Dropping a new record in 2020 is a calculated risk, but if anyone can overcome the unique hurdles this year has thrown at the music industry, it’s Tugboat Captain. Formed barely three years ago and on the cusp of something truly exciting, this South London DIY collective have already put out a rich catalogue of snappy, indie pop tunes. Rut, their latest album, is due out on 16th October, and is their first on a label.
Offering a brighter, polished product that their previous work, Rut is an evolution in sound for Tugboat Captain. Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios, it’s a step up from their previous home-produced output. I caught up with Alexander, (also known as The Captain) principal songwriter and nominal leader of Tugboat Captain, to talk about this exciting project.
“Obviously, it’s a super, super strange time to be putting out an album. As a DIY band, shows are our lifeblood. It’s going to be a little bit tougher, given that we won’t be able to tour behind the record.” This has been the case for all musicians, but it’s hit Tugboat Captain hard – they’re usually prolific and living life in one another’s pocket, but now have to get back together after months of inactivity.
“The last gig we played was six months ago in New York, as the world came crashing down around us. We were booked to play at South By South West, and had to turn round amid a bunch of US dates.” It’s fair to say the band have had a tough run of luck so far this year, much like everyone else. But Alexander was upbeat, hopeful about the future for Tugboat Captain and offering many insights and stories as we chatted.
There’s a strong familial vibe to Tugboat Captain. While that’s literally been the case with pairs of cousins and siblings playing in the band over the years, they also have plenty of mates who’ve been part of the journey. “It was a rally round of who can play what instrument. It’s definitely a nice thing to happen, when we’re all on a wavelength as a group of friends and come out with something good.”
The band found being in a professional studio left a positive mark on their sound – “The idea that we could do whatever we wanted, with the facilities available to us was really liberating.” And how did they come by such a prestigious venue to record? “It was through someone I met by pure coincidence in a North Face shop. He’s in another band we know and said he could hook us up with spare time as he works at Abbey Road. We were going in at all hours of the day, whenever the slots were open.”
Their next show is an intimate release party for Rut, something Alexander said the band were already looking forward to. “We want to go on stage and showcase the new music. We offered tickets to our friends first, and they sold out in an hour, so there’ll be a lot of people there who’ve known us from the start. They’re the most important, after all.”
Rut is a perfect introduction to Tugboat Captain for the uninitiated. Through the lens of an indie/rock/pop crossover, there are songs about love, doomed relationships, and grief for what could have been. There’s also the feeling of despondency that comes with being young and skint in the big city. Alexander was keen to open up about his inspirations – “I’m into that Guided By Voices philosophy; Pop music is pop music. A catchy chorus is a catchy chorus. I was also listening to a lot of Teenage Fanclub, and there’s a band called Trust Fund that I love. That witty, acerbic lyric writing is my aim – buried under a sheen of fun pop music, we’ve got some serious melancholy.”
Their recent single Day To Day exemplifies the key themes on Rut. “It’s big and bright and pop, it’s fun and sad at the same time. It’s about apathy and hopelessness, but you’ve just got to get on with it. I think it’s something a lot of people are feeling right now.” Day To Day’s climactic, horn-laden finish is a worthy ending to the album.
What appeals about Tugboat Captain is the authenticity behind what they do. As we talked, Alexander was passionate and honest about his approach to music. He and his band write what they want to hear, and they don’t claim to be speaking on behalf of anyone else. “Getting up on stage and singing about breakups and emotional turmoil has been a big source of catharsis for me. We’ve switched that up on the new record to be more about general things. If it can resonate with people, if it can give people a nice feeling about the current situation, that’s great.”
Tugboat Captain’s new album Rut is out now via Glasgow’s Double-A-Side Records, find it on Spotify here.
Words by Adam Davidson