BATHYMETRY are a transatlantic trio based in Liverpool, whose sound ranges from brooding and dark to light and ethereal. Andy Von Pip caught up with them to discuss their rise to the top of Liverpool’s new music radar, their multiple influences and their Spinal Tap moments along the way.
“We’re at the cemetery gates” texts Ariel Bath, Liverpool-based singer and guitarist with Bathymetry, a trio whose eponymous debut album has certainly made many sit up and take notice of them. I’m on my way to St James’ cemetery, in the shadow of the Anglican Cathedral, for a chat with Ariel and bassist and vocalist Emily Garner. The cemetery itself is home to around 58,000 of the departed, including “saint of the slums” Kitty Wilkinson, an artist who spent her early life as part of a Victorian freak show and went on to become a portrait painter to nobility (and widely known for her pioneering work which led to the public washhouse movement in the 1800s); an American senator; and, who knows, perhaps even the odd music critic.
When I suggest that St James’ Cemetery is an appropriate location given that, beneath Bathymetry’s playful veneer lies something perhaps a little darker, Ariel isn’t so sure. “It depends which song you listen to really,” she purrs. “There’s a broad mix on the album and we do draw from a wide emotional spectrum. I think maybe people find their favourite song and then label you as that, but that’s fine with us.”
“We all have such diverse influences; however, we are all big fans of horror,” Emily asserts in following up on the point. “So maybe that comes through? But [our first record] is not a concept album, which is kind of why it was self-titled – it’s more a snapshot of the first stage in our adventures together.”
So what’s the Liverpool connection, given that Ariel is from America, Emily is from Warrington and drummer David (absent today with the suggestion it may be a birthday-induced hangover) from Carlisle? Ariel, a native of Richland, Washington (home of the infamous Manhattan Project), explains: “I did the whole ‘travel to Europe and fall in love’ thing! Basically there was no real scene in Richland: I felt cut off, not just geographically, but also culturally and it was a really conservative and constrained environment. The high-school mascot has a mushroom-cloud emblem and the cheerleaders used to chant ‘Go Bombers’, so I definitely felt the need to get away and see the world. I went travelling to Paris, London and then came to Liverpool, fell in love and decided to settle here.”
Emily, who lived just up the M62, was a frequent visitor to Liverpool too. “It was the nearest big city for me, so I’d spend a lot of time here and I loved the creative scene. I had studied graphic design and was also doing some intern work for [graphic designer and gig-poster supremo] Horse. But I actually met Ariel through a Gumtree advert. I was jamming with another girl in Leeds so initially we asked Ariel to travel up here. We clicked and eventually we started writing together – and then we met David, our drummer, who is such a gem, through another advert. He’s a really strong dreamer.”
“When she says a strong dreamer, she means he sleeps a lot – as evidenced by today!” laughs Ariel.
After a legal threat forced them to change their original band name, they adopted the moniker Bathymetry and things really seemed to take off. But why name yourself after a term relating to the measurement of the depths of oceans, seas, or indeed any large body of water? Does it have any special significance? “Not really,” asserts Emily. “Ariel came up with it and thought it looked beautiful written down but sounded terrible; personally I think it sounds awesome. It’s an old word, but somehow it sounds so fresh and a bit alien.”
Ahead of their debut album, Bathymetry bagged a support slot with The Jesus And Mary Chain for the Liverpool date of their Pyschocandy UK tour after the Scottish legends gave local artists the chancJesus And Mary Chaie to apply to open for them. This gave Bathymetry their biggest audience to date and certainly put them on many people’s radar. “That was so exciting,” enthuses Emily. “We had our own dressing room with showers, and the Mary Chain had pistachio nuts and nibbles in their dressing room! Ariel painted her face with glitter, and I did my knees. I really wanted to paint them gold, a bit like C3PO!”
“The reaction was a bit weird at first as people wrongly assumed we were this really well-connected band, but the reality is we’re just a bunch of hobos!” recalls Ariel. “It was like, who are this new band? But we had been around for a while under a different name so we weren’t actually THAT new. We just gave their manager Alan McGee a really sloppy demo at one of his Creation nights in Liverpool, as we heard they were accepting submissions. I had a really sore throat but managed to croak out one song and next we heard we’d got the gig! It was surreal playing a gig that size. I actually didn’t know how I was supposed to get on stage, so I tried to push through the crowd to get to the front and was wondering how on Earth I was going to climb up on to the stage… And people were like…erm … what are you DOING?! And I was like ‘Oh so this isn’t how we get on stage?’”
This wasn’t the band’s only Spinal Tap-style moment either, as Emily reveals: “When we supported Wire at The Kazimier, the equipment filled the stage so there was actually no room for us at all. David had to play above us on the pedestal, and Ariel and I were squished right in the corner of the stage with hardly any room to move. Thankfully it turned out alright, though.”
“We played the Fell Foot Sound festival recently too,” says Ariel as the two warm to the idea of talking about themselves, “and there was a torrential downpour; my tent started leaking and in the morning all my clothes were soaked through. I literally had one dress left to play the gig in and a pair of very inappropriate shoes to navigate the mud.”
“It’s a beautiful festival,” chimes Emily. “The guy who runs it is amazing and maybe a bit scary!” “Yeah, I think he might be into pagan rituals,” says Ariel, “as he gives speeches before the bands come on.”
Back to their Pat O’Shaughnessy-produced debut album, Bathymetry, which was released on Ugly Man Records in June, replete with amazing artwork drawn by Emily. It’s a genuinely beguiling mix of styles: there’s a playful ambiguity in evidence and the sense of a band who are neither chasing the zeitgeist or constrained by or in the thrall of any particular genre. It’s fearless in the sense that you’ll find strident indie alongside reflective whimsical moments, songs that conjure up an atmosphere of dark, twisted fairy tales, all wrapped up in a youthful off-the-wall sense of adventure. But what sort of things inspire the band to write songs? “A lot of influences aren’t particularly musical,” says Emily. “My biggest influence, for example, is the animated show Adventure Time by Pendleton Ward. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful and comical but it also touches on some really interesting examples of metaphysical philosophy. At the moment I’m so excited by Pluto – have you seen the photos? It’s amazing. I feel so inspired by Pluto and Charon; it’s such a cool relationship they have, so binary – it’s great.” For Ariel, it’s books and movies: “I think you just take elements of everything you find interesting or exciting, but there’s no set formula when it comes to inspiration.”
As we conclude our chat it comes as no surprise to hear that the band are already working on album two. “Is eighteen songs too long for an album?” Emily asks, tongue presumably in cheek, before the talk turns to designing a new video game based on Streets Of Rage, but fighting Tory MPs, with David Cameron as the final boss to be defeated. “Do you think that would sell?” ponders Emily. Very much so – and, rather like their debut album, I think they may be on to another winner.