We talk to a band at war with themselves.
At this year’s Dreadfest, one of Friday’s highlights were Leeds’ own noise rock extravaganza Cattle. This weird outfit almost defy description and have to be seen to be believed. Featuring two drummers, facing towards each other like they are in battle, lots of noisy, piercing electronics and savage ranting vocals caked in distortion, Cattle are a band at war with each other. Once the mayhem begins, the band members are practically fighting each other to see which can make the most insane racket. This band get very loud, creating a dense cacophony of dissonance, barely held together with the occasional groovy basslines and drum breaks.
Cattle have recently released a collaborative live recording with Girl Sweat, Live At The Assembly House, just ahead of their Dreadfest performance. We caught up with one of their drummers, Steve Myles – a lovely man who is very active in many facets of the Leeds music scene – to see if we could understand Cattle’s music better.
Cattle have a very unique and expressive sound that we struggle to describe. How would you describe your sound in your own words?
Bloody hell! *Laughs* I saw you described it as a fight, I actually really like that. To be honest it’s completely not deliberate and our sound has changed a lot over the years. Before I was in Cattle, there was just one drummer, bass and vocals, and gradually as time has gone on the band has grown. It’s pretty fun to keep a sort of revolving door [of members] coming through. We don’t like to repeat ourselves too much, so with each thing we’ve done we’ve liked it to be markedly different from how it was before. With the release we just did, we had Girl Sweat doing some synth with us. We rented a spot out and wrote a thing with the idea of recording it live. It took us eighteen months to actually get it out there because we’re all old men!
So when did Cattle reach the point where they thought “we’ve gotta have two drummers”!?
It was a sort of happy accident. I used to be in this post-whatever band and we were on tour quite a lot. I came back from that and Tom was working with me down at this little scummy venue, and we just ended up chatting about it. I was whingeing because I didn’t have any band stuff to do any more and he was like “Oh we could try doing this with two drummers”, and it sort of worked out alright!
Who are some of Cattle’s most direct music inspirations?
To be honest, you could ask that question to each one of us and we’d all say different things. Tom is a proper prog dad, and he’s mad into Fela Kuti and wizardy doom stuff. Chris is mad into hard noise stuff, Lewis is big into his noise rock and post-punk. I basically listen to grindcore and hip-hop! Our other drummer also plays in this Talking Heads-style band as well, so there are quite a lot of things to draw from.
We can hear elements of post-punk, noise and even jazzy improv…
When I was learning to play drums I was into loads of punk and metal and stuff as a nipper, but I was also mad into George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic, Herbie Hancock and stuff like that. I’ve never really been a massive jazz fan, but there is definitely a feeling from it that we utilise. I wouldn’t go out and intentionally write a jazz bit, but there is an ebb and flow that you can only really get from that sort of thing. There are so many ace drummers who never really learnt any theory, but are all about keeping that form, that rhythm and that feel.
Cattle’s vocals are often indecipherable and caked in distortion, but full of anger and passion. What are the lyrics about?
None of us are private about it, but we’ve all had periods of being anxious people. A lot of it is to do with anxiety and the stresses of modern life; getting your head around being surrounded by technology and how noisy that is. Our vocalist has had problems with OCD and he is very free-form about his lyrics, so whatever is wazzing him off at the time!
It seems very cathartic. It can be good to write about real things rather than fantasy.
I really love his lyrics, they are always very honest. I don’t know what he is saying, but I know he means it!
With Cattle being a multi-genre band, you’ve played a lot of diverse bills covering metal, punk, experimental and psych. Do you get different reactions from different scenes you play in?
Yeah sometimes… We played at Break The Chains, which is more on the hardcore side. I didn’t think we’d have any trouble with it as I know that scene well, but a couple of the lads were like “are we going to go down like a sack of shit!?” But in this day and age, people are just genuinely into music, so as long as you give half a shit, then I think people will take something away from it if a band has put a lot of care and love into it. We haven’t been booted off or owt, which is the main thing!
You did Woodland Gathering, which is a super experimental line-up… You must have seemed like normies there!
It proper kicked off down there! It was fun going from the weirdest band on the bill to the most normal!
Are Cattle working on any new studio material?
Yeah we’ve been writing a new album pretty much since we put out the last one. We have about six tracks that are pretty much good to go, and we’re trying to get into our sets. We’re pencilled in to start recording in August, so hopefully that should be ready, maybe for early next year. One of us has a kid and others run businesses, so sadly we don’t get as much time as we used to.
Do Cattle multi-track record or do you record live to tape?
We’ve tried it before but you don’t really get the same vibe [from multi-track recording], it doesn’t really work. We use a degree of separation. Quite a lot of it is improvised, for example all my fills. It’s nice being able to spot each other across the room and do something off the cuff. The way we’ve recorded before is by using a good sounding room and lots of microphones, and just sort of jamming through.
We guess it’s important for Cattle to keep that live feel on your records?
We’re not really about crisp production quality or anything like that. It’s more about the guts and the warmth.
So you have ArcTanGent festival coming up in August, are you excited about that?
Yeah that’s fucking exciting! Playing a festival with Meshuggah, that’s sick! We also have Strange Forms [Festival, in April] which we are really excited about and we’re playing with Pigs x7, Oozing Wound and Ghold next week. Doomlines in Sheffield too, that should be really good!
How does it feel to be playing Dreadfest and which bands have you been excited to see?
Sadly I’m not here for the rest of the weekend, but Dark Mother, Droves, Endless Swarm and Wormrot are sick, but also seeing loads of great people!
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Photos: Abi Coulson (Darktones Photography)