One couldn’t exactly call The Unwinding Hours a supergroup, but their story as musicians so far has not been run-of-the-mill. Craig B. and Iain Cook, both former members of the late, hugely-respected Glaswegian alternative band Aereogramme, have experienced the rise to underground stardom from its very roots once before, and are vehemently doing so again with The Unwinding Hours, a project they started in 2010 – three years after the demise of Aereogramme. Their first album – self-titled and widely acclaimed – was a mellifluous blend of cooed vocals and post-rock, beset with strings that echo elements of their work with Aereogramme, but with their upcoming release, Afterlives, the band have begun centering in on their own darker, more concise and, in many ways, more adult sound.
“The first album was influenced by the confusing period after Aereogramme split up and certain experiences in my personal life,” Craig tells me. “This time around I feel it’s a bit more influenced by what I’ve been studying [Sociology and Theology], but I can write about personal experience as well so it touches on similar themes. Musically, my default time signature for writing songs seems to be 3/4 so I tried to force myself to write in 4/4 this time and we both tried to make things a bit faster and less fragile so we had a broader set to choose from. When you are supporting other bands and playing very quiet, intimate songs, it’s difficult to grab people’s attention so we now have a range of songs to choose from and can tailor the live set accordingly.”
“It’s been two years since the first one,” Craig continues, “which seems like a good enough time to leave between albums. I don’t think I thought that far ahead when we started working on new demos but I knew we had to get something out before I entered into my third year of Uni, but that’s been the only deadline we placed on ourselves. A lot of bands get tied into the cyclical rat race of having to release an album then tour, go straight back into the studio to then tour again. Since we got burnt out by that process in Aereogramme, we decided to approach it differently and just take our time. I’m finding it much more relaxed and enjoyable.”
I suggest that there must have been a lot of buzz around the band’s formation post-Aereogramme, asking if he feels that it’s died down a little now and if The Unwinding Hours has started building its own separate fan base. “I still get messages from people who liked Aereogramme but have only just found out we exist,” he responds “so I guess if there was a buzz, it was a quiet buzz. The first album was certainly helped because of the connection to Aereogramme, and if the initial buzz has died down, it might prove more difficult to create as much interest this time around.”
He continues, “I can’t help but feel there is now a lovely sense of connection and feedback you can get from Facebook and Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for anyone who takes the time to write about us in their publication or website, but the Internet allows for word of mouth to be an important network for us as well, and the type of people that seem to like us are usually passionate and kind enough to continually try and spread the word as much as possible. They are also usually the ones who fight to get us written about in publications as well so if any kind of buzz about us might have died down, that is just part of the process, and the Internet allows for the ripple effect to continue quietly in the background anyway.”
I bring up the booming Scottish music scene that Craig’s projects have been such an integral part of over the years, and ask if he feels it has been a good thing to be involved in. “Absolutely.” he replies. “When I was a long haired spotty ginger indie nerd, the only place I wanted to be was Glasgow because all my favourite bands were playing there. When I arrived, I found it was an incredibly creative and supportive place to make music and that really hasn’t changed in all those years.” Craig is emphatic in his praise of Glasgow’s music community. “There is an honesty about the music scene here that means if you are going to act like an arsehole, you will be treated like one, but if you go about your business like any decent human being should, then you are usually treated fairly and respectfully.”
Officially, there are only two members of The Unwinding Hours. I ask how the pair do things live, having compositions as many-layered and rich as theirs. “We hire in our friends to play with us” Craig explains. “Jonny [Scott], who drums, and Graeme [Smillie], who plays bass, both play for various other bands and have their own called Olympic Swimmers (who are a fantastic band and have just released their debut album). Brendan, the keyboardist, usually plays piano with Paul Buchanan, but plays with us live and helps us with our videos.”
It’s a very different setup from the studio, then? “I enjoy both the studio and live setting,” he tells me, “but they are both completely different challenges. We take our time recording and it feels like there is no real pressure when we are doing that. When you are slowly building a song up from scratch and you get to a place where you have managed to articulate something personal and are happy with the results, it’s a wonderful feeling but it certainly feels like an insular process. Touring is different. We arrange our own tours and do the driving ourselves so it can end up being an exhausting experience but it’s always worth it when you play to a lovely, receptive audience. There is no feeling like it when you have poured so much into the recording process and then are lucky enough to get a positive response from others.” He tells me about the band’s plans for the rest of the year after the release: “We release the album on 20 August and then tour during September in Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and France. No offers yet from England but we’re happy to play anywhere that we are able to.”
Upon being asked about the work that went into Afterlives in comparison to that of The Unwinding Hours, Craig paints a vivid picture of the prolific working lives of modern independent musicians. “I have been studying at Glasgow uni and working as a part time chef. Iain does production work for TV as well as many other bands, so in between doing those things, we would meet up and work on demos. We write and record as we go along, so when we gave ourselves a deadline we put time aside to record all the guitars and vocals in Iain’s wee studio. We travelled to a studio in England to record the drums and then Iain started the mixing process. While I was studying for my exams, he would send me mixes every night and we would discuss/argue about it all.”
There’s a heartwarming sentiment in his thoughts on what it takes to keep it all going, though: “It can be quite a difficult process to arrange, but it just takes a concentrated effort to keep on top of it – and the fact that we still love doing it makes it easier. We are no different from any other band out there, though. You find the time in between doing everything else that clutters up your life.”
Afterlives is available now through Chemikal Underground.