In May, CATTLE & CANE release new album Mirrors, the follow up to 2015’s debut Home. The record shows the band, headed by siblings Joe and Helen Hammill, whilst not abandoning acoustic folky roots exactly, certainly embracing poppier influences, as hinted at in recent singles Make Your Vision and the positively perky 7 Hours.
From Teeside, Cattle & Cane were originally championed by BBC Introducing, and performed at T In The Park and BBC Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park before they’d even released their debut single. The band’s music has also been featured on TV shows Made In Chelsea, The Only Way Is Essex and MTV’s Catfish, as well as on a popular Brazilian soap-opera.
Cath Bore caught up with Joe Hammill, who writes Cattle & Cane’s songs, and shares lead singer duties with sister Helen.
I take it Cattle & Cane are named after The Go-Betweens song from 1983?
It is, yeah. Basically we had a gig and we needed a band name and [we were] all out of ideas. We were scrolling through our iPod and we came across that name. We’ve always liked that song because it’s about childhood and home and we thought it was a fitting name for a band of siblings. It’s served us well.
What do you think the late Grant McLennan would think, people from the other side of the world naming themselves after something he’d co-written and created?
If a band called themselves after one of my songs I’d be pretty happy, so I hope he would be too.
I read somewhere that you don’t come from a musical family, yet here you are with Helen and your brother Fran, in a group. Does this mean you’re a disappointment to your parents?
No, they’re really proud! They both wanted to be more musical maybe they didn’t get the opportunity when they were young. When I say we’re not from a musical family , we grew up listening to lots of different music, my dad loved music so we were always listening to stuff so I’ve probably done them a disservice in that respect. They don’t sing or play instruments or write. We’re a little bit different from our parents in that way
Cattle & Cane are such obvious lovers of folk music. On the first album you proudly wore it on your sleeve.
Where we’re from there’s a strong folk community, Irish folk actually, and so we grew up with quite a lot of folk music and we enjoyed that a lot. Our dad loves music from the 60s and he’d always be playing things like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and from the 70s like Gerry Rafferty 100cc, Steely Dan, stuff that is brilliant to be honest. We’re lucky to have an education like that because in the ‘90s there wasn’t loads of great stuff.
Cattle & Cane started in embryonic form doing covers in pubs. That’s very much a traditional, working class way of learning your craft.
We started when I was 15 and Helen was 13. We played on Sunday nights. We did covers. We learnt we could engage the crowd and do pretty decent versions of these songs and then we started writing pretty soon after that. We cut our teeth doing that pub.
What covers did you do? And don’t fib, because I will know…
The covers we did were alright actually! I was pretty obsessed with Damien Rice and Stephen Fretwell, Jack Johnson even. But stuff like Counting Crows and Jeff Buckley as well, and the older classics like Beatles songs when it’s getting later and you need to get the crowd going.
Being in a band with your brothers and sisters must be a challenge. Everyone argues with their siblings, even when we’re grown up and should know better.
It can get pretty bad at times! You’ll say something to your siblings that you wouldn’t say to another person, there’s no limits. But it’s good in a way because you’re saying exactly what you think. Honest. We normally get over it very quickly. We don’t really apologise to each other, the act of making someone a cup of tea is an unspoken apology. I think we’d struggle with a direct heartfelt apology!
Sibling harmonies fascinate me. There’s something about growing up together, digesting the same music and influences that makes them special, often unique.
Blood harmonies they call them, don’t they? Fran is amazing at harmonies so he brings that to the process, really whereas me and Helen will do most of the lead singing. He has an ear for harmonies and can help out in that way, so I suppose we have different attributes that complement each other. We have similar tone voices which lends itself to sounding a rounded voice. On a good day!
Me and Helen started singing individually before we started doing it together. Fran was always jamming away at songs in his room and harmonising. I can’t really remember why we started a band it just felt very natural and easy. It wasn’t a big thing, we just played a pub once as a band and went on from there really.
On Mirrors, Helen has taken over much of the lead vocals. Is there any reason for that?
It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. It’s the way the songs were written some of them lent themselves to Helen more. On the first album she was meant to be singing some of the songs but the songs didn’t work out, they didn’t sound as they should have. So, yeah, I suppose Helen’s come into her own a bit more on this album, being a bit more willing to take that front role. Especially at gigs. She’s embracing that a lot more.
The album was recorded in Europe, which sounds all very glamorous.
In Brussels! That was brought about because I know a producer guy from there called Luuk Cox and we were doing some writing for a separate project and I asked him to listen to some demos and see if he fancied recording the album and he did. It probably worked out cheaper than doing an album in London. It’s exciting going away, going abroad experiencing new things and new foods, I tried to learn a bit of French.
Us English don’t learning other languages because everyone else can speak ours so we reckon, why bother?
Well that’s it, yeah. And it makes you lazy. It makes me sad. I’m in the process of learning some languages, learning a bit of German at the moment because we go away quite a lot. We’re going to Germany later this year. There’s an ignorance and an arrogance about going to a country without attempting to speak the language. Everyone else can speak other languages, most can speak 3 or 4 when you go to mainland Europe and you think about yourself… oh dear.
We did some dates in Germany last year and did a couple in Belgium. They were very different [from the UK]. With the fans we have in England, they’re really good and they do buy stuff but we hear stories from other bands where people don’t buy things in England. It’s a harder slog. But I think in Germany people are more willing to spend cash on merch. They are really receptive to our kind of music so we played a really nice venue in Belgium, a big auditorium, and the crowd was so responsive to songs they’d never heard before. With the Germany tour it was like starting from scratch but people came to the gigs and there’s enough success there to go back again in October and November time.
As well as writing songs for the band you’ve been quietly working on collaborations with other people. How did that come about?
I started songwriting at age 15, then started a band and got a publishing deal with Sentric Music and Strictly Confidential in my second year of uni and I thought at that point, I’ve made it, I’m going to be rich!
And you are, so…
Ha ha ha, no comment. We started working with Sentric and Strictly, and it’s been a gradual thing. The publishing companies have been great, they’ve put me in touch with different artists in Belgium and in Holland. I worked with a girl called Alice On The Roof, she did well on Belgium’s version of The Voice. She’s not an English speaker, she struggles with the accent and things like that; they wanted her songs to be in English not French. So I worked on her debut album and they turned out great and have done really well. Going back to Belgium for a week in June to work with her and 3 different artists as well doing some songwriting camps so that’ll be good.
X Factor finalist Lucy Spraggan is on your list of co-writing credits as well?
Last year I worked on a couple of her songs on her last album. She’s incredible! I’ll be honest I’d never listened to her because I associated Lucy Spraggan with X Factor and thought, ‘that’ll be rubbish’ but I went to the session she totally blew me away. She’s a proper artist. Her songwriting is amazing, and she’s so quick. We finished the song that ended up on the album in about 2 hours. Big, big fan. She has virtually no support from radio. She gets good press but a lot of bands rely on radio and Spotify playlist to make a living; she has a great fanbase and she does it through that I have massive respect for Lucy. She’s got a great voice, but lyrically she’s something else.
For Mirrors, you relied on the PRS Momentum Fund, and a crowdfunding platform to raise funds.
To have funding to help us along is amazing. It’s not just the money it’s the support from PRS and Momentum, that’s a big statement for us. And support from other artists as well.
We weren’t that hopeful because bands in the past have been newer so it was a pleasant surprise. It’s going towards the recording and production and making the final CDs and stuff. It’s helped a lot, absolutely.
What rewards did you offer on PledgeMusic? Anything a bit unusual to beef up that support?
Erm… well, our Fran is a really good cook. He started really getting into it, so we decided to exploit that. You can pay for Fran to come to your house and cook your dinner your friends or your family. I like it. Fran’s a bit worried…
Mirrors is released on 5th May. Cattle & Cane play Buyers Club on 2nd May. Tickets are available here.