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Escape Velocity

Warping The Familiar: An Interview With Patterns
John Freeman , February 4th, 2014 07:08

Patterns' Ciaran McAuley tells John Freeman why the Manchester band's long-awaited debut album is dedicated to the act of "warping the familiar"

"It's about not being quite able to place where the sounds come from," says Ciaran McAuley, lead singer and keyboard player with Manchester's Patterns. "We wanted the album to feel familiar with things you could recognise - but also very alien. It fits into the psychedelic aesthetic that pervades the whole record."

It's the twilight week between Christmas and New Year and McAuley, nursing a bottle of pale ale and resplendent in Christmas jumper, is eager to talk about his band's long-in-the-making debut album, Waking Lines. "We've tried to place the album into the history of psychedelic music, by developing that strange feeling between being asleep and wakefulness, where there are shreds of consciousness and reality that can be completely unnerving - that moment when you are waking up in the morning and you are thinking something completely bizarre and it's hazy and beyond comprehension. That's what we wanted to go for, and learning the production techniques for this album has been about trying to realise that sound."

If McAuley's claims sound fanciful, listening to Waking Lines is a heartening experience. The album is built on of subtle washes of sound and McAuley's deft vocals. And Patterns are meticulous in their vision. Waking Lines contains a myriad of field recordings, loop effects and samples. I ask McAuley about the endless opportunities (and artistic cul-de-sacs) proffered by field recordings. "Yeah, you record loads of stuff that sounds like shit and you try and dovetail it into a track and it's rubbish," he admits. "However, if you take the track 'Wrong Two Words' it is based on a mandolin sample. If you listen to the song you won't hear a shred of a mandolin but it is a mandolin looped over and over and then processed into a washy vibe and pushed into another direction. It's taking the familiar and warping it to make it sound unfamiliar. That's what we wanted to achieve with the album."

Was this idea of blurring the familiar Patterns 'mission statement'. "I suppose so," he says, pondering over a swig of ale. "It was when we started making the album it cemented and solidified our own identity for what we were trying to achieve as a band. We found what we wanted to 'say'. I always find that word kind of uncomfortable, as we aren't necessarily trying to 'say' anything directly, but the aesthetic choices of the band were informed by that vision."

McAuley is comfortable to use his own voice within this conceptual construct. A number of tracks on Waking Lines have his vocal low in the mix, making the words difficult to disentangle. "Even if you cannot hear the lyrics clearly, I do take a lot of care about their content, but they are meant to creep into your mind – rather than follow an obvious story - and that's how I enjoy music and that's what I want people to take from it."

And when the listener can discern McAuley's words, he's not averse to a spot of experimentation. "On 'This Haze' I was exploring my voice, going into my high range and not feeling constricted in the way that a masculine indie singer might. It was incredibly liberating to sing in a different way. I wasn't trying to 'sing like a girl' but it was about exploring different notions of gender presentation. Those are ideas that are really important to me."  

Patterns formed in 2011, through the well-trodden route of 'meeting while at university'. In 2012, last time I interviewed the four-piece - completed by Alex Hillhouse (bass/samples), Jamie Lynch (drums) and Laurence Radford (guitar) - the band indicated that their debut album had already been many months in the making. So, what took so long? "The album was finished in September 2012 – all the songs were complete from our point of view. It was after that; the process of mixing and mastering which then took quite a while. We used a guy called Iggy B to mix our album. He mixed Money's album - [last year's] The Shadow Of Heaven - and they ran over."

So, it was Money's fault? "Yes! It's Money's fault. But we were really fixed that this was the guy we wanted. We'd constructed the tracks in a certain way and everything had been incredibly particular. We sent tracks out to a bunch of different people and Iggy B came back and just understood the songs. Especially for me, as I have so much to do with the mixing and production, handing over our baby to somebody was a massive commitment. He was worth waiting for and I'm really happy with it."

And Waking Lines was an album worth waiting for. Patterns have melded a sound that straddles the icy clarity of electronica with the warm hues of early shoegaze. Songs like 'Face Marks' and 'Our Ego' manage the neat trick of floating around the subconscious while insistently demanding attention. "The whole joy for us was about learning how to make an album," continues McAuley, "of how to put songs together, to put space into songs and to be able to experiment with sounds. For us, it's not just about sitting there with a few guitars and drums; it's about having a vast and open palette and developing that. That's another reason why we took so long."

There are a couple of obvious downsides in taking time to release a debut album. Firstly, the album's songs are relatively old. "That can be the problem," McAuley admits. "We have most of the next album written. The weird tragedy of the band-fan relationship is that you produce these songs and put them out, but when they are finally out you have a whole new set of songs you are far more interested in."

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there was a danger that Patterns could have 'missed their moment'. The band had engendered a (dreaded) buzz back in 2012, but the music industry can be a fickle beast. McAuley is well aware of the risk. "You can worry as to whether the stuff you are writing is still relevant, or will people be completely over what you are doing. For us, we are aware of the music industry being a market, but you have to block all the rest out - I stopped listening to new music for about a year."

We chat about several local bands who failed to capitalise on an early momentum, and McAuley remains refreshingly stoical. "I really respect bands that take their time," he states with gentle defiance. "There are a lot of bands who are pushed to release things to early and the debut album doesn't meet up to the hype. But, if we write something good and something that we are proud of, then eventually people will respect that. The most gratifying thing at the moment is hearing people's feedback on an album that's been on my computer screen for fucking ages."

As the New Year is upon us, talk turns to the future. Patterns will test the water with a series of short tours before being (hopefully) swallowed up by the festival circuit over the summer. McAuley is animated about a show the band will be playing at a Salford church, which will see their expansive sound backed by a full community choir. "The choir will sing with us for at least half the set," he reveals. "It's been an incredible experience – I have had to relearn how to write scores so I can communicate our music to the choir. I have arranged parts specifically for the choir, which will hopefully add to the music. It's always been a dream of mine to sing with a choir, so it is an incredibly exciting gig to do."

McAuley also confirms that a second album will not be three years in the making and that it could be released "reasonably quickly – within a year." As for the direction of the band's new material, for once he doesn't take the musician's time-honoured track of suddenly becoming coy with their interviewer. "It's more electronic and perhaps a nod to Cocteau Twins shoegaze as opposed to My Bloody Valentine shoegaze. That's the direction we are going in. I'm far more interested now in exploring the whole palette of things you can do as an artist, as opposed to sticking to a rock band set-up. But, we will still write and record the album predominantly in my bedroom, because I wouldn't want to do it anywhere else. I'm also hoping to use the choir on the new album as well."

I look at McAuley quizzically. "And, no, the choir won't be in my bedroom."

The album Waking Lines is out now via Melodic.

Patterns play at St. Philips Church, Salford, on Friday 7th March. Information and tickets are available here.

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