Cloud Control: Heaven’s unplugged harmonies

How high can one band’s harmonies soar? How versatile and dynamically adaptable can one band be? In Cloud Control’s case, extremely. Dream Cave was the group’s second LP, which saw them expand in every texturally foreseeable avenue possible. Where their debut featured organic sounding instruments and recording techniques, Dream Cave allowed the Blue Mountains’ locals to build on their sound and record in places far and wide. Now, for the first time, Cloud Control are bringing their harmonious indie rock to pubs and clubs around Australia in a 30+ date tour in unplugged mode. In the midst of the tour, frontman Alistair Wright called Jake Wilton to break open the band’s unplugged secrets.

“[The album, Dream Cave Unplugged] was recorded in London at the Strongroom, which is a studio in Shoreditch. It was done… probably a couple of weeks before Dream Cave, the album, came out; we just did it in one day,” Alistair said.

Dream Cave Unplugged is a free gift the band have published on Mediafire which plunges all of the original album’s songs into a ghostly, acoustic transcendence. Take what you know from Dream Cave, Cloud Control’s second studio effort released mid-last year, and strip it to its finite elements. The original album is a masterpiece full of woozy textures and complex layers, but the songs took some defensive pre-production steps in order to receive its final treatment.

“Some of [the tracks] started off as computer demos with us singing over a beat. Yet pretty much all the songs on the album went through that stage of all of us jamming in my lounge room just to be sure they work acoustically. We ended up recording in a studio but I don’t even know if it was produced, so to speak. There were a couple of engineers in the room but we were literally playing into the mics, there was nothing to it,” Alistair continued.

This wouldn’t be a Cloud Control record if it didn’t have some sort of constructive depth to it. Think Nirvana’s seminal MTV Unplugged record, leave behind the angst and depression and replace with songs about meditation and knowledge gathering strangers on European buses. Dream Cave Unplugged is not as simple as it sounds – the lyrics still, convey their same meaning and the band employ rhythmic drumming to the tracks.

“Ulrich [Lenffer, drums], I’m pretty sure, is just banging on my guitar case to get that sound. I think it sounds more together and more of a band effort rather than just having acoustic and vocals; it sounds fuller I think,”

“[The lyrics] sound different, of course, and could come across altered to some people. There’s something almost supernatural about listening to a few people playing these songs live together in a room. So there’s an element of honesty and directness in our communication on this record – whereas on the original it might not be as immediate because of the experimentation and might take a few listens,” Alistair continued.

A daunting 30+ date tour schedule lined up around Australia currently looms over the band, but on-the-road veterans Cloud Control don’t seem too fazed to be back on home soil playing the music they love. Having almost exhausted Dream Cave’s material live over the past year, travelling the world twice, almost three times over, these unplugged shows are a chance for the band to re-energise and find a fresher perspective of their songs.

“When we play it acoustically, live, it’s really like we’re back in the lounge room and there’s a bunch of people watching with us. We’ve already played some of these shows and all us of have had a really good time,” said Alistair

“I love playing with the full band – festivals, big shows – but at the same time, when you play these songs with an acoustic guitar and it’s a lot quieter, I feel like there’s more room for the audience to breathe and appreciate the surrounding and the context; It feels like we’re all in the same space. Whereas some shows playing the proper songs, I feel like it can overwhelm people a little bit and that can lead to a disconnection with the song,”

“Interestingly, I feel like we’ve had more interest from the press on this tour than when we released our album and did the regular tour. I mean there’s a lot of bands touring all the time and all the same venues – there’s nothing wrong with that, I think that’s great – but I think just doing something different tends to reflect us in a better light, in that respect,” stated Alistair.

In addition to refreshing these songs in a live setting, the band felt it a better reason the ever to start hitting regional towns which Cloud Control have yet to visit. Contrary to the show’s chilled out, acoustic vibes, the band are still as rushed on the road as ever – playing twice on the same day on many occasions during the tour. Alistair mentions how both the familiar and new variety of audience members are attending the shows.

“The crowds are really varied – we’ve had daytime shows where everyone was super quiet and relaxed and were just listening but then we’ve had other shows where people won’t shut up and we’d have to play our hits to get the them to be quiet,”

“With these songs, at the rowdier [shows], we’ve had people invading the stage and crowd surfing which we’d sometimes get at our bigger, full band shows. But I feel, because we’re playing it in a humbler way, it’s more inviting to people. I love playing the “rock show” but I just wasn’t expecting these shows to have such an impact, even though it’s quieter. To me it’s counterintuitive, but when you think about it, it does make sense.”

On tour, Cloud Control are playing tracks from Dream Cave Unplugged, but what about the tracks from their 2010 debut, Bliss Release? Could the end of the tour spark inspiration to re-release their first album unplugged?

“For a lot of these shows there’s only the three of us because Jeremy [Kelshaw, bass/vox] is out of the picture for a little bit for some family reasons. Everything’s cool but he just can’t make a lot of the shows. So really, we’re just playing the songs that sound best in this form – we’re even playing a couple of songs from our EP,” Alistair said.

Cloud Control have, surprisingly, squeezed a lot of Australian tour runs amongst their Dream Cave international tours – Splendour in the Grass, Sydney’s Vivid Live, a headline national tour and more recently headlining the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. Between all that festival chaos, the group have spent the majority of their time in Europe, showing to the other side of the world just why the Blue Mountains produce such incredible musical talents. Cloud Control relocated to London to write and record Dream Cave and its successor Dream Cave Unplugged and now base their operations in Europe.

“I really love playing in the Netherlands – I just find people really relaxed there and our shows usually sell out which makes us feel really welcome. Weirdly, in the past, I’ve found the Swiss crowds quite reserved, but on this last tour we played two shows there and there were probably my favourites of the year,”

“We’re not on the same level in Europe as we are in Australia. To me it feels the same as what happened to us in Australia – we played a lot of shows over a few years and slowly just gathered fans through the shows. In terms of a wider context, I think, like Australia, Europe probably looks to London a lot for its new music. I mean with the music we play, it’s definitely dominated by London and the US. I think it’s just that kind of awareness that spills over,” analyses Alistair.

In the small space of eight months, between Cloud Control’s Splendour in the Grass performance and their electrifying Laneway Festival appearance, the band have quickly developed and refined these songs into their own live entity. Evaluating the group’s evolution over this space of time, both Alistair and I comment on how varied and entertaining these shows were.

“[At Splendour] I remember it being the first playing a lot of those songs. So when it’s like that, you have to concentrate a little bit more and it’s harder to get in the zone. By the time we did Laneway we’d played probably… 60 shows between those festivals. I mean, that makes a big difference – you don’t have to think anymore so it’s completely about, for me, connecting with the crowd, and enjoy myself. It comes from the crowd too because after playing the songs a bunch of times you get a feel for which section of the songs the crowd really responds to,” reminisced Alistair.

After this frantic unplugged tour of Australia, Cloud Control don’t spy any time off in the near future as they head straight off to the States to support Metronomy and again head back to Europe for a few more festivals. To round out the conversation, Alistair and I drool over European festival lineups, in particular, the newly formed Jabberwocky in London – which features Neutral Milk Hotel, Thee Oh Sees, Panda Bear, Cloud Nothings just to name a few.

Be sure to catch Cloud Control on their free unplugged tour which hits the Gold Coast three times this month:

13 April | Komune, Coolangatta
16 April | Brunswick Hotel, Brunswick Heads 6.00pm
16 April | Beach Hotel, Byron Bay 9.00pm
19 April | Boardwalk Tavern, Hope Island
20 April | Coolangatta Hotel


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