Skye, Donegal, The North Atlantic – just some of the places that informed the making of Broken Chanter’s self-titled debut. The songs found there are just as large and epic as these landforms, their mountains, their oceans. They build and build until like a wave they crest before finally bowing out in a poetic trough.
The opus of David MacGregor, the principal songwriter of Scottish Alt-Pop darlings Kid Canaveral, it’s a real labour of love, comprising of MacGregor’s feelings when they‘re felt hardest. These unashamed sentiments are expressed in his distinctive vocal, he rolls his ‘r’s’, lengthens his ‘o’s’, harnessing his Scottish accent to produce something incredibly emotive.
Collaboration is at its heart though. To make this Explosions in the Sky/Sigur Ros-esque sound, he drafted in an array of amazingly talented friends, including Audrey Tait (Hector Bizerk), Jill O’Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop, bdy_prts); Emma Kupa (Mammoth Penguins, Standard Fare); Kim Carnie (BBC Young Trad Musician of the Year Finalist 2017); Hannah Shepherd (eagleowl, Withered Hand); Gal (Galchen); and Gav Prentice (ULTRAS, Over the Wall). They all contribute amazing moments to the universe McGregor dreamt up. Kim Carnie sings in Gaelic beautifully on ‘Mionagadanan’, in a moment nearly as heart-wrenching as Else Torp’s vocal on Nick Cave’s ‘Distant Sky’. Balloon Machine-fave Emma Kupa lends her guttural, nude singing to ‘Beside Ourselves’, while Gal’s synth-work throughout is truly staggering.
The spirit of the record is truly emphased when MacGregor brings the whole gang back together – all the contributors bar Kupa – for closer ‘Free Psalm’. The record’s most hopeful song, MacGregor vows to “Dust himself down / And start again” atop a beautifully, meandering violin and rolling toms. With his self-titled debut, he’s utilised the skills of others to bring something from his mind into the world just as he’d envisioned it. A truly beautiful record.
Broken Chanter exclusively explains each track for us below!
I started writing this using a wee synth on my phone in the middle of the night. I think the simple keyboard motif a wide-eyed, hopeful air about it. The whole thing has a nostalgic, cinematic feel to it. Jill [O’Sullivan] and Hannah’s [Shepherd] strings are soaring and Audrey [Tait] just drives the whole thing masterfully from behind the kit. It’s Spotify suicide to start your album with a six minute instrumental apparently, but I’m not making albums for Spotify, the robbing bastards. 1998 was quite a year. I think. Father Ted’s third series (long before Gl1nner went on his hateful crusade), Scotland at the Men’s World Cup, and my first winch. Through rose-tinted specs, the acne looks less severe.
Should We Be Dancing?
That’s the North Atlantic you can hear at the start. If you listen carefully, you can hear it overwhelming and filling my boots. I’d horribly misjudged the tide. There are a couple of wee instax photos that Audrey [Tait] and Gal [Producer/Engineer] took of me whilst having a good laugh. I’m a black dot surrounded by grey ocean, grey clouds and drizzle. The song was my attempt at writing a hopeful, love song and it ended up with this hand-wringing, demented waltz. Jill’s vocals make me well up in the last chorus.
I recorded the warped guitar (that most folk assume is a synth) at the start, and that continues throughout, in a cottage on Skye. My brother, sisters-in-law and wife had all gone out on a hike in the sleet and snow to leave me to get some work done. January was not the best time to visit the fairy pools, apparently. We recorded the bulk of it out in Donegal. I absolutely love the unrelenting throb of Gal’s synth-work on the chorus of this. The whole thing has turned out so foreboding and I am very much into that. The world is tipping into the fascist dystopia Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mid-period work warned us that it would, and there are still some folk wringing their hands about the politeness implications of punching actual, literal nazis.
Don’t Move to Denmark
I wrote this song on the stairs in Glenwood Studio in Glasgow, where we finished the record, while Gal was sorting out a mix. The music and melody came out in a oner. I just had to write the lyrics. That happens rarely, but when it does it’s normally a keeper. It’s about how all men are wide-os. And how I’m fucking useless sometimes. The synths on this give me an exceptionally nice feeling in my skull around the temples.
Cheering in the Distance
I’d had the main riff in this one for years. It’s the only bit of ‘old material’ that’s on the record. I could never get it to go anywhere, or more accurately it always dwindled away to nowt and I lost patience. I sat down with Gav [Prentice] to batter it out, as a way to actually get it used. It’s one of two co-writes on the record. Gav put this spidery proto-metal riff over the top of it and we went for a sort-of disintegration of the song for second half before finishing with delicate acoustic rendition of the chorus. Oh god, is this prog?!
MIN-ah-gad-uh-nan – the atoms seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house. We recorded a long atmospheric droning piece out in Donegal. I’d been using an e-bow and some lovely reverb on my guitar the speckly electronic, glitchy percussion at the start really chimed with a word form a book I was reading at the time – Mionagadanan. Between takes, I’d been reading Catriona Black’s book Sly Cooking, a selection of some of the Gaelic words collected by 19th century priest, poet and folklorist, Fr Allan McDonald, in South Uist and Eriskay. I wrote a lyric in Gaelic [I’m a gradual student] and got my fluent sister-in-law to look it over for me. I was delighted when Kim Carnie agreed to sing it. I love the juxtaposition of her fantastic clear voice with the Moog and Audrey’s beats.
Occupy My Hours
I wrote the main guitar part to this one in a glorified cupboard in my flat, in a bit of a ‘i dOnT hAvE eNoUgH sOnGs YeT’ panic. Turns out that fear was quite helpful. Originally called Jazz, Eh? (needs to be said in a Lothian accent for the shite joke to work) because of its looser feel compared to the rest of what we’d recorded. Absolute percussive workout from Audrey towards the end and some delightful bass and synth work from Gal underpinning it all. It had a delightfully sweet guitar part at the end that I was initially sad to chop off, but it was exactly just that: too sweet. I often feel like perhaps I don’t react to things the way that I am ‘meant to’. Is this how I’m supposed to feel about that? Tired, angry and sad.
This was the first song that we started. I had a small window were Emma [Kupa] was in Glasgow for a show we were doing together the next night in Edinburgh, so I got her in to sing the chorus over the backing track, as that’s all I’d finished writing at that point! This one was the most drawn out recording process compared to the other tracks, most of which had drums, bass and guitar recorded live in Ireland. It’s the poppiest song on the record. I’ve always loved Emma’s voice. Everything she sings has this raw soul to it.
I wanted to end the record with something hopeful. This is the other co-write on the record. Gav sent me some things and this chord sequence/riff just got me straight away. I wrote some lyrics, pretty much at the mic, after doing some guitar noodling. and the whole thing just melds together wonderfully [imho] and also features everyone from elsewhere on the record [bar Emma] coming together. For my mother.