“Salmon Cat wouldn’t work if we weren’t independent. The whole point is that there’s no restrictions or inhibitions. We make whatever we want to.” Lloyd Macdonald, the South London band’s producer and vocalist – alongside singer Jess Smyth and guitarists Alfie Jackson and Harry Hayman – is reflecting on the “creatively-freeing” benefits of remaining unsigned and staying DIY three years in.
Having previously been in thrash metal bands, hip-hop and R&B groups, the four friends spontaneously came together in 2017 from “different corners of the same scene”. Jess came into the picture when, whilst visiting Lloyd at his house, she added a vocal to an instrumental for what would become their first song, ‘Trip to Düsseldorf’.
Originally, the vocals were going to be made up of Lloyd and Alfie’s random phone conversations, so everyone was understandably happy/relieved to have Jess onboard. “I started to write over it, sang my verse and hook,” she remembers. “We showed it to the guys, they really liked it and said, ‘fuck it, shall we start a band?”
The four-piece kept making music together – mostly in Lloyd’s bedroom – inspired by, as Jess summarises, “the mood of the day and our surroundings”. “It always starts with us sitting down together, normally drinking, talking about shit,” Lloyd laughs of their chilled-out set-up.
Harry chips in: “Everything is written and recorded within the session. We don’t go back and properly work on songs, we just start new ones.” This raw and unpolished first-take approach explains how they’ve ended up with an album’s worth of material already. “There hasn’t been one session where we’ve not come out having made something,” Jess adds. And that’s largely because the band found its sound – “bittersweet and euphoric”, according to Harry – early on.
This week they are self-releasing their debut EP, ‘Wha’ppened?’ Across its five summer-ready tracks, they fuse hazy guitar riffs, dreamy production and Jess’ softly sweet vocals to create a dreamy, nostalgic soundscape of their own that sits somewhere between Superorganism and Sorry.
Rather than sounding like the next anyone, though, the band are more focused on building stories. “The songs are quite conceptual, they’re very idea-based,” Lloyd considers, citing ‘Fortune 500’ as an example, with its soundbites of Jess talking about 80s US TV show ‘Dallas’. “There’s this Americana influence that I think really underlines Salmon Cat, but we’ve never really spoken about it. The fourth song on the EP is even called ‘Calamity Jane’…”
But releasing an EP is something they never intended to do in the first place. It was only when they noticed that ‘Trip’ was doing well on their SoundCloud page, that the idea came about. “Clairo put it on a mix back in 2017 when we first put it online,” Jess remembers; “I think that would have opened us up to a bigger audience.” It’s follow-up, ‘Fortune 500’ – found its way onto Spotify’s taste-making New Music Friday playlist.
Despite not having played live yet (gig plans, including the idea of wearing veils onstage, were being made pre-coronavirus), they’ve received interest from “a small indie label”. But, perhaps bravely in the current climate, they’ve decided to remain independent. “There’s the sense that it’s just the four of us and that it’s really our thing,” Alfie says.
“We’re not really interested in somebody else having an input because it would stunt what we have – the carefree way of doing things. I’m sure there will come a day when we’ll welcome the industry helping us out, but we don’t want it to feel like a job to make the music.” More than anything, though, being independent “takes the pressure off,” Jess considers. “Especially when we’re in Lloyd’s room, it just feels really comfortable, like we can really let go.”
Salmon Cat’s debut EP ‘Wha’ppened?’ is out now