“Like An Animal is this nine-minute-long, downbeat, dark song and the first time we played it was at a house party. There were just 40 people in a room who wanted to dance and have a good time. It bombed,” says Neil Gillespie. Yet if one song represents Cymbals fulfilling their original brief of making “organic house music”, Like An Animal is it, even if its structure, tempo and outlook are at odds with their previous output.
Formed in 2010, they released an album, Unlearn, within a year. It was the product of a series of sessions in which band members unlearned their crafts and reassembled their talents. So there was a drummer (Sean Prendiville) who’d never really drummed before, a keyboardist (Dan Simmons) more comfortable on the violin, and a singer-guitarist (Jack Cleverly) who “wanted to get away from writing songs on a guitar”. Somehow, though, they ended up producing a record brimming with charm, joy and humour, which quickly gathered a small cult following, thanks to its lyrical beauty and simplicity. Jack describes it now as a “very frustrating record. It’s very punk, we didn’t record to a click, we did nothing to those songs, and it’s got a lot of mistakes on it.”
Their second album, Sideways, Sometimes, fleshed out the sound already plotted on Unlearn; scratching, rhythmic guitars, bass momentum fleshed out by melancholy synthesizer work, drumming plotting its course around the back end of the rhythms. Yet they were almost finished while producing it; the boat on which they were recording in the Isle of Dogs came away from its mooring and sank into the mud.
Shortly after its release, Sean, strained by drumming, moved to play bass and Neil Gillespie joined on drums, before the former was replaced by Luke Carson. “Sean had always enjoyed writing songs but found drums a nightmare,” Jack explains. “There was a lot of energy, we learnt to write together, he always wanted to do it, but he found playing shows really draining, and he was having a difficult time, personally.”
Luke describes the summer after he joined as one of “just drinking, having lunch, playing when we felt like it – it was perfect really.” It might seem strange, then, that such a relaxed period has resulted in the group’s two darkest singles to date – the aforementioned Like an Animal, a downtempo slice of minor key house, and their new single, The Natural World.
The latter – an homage to the likes of Ultravox and OMD – starts with an exotic, metallic synth line, before exploding into a poppy chorus, Jack’s voice straining to keep pace. It speaks volumes about the band’s ambition.
For Neil, the new songs are “just a little bit slower, less frantic”, which Dan attributes to them being “more relaxed as writers now”. Our conversation then turns to how easy it was for Neil and Luke to slot into the group and, judging by how often they laugh among themselves, it’s clear that Cymbals enjoy hanging out with each other.
The Natural World by Cymbals is out now on Tough Love Records