“I’ve always loved the mystery and freedom connected to the water here,” says Peter Jackson of his native Liverpool. Jackson, the writer, singer and producer behind the city’s latest dreamweavers WE ARE CATCHERS, sounds irresistibly drawn to somewhere distant. “It’s the idea of it taking you away. I think maybe that comes across in the music too.”
Reflective, nostalgic and, at times, pensive, We Are Catchers’ eponymous debut LP feels much like the product of some bygone era. Its piano-driven dream pop recalls a time when, hindsight would have you believe, rock and roll held unlimited potential. The record’s characteristic vocal melodies and chord progressions are imbued with the naïvety and optimism of the Sun Studios-era, but, much like a lot of those early records, there is something intangibly distant to them. The hiss of the tape, the echo of the reverb and the sombre lyrics paint a restless, daydreaming, and not always optimistic world-view.
We Are Catchers is a record full of gems that feel like old friends upon the first listen, with tracks such as Waters Edge and Thousand Steps having an ethereal, fluid quality to them. But, like reflections caught by the river and distorted by ripples, Jackson’s moods are obscured just enough to retain intrigue on repeat listening. Drenched in reverb and muddied by recording techniques, there is an isolation implied both by the production and the lyrics on the album. What they lack in clarity, however, they balance with hazy warmth, feeling something like the tail end of summer as the nights draw in and we try to squeeze what’s left from the sun.
Thanks in part to the collaboration with Bill Ryder-Jones, Jackson has been able to see the transformation of these songs from their demo stages to the finished album. “Bill’s been involved from the very start as he was the first to really pick up on the tunes from some really rough demos, so I’ve lots to thank him for. He’s helped produce the record alongside Darren Jones [at Elevator] and myself but he’s just been great to work with, really. There are some great guitar bits on the album from him too, as you’d expect.”
While some may have opted for the immaculate recording offered by digital, We Are Catchers leans toward the warmth of worn analogue. For Jackson this aesthetic was an integral component of the songs. “We started out trying out a few different studios and producers, but the demos always had this feel to them which was what made the songs work. After a few false starts we decided to just go back to the 8-track which I’d used for the demos and back to the piano in my house. Instantly the feel and honesty came back to the tunes, so we stayed with it.”
His reluctance to distance the music too far from its original demos is understandable. It was, after all, these initial recordings that brought Jackson to the attention of indie heavyweights Domino. “I got signed a bit out of the blue about a month or two after getting together my first demos … that took a bit of getting used to. Domino had the belief in us to let us take our time and make the record we wanted and were happy with. It’s been great to just forget all the usual everyday pressures and throw everything into making this one piece of work. The belief Domino gave us was everything in making the album what it is.”
The dislocation that permeates the album perhaps stems from a fascination with a different era of music. “I always seem to listen to the old records I like a lot rather than listening to loads of new music,” admits Jackson. “I think most of my influences probably come across on the album.” Certainly, it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific influence from the past twenty years. “I’ve always loved that raw sound of some of the older records by the likes of the Kinks, The La’s and Shack. I think it makes those records sound more real, so that was something I wanted to try and capture too. We had a few studio people along the way who would hear bits and come across a bit shocked that we were going down that route as it’s not really the done thing, so it took a bit of bravery.”
The songs, while always direct and honest, have an insular, daydreaming quality. Attempting to transport the listener to some far-off place, this is an album as much inward gazing as outward looking. “I suppose if I can just get a sincerity across in the music and try to take the listener away somewhere else then I’d be happy with that. I always seem to write with another place or time in mind, so hopefully that feel comes across on the recording.” The lyrics are marked with a distinct loneliness, with oblique references to places, people and events. “I think, especially with these songs [on the album], I’d been writing in the house for a while on my own and it was a good way of getting away through the music.”
Key to We Are Catchers is the songs’ juxtaposition of a sun-kissed aesthetic with a melancholic core. Despite the presence of other musicians on the album, at times it feels like Jackson is an isolated figure. “I think I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, really. The expectations put on you to live a certain way just weren’t for me, probably like a lot of artists and musicians. I’ve never really been into all the material things most people are into, and I probably kind of shut myself away from the world and threw myself into songwriting to get through that. But, you know, I think I’m coming round to it a bit more now as it feels like a bit of a new start for me getting this record out, and it’s maybe given me some direction which I was missing before,” he explains. “These songs in particular were all written at a pretty hard time in my life when not much was happening; I certainly had no idea that around the corner they might get released, so hopefully there’s an honesty to them which can’t always be found when you know where you’re going.”