self-run website (http://www.cranes-fan.com), as well as selling a handmade book of Ali’s indecipherable lyrics.
Playback St. Louis met with a road-weary but friendly Ali prior to the band’s May 6 show at the Galaxy to talk about new developments and bad movies.
Future Songs is your first album in four years, which is the longest you’ve gone between albums. Why the long pause?
We just needed a bit of time to get our heads together again. We’d been touring and recording quite consistently for six or seven years, so we stopped for a couple years. I went and studied drama in London. Jim and I, because we are brother and sister, couldn’t separate completely. It’s difficult to split up altogether. We started hanging out and writing some songs. And then John [Callender], our new drummer, joined and from that point on, we started to fill out the new record again.
It’s also your first release on your new label, Dadaphonic. How has the experience of starting a new label been for you?
It’s nice to be independent again, to be aware of what’s going on and work with the people that we want to rather than people that we’re thrown together with. It’s also quite hard work and the finances are limited. But it’s good to experience a different way of recording.
Between the last couple albums and the lyrics book you’ve sold through your website, you’ve been sharing your lyrics with your fans. What prompted that decision?
Mostly pressure from people that wrote saying that they would like to see the lyrics. Whenever anybody used to write to us, the most requested thing was “Can I have the lyrics to this song?” During the period when we weren’t really working with Cranes I’d gotten a new computer. I listened to a couple of old albums and just started to type out the lyrics.
Did you forget what you were singing in your old songs?
Yeah, a lot of them. I had to really listen to figure out what I was saying. It was quite a weird thing, but it all made more sense to me in retrospect what I’d been trying to say and it became a bit clearer so I thought, Okay, I’m just going to write it all down.
Have you been working on any side projects or soundtracks?
I did some backing vocals on an album for Michael J. Sheehey. He played with us in New York and Philadelphia. He’s really good, he’s on Beggars Banquet. I wouldn’t exactly say [the music is] country but [it’s] got a slight country feel. And recently I’ve worked with a French producer, Dimitri Tikovoi. We had some remixes done, we’ve got a remix EP for songs off the Future Songs album.
Just curious…I caught An Eye for An Eye on TV a few years ago…
[Laughs] Oh, did you?
… and I caught a clip of the “Shining Road” video. How did it come to be included in that movie?
We were on Arista at the time in America and they’d been asked to submit some videos for this slot in this film. All we were told was that Kiefer Sutherland would be watching MTV and they just needed a video to be on in the background. So like, a year later, when we went to the cinema we were expecting to just see a tiny half a second of us in the background. But what they actually did was cut the whole video right into the film. So for about a minute, our faces are right up on this big screen! It was really surprising. It’s actually a terrible film; it’s one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. But it was kind of fun to be included in it.
In the past, you’ve listed Nick Cave and Foetus as musical influences, but since then your sound has evolved. Who would you cite as more recent influences?
Probably more electronic stuff. I like Boards of Canada and I like the new Zeroseven album, I listen to it quite a lot. I still like guitar music, I love Neil Halstead’s new album. Jim likes Mogwai; he’s a big Tom Waits fan as well. We’re kind of a mixture of guitar elements and synth-electronic elements.
Many people have tried to categorize Cranes’ sound for years. How would you describe your music?
I don’t know, really. This particular album, some people would say, is kind of a nighttime album. I think it’s quite downtempo, but it’s quite hopefully uplifting in some way and optimistic.
What do Cranes have planned for the near future?
We’re going to start recording probably as soon as we get back from this tour. We want to start working on the new album. And we’ve been asked to play with The Cure again in the summer. It’s been a long time since we’ve played with them and suddenly out of the blue we got a call from the manager asking if we’d like to play in London. So we’re going to play a show in Hyde Park with The Cure and Placebo.