Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Ritual Cloak

Artwork for ‘Divine Invasions.’ Courtesy of Beast PR.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

The rules – there are no rules.

This creative mindset allowed Ritual Cloak the freedom to put together what they feel is their most complete project to date – the album ‘Divine Invasions,’ released this past May via Bubblewrap Collective.

The European duo’s atmospheric sound is akin to acts like Mogwai, Radiohead, Sigur Ros and Kiasmos, evident by songs like “Opaque Crater” and “White Noise.”

The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with its members – Daniel Barnett (Samoans) and drummer/producer Andrew Sanders – about ‘Divine Invasions’ and more.

Music Bugle – How did you decide the name “Ritual Cloak”?

Andrew Sanders – We got the name from an episode of “Star Trek” called ‘The Paradise Syndrome.’ Kirk gets stranded on a planet that appears to be inhabited by descendants of Native Americans. Kirk is revered as a god after saving a child’s life and given a ritual cloak. Dan wrote it down as an idea for a song title initially, but when we came together to form the group, Dan felt the name would suit the type of music we make.

Music Bugle – What were your goals with the album ‘Divine Invasions’?

Daniel Barnett – When it came to writing and recording the second album, we didn’t want to fall into the same routine as we did on our first album. We embraced exploring new sounds, experimenting with new effects, making guitars sound like synths and using vocals for the first time. We always push each other to try something a little different. We always say the only rule in Ritual Cloak is there are no rules, so that really frees us up to make whatever comes out and to act on whatever we’re feeling or wanting to express at the time. We didn’t think we set out to make another album, at least not as quickly as we did. However, lockdown afforded us the time and it just kind of happened!

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?

Daniel Barnett – I’m really loving the Anika single “Finger Pies,” “Inner Song” by Kelly Lee Owens is still on my turntable a lot and “Eyelet” by Islet is one of my favorite records to have come out in recent times.

Andrew Sanders – I’ve been really enjoying the latest Black Pistol Fire record, ‘Look Alive’ and ‘Local Honey,’ the album Brian Fallon released last year. The latest one from Art D’Ecco has been getting a lot of plays from me too!

Music Bugle – What inspired the artwork for ‘Divine Invasions’?

Daniel Barnett – We spoke at length with SnowSkull, whom we commissioned to do the artwork about the different influences on the record. Snowskull latched onto the Philip K Dick influence in “VALIS” and how he was plagued by nervous breakdowns and driven to the brink of insanity by visions of God. In the bottom right-hand corner of the final artwork, you see the protagonist – Phil-esque – staring into a mirror and his own reflection coming to terms with all the hallucinations of cherubs, angels and religious figures in front of him. Snowskull wanted to make the piece feel like a scrapbook with drawings and diagrams/ripped-up pieces of paper and collages and to represent his “scrap-brain” on the edge of fragility. He wanted it to make up all the tiny thought patterns all fragmented and brittle on the verge of a beautiful collapse.

Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?

Andrew Sanders – Cardiff is such an important place for both of us. It’s been essential in our music education and where most of our important friendships have been forged. We feel incredibly lucky to be based in a city that has such a vibrant live music scene. It’s just a shame that the city council and planning department don’t see it that way. So many of the city’s venues have closed down over the years and are not being replaced with new ones.

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?

Daniel Barnett – Social media can be good in some ways, but I feel it’s become difficult for artists to shout about their work without having to pay for promoted posts that may not even get engagement. Putting up that barrier does no favors to artists from working class backgrounds that may not have the spare funds to pour into getting their posts seen by more people. I feel quite disillusioned with it. I’d rather concentrate on making our music than what to post next.  

Andrew Sanders – It has become something I feel I have to do now, rather than something I enjoy taking part in. As Dan said, it’s hard for new artists to raise their heads above the water, as you have to fight against the noise from those with deeper pockets that can pay for advertising. It’s a losing battle.

Music Bugle – Which of your songs on ‘Divine Invasions’ were the hardest to write or put together?

Daniel Barnett – “VALIS” was probably the hardest to write. I’d had the dreamy guitar chords as an idea when I was in my old band Samoans, but I never got the opportunity to use it. I’d also had the lyrics in a different form set to very different music as well. I just remember messing about with the chords at home and could hear a percussive bass riff repeating over and over. I recorded some loops and just began chanting the lyrics over the music. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane, especially ‘The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’ album. She would use Hindu chants recorded at her ashram accompanied by sonic synths and it just resonated with me. The song started developing quite quickly, but then, we just couldn’t figure out where to take it.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Daniel Barnett – We’ve both been fortunate in that we’ve both had jobs that we were able to do from home during the pandemic. We usually record at our studio in Cardiff, but lockdown forced us to work separately and in a very different way than before. At the beginning of lockdown, we both bought/took home the gear we’d need and made little production setups. Being able to dip in and out at any time of the day made a huge difference when writing. We could get ideas down straight away, but also give some ideas space. We’ve definitely got a collection of songs that wouldn’t have come together had we continued to work in our usual ways in the studio.

Andrew Sanders – It was really nice working like that actually, something positive to come out of the biggest upset in our lifetime. Normally, we’d just get together every once in a while at the studio and if we’re having an unproductive session, it feels like we’ve wasted time, so being able to dip in and out of writing as and when inspiration struck was quite liberating. I think moving forward, we’ll continue to work like this and meet at the studio when we know we have larger elements to record.

Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?

Daniel Barnett – “Find people who think like you and stick with them. Make only music you are passionate about. Work only with people you like and trust. Don’t sign anything,” from Steve Albini.

Andrew Sanders – “This is it, don’t get scared now,” from Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone.”

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?

Daniel Barnett – I usually get out of the city and into the mountains. It’s a real reset being able to see the horizon.

Andrew sanders – Same. I moved back to where I grew up, Tongwynlais, a little village north of Cardiff. The woods surrounding the village used to be my playground as a kid, so whenever I need to mentally hit reset, I love just walking through the trees.

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