Red Kite’s second album seethes and writhes. It grasps for truth, rejects the false, and uses anger – controlled and directed – as its energy. It’s the kind of record that gives “indie rock”, that much maligned label, a good name. Racquet is the kind of album that demands attention be paid, and rewards that attention with glorious melodies that offer joy to sweeten the pill.
“It’s difficult to explain why we do what we do,” says Daniel Fisher – Red Kite’s singer, guitarist, songwriter and linchpin. “I think Neil Gaiman said the best way to describe a story is to tell it. The feelings, emotions and sensations I’m trying to convey can only be conveyed this way. That’s the magic of music. Art and music communicates the truth in a way unique to itself that defies explanation; any attempt misses the point and weakens the argument.
It’s full of idiosyncrasies and stupidities and accidents and hidden elements that I dare never discuss. It’s wonderfully, stubbornly itself.”
Wonderful and stubborn might be the crucial words there. Wonderful for the album, stubborn for the character traits that drove Fisher to make it. Since Fisher’s departure precipitated the collapse of the Cooper Temple Clause in April 2007, one wouldn’t exactly say he had pursued the rock’n’roll dream. For four years he didn’t play a note. He returned to music only when he felt he had something to say, and said it on his own terms. There was a Red Kite album, Songs for Crow, in November 2013, but most of his time over the last 10 years has been devoted to working in a library, then fixing computers. Making a new record was dependent on finding the money to go into the studio, finding the time the other band members might be available, and Fisher resolving with his own conflicts about whether he should be putting himself through it all once again.
“I’ve tried to quit music over and over again, but unfortunately I keep making it,” Fisher says. “I kind of hate music and musicians and the music scene and everything that goes with music, yet I keep making music. It’s stupid.”
Even as Red Kite worked on Racquet, that emotional back-and-forth continued. “I was writing and rewriting and quitting and pledging my allegiance to music and cursing it the whole time,” he says.
“Independent music seems to be made by hook or by crook, between commitments and on the cheap as a favour to someone who owes someone else a favour, and you pay it forward and somehow all this music gets made that really shouldn’t exist at all but magically does.”
In the end, Red Kite simply decided to follow every impulse and see where it took them. “Two drum kits on everything? Yeah, go on, why not. Four guitars? Even better. Always wanted to cover a Philip Glass song [Facades]? Well, here’s your chance – knock yourself out, son.
Song structure? To hell with it. Disco grooves with an instrumental Telstar space-rock chorus-not-a-chorus? Why the fuck not. No one’s going to hear the fucking thing anyway.”
Perhaps the fact Songs for Crow never found an audience helped Red Kite, in a way: the belief there wouldn’t be an audience for Racquet perhaps accounts for the utter unselfconsciousness of it – there’s no pursuing the buzz, no chasing after the sound that might be the in thing for two weeks either side of its release, no pandering to the popular mood (one of the drivers behind the writing of The Federal Government was “the retch-inducing sight of Russell Brand’s rebranding as political spokesman for the selfie generation”).
The irony is that it arrives at the perfect moment: in a summer that has brought equally emotional albums in a similar vein from some of Fisher’s musical touchstones, Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene. “When I listen to Do Make Say Think, I feel that is the sound of my soul put on to record,” Fisher says. “It’s complicated and nuanced and impossible to articulate why, but that’s how I feel.
That’s what I try to do with my music.”
The 10 originals on Racquet were worked out live before Red Kite went into the studio – The Lodge in Northampton – which resulted in something rather different from Songs for Crow, which was all but a Fisher solo project. “It gave everyone a chance to make all the parts I’d written their own,” he says. “Because everyone was involved, the parts changed massively from when I originally wrote them. Everyone brought their own style, their aggression and experimentation. They did things I would never have thought of.”
Racquet isn’t a “difficult” album at all. Hooks hang from each song, snaring you at every turn. But nor does it ruthlessly target the lowest common denominator: it may be indie, but goodness knows it’s not landfill indie. Even as he packed the songs with melody, Fisher was not afraid to make his words count for more than just sounds to accompany the blazing guitars. Though he loves William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson and Sherwood Anderson, the writer who feeds most directly into the way he writes is Ted Hughes. “Ted’s always there to some degree; the mythic power of his language is remarkable – I’ve always got his voice in my head. I get a similar thing from Cormac McCarthy, the way reading his words is more like being unravelled by them. They’re so musical; that’s probably why I’m drawn to them.”
The words are used to contrast two states: childhood and its memories, and the ageing process that becomes apparent as middle age hovers into view. “When I was a kid, Fisher says, “my dad was a groundsman for a merchant navy school. It had this huge estate full of rambling woods and part of the job meant that we got a house on the grounds of the estate. I grew up wandering the woods on my own, or sometimes with my brother, living in a world of make-believe until a frighteningly late age. When most teenagers were out meeting girls and sneaking into pubs, I was still wandering through the trees acting out well-rehearsed heroic narratives with a big stick as a sword. Looking back I was a very strange, lonely, almost sad little character, but it was also wonderfully innocent and slightly magical at the same time.
“This album often contrasts that world with the world now, that person with the browbeaten, surely defeated, yet stubbornly determined person today. They interlink and the boundaries blur, they reference one another in flashback and foreshadow. Now the world seems sad owing to the painful inevitability of things, but back then, nothing was inevitable, everything was possible. Only of course it wasn’t, not really.”
Daniel Fisher says he’s prone to self-sabotage. That he is needlessly obtuse. That he is camera-shy. He doesn’t expect success – and, let’s be honest, the way the world is, he’s probably right not to expect it.
That’s not the person you’ll hear when you listen to Racquet. Without any expectation, Red Kite have made a record that thrills and captivates.