Cut Ribbons may be fairly new to our ears, but they sure don’t show it with their acclaimed, high energy performances having already gained them the support of BBC Radio 1′s Huw Stephens and slots at some of the country’s most prestigious festivals. With the new single ’Damascus’ out now on Barely Regal, the alternative rock five piece from Llanelli are well on their way to becoming Wales’ most exciting musical export. We chatted with Cut Ribbons singer and guitarist Aled Rees and vocalist Anna Griffiths about their musical journey so far, how their name has nothing to do with supermarket openings and when they’re planning to release their debut LP.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into music?
I think we all got into music from a very young age. I personally [Aled] became interested in 60s music through my parents. There was always access to music at home and it was a huge draw to me. Having a guitar laying about the house was also a big part of it.
How did the band get together?
We’ve all been friends for years and have played in bands previously, but there was this point when we had all moved back to our hometown. Everyone’s musical endeavours and adventures had come to an end. So it just seemed like a really natural thing to start playing music together.
Where did the name ‘Cut Ribbons’ come from?
It came from sitting around a table after a few beers. We were debating the idea. It is such a strange task – naming a band. We wanted something that reflected our situation but was also evocative. Cut Ribbons, to us, is the start of something new and slightly less about the opening of a new Tesco’s.
While some bands avoid this, I read that you all live together. What’s that experience like?
Shane, Christian and I live together, but you will often find Anna or Caio making good use of the power couch after a tour of the local drinkeries. Generally, it’s good fun. We do have our moments. Spending half your life in a bus with the guys then to come home to much of the same can be a little taxing at times, but I wouldn’t change it. Much love, and all that.
How has being from Llanelli influenced your music – if at all? What kind of a music scene did you grow up in?
I think living in Llanelli has definitely influenced our music. We have all lived in Cardiff at various points of our lives, too. So Cardiff’s scene is our adopted vista, but Llanelli gives you the freedom to write whatever you like without feeling that you have to sound similar to the bands playing in your town. It’s very easy to stray from an ideal and feel the pressures of outside influence of conformity within a musical community. Llanelli is our island. That’s not to say that there aren’t great bands there. It just doesn’t work the same way.
Who are your influences?
I couldn’t tell you our influences directly. It’s a difficult thing to try to pin down. I can just say we listen to a lot of bands like The Pixies, The Smiths, early REM, Arcade Fire, The National, but we are metal kids at heart. On the way to shows you’re just as likely to hear Deftones or System of a Down blasting from our bus.
What’s the story behind ‘Damascus’?
Chris once mentioned how ‘the road to Damascus,’ was such an interesting idea for a song. That week, we heard the phrase used so many times from so many unrelated sources that it seemed too brilliantly strange to ignore. It is about having an epiphany. A revelation that the things that you are taught on how everything is supposed to pan out, hasn’t really got any connection to how things really work and therefore taking another path as a result of this realisation.
How does the band go about songwriting?
Usually, I write the lyrics first, at home, and then play around on guitar until something locks together. Once the syllabic rhythm is cemented, then I work on melodies. Here’s the slightly unorthodox bit. I’ll write the melody in falsetto and then bring that to jam. It must sound strange to anyone outside listening when the idea is actually brought to the table as it is written for Anna’s voice and so is extremely high. She has an exceptional range and when she sings in a higher register, there is something so ethereal about it. I’ll take a lower harmony and then we will all arrange it. That’s the most fun part as everyone has lots of ideas on how the song should sound. It can be a battle but we always know when we have cracked it by the Cheshire cat like grins that we are all sporting. From the initial idea, the finished product has a totally different feel as everyone else’s influence and parts have made the song what it is.
Anna, as Aled mentioned, you have a really high voice – almost operatic. When did you realise you can reach those octaves and how did that influence the type of music you wanted to make?
Anna: Like most vocalists, you experiment with your range. Instantly that’s what the attraction was – whether you imitate the artists you aspire to be, or whether you’re asked to perform certain pieces for school productions or whatever, you quickly become aware of your range. And then it’s just all about nurturing that to the best of your ability. That hasn’t been a stimuli to the music, I don’t think, it’s just lucky I am able to sing the sounds I want to compliment the music Cut Ribbons make.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Aled: Bon Iver would be a good one. I adore his voice and songwriting prowess. It would be pretty cool to hear Justin Vernon’s voice over some fuzz guitar.
You guys put a lot of energy into your performances. Do you have any pre- or post-gig rituals?
We try to enjoy ourselves as much as possible on stage. Pre-gig ritual would have to be whiskey, honey and lemon. Post-gig ritual would be rum and coke.
Cut Ribbons played at this year’s Reading Festival. How was that experience?
It was fucking epic! We are still in awe of the crowd that came to watch us. If anyone reading this was there, then thank you very much. Each one of us loves you.
You guys have also played a bunch of other big events this year. What is it about playing outdoor festivals compared to indoor gigs that draws you?
Yeah, we have played a load of big festivals this year. I think it’s just the whole scale of it. We crave big stages, and this year has given us the opportunity to realise that. Volume is another thing. We want the guitars and drums to sound like the world is coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong. Playing indoor shows when the place is bouncing is a huge thing for us, too.
What would you be doing if you weren’t musicians?
Not a lot. Waiting for a Giro?
So what is your definition of success?
Success comes in so many measures. This is success for us – being able to travel around the country because we wrote songs.
What’s next for Cut Ribbons?
Who knows? We can hopefully build on this summer and just keep playing. The next logical step is to record an album. We are always writing and always working towards that goal. Inevitably, time will tell.
Cut Ribbons will be playing the Eat Your Own Ears / The Line Of Best Fit / Kissability showcase on 17 October at the Shacklewell Arms. Entry is free, but it’s going to be a busy one so claim your ticket here to guarantee entry.
Oct 17 – Shacklewell Arms, London
Oct 19 – SWN Festival, Cardiff
Oct 20 – Gathering Festival, Oxford
Oct 31 – Sin City Halloween Show, Swansea