Keston Cobblers' Club has a rare band chemistry. Not only has Julia Lowe known Matt Lowe all his life (being his elder sibling and all), but Matt and Tom Sweet met at Nursery school as two-year-olds and became inseparable allies, creating something of a surrogate brother for Julia. When, slightly later in life, all three musketeers joined the local youth orchestra, they beheld at the rear of the room the percussive octopus that is Harry Stasinopoulos and, in awe of his noisemaking drum tekkers, added him to their motley crew. Only 'tuba ninja' Bethan Ecclestone doesn't share their epic historical and geographically Kentish saga. She met them much further into confirmed adulthood, but you'd never mark her as the odd-one-out considering how joyously, seamlessly she blends in. The band's sound has that added layer of deep-seated shared heritage, a symbiosis that some bands palpably cannot replicate.
Keston is the village near Bromley in Kent, from which the band hails. The Keston Cobbler, after whom the band is named, is a figure from local folklore, from 200 years ago. Bemoaning the lack of shoe-mending work coming his way, the cobbler decided to head to his local inn, to create a bit of joy by playing his fiddle. The night was such a success that more and more musicians joined him, during which frenzy the locals wore out the soles of their shoes from vigorous prancings, thus creating the cobbler a whole load of new business!
Formed in 2009, they really started to gain prominence in 2012-3, with their first album, "One For Words", a BBC Introducing session at Maida Vale, a Bob Harris session, a Dermot O'Leary session and a tour support slot for The Leisure Society. Now very well established as mellifluous indie folk exponents, they released their third album, "Almost Home" at the end of March this year.
Matt Lowe recently took time out of their current UK tour and gave Contact Music a sense of where the band is at in April 2017.
Your recent album is possibly as homely as it gets, from its name to the video for the title. Is it important to keep KCC homely?
Yes, we've always kept a nice, homely, DIY feel to Cobblers; we love to be hands on and we've always used mine and Jules' parents' home as a recording studio, rehearsal studio, warehouse, van depot amongst other things. We weren't specifically writing about ourselves when making this album. It's meant to be about everyone's home and what it is to them, but we like to keep close to our homes. We've all moved out into our own homes and flats over the years, but we're a close knit group, with family homes nearby.
The sound is noticeably restrained compared to the previous album. Was that a deliberate move?
It wasn't necessarily. For my part, I was doing a lot of writing on guitar and I wanted a simple sound that we could translate easily to the stage, so we could do every track justice as a five-piece. When I started writing years ago, I'd write in instrumental sections first; now I focus more on the melody and lyrics first. I suppose just back-to-basics songwriting. There are still some orchestral elements, but it relies less on these than past albums.
You're big fans of Bon Iver. Any plans to wheel out the abstract effects in a similar style in future?
It's very tempting. I suppose it's important not to use Cobblers to fulfil all our individual musical tastes. I definitely think there's room for more experimentation, but we don't want to change genre entirely, yet.
How do you feel the band has evolved over your three albums?
I think it's been rather gradual. As I say, we never wanted to use Cobblers as a name that we could just experiment to; we wanted Cobblers to be Cobblers, a style that people recognise, a kind of cross between folk, indie, pop, singer-songwriter and orchestral. Elements have changed here and there but the basic ideas are still there. I think mine and Jules' songwriting has got stronger and mine and Tom's producing has definitely improved. I was self-taught and started the first Cobblers album winging it a little. Tom joined me fully for this album and we've both grown together as producers in my little home studio.
What's the biggest change or lesson learned over those years?
Touring is very important, getting out and playing to people. We did a lot of gigs in the first few years, but all in London. It's also very important to enjoy everything as it comes, stopping worrying about what else you want to achieve and what may be coming and enjoy being able to be a musician as a full-time career - whether it lasts a year or twenty.
You're currently on tour. What have been the highlights so far?
They've all been amazing gigs... Being slightly biased - selling out Union Chapel in London has always been a dream. What a night!
Congratulations on selling out a venue like the Union Chapel. What was it like singing about angels riding bicycles in there?
It felt quite apt. It was lovely and the reverb in there is amazing, really nice for group vocals. We always wanted that track to be rather Fleet Foxes-esque. Iit ended up a little livelier than that with a Cobblers twist, but felt perfect in Union Chapel. We opened with it.
It's been made known that Bethan is leaving after the tour. Will there be a permanent 'ninja tuba' replacement?
She is leaving, sadly for us! We're going to be having Daniel Slade, our original Tuba player, for a while and then we'll see; I think to start with, we'll try and rotate a few people as it's such a big jump to have someone new full-time. It'd be great to get to grips with things as the four of us and have a few wonderful, different tuba and bass players along for the journey.
I hear that the forthcoming video for Demons has some interesting relevance to Bethan's departure. What's in store there?
Well, it's a bit of a secret and will be out soon, but let's just say it's all Wild West and someone gets murdered!
Has anyone in the band ever mended a shoe?
Sadly not :(
What was the last thing you truly cobbled together?
Erm, Tom and I made the posters for this tour and Jules made some amazing wooden necklace pendants.
Which unexpected song would you cover if you thought you could get away with it?
We're actually taking on Money for Nothing this tour. We perform a new song in the crowd each tour. I'd love to do a spot of The Cure one day.
Finally, if you could establish an actual club to honour the original Keston cobbler, what would the ethos be and what would the door policy be?
It'd be in a village hall, with a great bar, seats around the side, standing in the middle, candles, lots of musicians and dancing through the night, with the occasional slow dance and the club would be held once a month. An acoustic rave, if you will.
Interview by Jon Kean
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