Interview: Cloud Control

cloud controlBack in 2011, Cloud Control were thrown together for a Battle of the Bands competition. They took the top spot and then decided they’d carry on making music because “something worked”. Since then they’ve come a long way: they have an acclaimed debut album under their belts and have supported industry veterans from the likes of Vampire Weekend to Arcade FireThe Drums to The Temper Trap and even SupergrassWeezer and Foo Fighters.

If your ears haven’t pricked up already then also consider the fact that they recorded part of their second album in a cave in the wilderness of the Kentish countryside, have won a good few medals from “geriatrics who clap politely” and boast a lead singer who was going to be an architect. Think of the transferrable skills. Quite clearly, they tick all of the boxes.

In all seriousness though, Cloud Control initially proved that they have a certain knack for this music-making thing with the popularity of debut album Bliss Release. And if the catchiness and kick of recent single "Dojo Rising" is anything to go by, then Dream Cave looks set to follow in its footsteps.

Considering that they have plans to release album number two as well as tour dates on British soil, back home in Australia, across the pond in the US and all over Europe, it comes as somewhat a surprise that Ulrich Lennfer, aka one quarter of Cloud Control, could find a moment to escape the chaos. But escape he did, and so DrunkenWerewolf’s Shanti Das took the opportunity to catch up with the band’s drummer about Cloud Control’s new sound, making music with his sister and being too star struck to play basketball with Arcade Fire.

Hey Ulrich, thanks for answering my questions!

That’s okay, no worries at all. Shoot!

Your new album, Dream Cave, is set for release in a few weeks. How has your sound changed since your debut in 2011?

I think we’ve taken a few more risks of what to do with the second album, things we might have censored ourselves from doing on the first album or have been wary of doing. I mean in terms of electronic elements we’ve got a few drum machines in there. We have a bigger sound palette I think, we didn’t restrict ourselves this time like on the last one when we did everything really organically and I feel like we’re less inhibited with this album. There are lots of different sounds, lots of different vibes going on.

So, did you feel like you had more freedom to experiment?

I wouldn’t say there’s a huge amount of experimentation but we did take some little risks and push ourselves a bit to see if we could do something different but still appeal to our fans.

You’ve revealed some striking artwork for Dream Cave – it’s quite dark and dramatic. Does this reflect the mood of the album as a whole?

I like to think so. The album’s not really dramatic but it does have its moments of dark and light. The first album has been described as kind of light, happy and fun, so by no means is this one depressed or anything but it does have some darker tones and textures. What I like about the artwork is that it’s this kind of a huge vista.

Part of the album was recorded in a cave (“technically a quarry”) in the Kentish countryside. What made you decide to do this? How did recording away from a studio impact the end product? 

Um, why did we decide to do it? I don’t know! It just sounded like a good idea. When Al [Wright, lead singer] was writing the title track he had visions of being in a cave and that was the headspace he was in so he was just like “Hey, why don’t we record in a cave?” It was for nothing else but fun, which we’re always up for - we like to do cool stuff, so we drove around looking for caves! And obviously caves get that beautiful natural reverb which is what we ended up using – it just broke up the whole recording experience and made it super interesting. We just made a weekend of it - it was really cold and there were bats and roman coins and it was good! There’s so much history.

So is the cave thing something which holds the album together? Is it a running theme?

No it wasn’t a running theme – we’re pretty keen to make sure that people don’t see it as a concept album or anything like that. It was just an interesting thing that we wanted to do.

The video for your new track, "Dojo Rising," centres around a vengeful birthday girl on a mission to get a clown killed… It’s quite sinister and it really takes the song to a different level – how did the idea come about?

Basically I was looking for producers and directors. I found this guy called Ian [Pons Jewell, director] and I really liked his stuff because it’s dark but a bit tongue-in-cheek, it had dark humour. So I called him up and we chatted, he heard the song and liked the song and came up with a few ideas which we refined. We liked it and that was it - it was basically just his creative vision. It’s filmed in Bolivia because that’s where he’s living at the moment.

Cloud Control has come a long way since forming for a battle of the bands competition a few years back. If you hadn’t have won and stayed together afterwards, what would you be doing now?

We’d probably all be doing really boring stuff. We were all at Uni when that happened so we were all getting degrees – Al wanted to be an architect, I would probably be doing exactly what you’re doing, training and working and whatever and I reckon Jeremy [Kelshaw, bassist] would still be in a band. That guy had it in his blood his whole life, all he wanted to do was just play music. But he’d probably be working somewhere else because he’s got a baby and needs to support his child and wife.

You’re all originally from the Blue Mountains in Australia. What was it like growing up there and has it influenced you musically?

Our childhoods were great. You know what? It’s a pretty small community so it has that insular, middle-class vibe and I’m going to say that it didn’t influence our music that much to be honest. We had a lovely childhood and the natural environment was pretty incredible. But we didn’t take direct inspiration; we didn’t write an album about the trees or anything like that. But the main influence it had is that there was the variety of musical styles going on up there – we had a lot of hip-hop, folk, blues and roots and that kind of stuff. It wasn’t a very urban environment so it’s quite slow, I guess. If you live in a city you hear the music changing constantly because there’s a new band every second day.

You’re part of a massive wave of Australian artists who have come over to the UK. What made you decide to make that move?

I guess for Australian artists Australia is an awesome place but it’s pretty limited in terms of numbers so you look overseas to the UK and Europe because it’s just such a bigger market. The reason we came over was because of our label – they wanted us to come over and for us to relocate. We had backing from them so it made it a lot easier!

Your sister, Heidi, is in the band with you. Does working with a sibling change the dynamic of the group at all?

Well, we’re pretty good. Sure, we talk crap at each other and whatnot and we’re not sure what we’re saying but I think it helps, actually.

In the past few years you’ve supported loads of big name bands! Do any stand out and have you learnt a lot from rubbing shoulders with such well-established acts?

Well I’ve always loved Arcade Fire and they came and said “Hi" and were like “Do you want to come and play basketball before the show?” and I was just a bit too starstruck. But it showed that super huge bands can just be completely normal people and really accommodating. We played with Supergrass in Australia and on the first night they were like “Hey guys, come in our room and in our rider, have some beers,” and that’s the kind of band we want to be. And also just professionalism and how much it takes to be at that level. They’re really switched on to be at that level– like Vampire Weekend are completely focused all the time.

You’ve played hundreds of shows around the world and now you’ve got a headline tour and support slots for label mates Local Natives coming up. Do you feel like you’ve come a long way in terms of live performance since your battle of the bands days?

Yeah, definitely. We’d all performed – Heidi learnt classical piano, I learnt classical piano, Al learnt classical piano.

We’d performed at competitions for geriatrics and people who clap politely and give you a little medal. That was the extent up until that point. I look at videos of us playing at the band competition and just laugh because it’s pretty funny; we’ve all come so far since then. That’s the nature of our band though, we were thrown together by happenstance and then we stayed together because something worked. It’s not like we’re one of those bands where everyone’s in a band and then they form and they’re all confident performers already. We had to learn - I mean, I had to learn drums for this band, I didn’t even play drums before! Everyone has come a long way, I think.

Is there anything you’re particularly excited about? Can you hint at any surprises that we can look forward to?

I’m just excited to be back out on the road, it’s a bit boring being cooped up! We’re enjoying London but ready to get out there. I just went to Iceland the other day, for a video clip actually – hey, there you go! It was just good to be back to flying again, seeing new places with new eyes and it was pretty exciting!

Find out more about Cloud Control here.

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