Tethered to Sleep is a new EP from VULIN, written by Craig MacLeod but includes featured musicians, Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow), Siobhan Miller (Scots Singer of the Year – BBC Alba), Graeme Smillie (Arab Strap), Chris Marra (Danny Wilson) and Kevin Murray (Michael Marra), alongside contributions from former Dante members Euan McLaughlin, Stuart Hosking and Seán McLaughlin. A culmination of musicians writing and recording remotely due to the lockdown, this EP was then produced and mixed by MacLeod (VULIN). Craig spoke with The Fountain about the new record and how it took shape with this strong list of musicians.
TF: You have a new EP out, what can we expect from Tethered to Sleep?
I really wanted to write something that has a lot of balance to it and so each of the three songs are different and draw from a range of my own influences and styles that I like. I wanted to create an EP that wasn’t a giveaway on the first listen and hoped that after hearing it, it might make you want to come back to it. It’s layered in such a way that it gives it a good amount of depth and interesting ear candy, and so hopefully that’s something I’ve achieved. There are stripped back singer-songwriter moments, anthemic and uplifting parts, big epic lush sections, emotional and intimate feelings, and also some really energetic vibes too. So overall, I think it has a lot of flavours and different colours too it. Hopefully that comes across anyway.
I actually had two different plans for this record that never happened: one was meant to be done with ex-Dante and Dead Fiction members, Stuart Hosking and Ruaridh Kidd. We had planned to record remotely somewhere in the highlands, renting out an old converted barn or old farm house with high ceilings and so planned to do it in a big natural space. We’d planned to take everything with us to track and record and we wanted to do it over a couple of days, and also hang out too. I wanted it to have a live, natural and human sound to it (even perhaps a little rough round the edges) and so this would have been ideal. However, due to new work and university commitments for Ru and Stu, this plan wasn’t really feasible anymore.
So the next plan was to record the core at Gardyne studio with Mike Brown, and I had luckily managed to recruit new musicians for the project too: Louis Abbott and Graeme Smillie. I’m a huge fan of Admiral Fallow and so it was an absolute pleasure to have Louis onboard – all thanks to Graeme really. The plan was to get the core of the record down there and then add other arrangement and instrumentation at different places, again with the intention of keeping the core of the record lively and somewhat loose to have a more natural sound. However, once the restrictions arrived and we went into lockdown this threw another spanner in the works. During this time I also found out my wife and I were going to become parents and so I now had a tight deadline to get the EP made before our wee girl arrived (in terms of process though I think having a deadline is actually productive and so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise and what I needed to dig in and focus).
So, I ended up recording this EP at my home studio. I’m lucky to have it and it’s all treated with a good collection of gear, so totally capable of making a decent record I think. Stuart was involved too at the start of this which was great and so we planned to do more of this record together again, but as the tighter social restrictions came into force this was no longer possible (luckily he managed to cram in a few days near the end when the record was almost finished and I really loved what he brought to it – just a shame again that we didn’t get more time to work on it together).
Once I had tracked all my parts at home I then sent it to the other musicians that I had managed to get involved: Louis Abbott, Siobhan Miller, Greame Smillie, Stuart Hosking, Euan McLaughlin, Seán McLaughlin, Chris Marra and Kevin Murray. Doing this remotely meant that there was a lot of emails, calls and messages about parts and direction as all that immediate feedback you get working in the room together is lost. Once I had all the final arrangement back I mixed it in and then sent it to the folk involved to get their thoughts too. I’ve also worked with good friends, Colin Dodds and Mike Brown, for years and so I always trust sending it them for their thoughts too (which are always greatly appreciated). I then spent a week or so putting some final touches to the mix and then I sent it to Guy Davies to get mastered. Guy has mastered over 1500 records including many from artists I love (The Smiths, Frightened Rabbit, Mogwai, The Shins, Sigur Rós, UNKLE, etc.) and so it was amazing getting him to work on my debut EP for VULIN. He’s a lovely guy too and gave me good feedback about the record, which was nice to hear and encouraging.
So, my own expectations of what Tethered to Sleep was meant to be ended up completely different. Nevertheless, I’m happy with it and it was great to get good friends and great musicians and artists involved with my new project.
TF: How would you sum up the record in one sentence?
That’s a tough one. I actually like what Jamie Wilde (Euphoria) said about it: “An uplifting, almost euphoric-like sonic atmosphere accompanied by hauntingly cathartic vocals with a stunning level of embrace that is poignantly intimate”.
TF: Can you tell us more about VULIN your solo project, you used to be in Dante and other bands before?
The idea behind VULIN was to create a moniker for myself that would work as a name for allowing any creative output that I did as a songwriter or producer. From my experience bands come and go, and so I wanted a name that I could keep and use for the rest of my days as a music maker. I’m keen to write and produce in different styles and I currently have collaboration projects underway with different artists from different genres, and so I thought by having an overarching name like VULIN, this would allow me to perform or write as a solo artist across the indie, alternative, neo-folk, alt-country scene, but also allow me to work as more of a producer too within electronica, trip-hop, ambient and alternative dance worlds.
TF: What is your plan for the remainder of the year, after this release?
I’m currently working on a bunch of songs that I hope to record in a more lively context, as was initially planned for this record, next year. Maybe doing it in a remote location with a few folk would be cool but I’m also considering doing it across the road from my house in the wee village church (again to hopefully capture that big natural sound). I want it to be more stripped back than this record and so the focus is on the songwriting and feel rather than the production. My wife just bought me a Korg XL Minilouge (best wife ever) and I just got a new iMac, so I can’t wait to get stuck into that and start producing a more electro and analog synth driven record, that will have collaborations from other producers and artists that I’ve been making plans with. So basically just writing and producing for the rest of this year with plans for recording and releasing next year. Our wee girl is due on 25th October so my focus will be on her and my wife but hopefully I’ll get a wee bit of time to keep writing…maybe (laughs).
TF: Where is your favourite venue for playing live, where is the next place you look most forward to gigging?
Possibly the best small venue that I enjoy playing at in Scotland is The Arch Inn in Ullapool. It’s a small pub really but I’ve always loved the shows I did there with Dante and they were always so nice and kind to us (hotel rooms, food and plenty of free drinks). It’s also just nice to get away up North too. I also climb and so I always take some stuff with me to get out while up there. Also, my plan is to do some small intimate solo shows with the songs from Tethered to Sleep, as well as the new stuff I’m working on, around Scotland (hopefully once we can all get back out there) and so I’ll probably try and book a bunch of wee venues as it’ll just be me with an acoustic.
Tethered to Sleep is available now, was released on 16th October 2020 through all major digital / streaming music retailers.