Published Jul 03, 2019Rachel Goswell, best known as a founding member of shoegaze pioneers Slowdive, and her husband Steve Clarke, are speaking to Exclaim! in an interview over FaceTime from their new home in Devon, UK ahead of the release of their new album as the Soft Cavalry, their first collection of songs as a duo.
"We're kind of the same in a lot of ways, but equally we're polar opposite in others. When we met each other, it was a bit like looking in the mirror," says Goswell, turning to Clarke. "Then we got to know each other really well."
"Yeah, then the mirror disappeared," laughs Clarke. And then, he says, the creative sparks started flying.
"Rachel is a massive catalyst in actually kind of getting me writing again," explains Clarke, who had played in bands for years — most recently as a bass player with Ricky Gervais (David Brent & Foregone Conclusion) — before he met Goswell upon becoming Slowdive's tour manager. Goswell and Clarke fell in love, but didn't set out to make a record chronicling their relationship.
They first began to write music together for Minor Victories, with whom Goswell released an album in 2016, before the Soft Cavalry coalesced. Clarke considers "Never Be Without You," the most pop-leaning song on their album, to have "definitely started off where [their] relationship was at the time," a song whose lyrics capture a strong throughline of the record: the duality of fear and hope coexisting in one moment.
Slowdive's intensive touring schedule for their 2017 self-titled album prompted Clarke and Goswell to work away at The Soft Cavalry when time allowed.
"Even though most of the songs were already written and demoed, I think it was just a case of finding that bit of time when we could to get back in the studio and do some recording, and then it'd be like, 'Okay, we can't do anything for the next three months, so let's book in some time then,'" details Clarke. "So it was one of those. I think with the next record, we're just gonna go, 'Right, book an entire month and do it.'"
"I'm kind of one for structure you see," says Clarke.
"And I'm not — in all aspects of life," laughs Goswell. In reflecting on the composition of the Soft Cavalry's songs, which are able to capture sweeping drama and eerie quiet within a single track, as heard on "Home," Clarke and Goswell sought to embody the full range of emotions within the human experience. "It sums up our lives, really, doesn't it?" she reflects.
It is a combination of distinct, all-encompassing production and weighty lyrics that characterizes the duo's sound. The record's themes of vulnerability — communicated in repeated references within songs such as "Bulletproof" and "Only in Dreams" — sit alongside observations about the delicate nature of our lives, fraught with challenges and anxieties yet offering opportunities for us to cultivate the resilience to overcome them, as best captured on the album's lead single, "Dive."
Goswell's experience of creating dreamy, ethereal music in her other projects, in addition to both hers and Clarke's upbringings listening to "a lot of miserable bands," informed the writing process, with Goswell crucially stepping in to edit Clarke's lyrics as needed.
"Steve obviously writes a lot of words and we kind of — I mean, we've got some musical influences in common, but I think I definitely come more from a school of sort of having more space in songs, and atmosphere," says Goswell. "So, in that respect, that was kind of the bits more that I got involved with and commented on and made him cut little bits out, here and there."
The album veers from shoegaze to pop to heavier, experimental sections, featuring stripped-back guitars, flute-embellished dreamscapes, and a number of tracks with more defined rhythm sections.
"Our influences are so varied that to actually just go for one particular kind of song that just went straight through — all the way through the record — wouldn't have made much sense, really," asserts Clarke. "I think the next record will probably be even more varied, in terms of the ups and downs. I've always been very conscious that a lot of albums, when they get to that latter quarter, they tend to kind of fizzle out a bit, and then they might just have one great song at the end. I was conscious that I wanted to start offering something different towards the end and complete it as a whole piece."
Clarke and Goswell have taken great care when it comes to the making of the album's music videos, too. The video for "Bulletproof" is especially close to Goswell's heart: Shot in one take, it features her signing the lyrics to the song in British Sign Language (BSL), which provides a translation of the song's meaning, as opposed to Sign Supported English, whose verbatim word-for-word method of translation does not make sense to those who are completely deaf.
"My son Jesse [who has CHARGE syndrome] is completely deaf — he doesn't have any auditory nerve — so I started to learn sign language in the first year. He was born in 2010. It's been a huge part of my life and subsequently Steve's life as well, since we met and he became involved with me and with Jesse. I wanted to do a sign language video for years, really," Goswell explains.
The band's video for "Never Be Without You," an animated short featuring numerous characters by longtime Slowdive collaborator James Bates, is one that Goswell's son absolutely loves. "To get Jesse engaged to watch something visually for longer than a minute or two is very difficult, but for that song he will watch the entire thing and giggle, which is incredible," she smiles.
"It's definitely been a learning curve," Clarke offers as him and Goswell share a laugh reflecting on all it has taken to get to the point of releasing their debut and sharing these videos. It's been no easy task to write an album of such scope, yet the duo have developed both lyrics and atmosphere that are captivating.
"I wanted to make a record that overall felt like it had… at the very end, I want it to feel like the overriding thing was optimism," expresses Clarke. "Yeah, it's melancholic in places, but that's just life, isn't it, you know?"
The Soft Cavalry comes out July 5 on Bella Union.