It was in a self-imposed exile from the band’s London base, alone in a borrowed house in San Francisco, that Ed Wallis, singer and songwriter for My Sad Captains, wrote much of the material for the band’s second LP Fight Less, Win More. It was Thanksgiving. Ed found himself marooned in a city joined in the celebration of something that meant nothing to him. While the natives scoffed turkey, holed up with their friends and family against the November cold, songs flowed out of him; all of them suffused with the dislocation and excitement to be found when you block out the world and make something: there are echoes of the quiet intimacy of The Beatles’ pre-White Album Esher demos and the driving futurism of Neu!. These are songs full of uncertain hope and yearning for distant places and distant people: hushed as fog rolling over the San Francisco hills, steady as a pulse at rest.
Returning to England, the band – Jim Wallis (drums, keyboards, vocals), Nick Goss (guitar, sonics) and Dan Davis (bass) – decamped to the Cornish countryside and a barn full of chickens and bugs to track the album. Sleeping in the loft by night and reveling in the barn’s huge acoustics by day, together the band brought the album to life: adding the moments of unexpected creation that come when a group of people work so closely together. They gave Ed’s songs, these things first whispered into an empty house, another dimension to move in and a sense of something shared.
Everywhere the story of this album’s creation is embedded in it: highly personal, claustrophobic tracks open out to become wide and expansive. You can hear it in the driving, motorik jam of the Homefront Pt II; in Ed and his brother Jim’s effortlessly close harmonies on Little Joanne; the distant, echoing electric guitar on Minah Bird that conjures up an open road; the eerie, English folk opening of Threes that widens out to spectral strings and the warm hug of a Harrison-esque guitar solo. Ed’s lyrics move from the particular to the universal: Resolutions, with its thermostats and nightlights, unfolds into a hymn to hope and growth as we are reminded that “it’s a long way home, and you live alone”.
To bring the mix together, the band turned to Larry Crane, editor of TapeOp magazine. While it was a wrench for a band used to keeping everything from artwork to videos in house to send their tapes off to Portland OR, they were confident that with Crane (known for his work for Elliott Smith, Quasi and Stephen Malkmus) they were in safe hands. Bringing fresh ears and outside perspective, Crane’s mix has given clarity to the sound and a depth of intelligence to the arrangements.
Over the past few years My Sad Captains have performed live at SXSW, End of the Road, the Bella Union stage at Hard Rock Calling and The Great Escape amongst others, as well as live on 6 Music and XFM. Following the warm reception of limited 7” singles for Fortuna POP! and White Heat, their 2009 debut album Here & Elsewhere was released on Stolen Recordings. It was hailed as “a melodic indie classic in the making” by Rough Trade, where it was an Album of the Month.
My Sad Captains are a band who have grown in both ambition and restraint. The album is a snapshot of a band now exploring a bigger and richer musical landscape. Melancholy pervades. The Captains have become sadder, but morale has not collapsed. They are less apt to push their forces ‘over the top’ and into a big, crowd-pleasing chorus. Instead they concentrate on small but meaningful tactical advances. They fight less, but win more