The Family Rain have had a big 2013. At the start of the year they had just one single to their name (released on indie label Bigger Splash Records), no records out, and a small but devoted following around their hometown of Bath, Somerset. As the year draws to a close, however, the band has reached a few more milestones. They’ve put out an EP on a major label (Mercury), toured with The Courteeners, Miles Kane and Jake Bugg, warmed up for no lesser a band than The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park over the summer and recorded a debut LP that’s jostling for space with records by Grimes and The Horrors in the NME’s list of albums to look out for in 2014.
In short, it’s been a productive year. The brothers (identical twins Will (vocals, bass) and Tim (drums), and younger brother Ollie (guitar)) headed out to Berlin in spring with semi-legendary producer Jim Abbiss – the man behind records by Arctic Monkeys, Adele and Kasabian – to produce said LP, the upcoming Under the Volcano. “It was great,” says Will, “We wanted to sound like we were in an exciting place, and hope that that comes across on the record, which I think it does. Berlin was the first time that it felt real because we were signed five months before that, and when we were flying out on that plane it was like “shit, this is where the whole thing starts.” Just the fact that we went somewhere else to record it made it feel special from the off.”
Abbiss, as renowned for his work with trip-hop acts like Massive Attack in the ‘90s as his hand in ‘00s indie classics, added some nuance to the group’s traditional blues rock sound and pointed them in some new directions. “We credit Jim as being the man who pulled us out from what we were doing and gave us some pointers for what we could do better,” Will continues, “It was an intense environment; we had two days off in the three and a half weeks we were there.” And the focus shows; the resulting sound, trickling out as it has done over an erratic series of singles in the past few months, is equal parts raw and mature, with soul-loop drumbeats accompanying whiskey-soaked guitar riffs.
Of course, recording the music has only been half of the equation, if not less. For a band who are still working to make a name, touring is essential. When I met them before their show in the Oxford O2, they were preparing for their sixth gig in six nights, on what is their fourth tour this year, not to mention slots at Reading & Leeds and other festivals. In the process, they’ve learned from their peers: “We likened [the Jake Bugg tour] to a cruise line” says Tim, “because everything was so big in terms of the amount of people working on the tour; you hardly got to know anyone, everyone just kept themselves to themselves.”
Miles Kane’s touring ethic fitted the band better: “it was party central; we went out every night and it just flew by”, recalls Tim. Will adds: “It just felt more homely you know. We knew everyone there, from the lighting guy to the merch guy to the stage manager, within two days because they were all so up for hanging out. After that we decided that we wanted to do that kind of tour.” It’s unsurprising that a close-knit set-up suits the band – they are brothers after all. Touring as a family, of course, brings its own modus operandi: “Every single event is sorted out with an argument” says Will, “It’s a family thing you know; with families everything is sorted out with a blazing argument; it’s just necessary, and we’ve just got busier and busier which means we’ve got more stuff to sort out, which means we’ve got quite a lot of arguments.” But a lot of resolutions as well. “They’re all to an end; they’re all for a reason”, says Will. “We’re so used to each other’s company. It’s almost like a family holiday”, adds his brother.
The chemistry is definitely there when they come onstage later that night, and there’s a real sense that, after a year of recording and touring, everything is in its right place. That’s not to say that it’s a neat and tidy affair; this is old-fashioned blues rock, with all the beer, sweat and wailing guitar lines that that entails. The menacing lurch of ‘Reason to Die’ is incendiary, and the solo in ‘Trust Me… I’m a Genius’ (their first single) elicits a predictably excited response from the crowd.
I ask the band what it’s like to be making this sort of music in 2013. “As far as we’re concerned we’ve achieved the impossible, you know, getting signed to a major label, making rock ‘n’ roll music,” says Tim, “we just think we’re playing what the Rolling Stones played.”
Will is cautiously optimistic about the future: “I think currently, it’s gonna take us a lot longer to get to certain stages. Bands like Palma Violets and Peace that came up so quickly, you know, they just shot up… and it’ll take us a little longer because what we’re doing is essentially chipping away… because we’re more rocky, and that isn’t the hippest thing at the moment.
“[But] I think it’s always going to be needed, and that there’s a place for it and there always will be because people, at some point in their life or some point in their week, wanna let their hair down, and get drunk and just listen to a rock ‘n’ roll show… I think it’s a really English thing. Ever since all those kids were going crazy to the Stones and the Beatles… I think it’s just in our culture to want that, you know.”
It seems that it is, because Jim Abbiss and Mercury have faith in The Family Rain, and so does their steadily-increasing fanbase.
With Under the Volcano dropping in January and the touring not set to stop anytime soon, it looks like 2014 might turn out to be a big year for the band too.