By BRUCE DENNILL
Oystercatcher is a music collective based in Manchester. At its core are multi-instrumentalists Caitlin Laing (vocals) and Tom Chapman (bass), although the line-up changes fluidly, ranging from a duo to an orchestra and everything in between. They’re touring in South Africa from 23 September to 13 October.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
Tom: My parents are both huge music lovers, so I got exposed to a lot of music from a young age. It was mainly centered around rock, but they both have very diverse tastes so I’ve been listening to a wide range of music for as long as I can remember.
Caitlin: I had a similar thing with my parents. My dad got me into lots of rock and jazz, while my mum introduced me to lots of classical and musical theatre stuff, so whether it was belting out a tune from Les Misérables with my mum or listening to Queens of the Stone Age in the car with my dad, I was always surrounded by a wonderful variety of stuff!
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Tom: I think the main passion that I’ve always had for listening to music comes from when I find something new to my ears, something unlike anything I’ve heard before. So while the genres of music that I listen to are extremely varied, and certainly very different to the music that I listened to when I was a kid, my attitude towards being excited by things that are new to me hasn’t changed.
Caitlin: I had a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of finding my own ‘musical voice’ as it’s often called. I started focusing on classical guitar, then decided to swap to jazz and pop saxophone, and now have settled with vocals. I love all sorts of music, and I’m constantly discovering more in different genres – and I would never change that!
Name one song you wish you’d written (or, if you’re not a writer, one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of). What makes that song so important?
Tom: All of the pieces of music that have really had an impact on me are so perfect in my eyes that I wouldn’t want to change anything by contributing my voice to them, and I don’t regret in the slightest that I wasn’t involved in their creation. I also think that one of the main things they share is that I don’t fully understand what it is that makes them so incredible to me – and in a way I don’t really want to. The best examples I have of this are Walk On The Water by John Martyn, Imagine by John Lennon and The Childhood Dream by the Esbjorne Svensson Trio.
Caitlin: There are too many to choose from! Wooden Bag by Richard Dawson is a current favourite. Lyrically and melodically, it’s so gentle – almost childlike in its literal description of a simple object, but delivered in such a rough-around-the-edges and exposed manner, it’s utterly beautiful.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
For us the lyrics, melodies, vocal writing, instrumental writing and every other aspect of our music stems from the meaning behind the song. Therefore if someone were to hold onto anything from listening to our music we’d hope that it would be whatever meaning they happen to take away from it.
The music industry is no longer a single-narrative operation. For you, what is the best way to get your music from your head to potential listeners? Please comment on digital means (from social media to full streaming and download distribution), playing live (how often; where; to whom), being a cottage industry (eg selling CDs from a box in your car) and any other creative channels you’ve explored.
Nowadays the best way of getting music to new listeners is through streaming services and social media, mostly only with small amounts of content. The amount of stuff you can find or the people you can reach through these is great, but we much prefer sitting down and listening to an album or vinyl as it feels like more of an experience, and you can really delve into the music as a whole. In the long term, we want to make sure that our music is readily available to connect within the same ways that we do with the music we enjoy.
We also both have a catalog of amazing gigs that we’ve been to see over the years, and the gigs that have really stuck with us are the ones that feel like you’re having a truly unique experience of listing to incredible music. Because of this we put a lot of effort into making sure that each of our live performances is its own individual experience by constantly varying our lineup of musicians and arranging our songs accordingly. We want people at our gigs to know that they’re in a scenario that has never happened before and will never happen again.
In terms of the above, is there a gap between what you envisioned and what you are experiencing now? Does it matter, and if so, how do you close that gap?
Because of the effectiveness of things like social media, we have found ourselves roped into playing that game a lot of the time. However, in order to make it enjoyable for ourselves, we’ve used it as an excuse to do some really fun things. For example, we shot a video for our latest release, Come Home, on a cliff in North Wales. Halfway through the video, we started chatting about how many caves there must be nearby. Naturally, we decided that we should find one, take all the recording equipment there, buy 100 candles, painstakingly place them all over the cave – and tidy them up afterwards – then film another video there. We definitely didn’t need to go to these lengths to get some good social media content, but we’ve taken the attitude of, “If we have to do it we might as well enjoy it.” And we’re incredibly lucky to work with some people who go along with our nonsense.
What is your new/most recent release? What is the story behind it – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
Caitlin: Our most recent release, Come Home, is quite a visceral response to grief and loss. The process of writing it was only possible because not only is Tom a brilliant musical partner, but an incredible friend. I feel so comfortable pouring my heart out to him, and together we found ways of consolidating the chaos in my brain at the time into a song.