As much as I adore Liverpool, I am still occasionally hit by the temptation to retreat to the countryside; lock yourself away in a reclusive log cabin in North Wales and the lush surroundings will delight you in abundance. But influence you? Well, it certainly worked for Bon Iver, but how about closer to home? CAVALRY’s guitarist Austin Logan was inspired enough to give it a try himself, and came away reaping the rewards. With a track called Leaves in their repertoire and an autumnal hue to their sound, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Austin’s excursion brought a fairly literal inspiration to the Cavalry aesthetic, but that’s where the parallel falls short. In fact, he refers to the result of his casual excursion – coming up with the band’s name – as a “happy accident”, one of many that have permeated the band’s career since they came together in late 2013.
Ambushing the quintet in the midst of a busy schedule of meetings and rehearsals, I am keen to peer beneath the veneer of this rugged indie band blooming with potential. Two demos posted online back in January – Lament, and the aforementioned Leaves – have garnered acclaim across the board, from BBC Introducing in Merseyside to Radio 1’s new music heavyweight, Huw Stephens, and Radio 2 darling, Janice Long. But instead of rushing to respond to such praise, Cavalry have been carefully planning their next move while perfecting their craft with regular stints on the support-act circuit. There’s a charge coming, but never underestimate the importance of tactics.
Their name even seems to personify the charge that’s also present in their songs, with slow-burning, folk-tinged introductions that increase in intensity as they march into grittier territory. Frontman Alan Croft highlights this idea as one that captures the essential tenet of the band, while bassist Paul James Jones points to the meaning of the word cavalry in the military sense: “It suggests the notion of being a last-minute rescue, a chance to escape – which I think reflects on how this project has taken us all by surprise. The way we came together, it was a saviour-style moment where we just decided to go with it.” Their criss-crossed roots (childhood friends and university acquaintances) make for a cosily fraternal relationship. Three of the band (Croft, Logan and guitarist Steve Taylor) operate from a house they share on Lark Lane, feeding off the area’s zealous bohemian spirit. It’s a setting where you would naturally expect creativity to flourish, but Logan admits that the lack of divide between a professional and personal relationship can occasionally put a strain on certain circumstances. “The positives outweigh the negatives though,” butts in Croft. “We initially moved in to focus on getting the songs to a certain standard. When you rent out a rehearsal space you can often feel like you’re working to a strict deadline, but it’s not so rigid when you’re living together.”
It might come off as a slightly romanticised idea, five self-sacrificing figures putting in the overtime to iron out the fine details all for the love of their craft. But put those glamorised notions aside and think about it in terms of communication and collaboration – suddenly it actually seems like an obvious choice. If the perfect melody comes to you in a sudden moment of inspiration, then it’s much easier to share it with your bandmate if he’s in the room next door, and the best time to react to an idea and work on it is while it is still fresh. This also encourages a democratic approach to songwriting, allowing all five band members to amalgamate their vast range of influences from their own individual experiences. Jones has an invested interest in post-production through his past experiments with electronic music, which bleeds into Cavalry through the orchestration of different layers of sound. Croft spent time in Canada prior to the band’s inception, but he finds hindsight and reflection more fitting for inspiring his lyrics. “It’s been quite turbulent in the past few years, but now I’m far more comfortable writing knowing the situation that we’re in.”
With their penchant for balancing intricacy with intimacy, likening Cavalry to elements of The National and Local Natives would be deemed fair suggestions. But heads nod fervently around the group when Croft mentions Paul Simon, citing Graceland as an album upon which they all agree as a defining influence. “He’s definitely someone I connect with lyrically,” Croft argues, “but what also stands out for me is that a lot of the songs are based around one man and his guitar; it’s then about how you coordinate the other parts.”
There we have the tactic behind the charge; it is not just simply “what” but “how.” The first few bars on their demos are pleasant enough, but it’s the potency of the guitar on Leaves that stays with you long after its swoons have ebbed from the speakers. And then there are the harmonies from Logan and Taylor, which allow the tension of Gareth Dawson’s elevated percussion to release. There’s no denying its power, but it comes as a warm embrace rather than a crushing blow. “When I write a song, it always starts with an acoustic guitar,” Logan explains, “which can leave you quite limited. The harmonies add another texture, a different layer you can use to transform the melody.”
“I think if we’d known how much joy we would have had from Lament and Leaves, we would have had more material lined up to drip-feed the response,” admits Croft. “There’s more material ready to go, enough to fill several albums, but it’s just picking the right time.” Bassist Jones agrees, going on to offer: “I think it’s been for the best though, because we’ve carved our identity into our sound a lot more since then. When the new release comes out, it’ll be the best representation of us as a band, because of what we’ve learned in the live arena.”
Maybe it’s the harsh cold of the winter’s night that makes Cavalry’s music so soothing at this time of year, but it’s the band’s determination to evolve that pulls you back in. Change is natural after all, but when you have this solid unit, each element equally invested in the other, you know that any change will be balanced by consistency. Brace yourself for the charge.
Words: Jack Graysmark / @ZeppelinG1993