In the summer of 2006, Sons And Daughters holed up in a house in the village of Adfern on the west coast of Scotland. They had no television, no telephones, and worked on new songs in a converted barn for eight hours every day. “We wrote and practiced all day and played poker and got drunk at night. We were committed to writing a great pop record,” says Adele Bethel. “We all love Blondie and The Smiths and we wanted to embrace that and not repeat what we had done before. Then we thought: who would be the perfect producer for a record like this?”
Domino’s Laurence Bell suggested Bernard Butler, and all being huge Suede fans the band agreed. This Gift bears out that Butler and Sons And Daughters make a winning combination, although it didn’t always feel like that at the time of recording. “He’s very, very tough,” says Scott Paterson. “He doesn’t sugar-coat anything and we had a lot of clashes. Then we heard the playbacks of the songs and it all began to make sense.” Adds Adele: “At first it was his way or no way. Then Scott got talking to him about Joe Meek and Bert Jansch and we started to click.”
The result, despite or perhaps because of the tensions and struggles that came during its recording, is an album on which a unique, inspired band step up onto a whole new level.
For the last five years Sons And Daughters have worked towards fashioning a distinctive sound, image and story. Inspired by the melancholy storytelling of Lee Hazlewood, the lyricism of Bill Callaghan and Leonard Cohen and the raw power of country, blues and folk, the Glasgow-based four-piece have been busy creating their own world and making it an interesting place to live in since 2002. The punk blues of their 2004 debut Love The Cup and 2005’s The Repulsion Box won fans such as Nick Cave and Franz Ferdinand and marked Sons And Daughters out as a band of fine taste and judgment. None of this meant anything to Bernard Butler, though.
“I hadn’t heard them before,” admits Butler. “They played me their new songs and I thought that they had a lot of drama and passion, but that they needed channeling. And in a way I felt that the band’s strong image could hold them back, like they might be trying to fit into a genre they had created. Sons And Daughters are a cool bunch of people, but I didn’t really want them to be cool; I wanted them to face up to their demons and embrace all the things they loved Then once we got talking we realized we liked the same things, that we all liked Fleetwood Mac as much as The Smiths.”
Amongst other things the band love are girl groups, the Heath Robinson-like pioneering genius of the British producer Joe Meek, the tarnished glamour of 60s provincial Britain, and soaring melodies. It was this side of Sons And Daughters that Butler was interested in. “I only had to bring out what was there already,” he says. “The new songs they had written were filled with strong melodies and wonderful lyrics, and I wanted to make the most out of Adele’s lovely voice. Every band has a comfort zone, which in Sons And Daughters’ case was the sound they had fashioned so far. It is the producer’s job to take them out of that and find what they’re capable of. “
The songs on This Gift offer glimpses of a romanticized Britain; a result of the band spending so much time out of the country, on the road, and going to US states like Montana where Adele visited a rest stop bathroom to see a notice board listing 100 women in the area that had gone missing. “Things like that play on your mental state and fire your thoughts,” she says. Scott couched the stories and sentiments in Adele’s lyrics with suitably elegant guitar parts. “I was looking for ways to expand the sound, to use as many different guitar styles as pos
sible,” says Scott. “Then Bernard brought in the Gibson 335 12-string that Johnny Marr played on Strangeways, Here We Come and that was like Excalibur. The power of the Gods was with us.”
Through a combination of committed songwriting, a classic pop sensibility and a little bit of tough love from Bernard Butler, Sons And Daughters have made a brilliant record. It was hard, but it was worth it.