If Brian Wilson could operate a laptop…or Pink Floyd were young and skint in 2009……or Wayne Coyne was Scottish….or Grandaddy came from a land of drizzle…or Sigur Ros cracked a smile from time to time…or…we could go on.
Because this is the sounds of straws being clutched as we struggle to find the perfect epithet to describe the sound of North Atlantic Oscillation. ‘Colourful’, ‘crepuscular’ and ‘expansive’ are three that spring to mind, but even they don’t quite do this Edinburgh-based three-piece’s sound justice. Perhaps you should just trust your own ears and join us as we cut to the back story…to Edinburgh in 2005.
It was here that Sam met Ben and the pair bonded over a love of unusual time signatures, jazz, Tom Waits, Squarepusher, post rock outfits such as Godspeed You black Emperor and a thousand other disparate sounds besides. At this point they were strangers still sounding each other out. Originally from the Midlands, Ben gravitated to Edinburgh as a student, while Sam had played in a variety of bands and spent time in Dublin and the US. When it soon became apparent that they were kindred spirits, a band was born. A two-piece band – but a band all the same.
Sam sang the songs, played guitar, bass, keyboards and even the occasionally saxophone on them, while Ben was the drummer who was also happened to be a dab hand at programming. Bill would join them later as a live bassist.
Choosing the name North Atlantic Oscillation, the duo spent 6 months rehearsing before debuting live with a set of songs that have long since gone. Because North Atlantic Oscillation are an ever-evolving entity, mad studio scientists who prefer to conduct their sound experiments on stages, as opposed to the thousands of bedroom-bound boffins across the land. NAO got out there, playing with Explosions In The Sky, Everything Everything, Stardeath and White Dwarfs and many others
Incidentally, the name North Atlantic Oscillation refers to the climactic phenomenon caused by fluctuations in the atmospheric pressure between the Icelandic low and Azores high; a clash of hot and cold, basically. It seems a perfect moniker for a band of such contrasts – the contrast of melding timeless rock moves with sequencing and the latest laptop technology (the band pride themselves on creating every single sample themselves), the contrast of citing Blur, Chick Corea and Orbital as influences, the contrast of dark foreboding tones and blissed-out serotonin-fuelled pastoral sweeps.
North Atlantic Oscillation’s big break came in a manner that we have all read about, but rarely actually happens – they got signed after cold-calling record companies via e-mail. That’s the simple version of the story, anyway. The longer version goes something like this: aware that no band should wait for the world to come to them, Sam elected to finance and record NAO’s debut album Grappling Hooks himself. This he did throughout 2008, recording it in Glasgow and flying over to a studio in Dublin every two weeks to mix it.
“You get so immersed in the music that I knew that if we left it any longer I wouldn’t maintain enthusiasm long enough to commit them to recordings,” explains Sam. “Sometimes you just have to go for it – sometimes you just have to do it yourself.”
Armed with a complete album they then put it out there and received eight offers from record labels. “We went cold-calling,” recalls Sam. “We contacted dozens of people unsolicited, went through a quiet period and then the offers started coming in. And, amazingly, it worked.” The band elected to sign to Kscope (Anathema, Porcupine Tree, Engineers), with their debut album ready for release in 2010.