“We are the counter-revolution”: Rumour Cubes open up about post-rock and its limits

Our writer James sat down with Rumour Cubes ahead of their headline show at The Facemelter this Friday at The Black Heart, and found out more about the diverse minds that have come together to make something new and special.

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photo by Magda Wrzeszcz

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Four band members have four different official stories about the band. Four answers to how they formed, how they write and what the overall vision is that guides their playing.

So just imagine how hard it is to sit with one shoddy old-school dictaphone in a noisy Shoreditch bar and interview Rumour Cubes. Brilliant, enlightening, explosive, educational – but anything but easy.

We were able to kidnap only four members of a six-piece band, but even then the diversity of interests and musical approaches was daunting.

Over the last five years Rumour Cubes have played top festivals, collaborated with Sam Duckworth and they’ve been raved about on BBC radio.

The story of how they formed, however, starts where all good London creative stories start: Gumtree.

Violinist Hannah Morgan explains: “The original advert that Adam put on Gumtree said that they wanted people that like post-rock.

Cubes-58photo by Magda Wrzeszcz

“I was in a pretty low place at the time with my mental health, and my boyfriend at the time thought it would help me if I joined a band. So he showed me this advert, and I told him I didn’t know what post-rock was. But he gave me some names to drop, and that’s how I got in the band. I just lied! Then I had to learn all about post-rock.”

Guitarist Adam Stark is keen to point out, however, that the aim was not to start just another post-rock band. He and drummer Omar Rahwangi were definitely looking for other instrumentalists with similar musical values, but there was no official decision to label the band according to genre.

Says Adam: “Omar and I when we started the band wanted to start something that was not expressly a post-rock band, because we’d been playing in a post-rock band together before hand, and it was drums, bass, two guitars, and it was quite good but we’d reached the limits of it so quickly.

“And we really wanted to search for new instrumentation that was really different. Post-rock was where we coming from but we wanted to go somewhere else.”

Omar is man of few words but what he does say tends to summarise things perfectly, almost like a haiku.

“I think what we wanted was to just be creative with it,” he says. “We had a lot of ideas, a lot of different styles, and we wanted to blend it together somehow.”

Since beginning as a band, there have been a few line-up changes and collaborations. Viola player Terry Murphy was a later addition, as were Jay Malhotra on guitar and Joe Bartlett the bassist.

The line-up change marks the biggest difference between their two albums The Narrow State and their latest Appearances Of Collections, which was released in late 2014.

The difference between the albums is striking. The first seems to be a more traditional guitar band, post-rock affair, but Appearances is much more of an opus, more symphonic and broad reaching.

Says Adam: “The first album we were really figuring out how to play together, by the second album it was our more grown up album.”

Terry agrees, but adds that the simple line-up changes brought new textures and musical approaches as well. The transformation didn’t occur automatically.

“I think it was more about personnel changes for a while after people left,” Terry explains.

“Once we had Jay on board it was about six months of us just getting everyone up to speed with existing songs, and only then did we start writing again.”

Hannah insists that the dynamic between her on violin and Terry on viola was a key shift in terms of both the writing and the sound, and this freed up the band to make bolder strides in developing ideas in rehearsal jams and eventually in the studio.

Hannah says: “Me and Terry work with each other in a very different way to the way me and Siew [Siew Cottis, the previous viola player] did. Siew was wonderful but saw the viola as more of an accompaniment, more of a textural thing, like it normally is in orchestras. I wanted someone to dance off. We wanted a viola because we wanted it to be one of the main voices of the band.”

She adds: “But we also had Jay on board, and Jay came with a pedal board that was bigger than himself, and also co-runs a recording studio, so was very heavily involved in the mixing, and we were able to record bits and pieces when they had down time in the studio. And he did a lot of work outside of our time in the studio.”

“I think the main thing is that this was planned as an album,” Hannah explains, adding that The Narrow State was originally meant to be an EP.

2013 was a major step up for the band. Teaming up with Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) they played Southend and Truck festivals, as well as Glastonbury. They were part of a collective of musicians working with Duckworth which included Kate Nash, Grace Petrie and Billy Bragg. The show headlined the festival’s Leftfield Stage and gave Rumour Cubes a new taste for experimentation.

Working with Duckworth seemed to give the band a renewed confidence to breakaway from what’s usually expected of a post-rock band, and integrate a wider pool of influences like electronica, drum and bass, indie and classical.

In short, the band came into their own, and by summer 2014 they were premiering tracks from their album at ArcTanGent and blowing everybody away on the festival’s main stage.

Terry says that the shift was noticeable when they took to the stage at ArcTanGent. The influence of working with Duckworth made itself felt and the band really started to feel like they had a firmer footing both in terms of their relationship with each other and their performance technique.

Terry recalls the experience of playing ArcTanGent’s main stage: “It was incredible. I think that’s the biggest show we’ve played, certainly as a band, other than our collaboration with Sam. I think at ArcTanGent people might have been surprised with what we were doing.”

He adds: “We had two sets to choose from, one with an upbeat song, and the other without. We went with the upbeat one, and I think we surprised ourselves with how that was received. It’s not what we were expecting, playing to a post-rock crowd, on a rainy afternoon. We didn’t expect the mood to go that way, but it was good.”

So how does this band write songs? With so many voicings, so many potential lead instruments, how do they distil ideas into the polished and finished works we hear on Appearances Of Collections?

The band laugh at the question, and explain that this might be the right time to pause and go to the bar. Adam, who says everyone has a different answer to the question, promises he’ll attempt an answer after he’s got another pint in.

As the rest of the band leave I am left with Terry who thoughtfully addresses the query.

Cubes-64photo by Magda Wrzeszcz

“Adam’s the main person who bring things in, and will have worked something out and it will have some structure,” he says.

“It’s very hit and miss whether we will jam and then, it will just work or not.

“It does happen, so on Strange Lines and Distances, and Research and Destroy we did a demo tape for our third time playing it and we didn’t really change much when we recorded it.”

The others return with fresh beer supplies and Hannah immediately starts to explain that she feels the jam is a crucial element to the writing process.

She says: “We will get in there with a jam for about twenty, twenty-five minutes and we will record it all. The bits we like we keep and we throw out the bits we don’t like. And we stick bits together and we repeat bits we liked, and we work on it and we add structure, and then we add more melody and we change the melody.”

Hannah adds: “Sometimes Adam will come in with a piano melody and in that past we would have started from the guitar or some kind of melodic texture. But what we’ve been doing more recently is getting Omar to start, or Omar and Joe to start, and then building on their rhythm. That’s only what we’re trying right now, it may not work. We’re desperate not to write the same album again.”

Adam says that after an initial jam, there are often periods of focused writing between band members before pulling the elements of song back together again.

“The jamming is good for getting initial ideas,” he says. “But we might work in smaller groups. We will try and get some structure to it, and something that is not four bars of this, or four bars of that, then repeat it and make it louder and louder. Which happens a lot in other post-rock bands.”

The discussion of the writing process brings out some controversy as to whether the band even consider themselves a post-rock band at all.

Hannah, who joined the band from a non-post-rock band background, believes that they are, and that the genre is broad enough and strong enough to handle the ways in which Rumour Cubes stretch it and reinvent it.

Adam is not as convinced and worries that the genre comes with its own baggage and audiences have expectations of what a post-rock song is supposed to sound like.

“Most of what’s going on in post-rock is tediously boring,” Adam blurts out. “It just is.”

This causes a long and lively disagreement with Hannah, who flies the post-rock flag. Omar and Terry both agree that they are a band with wider influences, and that using a genre label for Rumour Cubes is becoming increasingly limiting.

Adam goes on: “The Mogwai’s and the Godspeeds, and the bands that have come after them, including us, it’s a limited art form.

“As a band we are painfully aware of how boring post-rock can be. And what we are trying to do is take what we find amazing about those bands that have influenced us and that are part of our community, and do something new with it.”

Cubes-45photo by Magda Wrzeszcz

Adam’s last statement draws approving nods from everyone else, including Hannah. Their roots are definitely post-rock, but Rumour Cubes are determined not to fall into tired tropes and clichés, and consider themselves first and foremost creative musicians rather than a poster-band for a genre.

Rumour Cubes call themselves a pop band of sorts. They all like popular music, and though they hate the term because it sounds like the worst form of rock journalese, they claim to more of an ‘instrumental pop-band’ than contemporary classical or jazz influenced musicians.

Explains Hannah: “I think all music should be accessible. If you are writing music with only one audience in mind and you don’t care about appealing to anyone else, is that a good way to go? Accessible doesn’t mean radio friendly, it doesn’t mean boring, it doesn’t means simple, it just means people want to listen it.”

Terry: “‘I think we were quite self-critical about this album. If we were getting bored playing it, people were going to get bored listening.”

“We probably rarely listen to post-rock,” adds Hannah. “And I think that’s great because when you get to rehearsals or to writing something, your mind is inevitably influenced by what you’ve been listening to.”

The band are wary of diving back into the studio once again, for no other reason than the fact that the recording of Appearances was exhausting. They all agree however, that their next offering will explore new territory and push their range even further (if that’s even possible).

Adam, whose influences surprisingly include Bob Dylan and The Beatles, feels the band only loosely fit into the post-rock scene. The band as a whole have no sacred cows, and the only rule seems to be to make it fresh and different.

That includes not being scared to integrate traditional song-writing back into their sound. If post-rock did away with the old guitar-band format and the verse-chorus template, Rumour Cubes certainly feel no allegiance to any idea of what it means to be experimental or progressive. If a song requires a traditional structure, then that’s what they’ll give it.

“In a way,” says Adam, “we are the counter-revolution.”

 

by James Black