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Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004

Sons & Daughters sing in the name of forefathers


Special to The Japan Times

It's high time for another British invasion of the former colonies, and right now everybody thinks Franz Ferdinand is the band that will lead the attack. They're in the midst of their second coast-to-coast U.S. tour since last June, selling out big venues wherever they go.

News photo
Sons & Daughters are (from left) Scott Paterson, David Gow, Ailidh Lennon, and Adele Bethel.

Of course, they're not English, but Scottish, which makes no difference to the kid with the skinny tie in Encino or Chiba, but certainly makes a difference to Franz Ferdinand.

And to Sons and Daughters, another Scottish band who seem ready for big things. They opened for Franz on the summer tour, though it wasn't their American debut. That was when they played three shows last March at the South by Southwest festival in Texas, an area that has more to do with their unique sound than Franz's new-wave pop.

In fact, their first album, "Love the Cup," was released in the States last November, eight months before it came out in Britain and 10 before it came out in Japan. Given S&D's instrumental sound -- a mixture of dark acoustic folk and country rock -- it makes sense, but according to drummer Dave Gow, it was mostly fortuitous.

"Me and Adele [Bethel, vocalist] used to work with (Scottish band) Arab Strap, and we met this guy, Dan Goldberg, when he was the publicist at their American record company, Matador," Gow explains by phone from a hotel in London, where the band is recording a new single. "He had his own label called Ba Da Bing Records. He loved our demos and said if we ever recorded something to send it to him and he'd put it out. We were, like, yeah, whatever. But when we finished the album in the summer of 2003 we sent it to him anyway, and he released it. What's funny is that you could only find it in the U.K. at specialty shops on import, meaning it was really expensive."

Whether or not anyone bought it, it wasn't long before S&D were one of the hottest new bands in Glasgow, a city that's become synonymous with hot new bands.

"It's not a huge place," says Gow, "and there aren't many venues, but there's the advantage of not being stuck in massive London. There it's easy to be anonymous. In Glasgow, you play only a few gigs and if you're at all good, people remember you."

The insularity of the scene helped S&D emerge fully formed on its very first record. "Me and Adele were good friends for a long time, and Scott [Paterson, guitarist] and Ailidh [Lennon, bassist] were good friends for longer than that even. And Adele was friends with Ailidh as well, so we all just ended up hanging out together and talking about having a band. The thing is we all had day jobs so it was pretty slow."

They were influenced by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan (their name comes from "The Times They Are A-Changin' "), The Velvet Underground and Sun Records, but the driving quality of their songs was, as Gow puts it, "a happy accident."

"Ailidh's Dad gave her a mandolin for Christmas," he says, "and she showed up one day and started playing. Something about it went well with the way Scott plays guitar. We already had a bunch of songs, but on three of them we changed the bass lines and put mandolin on there instead. Instantly, the songs were so much better."

The epitome of that sound is the single "Johnny Cash," named after the seminal American singer whose bleak intensity was a common point of musical affinity for all four members. "We wrote it two years ago and called it 'Johnny Cash,' just so it would have a name. And then a year later he died, and it took on a new meaning. It isn't necessarily about him, but musically, it's a tip o' the hat."

The song might be nothing more than a tip o' the hat if it didn't contain war whoops and elements that clearly indicate this is a Scottish band; Patterson and Bethel don't hide their accents, and Gow's martial drumming sounds like the Black Watch. "I started playing drums in the Boys Brigade when I was 10 years old. They'd give you a pair of drumsticks and a drum mat and teach you these patterns. So, yeah, there's a connection, a Scottish feel."

Sons & Daughters will have another crack at the States later this month when they embark on a five-week tour with Clinic, a Liverpool group Gow claims is more popular in the States than in Britain.

"They're at the heart of this Anglophile movement in the U.S.," he says. "I suppose Americans think they sound quite British."

It's pointed out that the British acts who've had the most success in the U.S. are the ones who've sold America's own music back to them. In that regard, Sons and Daughters may be even bigger.

Gow ponders the possibility. "I get the feeling Americans like foreign bands who try to rip them off."



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