Female Drumming Duo Rattle Talk Making Weird Music

Tuesday 01 November 2016
reading time: min, words

"Sometimes when people see us live for the first time I think they think that we have just made it up on the spot, but it would be a bit mental if we did that."


Rattle are in good spirits when we meet up in the beer garden of the Lincolnshire Poacher one late September evening, and they have every right to be. Since forming in 2011, their singularly idiosyncratic and expressive music has both challenged and won over audiences around the UK and Europe. Released earlier this year, their debut album has received warm acclaim – including one blogger who was moved to pen a response to their Pitchfork review – and they’re fresh from a successful tour supporting Animal Collective. All things considered, they have a lot to be pleased about…

Katharine Eira Brown and Theresa Wrigley, the duo that make up Rattle, first met at The Annual Christmas Covers Party in 2008 after a misunderstanding over which ‘Katy’ a mutual friend was discussing, prompting Theresa to exclaim “Who the hell is Katy Brown?” Nottingham being the small city it is, the pair’s paths would continue to cross as they gigged with their respective other bands – Katharine with Kogumaza and Theresa with Fists – eventually becoming good friends.

Having two drummers in a band isn’t that common, but it’s not completely out of the ordinary. However, when the band is made up of just two drummers, that is a slightly different proposition. How did this peculiar setup come about? “I approached Theresa about drumming lessons,” explains Katharine. “I was starting to learn the guitar,” Theresa continues, “and we agreed to go round the Fists’ practice room and give each other tips and lessons. I think we started to learn a Pet Shop Boys cover.”

Although the band may have been very different if they had managed to pull off that particular cover – “I remember not being able to find the tab so we just tried to play some chords that sounded like they could be in a Pet Shop Boys song,” sighs Katharine – it was part chance, part intrigue, that led to them both eventually drumming together. “It was a case of ‘well, we’re here now.’ I think it was Katy’s suggestion and we decided to try it,” says Theresa. Katharine recalls those early days jamming together, “I remember definitely playing Boom for the first time and thinking it actually sounded quite cool. Playing around with that, doing a recording on my phone and thinking it was a revelation. I didn’t think Theresa would be up for doing something. Luckily she was.”

Rattle’s sound is unconventional – two drummers playing interweaving rhythms with textured, repetitive beats, on top of which they layer cooing vocal harmonies – it’s music that is hard to pin down. Part of their uniqueness is due to their different drumming styles. “We weren’t really doing the same thing, the playing complemented one another,” states Theresa. “We play two parallel things that are totally different, but that fit together like a jigsaw. Slowly it was like ‘that can be a song, that can be the whole thing’, but even then we didn’t know if we would keep doing it the way we were.”

Talking to the pair about their songwriting and how it develops considering the strict limitations they impose upon themselves, they are keen to explain that although they start out with improvised jams, their songs are still very much songs in the conventional sense, with planned out and written parts. “Even though we start loose, and live we try to keep in some improvised sections within a strong structure, it is all very much like songs rather than freeform jazz. Sometimes when people see us live for the first time I think they think that we’ve just made it up on the spot, but it would be a bit mental if we did that. It would be really indulgent to play like pure jazz. It’s quite boring if bands are like that all of the time,” states Theresa.

“I think Theresa is more the ‘roll’ side of drumming which is a bit freer, whereas I am a bit more grounded. That works because if we were both going wild at a gig it wouldn’t be very good,” adds Katharine.

How do audiences who don’t know who they are react upon first seeing them play? “Upsetting, depressing…” laughs Katharine. “It is definitely one of those things where people either think ‘what are they doing, this is the worst thing that I have ever seen in my life’ or people think ‘oh god, this is interesting, I like it.’”

“It’s really weird,” Theresa continues. “It can be very different. When we played with Animal Collective, you could see people looking confused. Then people started getting really cheery and into it. It was a complete mix.”

A healthy appetite for touring has seen the band perform shows up and down the country as well as in Europe and the US, including shows at Dot to Dot Festival and Supersonic. They’ve just stepped off tour supporting Animal Collective where they relished the opportunity to play in larger venues. “I’ve never really enjoyed singing live as it always feels like a bit of a battle trying to hear yourself”, says Katharine. “But at those gigs, it felt like you could be much more playful with the audience as we were aware that every tiny tinkle on a cymbal was filling the whole room. That was liberating in terms of supporting the feeling that even the tiniest things are quite magical.”

Rattle released their self-titled debut album in August. Recorded with their live sound engineer, Mark Spivey, the making of it didn’t come as easily as the band had anticipated. “We would maybe spend most of the afternoon tuning one drum, which we probably wouldn’t do in our other bands. It was more challenging than we thought it would be,” says Theresa of the sessions.

Recording the majority of the drums over a long weekend at the studio owned by the musician Tony ‘Doggen’ Foster, they then finished percussion and vocals at Spivey’s home studio, mixing each track as they went along and fitting in recording time between their day jobs. “You only have these tiny snippets of time to work on the music because you have to go back to work, there is only limited time to move things along. I would really like to try to do something where you have two weeks set aside to get everything done,” says Katharine.

The band will round off what has been a busy 2016 with another high profile tour support slot, this time with The Julie Ruin. When asked about where they see the band going next and what the future might hold for them, Theresa replies, “I think we will stick with the limitations. The nature of the band is two people drumming and if we didn’t have that, it wouldn’t be what it is. We always think of ideas that we haven’t got time to do. Or maybe do like what we had at the Nottingham album launch with three other people doing vocal harmonies, or working with visuals.”

Katharine adds, “Playing with Animal Collective made me realise that there are so many things you can do with melodic instruments, and part of me was thinking that maybe we are shooting ourselves in the foot by being so strict in doing what we do. But actually, I don’t know how to do those things, or have any desire to explore it really, we only do naturally what we do. Theresa is a drummer, I’m like a drummer that can’t really drum properly, and that’s what we do best.”

Rattle’s self-titled debut album is out now via Upset The Rhythm/I Own You. They head out on tour with The Julie Ruin throughout late November/early December. Check local listings for dates.

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