Sons and Daughters: Family favourites

The Arctic Monkeys' label has another indie foursome generating a buzz. Alexia Loundras talks to Sons and Daughters
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The Independent Culture

It's been a good week for Domino Records. In fact, it's probably been their best-ever week. All thanks, of course, to the label's undisputed band of the moment, the Arctic Monkeys.

Since bagging their golden boys, not only have Domino earned themselves the first two No 1 singles in their 10-year history, but they're well on their way to having the UK's fastest-selling debut ever after the band's album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, sold more than 120,000 copies on its first day of release on Monday.

But, while all eyes are firmly fixed on the Monkeys' phenomenal flight to the top, something equally deserving from Domino is simmering beneath the waters. This band are almost certainly not the Next Big Thing. They have not had a No 1 single, and may never do so. Claiming to have downloaded all their old demo songs from the band's website is unlikely to earn you much kudoswith the in-crowd.

But, since they formed five years ago, Sons and Daughters have been quietly nurturing a fervent underground following. Passionate support from label-mates Franz Ferdinand, the influential indie-ringleader Bright Eyes and top hobbit Elijah Wood has helped, as have the gushing reviews of their 2004 seven-track mini-album Love the Cup and last year's visceral folk-punk full-length offering The Repulsion Box.

Like the other cult bands on the critically loved but otherwise largely ignored side of Domino's roster, crossover success has continued to elude them. But Sons and Daughters aren't too bothered by this, or even particularly surprised. Says the front woman Adele Bethel: "Well, we knew that Radio 1 wasn't likely to play a song by an angry Scottish woman singing about killing herself at three in the afternoon."

Well, no; that wouldn't go down well during the school run. And that's just one of the grisly topics the band embrace on their recent album. In fact, the aptly titled The Repulsion Box is filled with similarly well-constructed tales of abuse, betrayal, deceit and murder. It should come with at least a 15 certificate.

Starting with that suicide song, "Medicine", and climaxing with the chilling "Rama Lama", the album is a reckless, cinematic ride through a dysfunctional love affair. "It wasn't intentional," explains the guitarist Scott Paterson, "but we soon realised that every song was like a little chapter of a story about a couple who don't really get on - all in a different order."

Bethel and Paterson share the singing duties, and the pair's sparring vocals - hers fiery and petulant, his a foreboding baritone that Nick Cave would sell his soul for - make the sordid stories seem more real. In fact, they're so vivid that it's a comfort to know that the abusive narratives and bile-fuelled lyrics ("Compassion's just a word in a dictionary on your shelf/ Monogamy to you it seems is just black and blue/ All the best psychotic lovers ain't got nothing on you") aren't real-life tales. "Part of what Adele and I write about are experiences that we might have had or seen other people have, but it's never direct things," Paterson says. "We haven't murdered anyone!"

Instead, despite having spent the best part of last year touring the world in a minivan, the outward signs suggest that the band actually very much enjoy each other's company.

Bethel has known the bassist and mandolin player Ailidh Lennon and the drummer David Gow for years (she met the latter while touring as part of the maverick Scottish miserablists Arab Strap), while she and Paterson have been an item since she saw him play a solo gig five years ago and asked him to form a band with her. Lennon added to the band's love buzz when she married Idlewild's Roddy Woomble last year.

Without much personal malice to feed their lyrics, this enormously friendly bunch instead find inspiration for their hate-infested tales in the sound of their music. "It's the way the instruments are played that determines how the stories unfold," Paterson says. And, as the band are ardent purveyors of a thrill-ingly compulsive music, those lyrics have a habit of turning out rather dark.

Pooling their influences - the stripped-down punk of Wire and the Buzzcocks, the pop-strewn melodies of The Ronettes and The Smiths and the rough-hewn rawness of the American singer-songwriter Smog aka Bill Callahan - Sons and Daughters succeed in warping Franz Ferdinand's new-wave rock into a decadent frenzy of wired guitars and macabre mandolins driven by a propulsive, defiant beat.

And they sound even better live. On stage, Bethel and Paterson smoulder with chemistry, turning every song into a passionate lovers' car-crash. The stories may not be true, but their raw, almost theatrical delivery is certainly convincing. "When we made The Repulsion Box," Bethel says, "a friend of ours said it had the 'good ol' dirt'. I think that's a fine way to describe it."

And, although Sons and Daughters haven't quite gone stratospheric like their simian label-mates, that good ol' dirt is slowly but surely seeping into the consciousness of music fans. "Last year was the year we wanted it to be," Paterson says. "We got to travel - and every gig we played was bigger than the last. And that's pretty much the level of success we're after. We're happier growing through word of mouth than through a big media explosion."

They're content, they say, to watch the Arctic Monkeys' phenomenal rise without wishing it was them in the Sheffield band's place. "It's great for them," Bethel says. "But it's great for our label too. And if the label's doing well, hopefully we will be able to keep making records with them. In a way, it takes the pressure off us."

The band with some of rock's darkest lyrics grin some of rock's brightest grins. "We are ambitious, and we do want more people to hear us," Paterson says. "But we're a cult band. And that's absolutely fine by us."

'The Repulsion Box' is out now on Domino